Writer Michael Donkor on how Hillside Gardens Park Kept him Writing

by Michael Donkor

When my first novel came out in 2018, I was lucky enough to be sent around the country on a bewildering but exciting promotional tour. The tour took in bookshops, literary festivals, libraries, schools. To begin with, the prospect of the Q&As that came after the readings pricked me with an itchy fear. As time went on and I started to tick the events off my calendar, I realised – comfortingly – that audiences tended to ask the same questions. Curiosity about my ‘writerly routine’ prevailed. Do I have a special pen? When do I write? Where do I write?

I responded to that final one with a beaming smile. It was always nice to talk about my beloved study. It’s the box room at the back of the flat on Amesbury Avenue I share with my husband. Its wall are a deep shade of plum. They’re lined with the books I’ve collected over the years – full of voices from imagined worlds that keep me going. My chaotic desk – a mess of neglected plants and coasters – is pressed against the window. In my long bouts of daydreaming I am entertained by the acrobatics of the cats down in my neighbours’ back gardens. I feel very fortunate to have a space in my home where I can close the door and imagine.

But, as we have all experienced over the last few months, the home has become a strange, not always necessarily comfortable, place. Though, of course, having bricks and mortar within which to lockdown is a privilege not available to all, the process of spending so much time between our respective four walls has been difficult to say the least. In this time my study, rather than a haven, has frequently felt a little bit oppressive, restrictive. These feelings haven’t been especially conducive to creativity as I’ve continued to work on my second novel.

So over the last few months, when the weather has permitted, I have abandoned my desk: Hillside Gardens Park has become a new workspace for me. What I have loved so much about writing in our little patch of greenness is its sense of balance, of pleasing contrast. On the one hand, because it’s tucked away from the bustle of Streatham, there is often a settling quietness about Hillside Gardens Park that has enabled my thoughts to expand. Especially first thing in the morning, with the blousy roses flapping in the breeze and mug of tea in hand, it’s been the perfect place to start gathering ideas or hatching a plan of attack for the day’s writing ahead. Equally, on some of the busier, scorchingly hot afternoons we’ve recently been gifted, the vivacity of the place has proved helpful. Sitting on one of the little circular tables with crescent-shaped benches, I’ve looked up from my notebook and been delighted by sights, noises: cartwheeling children, couples sipping on ciders, teenagers bearing ice poles, games of hide and seek. Something about the sense of movement and the atmosphere of energetic harmony has enabled me to work through knotty sentences, or reminded me that writing is so often about simply keeping the pen moving along the page and seeing what happens. Out on Hillside Gardens Park, I’ve heard Spanish and French and Urdu. I’ve overheard students chatter about which teachers and lessons they’re missing. Parents have soothed toddlers who’ve fallen off scooters. When deep in thought, dogs have shocked me with unexpected barking up at birds weaving between branches; friends have squealed as they tried to avoid being soaked in water fights  – all sounds, all voices from the real world that have kept me writing.

Michael Donkor’s Hold is published by 4TH Estate



Improving Hillside Garden’s Play Area – what do you think?

Dear Resident,

The Friends of Hillside Gardens and the London Borough of Lambeth have been working in partnership with Turkington Martin Landscape Architects to develop a masterplan to direct investment of £500k into the redevelopment of Hillside Gardens. The funds have come from local s106 developer contribution agreements.

The proposed investment will:

  • Enhance accessibility throughout the park with improved footways
  • Refurbish the childrens’ play area
  • Improve surfacing and boundary fencing of tennis and multi-use games areas
  • New furniture and signage throughout
  • New static fitness equipment for adults and older children
  • Planting and soft landscaping.

The proposed masterplan has been informed by a working group of Friends and an extensive survey of park users undertaken by the Friends during the summer of 2019.
Feedback from the survey has been incorporated into the final design. You can view the
proposed masterplan design on the park notice boards or on the Friends of Hillside Gardens and council websites.

Play area

It was agreed during the master planning process that the childrens’ play area needed
investment to enhance this already well designed and popular facility. The project team
appointed Kompan to develop a proposal. The proposed design retains key pieces of equipment including the large climbing unit and bank slide. The proposal includes improving the safety surfacing throughout and replacing old features with new enhanced equipment with higher play value. The draft plans can be viewed on notice boards in the park or here and here (see also previous blog posts).

Your comments are invited on the children’s play area and the wider masterplan proposals. Works are expected to commence on the refurbishment of the footways in the park at the end January 2020 and are expected to take 1 month. 

Playground works are programmed to start in early March with completion in the Spring. Improvements to the court boundary fencing and surfaces will be undertaken on a phased basis after April 2020.

Please forward any comments or questions you have to Rob Kelly, Lambeth Project
Manager on by the 3rd of February 2020.

We look forward to hearing your feedback.
Tom Stanbury
Friends of Hillside Gardens and Palace Road Nature Gardens


Ideas and Plans for the Community Hub

During the last Friend’s meeting in September, Studio Cherry presented a vision as to what a building would look like if it was a community cafe/hub for all park users. This idea was brought up at our first public consultation. The location for such a building would be beside the Children’s playground just beyond the pergola shelter. You can find detailed plans here.
The next steps for delivery of such a building in the park would be to begin raising funds so that such a building can be built. At the same time in order to get sign off from Lambeth it will be necessary to have a business plan. Within this the Friends of Hillside Gardens Park would detail the overheads of running such a building. If you would like to join the planning group, please contact Tom 

Which Tennis Court Surface At Hillside Gardens Park do you want?

We would like to know which surface you would most like to have installed during the upcoming park’s development. The idea is to find out which court surface is desired and whether to have one or two different types of tennis court surface/s. The information below gives a brief summary of the characteristics of the four most popular tennis court surfaces used in Great Britain. You can click HERE to do the very quick two questions survey.

Description and some of the Pros & Cons of four different court surfaces

1) Artificial Clay
1. Slow-Medium speed. 2. Medium height bounce. 3. Almost uniform trueness of bounce. 4. Sliding footing. 5. Non-slip traction. 6. Medium to soft shock absorption.
1. Surface provides the highest number of playing hours throughout the year. 2. Surface is not affected by frost or freezing conditions. 3. Suitable for junior coaching and liked by junior coaches. 4. Low cost replication of real clay playing characteristics, i.e. slow pace / medium bounce.
1. Player maintenance before or after playing session. 2. Weekly drag brushing by club staff is an essential requirement. 3. If localised problems exist it is harder to patch repair the surface. 4. Surface requires raised kerbing to prevent clay infill from migrating outside the fence line.

2) Porous Asphalt
1. Slow speed. 2. High bounce. 3. Almost uniform bounce that decreases with age. 4. Firm footing. 5. Non-slip traction. 6. No shock absorption.
1. Low capital cost to construct. 2. Low maintenance costs over lifespan. 3. Hard and robust playing surface. 4. No court user maintenance required.
1. Firm surface can be heavy on players joints. 2. Slow pace / high bounce. 3. Surface can soften in early years during summer. 4. Poor aesthetics where repainting is left too long.

3) Artificial Grass
1. Medium Slow-Very Fast speed. 2. Medium-Low height of bounce. 3. Variable trueness of bounce. 4. Generally firm, can have partial sliding footing. 5. Mainly non-slip but can be variable traction. 6. Mostly reasonable shock absorption.
1. Soft surface under foot. 2. Allows play in most weather. 3. Not affected by puddling. 4. No court user maintenance required.
1. Fast pace / low bounce. 2. High maintenance requirements. Weekly input from club staff. 3. Potential for freezing during winter. 4. High cost of reinstating if facility is poorly maintained.

4) Impervious Acrylic
1. Medium Slow-Fast speed. 2. Medium height bounce. 3. Uniform trueness of bounce. 4. Firm footing. 5. Non-slip traction. 6. Shock absorption is hard to moderate depending on if cushioned.
1. Good slip resistance qualities. 2. Low maintenance of the surface once installed in that only the upper surface of the court needs to be re-coated and you don’t need to replace the tarmac. 3. Durable surface with a long lifespan. 4. Good playing characteristics.
1. Un-usable during periods of wet weather. 2. Hard under foot. 3. Surface has a non porous sub-base, therefore a larger cross fall may be required to assist the drainage of the courts. 4. Perimeter drainage around the court block will be required regardless of the gradient.

Click HERE to do the very quick two questions survey.


(Serious About Tennis)


Survey about the future of the park: Tells us how the park should be improved!

You may or may not know that Lambeth has allocated a large amount of money to improve the park (more information here and here), providing us with the chance to improve the park for everyone. The council has started the process and a team of landscape architects has sketched out some first ideas. Now we want to know what you think about them, and what is missing.

Click here to start a short, 5 min survey to tell us what we should try to achieve with this money.

There is also a survey specifically for young people! If you are aged between 12-18 please complete this alternative survey.

The more people tell us what they want, the more impact we can have on the process; your opinion matters. We will also have a table at the Hillside Sports Day (May, 18th) if would want to talk to us in person. We are ready to listen.




Hillside Sports Day (18th of May): Better than Ever

Each year the Friends of Hillside Gardens Park (i.e., we) are organising a day of free fun and activities for the whole family: The Hillside Sports Day. And each year, it is growing and getting better and better. The aim of the day is not only to provide the people around Hillside Gardens Park with a day full of free, organised sports activities, but also to bring the community together. Come along even if you do not like sports at all, there is something for everyone. Let me point out some of the highlights below, but if you are impatient, click here to book a session.  Booking is not needed, but some sessions are so popular, that booking them might be a good idea. Here are all the events, below more information.


Turn Trash to Treats: On the day before the sports day (Friday, 17th of May, 18:00), we will make the cleaning of the park in preparation for the big day a bit more fun. Come along, collect some trash (bags and gloves provided), and get cake, brownies and more in return. Fun for the whole family.

Tennis: As usual, we have a lot of great tennis opportunities for the very young (Toddlers, 9.30) to adults (taster session: 11:00), to everyone in between (Minis 10:00, Juniors, 11:00). Not matter whether you are good or bad, you will enjoy this tennis session led by our dream team of instructors, Rosena and Dino (book here ).

Theatre: For the first time , we will have an arts and drama workshop for children 5 years and younger. Let by the inspiring and experienced Mhairi Grealis from Clip Theatre. Bring your future Oscar winner at 10:00 to the One O’Clock Club and watch the magic enfold. Click here for more information. 

Social Tea: Our chair, Tom, organised this amazing event. His goal is to bring the people in the park together, to have a moment to chat and get to know each other, whether you like sport or not. So he convinced Emma’s, a local real estate agent for many years (here) to provide free tea, coffee, and cake. We are all hoping very much to meet you there.

There is so much more, Yoga and Netball will be popular as every year. And I might try to play some rugby for the first time in my life. And for most of us, the highlight of the day is seeing the kids run in the races at the end of the day.

We hope to see you there, have a chat, and get to know you.