The Highgate Bowl
Preserving our heritage to learn for our future
The Highgate Bowl project sets out to preserve a unique and historic piece of open land by continuing its traditional use for agriculture and horticulture in innovative ways which engage city dwellers with all aspects of food production and inspire them to grow and make their own.
For centuries, pigs were fattened in the yards round the edge of the Highgate Bowl – the curved saucer of open land which separates the prominent ridge of Highgate village from housing development in the valley below. As recently as the 20th century, cattle and sheep grazed there before their last trek into the meat markets of London. It was a market garden and until recently a garden centre. Now the Harington Scheme uses part of the Bowl to offer horticultural training for young people with learning difficulties.
Hidden behind the busy High Street that is the border between the London Boroughs of Camden and Haringey, the Bowl has been regularly threatened with development over the last half century. Local people have fought valiantly to keep it as an open space and a community resource.
Now the Friends of the Highgate Bowl – a registered charity set up by local community organisations – has a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire the larger part of the area, recently used as a garden centre, and establish a project that will make appropriate use of it in the 21st century and beyond. This will include:
- Open and woodland areas with substantial public access to provide relief from the crowded urban townscape
- A food trail with demonstration horticulture and market gardening projects
- An open air community hub, making use, as far as possible, of existing structures on the site.
- Demonstration projects of sustainable, renewable energy techniques to provide power for the site
- Opportunities for ‘social prescribing’: gardening and animal husbandry projects to support people who feel distanced from the community due to challenging physical, mental, economic or social circumstances
- Bird and bug walks for children and adults, exploring the natural ecology of the site
- Sensitively managed with the help of trainees from the Harington Scheme and volunteers
- Plus a range of other possible options, depending on demand and funding, including a café, juice and herb bars, and a play area.
IN MORE DETAIL
A Food Trail
Guided by expert horticultural advice on how to make the best use of the different aspects and mini climates across the bowl, we will work with architectural students to create an innovative food trail. This will include all the food groups: and could incorporate appropriate farm animals (chickens, bees, pigs and goats); native vegetables, beans and grains; with unheated greenhouses for vines, peaches tomatoes and peppers; and even small tropical domes, heated by renewable energy, for exotics.
Alongside each species of animal or plant there could be an interactive explanation – hopefully to engage all age groups – on how it is grown and used. There will be particular emphasis on how new techniques (eg hydroponics, green walls, mini solar heated greenhouses), allow plants to be grown in small spaces – thus providing ideas that people can use in gardens, balconies, schools and allotments.
A community hub
At the heart of the project will be an open air community centre: this could include a restaurant (partly outdoors) set in a peaceful, natural garden, providing delicious food, grown onsite, on the Harington Scheme or sourced from (reasonably) local farms. There could also be a small heritage centre here with interactive displays about the history and culture of the Bowl and Highgate itself: the drovers and animals who rested there; the farmers, market gardeners and merchants who worked there; and how the village developed to meet their needs.
Demonstrations and courses
There will be seasonable talks and demonstrations of food growing techniques, as well as associated skills like bread and jam making, juice making and beer brewing. A small workshop area, using existing structures, could provide space for hen and bee keeping courses, and also for visiting craftspeople to demonstrate their skills. Expert talks on the flora and fauna of the site would also be held here in conjunction with organised walks for children and adults, exploring the natural ecology of the site
This might sell fresh seasonal produce, grown onsite, on the Harington Scheme or on local farms, as well as the ingredients – flour, jam sugar, herbs and spices – for those who are inspired by the restaurant to make their own. It will also stock basic kit needed for food growing, alongside supplies like seeds, seedlings and compost.
very good so far – I think that you should emphasis the training potential – I know the Harington scheme is at present engaged in its own battle for lease renewal and so doesn’t want to be side-tracked, but I can imagine that eventually they might be interested in some extension of their reach. In addition it might be worth pointing out that the various elements of the proposal will add to the number and variety of jobs available in Highgate. Cafe should be organic and vegetarian/vegan so as not to conflict with established cafes/restaurants in the area, and to offer something that is missing. Dragonfly (now the poodle parlour) was well-patronised and is much missed.
All wonderful, creative and inclusive ideas!
I think these are all good ideas and it will be great to keep the open space for the community. An accent on food, community spirit and play is great.
Clearly you are undertaking careful plans and I would just caution to make sure the plans are realistic. Sorry but this next bit is going to sound a bit negative. My concerns are:
In relation to a shop it is worth remembering that only recently an organic and juices shop closed after only a short time in business and is now ‘Hair of the Dog’. Any shop on the Bowl would be even more out of the way and that would have a large effect on potential footfall.
The current woodland area is in a pretty poor state. It is so easy to imagine that woods just look after themselves. However the reason our ancient woodlands are so diverse an ecosystem is because they were actively managed by humans. It would be great to see this woodland managed properly.
Nature walks and trails are a good idea, but can destroy themselves by being overused and too small. The ‘nature reserve’ area in Waterlow Park is a good example and is pretty empty of wildlife because of the high use by people and dogs in the park.