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LOCAL FOCUS


Man made for the common good


Putney and Wimbledon Commons have recently engaged a new Chief Executive. How will this affect these historic pieces of land in the future? Tony Kane asks


Simon Lee has been in post as chief Executive of Wimbledon and Putney Common since March 2014. He is married with three teenage children and has brought with him his love of open spaces and expertise in managing them from his previous position at Hampstead Heath. ‘I love living in the ranger’s house on the common,’ he told me. ‘It is like living in the country. I have had time to watch all the changes in the seasons, observe the wildlife, the various activities and generally settle in and get an idea of what is needed.’


He has many ideas for developing the commons but his overriding vision is to preserve the site for the enjoyment of future generations. ‘The commons are a part of the countryside in the middle of town,’ he told me, ‘and we must keep it that way.’


I suggested he must have plenty of ideas for the development of the space… ‘My chief aim is to encourage the local community to take ownership of the commons, helping the conservators achieve their role as stewards of the site. As a registered charity we can use all the help we can get to develop the site as a local resource and a venue of choice for this part of London. It’s important that we don’t set the site in aspic.


‘With the help of local residents we can really make a difference. One of the first


14 . January 2015 . timeandleisure.co.uk


initiatives is to create a newsletter, to be published at regular intervals and we should make more use of social media to tell people what goes on and to gain support. We are looking for photographers who would contribute to our media bank and would help promote a new website that is urgently required.’


Simon has ideas for developing the Information Centre: more opportunity for children’s drawing, possibly an interactive app that children could play with to introduce them to different parts of the common and the wildlife to be found there.


Volunteers could adopt a part of the common and help the rangers control the shrub and the heather. ‘There is more heather on the common than in the whole of Essex,’ he told me, ‘but it needs care and attention to keep it sustainable. Social and cultural events on the commons are going very well such as the Guild Fair and Wimbledon Bookfest but we could develop other imaginative ideas such as a skating rink at Christmas. Having more activities would encourage a greater footfall in the village which would help the local business community.


‘Sports activities are an interesting area, golf and running activities are well established but possibly there could be could be more opportunities for extra football and rugby for young people. It’s all about striking the right balance,’ he said.


‘The common has a fascinating history. The walk that took place at Wimbledon Bookfest last October is a good example of something that appeals to older people. We would like to continue this on a regular basis. It could include a trail through Wimbledon landmarks such as the Temple and the tennis.


‘A visit to the common should be an engaging experience. There is plenty to interest a wide range of people including a visit to the Windmill, the pubs, horse riding and of course dog walking. We value the dog walkers as long as the dogs are under control, because they are the eyes and ears of the common.


‘We have an election coming up in February for local people to stand as conservators. This is a postal ballot that goes to 45,000 homes. It covers a large area including Roehampton, Southfields and adjacent parts of Wimbledon. In the past we have had a limited return of votes with a take up of only twenty per cent.’


It is Simon’s aim to increase this in order to get more involvement from the local community and more engagement in the business and activities of these unique pieces of land that are open to all and have the potential to affect the lives of


so many. t&l


If you would like to be a volunteer on the commons call 020 8788 7655


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