Showing posts with label Lewisham. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lewisham. Show all posts

Monday, 3 May 2010

A new politics? Lewisham Liberal Democrats

"Don't let anyone tell you that the only choice is the old politics", Nick Clegg, April 2010
Over recent weeks, I've been watching the leaflets fall through the door. Labour do a nice line in photos of Hilly Fields; every single thing that Steve Bullock has done has apparently been because of the Greens (rumour has it that the mayoral knight can't tie his own shoelaces without Darren Johnson having "campaigned hard" for it first); and if there are Tory leaflets, well, they must be too big for my letter box.
All the usual electoral fare. But, as we all know, what is different this time round is the rise of the Lib Dems. Sweeping all before them they promise change, honesty and a fresh, new politics.
So, why is their election material in Lewisham so negative - and their arguments resting on dodgy ground? Tamora Langley, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, berates Labour for having done nothing on violent crime. This is nothing more than low grade populism. Reported violent crime may have increased, but it's a big jump from there to saying that violent crime is up. As the British Crime Survey demonstrates, there are enough grey areas to make it almost impossible to say "violent crime is going up. Indeed, the Tories got caught out when they tried just this.
But Tam Langley ignores these nuances to make a blatant and sweeping partisan point that is helpful to no one and nothing but Liberal Democrat election prospects. As further evidence of her opportunism, she puts the blame on Labour. Last time I looked the Mayor of London was responsible for the Metropolitan Police, and if memory serves me correctly, he's a Tory.
Still, don't let something as inconvenient as the facts get in the way of a populist rant. This is an election after all, although I thought the Liberals were offering a "new politics".
It's also very hard to take their claims to be a new broom seriously when they draw so many of their candidates from the Westminster Village. Indeed, Ms Langley is a lobbyist with Weber Shandwick.
Now, some of my best friends are lobbyists, and it would be childish to write off Tam Langley simply because of her job. However, I'm afraid she makes that very easy for us to do when we see that she is blogging about her campaign for . . . er, lobbyists Weber Shandwick.
If the Liberals really want to offer us a new politics then they should stop publicly using their campaign experiences for the benefit of the private lobbyist companies who employ them.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Bookies back the Greens

A Green Party leaflet dropped through the door this week, informing us that, "The Green Party are the most likely challengers to Labour in Lewisham Deptford . . . according to bookmakers."

There's a delicious irony with the Greens claim backing from those they have spent so much time trying to hound out of the constituency.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Big fish

No, I wasn't dreaming. As walked by the Ravensbourne next to Cornmill Gardens I noticed fish somewhat bigger than usual in the water. Then I noticed there were a lot more fish than I'm used to seeing in this river.

I'm pretty sure they were trout, and as they were all struggling upstream, I wonder if they are spawning?

In any case, an impressive sight. Does anyone know if they were trout? If so, is this a recent occurence? Is the river cleaner of late?

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Lewisham history

My wife got the interesting A Century of Lewisham by John Coulter for Christmas. I like history, it was my degree, and I've always wanted to know about the places where I've lived. The internet makes this easier. It's surprising how much local amateur historical research is on the web.

There is a wealth of material about Lewisham to be found, but almost all of it relates to the last 100 years or so. In short, since the area became fully urban.

Is it that people are generally interested in the buildings and landscape that they can see around them (so, if you live next door to a castle or medieval church you'll want to know about that, and if it's an Edwardian terrace with bomb damage in Ladywell that will do for you) or is it that there's not much to write about Lewisham prior to 1880?

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Street drinkers

You put up with street drinkers in Ladywell. We're near a town centre, a hospital and the council offices. We've got parks. Sad to say, but it goes with the territory.

I am loath to judge. I don't know what brings people to this pass, but it is an issue that needs acting upon. Of course the health service and the local authority are doing things.

But do others have a responsibility? One of the shops on Ladywell Road keeps a bottle opener under the counter so that drinkers can have their super strength booze opened for them before they leave the shop. This means they are drinking immediately as they walk down the road.

Is this acceptable? Is it any less acceptable than selling Special Brew in the first place? Or am I completely over-reacting?

I'd be interested to know what people think.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Just who are you to say that?

Of all the poor benighted cultural institutions in this country, the one that attracts more ill informed comment than any other is the humble public library. Last weekend saw another classic of the kind, as the Observer's Hephzibah Anderson added her complaint.

I don't rely on, but I do use Lewisham's libraries. They're nothing special, and do provide me with access to the information and books that I need when I need them. Like the time my broadband fell over and I needed to get online, or when I needed a travel book, or that text for my evening class.

But it's since my little boy has come on the scene that they have come into their own. T so loves his trips to Bounce and Rhyme at Lewisham that he goes for a second helping at Crofton Park. In doing so he's learning to communicate and to engage, and he's learning to be at home in the library, which I hope provides a foundation for him to help him learn and to have fun throughout his life.

I'm a fan of libraries, no question, and (as regular readers of this blog now) as a committed localist I have an understanding of the role they play in local communities.

Which is why I get so upset when I read articles like Anderson's. They want to kick T out of the library and replace him with a mini-Bodleian. They just don't get where libraries are now.

Libraries are about providing access to information and to literature in settings that are appropriate to the communities that they serve, and this goes completely against the 1950s views of Anderson et al.

The public library exists so that those who would otherwise be unable to access the information and literature they need can do so in a setting that is social and communal. That vision needs to be constantly refreshed as technologies, society and places change.

Libraries never were about being palaces of books, but the argument that they were and that they should be again is sadly dominant in our broadsheets and amongst our cultural commentators. They drown out the voices of those who actually understand libraries and know their role in national and local life.

Anderson as good as admits this:
Like plenty of people who count themselves supporters of public libraries, it had been a while since I last stepped inside one.
So, who is Hephzibah Anderson? If she's not been in a library for years, what else qualifies her to pontificate on what they should be about? According to Jewish Quarterly, she is:
deputy fiction critic for The Observer, Fiction Editor of the Daily Mail, and a visual arts writer for the Evening Standard. She sits on the editorial board of the Jewish Quarterly, and writes regularly for the Jewish Chronicle, the New Statesman and Zembla Magazine. She also reviews for BBC Radio London and BBC Radio 2.
So, we can safely assume that she knows nothing about what libraries do and what they are about. Sadly, this doesn't stop her or her colleagues in the arts pages, or novelists (now, there's a producer interest!) lecturing the rest of the world.

Such people are the only obvious participants in what is a very one sided debate. Let's hope local councils listen to their communities, not the siren voices of the Sunday papers.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

A London of villages

The past week has been spent in the New Forest. I have tramped miles of forest and heathland paths (with T in a rather impressive new backpack), cycled to the coast and wandered around small towns and villages.

Once you got outside of the real tourist traps, I was taken aback by how polite people were. Civility has become quite important to me in recent months. I am getting sick of seeing people spit in the street, toss litter in the park, or leave their pit bull lying across a shop doorway. It's the one thing that makes me regret where I live. A nod and a 'good morning' from a passerby, then, was a stark contrast to some of the interactions I have with those who share my particular patch of SE4.

Civility - treating people with respect and decency - seems to me to be an ultimate foundation of a good neighbourhood. It's a quality somewhat underplayed by many of the writers on what makes for a successful city.

Perhaps, then we need to conceive of the successful city not in terms of its totality, but more as a collection of smaller communities - akin to the small towns, villages and neighbourhoods of the non-urban and suburban bits of the UK. We are continually told that disappearing pubs, schools and post offices are ripping the heart out of such communities, and I wouldn't want to romanticise, but noticeboards on village halls and the banter in pubs where I stopped for a pint told of places where people had ample opportunity to interact with each other, and to do it at a level which is meaningful to them and their lives.

Such thoughts recurred to me as I wandered around yesterday's Blythe Hill Fields Festival. People came together in their area to do something with each other, and the effect, from what I could see, was fantastic. People were happy in each others company and were having fun. We need more opportunities to do this, and while festivals have their place, it needs to be embedded in the core of what local places have and what they are about.

When I say we need to look at making successful places to live in terms of thinking of cities as a conglomeration of villages, I'm not saying that we need to import some bucolic vision of a pastoral idyll. We don't want to make places that crush diversity or are small 'c' conservative, restricting people to their allotted role and preventing them reaching their full potential. What I mean is creating a space where people live that they know is theirs, and where they have opportunity to interact positively with those around them, and where everyone is aware of their shared interests and works together to secure them.

What attracts me to this idea is that it creates and supports communities of interest by place, and thus is supportive of diversity. Your neighbours are the people around you, no matter who they are. It is a way of breaking down barriers of race and class.

So, how to do this? Firstly, you need to make sure that people have the spaces to interact. You need to invest in high quality parks, libraries and public places - and not to see them as an add on. You need to take a robust line on school admissions so that schooling becomes social as well as educative.

Then you need to make sure that people have the motivation to interact, so it has to be in their interest to do so. The only way to achieve this is to make local communities themselves responsible for their quality of life. So, devolve as much power as possible to the lowest possible level and support people to be involved in using this power.

Finally, you need people to respect each other. Civility is vital. No man is an island, and if our interactions with our neighbours are blunt, negative and coarse, then so are our lives. If you you create spaces for people to come together and you make sure it is in their interests to work together than you promote better relations between people. If we treat each other decently then we have the essential building blocks for us to work together, and then we can make the successful villages that can make a successful city.

Civility, though, is the one thing that government cannot legislate for. So the onus is on us to treat each other better.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Council

I am increasingly impressed by our local councillors. This comes as surprise to me as I didn't vote for them, mainly because as a student I spent too much time with members of that Party, and their sanctimony, self-righteousness and frankly middle class arrogance knew no bounds. I am very glad to have had this prejudice gently removed from my shoulders!

They are doing exactly what they should be doing. They act as community leaders, bringing people together to talk about the issues that matter on this patch. They represent opinion in the neighbourhood so that it is taken into account by the local decision makers. They challenge the local executive over their decisions.

In short, they are doing precisely what government policy towards local decision making is supposed to be about. The 2000 Local Government Act split the Executive and Scrutiny arrangements in local government to improve the visibiliy of decision making, to hold it to account and to improve local leadership.

I think my local councillors are holding to their side of the bargain very well indeed. The point is, though, that this is a bargain, and the other side of it is visible and accountable local leadership. I was a late convert to the cause of elected local mayors, but I now think they make a real difference. There's a lot that needs to happen to make executives function better, but by any assessment the current system with divergence between those making the decisions and those holding them to account on behalf of the neighbourhoods they represent is far, far better than the old committee system, and its illegitimate child, the leader and cabinet model.

In France mayors are an accepted part of the political landscape. I hope that becomes the case here too.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Hilly Fields

Radio 4's Today Programme included a bit this morning about Hilly Fields, and a project by Natural England to put "everyone within 300 metres of nature". I am frequently to be found here, running laps of the park in a desperate effort to stay fit for rugby, or taking T out for weekend walks. I had seen the meadow area, but I had no idea that there was so much going on here. To my mind, this is fantastic. Rising above the city, Hilly Fields feels like a resurgence of the countryside that you can see far to the south and which is buried beneath the suburbs that sprawl around it.

Sadly, today saw some of the worst weather of the year, so the outside broadcast by the BBC was curtailed, but well worth a listen. It'll be on their archive soon enough.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Political expediency

The NHS in Greenwich, Bexley, Bromley and Lewisham is overspending annually by some £21 million. Naturally, it wants to reign this in, and a consultation document called A Picture of Health on how to do this is landing on our doormats soon.

Our local Green Party councillor in Ladywell must be very upset about this, as she has taken the momentous step of setting up a Facebook group. This, it transpires, is a joint venture, between the Greens, the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Excuse me for being a bit suspicious. A couple of years ago this unholy alliance came together to demand that Lewisham get rid of its elected mayor, alleging that the system as currently constituted gave one individual too much power.

Sure, there were flaws in the mayoral innovation, but the anti-mayoral caucaus ignored the glaring fact of systemic executive weakness in English local government and a consequent failure of both leadership and accountability. They offered no real solutions, and it seemed to be no more than an effort to collectively do down an elected representative with whom they disagreed.

And now they've come together to oppose local health plans. This appears even more opportunistic than the last time. Seeing the name of James Cleverly amongst the sainted defenders of the NHS will raise a chuckle in anyone who can remember what the Tories did to our Health Service.

I would be more inclined to believe in the justice of their cause if they actually advanced some arguments against the plans. As it is, the campaigners only offer a few platitudes of the "they're going to shut your local hospital" kind. For all I know, the best way to improve value for money health outcomes may well be to reduce the number of sites from which health care is offered, and this is indeed the argument that the NHS are making. If this is not the case, say so.

I freely admit that I know little of what is on the table, but I tend to begin from the premise that people running public services actually want to deliver for the public. Most of the time they also are in possession of the knowledge and expertise that the rest of us are not. Sadly for the poor voter and taxpayer, we often are not allowed to participate in real debate as we can only see issues through the distorted prism of a media seeking greater market share, and politicians seeking partisan advantage. Hence, I get suspicious when people tell me that something is bad and offer me no real evidence to show why that is so, other than an appeal to my prejudice or instinct.

In this instance, I am even more suspicious because I cannot see any reason for these people to be getting into bed together other than that of political advantage.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Architects don't know best


An online poll is asking residents of UK towns and cities what are features of their locality of which they are most proud. Apparently, 14% of Lewisham's votes have gone to the Catford cat.

Now, I am no fan of this moggy. Catford's great if you like roundabouts, but that's about it - the cat doesn't save it. However, it obviously means something to Catford residents. As it's their community, I'll respect their call on what they see as the defining feature of their bit of south east London.

In recent months I have had a passing involvement with the large scale regeneration of a famously drab and declining midlands town. The council want to raise people's aspirations for themselves and for their place, and have engaged a range of architects and artists to think about how the town and the lives of the people in it could be better.

All well and good, you might think, and I applaud the council's effort to put culture at the heart of what they are trying to do. Yet, there's something about the architects that worries me.

Without a shadow of doubt, architects have been part of the problem. Let's not overstate the case - the collapse of this town's main industry and employer was the main cause of its current woes. But there can be little doubt that the horrendous post war housing estates contributed to the malaise.

The architects I have met freely admit this, and I admire their vision that architecture, public art and design should be part of the solution. The risk is, though, that they repeat their mistake. Their modus operandi is to make aesthetic judgements about what buildings and spaces would be appropriate, rather than actually asking the people who would have to live in them what they would want.

On my visits I have met architects who have bewailed the council's decision to knock down a particular housing estate, despite its horrendous social problems and bewail the pastiche village new build.

If I was being asked to make an aesthetic judgement, I'd probably agree with them. However, my concern is with regeneration, creating places where people want to live. If they want pastiche villages then it may be not be poor taste which can be corrected with a carefully selected piece of public art. It may reflect an aspiration for some idealised view of village life - with its connotations of communities who know and trust each other and who can live, work and play in a pleasant environment.

This, then, is the nub of the issue. Architecture and public art have a role to play, but only if they help to deliver the communities people want to see. It is a conceit to justify leaving a gap between what you give people and what people want by saying that you are seeking to raise their aspirations. People's aspirations are raised by a variety of things, and one of those things is the built environment.

Perhaps we would do better if we raised aspiration by trusting people to make decisions about the environment they wish to live in. If we showed we had confidence in their ability to decide their own futures, then we give people the confidence to articulate what they want in the broadest sense, which may include innovation in art and design - in time. But first you have got to help communities make their own choices, and empower them to make them well. This might mean architects and artists making less calls based upon aesthetic assumptions and more based upon delivering what a community wants to see.

Even if it means giving them a giant fibreglass cat.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery


Despite having lived here for five years, I had never visited the cemetery that is five minutes walk from our front door. Just before Christmas, I took our baby, T, out for his morning walk on a very foggy day. Instead of heading up Hilly Fields as per usual, I went to Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery.

It was incredible. The mist hid all of the surrounding houses and it felt as if T and I were in some wood far from anywhere with gravestones providing the undergrowth.

As a resource for local wildlife, the value of the cemetery is obvious. But are the community appreciative of what is on their doorstep? There were few people there when we visited, nor on subsequent trips but local interest there obviously is. The question is, I suppose, what is the benefit that it brings and how to best secure that?

The renewal of Ladywell Fields shows that the Council is investing in our open spaces, but the purpose of a park is a lot more obvious than a largely disused cemetery. Of course, it is important to the local environment, but its value goes beyond that. It tells the story of this area for a period of its history, and that is an essential underpinning to any sense of identity for a place.

However, given the changing population of this place, and the declining numbers visiting the graves of their loved ones, Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery is increasingly cut off from the life of the community around it as much as it was from sight by the fog on the day of my visit.

I hope that the various community activists focusing their attention upon it are successful in their ambition, and I hope they, and the council, sensitively manage the tension between the cultural and the environmental value of the cemetery.