Anyone passing through Hackbridge over the last year or so can’t have failed to notice that change is afoot. Over 1,000 flats and houses are currently being built across several locations, including new riverside properties and the huge development opposite Hackbridge station.
But what you might not know is that an altogether quieter revolution is taking place, on a piece of land by the Hack Bridge next to the River Wandle. Brazilian-born artist and sculptor Claudio Funari has spent the last 18 months transforming the space into a community garden.
Claudio – who moved to Hackbridge from Sao Paulo two years ago - started by trawling the riverbed for discarded items of metal and plastic, creating a shard-like sculpture made from everything from mobile phones and cameras to padlocks, springs, scissors, coins and parts of old electricity meters.
The result has not only cleaned up this section of the Wandle (to the extent children can now regularly be seen paddling in the water), but has created a focal point for walkers along the Wandle Trail, which passes by the garden.
Since then rarely a day goes by without Claudio being seen hard at work in the gardens. He has created flowerbeds, added hanging baskets, tidied up the riverbank, and even built and engraved a wooden bench overlooking the river.
Claudio’s most recent project has been to sculpt a “phoenix”, risen from its previous life as chain link fencing, and he tells me that next up will be a feeding “bambi” made from the same material.
Last summer Claudio held a party in the gardens for his 69th birthday, inviting residents and passers-by to join him for a drink and a slice of cake, and he has gradually become something of a local celebrity, with residents donating plants, seeds, pots and unwanted bricks to help Claudio continue his work.
If you happen to be passing by the gardens and see Claudio (pictured), I encourage you to say “Ola”. His English is not perfect, but he will happily take you on a tour of the gardens, pointing out which flowers are in season, and picking a bunch of lavender for you to take home.
If you’re lucky you might even get to see Claudio’s photo album of previous works on churches and monasteries in Brazil, which he keeps in his shopping trolley on top of which sits a small radio. When I asked him what he listens to he replied “It’s not for me, it’s to help the plants grow”.
Claudio, from myself and other residents and walkers who have been touched by your community spirit – muito obrigado.