This is where it all started, a spontaneous meeting of local people with one idea: to seize the long-awaited opportunity of redevelopment at Convoys Wharf, to bring something of real value to everyone. We all believed that together we could achieve something special, a positive contribution to our city - we just weren't sure yet what it was going to be...
We knew it had to spring from the strong identity of the area itself - and this wasn't hard to find as the site of Convoys Wharf has an incredibly rich history: not only the ancient heart of Deptford as the Royal Dockyard, but also holding international significance as a site of horticultural innovation. If the proposed development could imbibe the essence of this living culture, Convoys Wharf would be a truly exciting place.
We set about sharing the story, working with nearby schools and community groups to re-connect the local significance of these half-remembered truths. What we found was striking: the amount of pride expressed in being part of a place where incredible things have always happened.
Many meetings, exhibitions and a study day followed, and the idea of what a future Sayes Court could be started to take shape - the excitement grew as support rolled in from the National Trust, Eden Project, Gardens Trust, World Monuments Fund and many more. We were invited to meet Farrell's, the team masterplanning Convoys Wharf, to explain the importance of Sayes Court and how we envisaged it could help shape the development. But with the value of London building land being what it is, we needed a clear proposal to put forward if we were going to persuade the developer to preserve a substantial chunk of it as open space...
Firstly, Sayes Court had to bring real opportunities for local people, as well as spreading its benefits further afield. With the support of Harvard University and the National Trust, we devised an outline of a future Sayes Court which would seize the spirit of its remarkable history and apply it to the very 21st Century issues affecting our cities - climate change, health, access to nature.
Encompassing education and training as well as a cultural centre and flagship for innovation in urban horticulture and landscape, it was clear we needed a building as well! With the support of Lewisham Council we commissioned David Kohn Architects to draw up a report.
The day of the planning decision for Convoys Wharf finally came, and we went up to City Hall to make our representations and answer the Mayor of London's questions about the project, supported by Dame Joan Ruddock MP, National Trust and London Borough of Lewisham.
After a tense 15 minutes the Mayor returned, and granted his consent for the scheme to go ahead - with the major condition that Sayes Court must be given the space it needs to thrive!
This modest park in South East London has an extraordinary history; ideas which originated here in the 17th and 19th Centuries are still having a profound impact around the world today - ideas such as planting trees to clean the air, establishing sustainable resources, access to nature and cultural heritage. Why then is this place so special, and how did it come to be so important?
The manor of Sayes Court dates back to William the Conqueror, but it is with the arrival of John Evelyn in 1652 that the story really begins. Evelyn, along with his close friend Samuel Pepys, is one of the leading diarists of the revolutionary 17th Century - recording the Civil War, Commonwealth and Restoration as well as the seismic events of the Great Fire and Plague.
Evelyn is also a key figure in the other revolution of the 17th Century: the birth of modern science. Travelling in Europe to escape troubles at home, he witnessed the latest innovations in scientific investigation which looked at everything afresh - including gardens.
Whilst on his travels Evelyn also met and married Mary Browne in Paris, receiving Sayes Court as part of the marriage settlement. Returning from Europe, he immediately set to on the gardens interpreting many of the new ideas he had seen abroad.
To appreciate the significance of Evelyn's design we need to understand a much deeper concept of what a garden is. Far more than a pleasant pastime, it was a tool for thought, a living laboratory and an act of creation, with the new evergreens which Evelyn introduced representing an eternal spring.
In 1660 Evelyn became one of the founding members of the Royal Society, with his garden at Sayes Court an exciting source of inspiration. Through the lens of public health he wrote a pamphlet suggesting planting trees to clean the air, a book on vegetarianism and a plan to rebuild London after the Great Fire which saw the whole city as a garden.
After the ravages of the Civil War essential timber was in short supply, so Evelyn was commissioned to write a propaganda handbook on practical forestry. His Sylva went far beyond this, so universally appealing that its influence still shapes our woods and forests - and how we look at them - today.
After Evelyn had retired to his family home in Surrey in 1696, he leased Sayes Court to a young Peter the Great - visiting the Royal Dockyard to learn the secrets of a successful Navy. The Russian Czar got so drunk that he trashed the house and gardens, worst of all by riding through Evelyn's prize holly hedge in a wheelbarrow!
170 years after Evelyn's death and his famous garden's disappearance, his descendant was living in a very different Deptford. Alarmed at overcrowding and poor health, in 1876 he decided to create a public park at Sayes Court.
When W J Evelyn tried to secure the future of the park, he ran into difficulties: the local authority couldn't take it on. He gained the attention of leading open space campaigners Octavia Hill and Robert Hunter; it was the predicament of Sayes Court which inspired them to create the National Trust. Unfortunately too late to protect it: over half the park was lost in World War One, but the opportunity for renewal has come round again.
This is the story of Sayes Court so far: twice glorious, twice lost, and - now - twice saved; what will be next for this remarkable place? The garden's intrinsic values are more important than ever, and now as it embarks on its third age we have the opportunity to make it more innovative, inspiring and world-changing than ever before.