In 1996 the Council withdrew its small but crucial grant. An immediate outcry ensued from garden members and the public. One councillor was heard to mutter that he had never received so many letters on a single issue before. A protest march to the Town Hall was followed by an impassioned speech by the then Chairman, Ken Standing. At the last minute, when it seemed all was lost, the reprieve came. The Council grant was halved rather than axed.
Though the Council continued to help in several ways, rebuilding the wall and supplying fences, their grant dwindled each year until finally ending in 2002. As a result Culpeper has often struggled to make ends meet. Subscriptions are kept deliberately low, and we have to engage in extensive fund-raising. Culpeper has benefited from many generous funders with particularly strong links with the Cripplegate Foundation and the Cloudesley Foundation, Trust for London, Hobson Charity, the Shanley Foundation and the Newby Trust.
In 2000 it was decided to raise money to build a Resource Centre that could better cater for the many demands laid upon the garden. Many thanks are owed to Kate Bowen, the Garden-Worker at the time, who led the project. Two years later the new building was finished, with a green roof, an office, a tool shed, and kitchen.
In 2009 Culpeper was one of the first organisations to gain the PQASSO mark (Practical Quality Assurance System for Small Organisations), awarded for good practice in management and business.
In 2012 Culpeper, then a venerable 30 years old and one of the oldest community gardens in London, became a ‘Heritage Site. We have been honoured with many awards: Islington in Book Gold and Silver, and Green Pennant awards which are only given to green spaces run by voluntary community groups. The RHS “It’s your Neighbourhood” scheme has recognised Culpeper as ‘outstanding’. In 2016 the garden was registered as a ‘Fields-in-Trust’, thus protecting it ‘in perpetuity’ as an open space.
As a registered charity Culpeper works hard to bring in the outside community. Events include the Pensioners’ strawberry tea, accompanied by live Music Hall favourites with the Pearly Queen in attendance, and Halloween parties when young local children tear around the garden as ghouls and witches. Other regular events are the summer and Winter Solstice parties, Summer Arts weeks for children, practical workshops, and Garden Open day to coincide with the Open Squares weekend. We organise visits to famous gardens (notably Kew), make-and-take craft workshops, a flourishing choir and other musical everts, with projects supporting environmental education.
“Looking back”, reflects Anthea Douglas, the teacher who set this tale in motion, “it has all turned out extremely well. In the end,” she says, “the Council didn’t build a car-park or health centre on the site, but they did build flats on one side and a playground on another, putting the garden at the very heart of the plan”.