Founder of The Howard Estate Green Hearts, John Chandler explained that tenants originally came together to create care packages for NHS staff during the first national lockdown last March. He said: “I run a cleaning company and obviously couldn’t go into people’s houses so I had more time on my hands. I’d see the nurses and doctors on the TV, getting sore from their masks, and I wanted to help them.”
“We created drop‐off points and asked people to donate things like tea, coffee, and hand creams. We made up 120 packages for West Suffolk Hospital. Then we branched out and made boxes for the pharmacies, plus the police and the fire brigade. That’s what kicked things off.”
Community at the heart
The group gathered momentum after there were reports of young people being bullied on the Howard Estate. Keen to help, John galvanised fellow tenants to display green hearts in their windows, giving young people a safe space to go to in case of emergency. He said: “By putting up the hearts, the kids knew that they could knock on the door and that we’d look after them until their parents came. Of course, they couldn’t come in during lockdown but we’d wait with them on the doorstep to make sure they were safe.”
John and his fellow group members began to call themselves the Howard Estate Green Hearts. They soon turned their attentions to sprucing up their neighbourhood. “We started going out every Sunday and tidying up the overgrown areas,” said John.
“One Sunday, we had 50 people out. We even won a Bury in Bloom award for Outstanding Achievement in the Community, and I won a £100 voucher in a competition run by the garden centre Dobbie’s. I’m going to use it to plant a tree and put a plaque up for the estate.”
The Green Hearts, whose members include Scarlett Brabrook, Vicki Brown, Aaron Goodman, Naomi Hamer and Liam Hayes, also sprinkled some festive joy on their neighbours over Christmas. Together, they collected enough goodies to make up 70 food hampers for those
in need of help.
John explains: “Barbara Bannister from the community centre gave us room to store the items, and we got nominations for people who needed a hamper. That way, no one had to ask for help; it can be hard to admit you’re struggling.”
“I dressed up as Father Christmas to give out the hampers and there was so much joy on people’s faces. Nearly every story got to me.”
John’s heart has been similarly warmed with the long‐term effect of the Green Hearts on the estate’s sense of community spirit. “There’s such a positive feeling when you walk around now,” explained John, who has lived on the estate all his life.
“People are engaging again, and waving when they see each other. I’d seen the community spirit go missing over the years, but it’s amazing now; everyone talks about it. It’s made us want to keep going and going as the Green Hearts.”
What is next for The Howard Estate Green Hearts?
The achievements of the group are certainly building, as a new outdoor gym will be installed on the estate this summer after 1,000 signatures were gathered in support.
Group member Naomi Hamer praised John’s indomitable spirit and his successful leadership of the Green Hearts. She said: “John uses his initiative and persistence to fight for what is lacking within the community, for the good of its members. He bridges the gap between younger and older residents, having them work together, interact with each other in a positive manner and have something they can be proud of as a collective.”
“People are so much more welcoming, kind and willing to help out; and people also feel more comfortable asking for help. It has made such a difference.”
For more information, visit the Howard Estate Community page on Facebook.
This article will feature in the Spring 2021 edition of Havebury News. Want to get Havebury News in your inbox? Click here to sign up to The Place.