Hales Gardens ‘Love where you live’ – one person is all it takes to make a change

You know the old joke ‘There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there is a ‘me’’? Well, it’s fair to say that in Hales Gardens, while her neighbours chip in and Yvonne Price from CleanupUK offers invaluable support, there’d be no ‘Love where you live’ team without Linda Hackett. She’s a one-woman phenomenon, who uses her dedication and charm to change her local streets for the better.

Hales Gardens, Kingstanding
Kingstanding is a suburban area in North Birmingham much like many others across the country. Covered in council estates, there are realms of red brick houses, a rabbit warren of alleyways, limited local shops and fast food aplenty. While it’s by no means the most deprived area in the country — or indeed Birmingham — lack of investment has left pockets of it looking unloved, a bit stark and definitely litter-strewn and unwelcoming.

Many local people feel that it’s up to council to sort it out, but cutbacks have made it increasingly unlikely that fixing fences, or a lick of paint, will make it up the priority list for many years to come. Most people become resigned to their surroundings. But Linda Hackett isn’t most people.

“Hales is a nice area, but needs regenerating, a bit of TLC to make it warm and welcoming. It’s not always up to the council, some people think it’s always someone else’s problem, they pay their tax…but tax has to pay for children and older people first. There’s not enough money, so we have to do it ourselves.” Linda Hackett

She has transformed her quiet cul-de-sac in Hales Gardens, in particular its central island, from a litter strewn eyesore into an attractive space for residents to enjoy and children to play in — bringing her neighbourhood closer together in the process.

About Linda
Now retired, but with energy and enthusiasm in spades, Linda has lived in the area for over 40 years. She has always been community-minded and credits her skills in persuasion and getting on with people to working in her family’s shop. It taught her to talk to people and to really listen. She’s always loved nature, the environment and gardening – her mother was a keen gardener and her daughter now does it professionally. Linda cares deeply about her neighbourhood and the welfare of local children.

About the island
The ‘island’ is a kidney-shaped grass roundabout with four trees. Neglected and shabby, people had no qualms about parking on it and Linda hated looking out of her window at rubbish, fly tipping and cars. When residents complained it was a mess, the council tried to pave it over but Linda stepped in to save it, literally blocking the diggers’ path. She knew that if she wanted to preserve this small patch of green for the community, she’d have to do something about it herself.

She started small. With the help of her neighbour Barry and plants donated by her friends and neighbours, she did a spot of ‘guerrilla gardening’, planting flowers and shrubs around the trees to brighten the island up. And, although it took time, people began to appreciate her efforts and support her. The plants deterred people from parking and the island has been slowly transformed into a safe area for kids to play. She even persuaded a local youth charity, Kingstanding Regeneration Trust, to put attractive rope fencing around it to protect the children from cars. The fencing was donated, as were the logs for kids to sit on. The children have been planting bulbs and painting stones. And another neighbour has voluntarily cleared all the drains nearby, so the island won’t flood.

“A little girl brought me flowers from her nan as a thank you, one lady gave me loads of plants, a neighbour mows the island and other people’s front gardens to keep everything looking tidy.”

Tackling the litter problem was a key part of Linda’s agenda to make the area look better, so she was delighted to get support from CleanupUK. ‘Love where you live’ held its first litter pick in May 2018, but after extensive leafleting only a couple of people came out to help. Despite attracting only two or three regular members, the group has carried out 15 litter picks and cleared 158 bags of rubbish, so far.

“When I’m out litter-picking in my high-viz people talk to me and it breaks down barriers, so next time I can ask them to help with something and they know who I am.”

The support of CleanupUK has been instrumental in Linda’s regeneration plans. When Linda met Yvonne Price, Project Coordinator, Beautiful Birmingham Project, they hit it off right away. Yvonne supplied the leaflets, equipment and arranged for the collected rubbish to be taken away quickly — with thanks to the support of the brilliant Birmingham City Councillors Mohamed Qudeer and Mohammed Tanveer.

Yvonne attends as many litter picks as she can and helps Linda to cut back the thorny bushes in the alleyways that are a magnet for chip paper and curry boxes. “Why don’t people just take them home ?” asks Linda, baffled.

“CleanupUK is second to none. Yvonne brings enthusiasm. We get down and dirty together, she mucks in and she never lets me down. She’s a real asset and great lady.”
Linda on Yvonne

Yvonne says, “Love where you live is the reason I love going to work – it’s people that make the difference.”

So why won’t more neighbours join in?
Linda believes that often people are a bit shy or lack confidence. They like the idea, but don’t want to commit. Or they simply think it’s the council’s job. However, many neighbours now do help in their own way, by taking the time to keep their gardens tidy, joining Neighbourhood Watch or Fix My Street, or offering support without the formality of being part of a ‘community group’. Perhaps, that’s even better progress? By following Linda’s example they are slowly, without thinking about it, becoming more active members of their community.

“One person starts something and people join in. That’s how problems are solved – small things. People might not come out and pick litter, but if they see me doing it they might think about not dropping it.”

Quick Q&A
We asked Linda what she thought about her involvement with Love where you live

What are the best bits?
“It’s not been easy, but so much of it has been lovely. People see me out with the broom and come and chat. And if they see you clearing up then they will pick up after themselves – it definitely happens – my husband says the other day, ‘you’ll be proud’, he saw a coffee cup in a hedge on the way home and stopped the car to go and get it. He wouldn’t have done that before.

It makes a huge difference to the area. And to the council — if you can tell them that people are getting involved and care, then when you ask them to fix a fence or something they are more likely to do it.

Most of all it gets people chatting, sharing plants… the guy next door has put out bird-feeders, so the children can see the birds come and go. A chaotic garden has been cleared out. It makes me proud. And the journey has been amazing, we’re applying for lottery funding worth £10k. We’ve even had a visit from Alan Gardner, from Channel 4’s ‘the Autistic Gardener’.”

The worst bits?
“The plants Alan donated were then stolen – which was a bit of a downer and made me think why am I doing this? And there’s always people who don’t like things and think the council should be doing them – but I won’t give up. Some people will always be against things. I’m proud of the area. There’s not as much litter as there was. When I look out my window now there’s no rubbish.”

What advice do you have?
“If you don’t like someone’s views don’t boff it off, but listen – that’s a skill for life.”

Should the council do more?
“Council should pick up large items once or twice a year like they used to and provide more bins in alleys and bus stops. I’ll add it to my list of things to ask them. Our alleyways have settees in them! But we are improving them, slowly.”

What’s next?
“I want it to get bigger and bigger, there’s a lady nearby with a massive green at the end of her road. There’s always more places to clear. I’d like to see it spread, but you can’t do it all for people, they have to want to help themselves.”

Some of Linda’s plans
• Making the many alleyways more welcoming
• Clearing a disused car park that people used for fly-tipping, so that kids can play there
• Turning a used area for drying washing nearby into a community vegetable patch

“My husband thinks I’m crazy, a bloody crazy lady that’s what I am. But what could be nicer? I have met so many lovely people along the way, volunteers, people who care about where they live and beyond”