Stuart Monro, videographer and founder of the campaign for Wanstead Park, has died aged 79.
In the summer of 2005 Stuart contacted several people who were interested in the park’s history and invited them to his home to discuss ways to promote the Park and lobby for its preservation and improvement. Encouraged by his generous hospitality it was decided to formalise the group as the Wanstead Parklands Community Project, which initially had about a dozen members. Meetings of the group continued to be hosted by Stuart for a number of years.
Within a short time, successful bids for grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Nationwide Building Society enabled Stuart to devote his time and expertise to producing a series of DVDs describing various aspects of the history and natural history of the Park. These were well received by the local community, continue to be an important record and are still in demand as a means of bringing the Park to a wider audience. Stuart also arranged promotional events in local libraries and elsewhere. His films of these events helped to demonstrate the strength of local support for the campaign for Wanstead Park, and concern at its declining condition. The final report to the HLF about the work of the Community Project was well received, in no small measure due to the quality of Stuart’s films.
Peter Wilkinson, who was later to manage the Wanstead Park project, recognised the importance of Stuart's contribution. He commented that Stuart "…was great fun, very engaging and his approach to interpretation and action research was truly transformational in moving the campaign to restore the park forward".
In June 2009 Wanstead Park, largely due to lobbying from the Community Project, was included in English Heritage’s Heritage at Risk Register. This prompted the group to sponsor the reactivation of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands, a membership-based organisation which had been dormant for some years. Although the Community Project had proved active and effective, it had the weakness of being a small self-selected committee. Both the Community Project and the Park’s custodians felt that a broadly-based Friends group would be better placed to assist with the challenging task of removing the Park from the Register. At the Friends' inaugural meeting, Stuart screened a specially produced DVD about the Park.
Today, the Friends of Wanstead Parklands is an organisation with hundreds of members. It has built on the work started by Stuart and is regarded as a key stakeholder by the City of London and other landowners. The expertise of its members has materially contributed both to a deeper understanding of the Park’s history and ecology and to the development of plans to secure its long-term future.
Prior to the launch of the campaign for Wanstead Park, Stuart Monro had been a resident of Wanstead for more than two decades. After studying drama at Bristol University and film at the London School of Film, Stuart made his living producing videos professionally. He was a member of the Institute of Videography, and an occasional judge for the Institute of Amateur Cinematographers. In 2016 a retrospective was held at Morley College at which a selection of the films he had made since the 1970s was shown.
As a filmmaker who was keen to record the world around him, Stuart appreciated the importance of capturing aspects of the landscape and the traditions, histories and sense of place of local people. Stuart had already made several videos about the local area, including "Kings of the Forest", a documentary recording how the deer played a key role in preventing the destruction of Epping Forest. Other films had themes as varied as the release of homing pigeons on Wanstead Flats and the characters who ran the Bank Holiday Fairs.
Local historian Georgina Green worked with Stuart on some of his projects during this time. She recalls -
“I think it was when he made “Kings of the Forest” that he wanted to film me walking up the hill to Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, explaining its history. It was arranged without warning (he dragged me out one Sunday afternoon) and I had no notes but was happy to speak spontaneously. Unfortunately, he couldn't record the sound and we did it several times so that in the end I had completely lost any thread to what I was saying and could hardly stop laughing. I think we dubbed something later”.
“He also made a film of “Poems and Port Wine” which was a celebration of the life of Thomas Hood, held at Wanstead on 3rd May 1995 to mark the 150th anniversary of his death. I had been asked to take part by reading a poem (I chose “The Song of the Shirt”) in what I thought was an informal event. I arrived a few minutes late as I had taken a half-day holiday off work, to find a packed hall with a seated audience. I didn't know it was being filmed so unfortunately, the soundtrack picked up a little of the noise when I arrived and was asked to read my poem almost before I had taken off my jacket. It was a very good event, organised by Brian Page and Stephen Pewsey and the Wanstead Historical Society”.
Stuart was a member of the Wanstead Historical Society for many years. He became passionate about the long and varied history of Wanstead Park and collected a huge archive of images and films on the subject, which he kept in his inner sanctum, a studio on the top floor of his house.
In recent years Stuart played a less active role in the campaign for Wanstead Park, though he continued to be interested in it. In part, this was because his energy was sapped by his chronic health problems. However, he had also become involved in the campaign against the closure of Lewisham Hospital. Both Stuart and his wife, Charlotte, have been involved in a variety of social and political causes over the years, and the National Health Service was always a matter of particular concern to them. The fight for Lewisham Hospital gave Stuart another opportunity to utilise his skills as a filmmaker, and he helped bring the campaign to a successful conclusion in July 2013.
At about this time Stuart was drawn into another struggle closer to home. Charlotte was sacked from her job at Whipps Cross Hospital. She contended that the grounds for her dismissal were specious and that she was, in reality, being victimised for her trade union activities. After a battle lasting almost two years, Charlotte was reinstated, and her employers agreed to remove all the allegations against her from their records.
Although a man of strongly held views, Stuart Monro was personally good-natured, cheerful and emollient. He was modest and wore his knowledge and expertise lightly. Parties hosted by Stuart and Charlotte were great fun, bringing together friends with many different interests - politics, music, theatre, filmmaking, writing and the love of good food and wine. There are many who have been touched by his sensitivity to the landscape and its social history, his love of wildlife, his wisdom, humour and caring nature for others. The Friends of Wanstead Parklands will not be alone in missing him greatly.
Stuart collapsed suddenly at home on the afternoon of Thursday 7 September, and was taken to Whipps Cross Hospital but could not be revived. He died with Charlotte beside him, and to her we will give the last word: -
“Stuart, we love you so much and so many other people do. My support, my life sharer, Anna's dad and soul mate. He has given so much to people, to our times, to our movements. His films, his wisdom, and his great love and loyalty to people, and his humour. And what he has given will live on in all of us. The NHS he campaigned and fought for cared for him well over this period when he has needed it”.
Stuart Monro’s funeral will be held on Friday 22 September at the City of London Crematorium, South Chapel, Aldersbrook Road, Manor Park, London E12 5DQ. Those attending are requested to gather from 4:00pm for a 4:15pm start. The ceremony is scheduled to last an hour and will include tributes from people Stuart knew from various areas of his life.
After the ceremony, the party will head to Wanstead Park, for a short gathering by the tea hut (near the end of Wanstead Park Avenue). Precise timings are difficult, but it is anticipated that the party will arrive at 5:40-5:45pm and will stay for about 20 minutes. This part of the programme may be affected by the weather.
After the stop in Wanstead Park, the party will move to Stuart's home in Belgrave Road for food, drink, good company and sharing of memories. Anyone who wishes to go straight to Belgrave Road from the cemetery, for example, because they have mobility problems, may do so. They will find someone at home to admit them.
Flowers are welcome. The family would prefer wild or garden flowers or a red rose but that is not a strict rule.
Donations to either Medecins Sans Frontieres or
Keep Our NHS Public by clicking here. You might like to leave a note saying it is for Stuart Monro
All inquiries please to Compassionate Funerals - 89a Aldersbrook Road, E12 5DG (020 8989 0493).