Wimbledon Town Neighbourhood Forum

Have you been thinking about what will happen to Wimbledon town centre over time?  Perhaps you’ve heard about ‘neighbourhood plans’, and are wondering whether such a plan could help residents and businesses shape the future of our town centre?

These questions, along with a wonderful display of thought-provoking drawings of Wimbledon buildings and scenes, were at the centre of a recent Wimbledon Civic Forum event, organised by local artist Jonathan Parker with the help of Marcus Beale Architects, held at Merton Art Space at the back of Wimbledon Library.

The event was chaired by the president of the Civic Forum, Stephen Hammond MP, and attended by Anthony Wilkinson who updated the attendees on the ongoing Wimbledon Concert Hall project.

An insight into the event and concept of a neighbourhood plan from the perspective of event organiser, Jonathan Parker …

“What will happen to our town?” is a question that concerns many people including myself. I have been living in Wimbledon since 1993. In 2018, when I heard how important a neighbourhood plan could be when dealing with issues raised by planning proposals, particularly when it relates to building heights, I started drawing contemporary Wimbledon and joined the Wimbledon Neighbourhood Plan Working Group.

Subsequently I organised a Wimbledon Civic Forum event on 20th June with the help of Marcus Beale Architects, to raise awareness of the Wimbledon Town Neighbourhood Forum for both residents and businesses.  At the event, which was held at the Merton Art Space @Wimbledon Library, I was showing all 30 of my Wimbledon drawings, hanging them together for the first time. The display was intended to form a basis for debate about our town centre and neighbourhood. The event was chaired by Stephen Hammond MP.  There was also a talk by Anthony Wilkinson, trustee of the Wimbledon Concert Hall project.

In the days leading up to the event I tried to create awareness of the Wimbledon Town Neighbourhood Forum within the business community because at that stage we were working with the assumption that a town centre neighbourhood plan must have a 50:50 balance of business and resident input. The event has focused attention on whether this balance is indeed absolute.  At this stage it is still a proposed forum because the number of people that have signed up to the group is still relatively small and it does not yet have the business/resident balance that may be necessary.

The aim of the event was to raise awareness and subsequently increase membership.  It attracted some 60 – 70 attendees, drawn from both the business and residential communities in Wimbledon.  My aim was to provide a platform, through artworks and a 10-minute presentation, for both, residents and businesses to express an interest in working together on a coherent neighbourhood plan that could help shape the future of our town centre. One attendee and friend of mine, Tom Moulton, observed that the introduction “presented the points of view well, promoted a good cause and won over many hearts and minds balancing residential and business”.  I then handed over to Anthony Wilkinson who talked about the concert hall project. With two council planning officers in the audience it was hoped to generate interest in and commitment to the project which is promising to bring a building designed by famous American architect Frank Gehry to the heart of Wimbledon (a first, not only for our town centre but for the UK).  Some of the ensuing debate was centred around issues such as ‘weeds and litter’, and it became clear that many people at the meeting had concerns about the town centre which were not related to the concept of a neighbourhood plan. I learned afterwards that community meetings can often be like that…

Anthony and I were joined on stage by Rob Cowan who is leading the group trying to establish the Wimbledon Town Neighbourhood Forum, and Jon Herbert, a town planner who lives in Wimbledon. Based on questions asked by people in the audience it soon became evident that there were broadly two trains of thought: Some said that the event showed that we were already too involved with the business community, and had already gone too far down the road of consultation with businesses when it should be a purely residential group.  In response Jon Herbert explained the process and associated statutory requirements for forming a group for a town centre, highlighting the fact that only a group that is a) big enough and b) adequately reflects the demography and business/ residential mix, can submit a successful application to the council. Policies can only be formed after an application has been made.

Others felt it was all “far too nebulous”, and told us that the community had “consultation fatigue”, wondering “why bother when there are already so many organisations championing the town centre”. It was stressed that work that had already been done by others, such as the Wimbledon Society 2040 Vision, could and should be built upon and incorporated into the Wimbledon Town Neighbourhood Forum policies.

The speakers emphasised the need for more people to be involved and I handed out print copies of a form that people are asked to fill in to join the group. I believe membership has risen to 30 or 40 since the event, which is up from 14 back in November 2018 when I joined the group and a clear step in the right direction!

How I see my art in the context of a neighbourhood plan …

I know people have strong instincts about their neighbourhood and how the future might look. I’ve tried to fathom mine through my artwork. Drawing is a good way to understand time and place and feelings about those things. It’s a unique human activity, making sense of the world. I have some basic rules to help me see more clearly the relationship between things within a single drawing. Although the broad technique is quite suggestive, I’ll focus on a few points of energy and detail. Later, with more drawings to look at, I can identify the kind of atmosphere certain locations present and try and make a judgement.

In this Wimbledon series there are different elements to understand; people. trees, traffic, buildings and the sky, drawn onto paper that has a blue-black ground. I used a similar approach for my earlier breakthrough exhibition – Familiarity and Mystery (2017) – which dealt with the transition of a grand country house from family home to National Trust property.

When I draw well, time seems to stand still. Instinct overrides thought and that’s important. I hope that showing the drawings together and giving some insight into their creation can be a catalyst for passionate and thoughtful debate about Wimbledon; part of a framework to enable the reality of the neighbourhood to be understood better, with the changes to be made, guided in a positive way by people who care.

Written by Jonathan Parker and Susanne (Wimblecomm). All enquiries welcome, please contact Jonathan at:

About Jonathan Parker …

Jonathan Parker was born in Northern Ireland in 1968 while his father Brian, an English civil engineer, was leading the Belfast transportation study. He is best known for portraits (to be seen on the ArtUK.org website), including one of his father as Chairman of the Twickenham Society and he has also made distinctive series of paintings that broadly signal the action of time. He grew up in Twickenham and attended King’s College School, where he began drawing seriously. Several fine paintings by the artist can be seen at King’s in Wimbledon. Mabel Parker, his great grandmother, was a one of the first women artists to study at the Slade. Her etchings of Oxford and Cambridge and towns throughout the country are a source of inspiration for the artist today. http://www.swlondoner.co.uk/wimbledon-development-artist-drawing/

About the Town Centre Neighbourhood Plan and how to get involved …

“The Complete Neighbourhood” is the slogan that the neighbourhood plan working group – the proposed Wimbledon Town Neighbourhood Forum – is presenting as their aim: To make Wimbledon a flagship of sustainable, environmentally-friendly, healthy and economically prosperous urban living. Everyone in the community can participate in the creation of the neighbourhood plan. Businesses and residents will need to understand each other for it to be successfully adopted and at the moment it is only at the proposal stage. Support from the community is essential for “The Complete Neighbourhood” to have real influence in the planning process.

The Wimbledon Town Neighbourhood Plan Group’s data controller is called Wimbledon Town Centre Forum and can be contacted on: mailto:wimbledonforum@gmail.com.

To join the group please visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/completeneighbourhood and fill in the form.

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