Rachel’s ward report Sept – Nov 2017

Small Business Saturday

As I write this, Seyi and I have just finished our social media campaign for Small Business Saturday. You can read about it in our blog post here:
https://forestgatenorth.com/2017/11/30/fgshoplocally-and-marylandshoplocally/

In essence, we’ve been supporting local small businesses since being elected in 2014, recognising what an important part they play in our local community. This year, as before, Small Business Saturday fell on the same day as the Forest Gate Christmas lights switch-on, which gave us a chance to combine our promotion and social media campaign with a bigger than usual market, plus the pop-up craft fair ‘Oh Come All Ye Gateful’ which took place in the old CoffeE7 building.

As usual the day was a blur of family activities, community spirit and Christmassiness. We were really thrilled with how many people and businesses got on board, sharing information about offers and purchases using the hashtags, and joining onto the Facebook event. The market was buzzing all day, and social media was alight too with pictures of purchases. The Magpie Project (on which more below) was the designated charity from Saturday’s market, and raised £900 plus two car loads of donations to support some of the most vulnerable families in Newham.

Recycling bins at Henniker Point

After receiving some complaints from residents about the unsightly mess left at the recycling bins at Henniker point, Seyi and I organised a meeting there with the officer responsible, us and some of the residents too.

On meeting there, it was very obvious that the complaints are entirely well-founded. The bins are in poor condition, there is rubbish dumped alongside them, and they are very unsightly. We do need to keep some recycling facilities in this location or nearby because they are a recycling point for Henniker Point, the tower block of flats behind. The officer pointed out to us that although it appears that the clothing bin is full, because there were bags of clothes left outside it, actually there was space still inside it. Frustratingly, but understandably, people are reluctant to reach inside the bin to deposit their clothing, so they leave the bags alongside, then subsequent visitors assume the bin is full and leave their bags alongside as well. We agreed that we would trial clearing the site more regularly as a starting point.

Another problem with these kind of bins is that the way they are emptied means the whole bin is lifted up and tipped up, which scratches the bins badly, meaning that even quite new ones look old and neglected very quickly, which in turn adds to the ‘unloved’ feel.

We talked about how some funding was available to revamp recycling sites, and the officer was keen to try this one out first (a real advantage of having engaged residents and councillors –  I got the sense that the combined interest here had pushed it up his list). He and a colleague are looking into different bins, which have a housing around them which makes them look better and hides the scratches. We also agreed that some better signage would help, and Seyi made some great suggestions about communicating with and engaging local residents.

Although this location is on the western side of Leytonstone Road, so actually in Stratford and Newtown, we’ll follow this one up as it matters to our Maryland residents, and we’ll report back on any progress.

Planning

I’ve had some planning casework recently which has reminded me again about the importance of the planning consultation process and how we could do a bit better in the future to encourage resident feedback. In Maryland an application that had been previously approved, applied to change the materials on their application. These kind of post-application changes are quite common, but I know from planning committee that we keep a very close on eye on them as there is a tendency for developers to ‘value engineer’ their applications, which is to say that the first application goes through with high quality materials, then subsequent changes are applied for which would make the building cheaper but less attractive and more liable to deteriorate over time.

This amendment for a new building on Leytonstone Road was spotted by an eagle-eyed Maryland resident, who drafted a very comprehensive and measured objection, and shared this with the Maryland group. They then got organised and submitted around 16 objections between them, all argued on the same points. The Design Officer at Newham has also submitted his response, not supporting the changes. So I have my fingers crossed that the determination will uphold the original materials.

There has also been a bit of buzz from Maryland residents objecting to an application to demolish the Manbey Arms. This (as with the recycling bins) isn’t in Forest Gate North, but I’m keen to support Forest Gate North residents with their interests which of course aren’t restricted to within ward boundaries. As with so much else, sadly and realistically the issue here may well be one of money. The planning process can and should help to support local assets and community space, but the planning process cannot in and of itself refurbish a pub and create a business. That said, I have been told that there has been an application to make the pub an Asset of Community Value, which isn’t the whole answer but which can help. I know that the Forest Gate South councillors are aware of this and I know they’ll also do their best to help if they can.

Stadium

This would not be a complete report to the ward if I didn’t talk about the recent news of the loss of the Council’s investment into the Olympic stadium. I will do a separate blog post on this, to follow up on my first one when the impairment of the loan became public. There is so much to say here, but firstly I want to make it clear that I share residents’ shock and distress at the loss of so very much money, which especially painful in the context of cuts to the Council’s budget, and the homelessness and poverty facing so many of our residents.

I have seen the Mayor’s statement which details the benefits that he believes have come directly from the Council’s investment, and which you can read here:
https://www.newham.gov.uk/Pages/News/Newham-Council-agrees-future-ownership-and-legacy-benefits-of-London-Stadium.aspx

I have a number of questions about where we are now, which I’ll summarise rather than go into in detail.

  • If the loan is now written off, why was the message we all got so recently so vehement that the impairment was NOT a write-off? I was in fact told that if there was a write-off it would not be hidden in accounts, but would be subject to a separate Council decision. This is clearly not the case. I am very embarrassed to have assured residents that the impairment was not a write off, and I apologise for this, but can only say I did so in good faith.
  • Surely it is the case the benefits cited would have accrued to the Council if the stadium had been financed without us. I see the point that without the LBN investment, the stadium would have foundered, but I do need to see a bit more about the decision-making process to be certain that this is the case. I don’t necessarily disbelieve it, I just haven’t seen enough evidence thus far.
  • Were we clear with residents about the risks we were taking? I am particularly concerned about the previous messaging that this investment was ‘a sure thing’, ‘could not fail’ and was an excellent way to ensure future income. I entirely appreciate that, especially in the current climate, Councils must take brave financial decisions if we are to secure our future services. I believe Councils can and should take risks. But it’s absolutely vital that we’re open about the risks, and how we have balanced and weighed up the decision to take risks. The message that the stadium was a ‘certain bet’ is not only demonstrably untrue, but if we gave no public information about risk then that’s also very concerning.

Licensing

As I write this I have the whole of tomorrow blocked out in my diary for a licensing hearing at the Magistrates Court. Avid report readers (hello Mum) might remember that residents of Dames Road and the surrounding roads have suffered enormous and consistent disruption and noise from 39A Dames Road. The reports from there of excessive noise, ASB, littering and fly tipping, opening well beyond licensed hours, violence and police involvement, were really upsetting.

The noise and nuisance team and the licensing team at Newham have worked so hard to help, revoking the alcohol licence at a hearing, and even shutting the venue recently so that entry is barred to all but a small number of people. The venue is appealing against the licence revocation, and I will be interested tomorrow to see what case they present.

I am generally very supportive of local businesses, and believe a thriving night industry is really important to London. The residents are all clear that they’re not opposed to a business operating in this venue. But the way that this venue has been run has been to my mind beyond the pale, and I was especially surprised at the licensing hearing to hear the licensee first of all deny there was any problem at all, then go on to demonstrate no understanding at all of the legal responsibility of holding an alcohol licence. I hope to have a positive result to report back to the Dames Road residents tomorrow, who have been patient and polite and organised in the face of the constant disruption to their sleep and their lives.

Resurfacing

I have, to no avail as yet, been requesting information from the Highways team about the programme of works for resurfacing roads. Residents might have noticed the recent resurfacing of Maryland Square, Sebert Road, and Chestnut Avenue. I really want to get information about the future programme and to publish and help publicise this. I have been promised a display in each community neighbourhood (in our case, a display in the Gate library) but I’d also like an electronic timetable that we could all look at. I’ll keep asking and will post information as soon as I have it.

On a related note, I was a bit concerned about the finish and surface of Chestnut Avenue, and contacted officers to check that it was actually finished, especially after the road markings went on. I was told that it was finished, but was a different surface to, for example, the tarmac used on Sebert Road. The reason Chestnut Avenue looked to my eyes more shabby was that it has been ‘micro-asphalted’. Micro-asphalt goes down quite ‘loose and chippy’ to quote the officer, but over time the traffic on it will stabilise it and the appearance improves. I’m happy to report that although I greeted this with some scepticism, I do walk down there every day, and have noticed the finish on the road improving just as was described. I also noticed some pot holes forming, and have been assured this would be looked into and repaired asap. As ever, although it’s unglamorous, please do report pot holes via the Newham app – they can be really dangerous, especially for cyclists, and the more relevant information we have about road conditions, the better decisions we can make about prioritising works.

I have also asked for some time with the Mayor to talk about the opportunities we could take advantage of whilst resurfacing roads to adopt a ‘healthy streets’ approach where we also consider planting, shade, seating, traffic calming, cycle infrastructure, and more when we resurface a road. Not all of these things are appropriate in every location, but we should have a process for considering them which we do not have, in spite of my being assured at every point that ‘Keep Newham Moving’ would not just be about traffic but would be a way of making physical improvements across the borough. (If you’re interested in this kind of area, particularly in pedestrians and walking, then please check out Newham Living Streets on Facebook which I am jointly setting up in my personal capacity.) On December the 4th at Council Clive Furness gave a great speech about how achieving our public health aims will include taking some brave decisions to encourage walking and cycling, and I’m meeting him next week to discuss it and what we can do.

Parking

It would not be a ward report without information on parking! There are a couple of issues that have come up recently. One is the problems experienced by residents of car-free developments when the development is built prior to an RPZ coming in. For those not in the know (as in fact I wasn’t, previously), a car-free development is one where at the planning stage, developers concede that there is not space on the surrounding roads for the residents to park, so they agree that residents will be told that they are not permitted to have cars.

The problem with this development and with some others is that the residents say, convincingly, that this was not made clear to them when they moved in. In fact, they say that they were told ‘you can’t park in here, but just park on the surrounding roads’. Now that the RPZ has been brought in, they have cars that they have come to rely on, but literally nowhere to put them.

Speaking honestly, I do not think I can help them to get residents’ permits, as to do so would call into question the whole notion of car-free developments, something that has recently come into the news as Sadiq Khan has stated his support for them. Whole areas of Stratford, for example, are made up of car-free developments. Where denser flats are built, there is clearly not enough space for on-road parking, and to claim that there might be would be enormously difficult.

That said, there are some things we can do. I am going to ask where the nearest car club bays are, and see if we can install more. I’m also asking One Housing how they allocate the small number of spaces that are inside the development, which residents say are allocated but are often empty. I don’t think, as with so many questions on parking, that we’ll be able to find an answer that leaves everyone happy, but I hope I can alleviate things a little.

Community Call to Action

I was delighted to attend the Community Call to Action jointly organised by Seyi and the police in Sarah Bonnell school, and moved to see so very many people there, from across Newham, across different sectors, and from across the Labour party, to address one of the most important and distressing issues facing us at the moment: the safety of our young people. I was especially impressed by the genuinely collaborative and interactive discussion (not to mention happily geeked out over the software used to share everyone’s contributions) and I look forward to being part of the action plan when more information is available.

London National Park City

Forest Gate North was the very first ward in Newham to pledge our support for the London National Park City initiative, and last night in Council I was pleased to have the support of all my colleagues to my motion that all the other wards in Newham should sign up.

You can read more about the initiative here, but in essence it aims to apply National Park principles of education about nature, and making the most of green spaces, to a city environment. It is absolutely not about preventing the building of housing, but about recognising the value and benefit of being in nature in an urban environment, and ensuring Londoners can enjoy the green around them.

The campaign wants to get a majority of wards signed up, at which point it will declare London the world’s first National Park City. It aims to bring together grass roots organisations working on green issues, but also to create an umbrella body by raising funds from corporate giving (not from government). I’m delighted we’re signed up to show how vital green space is, and look forward to seeing what the London National Park City group does, and how we can support them in Newham.

The Magpie Project

Although physically based outside the ward, the Magpie Project feels to me very much like a Forest Gate North project, firmly rooted in temporary homes of some of our most vulnerable families as well as in our residents’ hearts. Along with other councillors (Dianne Walls for example has been especially involved, volunteering with them and helping to run it)  I have been a staunch supporter of the project from its inception, providing input and advice, helping to publicise them, putting them in touch with Council officers, setting up their website, and doing everything I can to help make them a success. I will keep on advocating for this vital work, and keep using my Council influence to do anything I can to make these women’s lives a little easier.

Resigning from the cabinet

I mentioned in my post asking for reselection that I have resigned from the Cabinet, but thought it right to put it into a ward report as well. I am very sorry to report to members that I felt I had to resign in September this year. I very much miss my Newham-wide role, and especially the officers and colleagues I was working with.  I still think it’s really important to try to make things work, to step up, to be ‘in the room’ and get involved even when that involves slowly building relationship and trust, and making compromises. I want to assure you all that I did my very best to make this happen, and worked as hard as I could. However, for various reasons I realised it wasn’t possible for me to carry on, and I had to step away.

And finally … #forestgaterocks

In the time honoured tradition of news readers ending on a lighthearted note, I thought I’d share that in a personal capacity I have set up an initiative called Forest Gate Rocks. Based on other stone and rock painting groups around the UK, the premise is a simple one: you decorate stones and write the hashtage #forestgaterocks on them, and hide them around Forest Gate. If you find one, you take a picture to share, and rehide it. This has been a huge hit with my children, who have become obsessed with finding painted stones, and I’m pleased to say it seems to be working, with a regular stream of pictures of happy children holding stones being posted on the Facebook group. If you are interested in a slightly silly and easy way of spreading a bit of joy, please join the group and join in. All welcome.

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#fgshoplocally and #marylandshoplocally

Rachel and Seyi write…

We have always loved our local businesses, both the people who work so hard to run them, the wonderful and in many cases unique products and services they provide, the boost to the local economy they give us, and of course the vital contribution they make to our high streets and our community.

We’ve therefore always been big fans of Small Business Saturday, a day when the whole of the UK has a chance to celebrate their small businesses. The fact that this Saturday has tended to fall on the day of the Forest Gate lights switch on makes the whole thing even better. 2014 was our first year – we were new to all this, and at the last minute Seyi reminded Rachel and Ellie that it was small business Saturday. So as we hung out at the marketplace for the lights switch on, we also nipped into some local businesses to take and tweet some selfies. In 2015 we ran our first proper campaign #forestgateshoplocal and were delighted when local residents joined in, tweeting pictures of their purchases and creating a buzz. Last year was our biggest yet! Supported by some funds from the Newham Regeneration Team, we ran #fgshoplocally where you could collect stickers, and claim freebies, from a coffee to a Forest Gate canvas shopping bag.

This year, we’re going back to basics with a social media campaign, reusing last year’s hashtag #fgshoplocally and we’re also encouraging people in Maryland to be involved, using #marylandshoplocally.

All day we will be tweeting and retweeting information about our local businesses and shops, aiming to raise awareness of the wealth of products and services available that make this such a great place to live.

The market will be open during the day and in the evening for the Christmas lights event, and will be taking collections for the wonderful Magpie Project. There will also be a very exciting event ‘Oh Come All Ye Gateful‘ in the old CoffeE7 building that will be a forum for local makers and crafters.  If that’s not enough for you, there’s an event on Winchelsea Road on Sunday too.

If you’d like to be involved, there are several things you can do:

  • join our Facebook event, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/891268284381529/
  • Tweet using our hashtags! #fgshoplocally or #marylandshoplocally
    The more people using these hashtags, the bigger the buzz we will create. Take pictures as you go out and about, and share the places you visit and any purchases you make.
  • If you are a local small business owner, please promote yourself using the hashtags too. We always love to hear from you, but especially on Small Business Saturday.
  • If you are a small business with a special offer or special event on Saturday, then please post it on twitter and on our facebook page.

And finally, and most importantly, when you are spending money this Christmas, please remember our local small businesses. We know that times are tough for many people, and there are lots of people in Forest Gate with less money than ever to spend this year. We don’t want anyone to feel excluded from these campaigns, so if you’re feeling the pressure then please know that you can still be a part of helping.

If you can make lots of purchases, or large purchases, then that is really great. But that’s not possible for everyone, and part of this campaign is to say that every single purchase counts, and every bit of support counts. Buying ‘just a card’ from your favourite local artist, or buying not your whole food shop but one or two items from the market, popping into an unfamiliar shop and trying something new, this all really helps. If you can’t make any purchases, then please just raise awareness of our shops, tell your friends and neighbours about your favourites, and tweet pictures of the places you’d like to support.

We look forward to seeing you out and about, and to seeing pictures of your purchases on Saturday!

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Please re-select me as councillor

Rachel writes…

It’s that time again, and I am seeking re-selection by the local Labour party as one of the Labour candidates for Forest Gate North. I wanted to write a blog post about why I’m hoping to be re-selected, about what re-selection means, and also what you might be able to do to help, if you would like to.

About reselection

(With apologies to those reading who know this process inside out already!) The local election is coming up in Newham in May 2018, which is when all residents in Newham will vote for their local councillors as well as the Mayor. Before that election, the Labour party has to choose who will be the three Labour candidates for each ward. Reselection is in several stages, rather like a job application. First you submit an application form, then you may be invited to an interview. After this if successful you are on ‘the panel’, then each ward in Newham meets individually to choose the candidates for its ward. These meetings are scheduled to take place on the weekend of the 9th and 10th of December. I’m on the panel, meaning that I am currently contacting local Labour party members asking them to select me as one of the Forest Gate North candidates.

About me

I have been one of the three councillors for Forest Gate North ward, since the local elections in 2014. I’ve lived in Newham for 12 years, and in Forest Gate for over 8 years now. I live here with my husband and our three girls, who attend Woodgrange and Godwin schools. I’ve always been really involved in Forest Gate, even before being a councillor. I used to be a part of the Community Garden Steering Group, helping to establish it back before we had the lease, when the idea of a shared green space was a far-off dream. I was Chair of Governors at Woodgrange School for several years, overseeing the huge progress the school has made, and upskilling the governing body. I am a big fan of social media, tweeting regularly about Forest Gate, councillor work, my family, politics, feminism, and anything else that entertains me @rectripp

More recently I set up Forest Gate Rocks, which aims to spread a little bit of painted joy around our streets and to entertain children and the young at heart, I help out when I can with the Newham Woodcraft Folk by teaching the children singing,  and I am jointly with others establishing Newham Living Streets which aims to promote and encourage walking. In my free time I love reading, interiors, am a hilariously amateur fair-weather cyclist, and am increasingly obsessed with calligraphy and handlettering.

My work

You can read absolutely loads of detail of my local ward work in my published ward reports, which are here, here, here and here as well as in all my blog posts here on http://www.forestgatenorth.com

It’s hard to summarise the things I am most proud of, as almost all of the work I’ve done as a councillor has been in conjunction with other people. Sometimes I worry about this, other times I realise that actually, this is what I always wanted to be: a facilitative councillor who doesn’t boss people around or take over, but listens to people’s ideas, links them up with each other, with funding, with other organisations, with Council support and helps things to happen.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that I by no means claim sole credit for the things below. They were all done with the help of my colleagues, Council officers, residents of Forest Gate, or all of the above. But all that notwithstanding, these have been some of the highlights for me:

       Crossrail works
I have loved working with colleagues, officers and residents to get the best possible outcome for Forest Gate and Maryland stations from the money available from TfL for public realm improvements. We have some really wonderful things coming to around our station: more planting, really high quality pavements, more cycle parking, cycle docks that spell out ‘FOREST GATE’ / ‘MARYLAND’, public art, and much more. I think that the combination here of really good officers (the transport team are excellent, very skilled and approachable), the availability of money from TfL to fund something ambitious, lots of consultation, and engaged and keen councillors is helping to deliver something that will be much better than it could have been.

       Casework
I am constantly advocating for residents in my casework. I receive a steady stream of casework from our surgeries but also via email, via social media, or even in the street. Whilst not all casework can feel very ‘successful’, there have been some notable highlights including when I managed to remove a barrier in the way of a woman who wanted to adopt, getting a shower fixed for an elderly resident who had been without it for 6 months, and helping a woman to get back onto the Housing Register who had been removed from it.

I also endeavour (and generally succeed although there is the odd exception that wakes me up at night!) to reply to everyone. Even if I just reply to say that I can’t help, or to point someone in the right direction. I try my very best to reply to the frequent comments and messages I get via social media, as well as to emails, and to chase up answers from others when I am ignored or fobbed off. I’m not perfect, but I am generally really organised, persistent, polite, and assiduous, and I think all these qualities make me good at casework.

       Parking
Parking is, as I always joke, not my favourite topic. But it is important to residents, and it’s an important part of what the Council does, and hence I have become an unwilling expert in parking retrictions, and spent some considerable time responding to emails and petitions, visiting residents, and visiting roads where specific bays or designs were problematic. I insisted on, and then held a drop in meeting for residents when the RPZ was introduced, and dealt with a lot of very strong feelings on the topic that night, but still feel it was important to speak to people face to face. Together Seyi and I published several very detailed and open blog posts about the RPZ process, about the constraints, about the full results of the consultation question on the hours of operation, and found that by being entirely open with residents we could help to reduce some of the uncertainty and suspicion about what was happening and why.

On a related parking note, when Centre Road was filled up with cars, which was unsightly and inconvenient but more importantly unsafe, I assiduously lobbied Redbridge Council (who are responsible for this road, though it neighbours our ward) and am delighted to say that they introduced parking controls before we had any serious accidents there.

       Building relationships
I’ve always tried to develop good relationships with the organisations and people who make Forest Gate North such a brilliant place, and take every opportunity to promote our neighbourhood whenever I can. I have really warm relationships with some of the wonderful people who run many of our really special local businesses, and will always try to find ways to boost them and to promote their work. I have developed relationships with faith groups, schools, community organisations, as well as with individual residents and always aim to develop honest relationships, to do work together with others and to acknowledge other people’s contributions.

       Planning
Although not specific to Forest Gate North, I sit on the Strategic Development Committee, and have taken very seriously the responsibility to question developers, to demand high quality buildings in Newham, and to listen to and respond to queries, concerns and comments from residents who respond to planning and come to committees. It is partly through this committee that I’ve developed more and more of an interest in public realm, in architecture and design, and in sustainable transport especially including cycling and walking.

       Thorogood Gardens
I have just blogged along with Seyi with a full update on this project, so you can read all about it there. Seyi developed and took the lead in Thorogood Gardens, but I’ve had so much pleasure in supporting her, working to make things happen and contribute to her idea of adding lots of little things to make a big difference in one place. I am especially proud to see the play markings go in today – an idea which genuinely just occurred to me as we were visiting one day, as a way of making the most of an unloved bit of tarmac. With some support from Hochtief, this has now been transformed into an area that encourages children to come out and play.

  Licensing
Licensing, though it can appear dry, is one of the main powers that a local authority has, and is a vital part of what councillors do. During my time as a councillor I have contributed several times to the licensing process. This has included submitting evidence and attending hearings to support applications from local businesses and organisations like CoffeE7, Corner Kitchen and Woodgrange market, but also submitting evidence and attending hearings when licensed venues were causing residents disruption and distress. Most recently I attended a magistrates court for a hearing (sadly deferred to December) to hear the appeal from an extremely troublesome venue that has consistently opened beyond its permitted hours, has caused a persistent nuisance with noise and disturbance, and at one point was so out of control that the licensee claims he was imprisoned in the venue and the police were called.

Other Newham experience
During my time at Newham, I’ve been a Mayoral Advisor and a Member of the Cabinet. As lead councillor for Forest Gate, I oversaw the work happening at the Gate library. During that time I constantly tried to make the work we do locally more open and more collaborative. For example, instead of carrying on with the general networking meetings at the library, I instead organised themed events around parts of our local community plan, like the environment, an artists’ networking meeting, a meeting to bring together local business owners, and a joint meeting with Newham Cyclists aimed at encouraging people to cycle.

I was especially proud of the work we did last year for Small Business Saturday, where we were supported by the Newham Regeneration team and printed shopping bags which were offered to people who made at least three local purchases. Requiring people to get three different coloured stickers to qualify encouraged people to move around the whole of Forest Gate, including Upton Lane, Woodgrange Road, and the market.

I subsequently became Cabinet member, first for Equalities, and then also for Transformation (overseeing in particularly the digital improvement that is happening – watch this space for much better information online about homelessness, and a better online system for parking permits) and also for the Council Services to Small Businesses portfolio, sometimes abbreviated to CSSB. This is the process by which Council services are ‘spun out’ into Council or employee owned businesses, which can deliver services in a better way, and get business from outside of Newham. Amongst other work, I was very pleased during this process to oversee the preparation for externalising ‘Juniper Ventures’, which provides many schools’ catering and cleaning, and also (very unusually for this sector) pays all its employees at least the London Living Wage and invests in their training.

Right now, I’m no longer on the Cabinet, and am just concentrating on my ‘back bench’ work for Forest Gate North, having resigned from in September of this year. Although I’d really enjoyed being part of the decision-making process and feeding into borough-wide work, there were some things I did not agree with and for various reasons I decided I needed to step away from that part of my work. However, I did gain some very useful experience, learnt a huge amount about how the Council works, and made many very useful contacts with people inside and outside the Council. This experience and these contacts all help me in my local work going forwards.

My experience

Before I became a councillor I worked in the public sector, first in health regulation and then for the London Borough of Islington. I have worked in communications and then increasingly in policy and strategy, including equalities. I’ve done lots of writing in my professional career, and have spent a long time trying to make complicated work and ideas straightforward and accessible. My work as an officer has I hope given me a good insight into what it can be like in a local authority, and I feel that this helps me to be a good councillor, being both sympathetic to the pressures council employees are under but also ambitious for improvement, robust in calling out things that need to be different, and appreciative of and vocal about things that are going well.

Plans for the future

I have so many ideas for the future of Forest Gate, and it is primarily these, along with the relationships I’ve built, which make me so keen to stand again.

If I’m re-selected and then re-elected, I’d like to:
– carry on supporting local businesses, and see if we could help support a local business association or group, with a view to eventually establishing a business improvement district.
– encourage more ‘greening’ of Forest Gate, particularly by maximising the green space we have by improving the many, many small unloved areas that still exist even in a place as urban and populated as this one. There is so much potential here, not just with the amazing community garden (outside the ward, but doing such good work with such a great reach that they are really important to residents of Forest Gate North too) but also for more guerilla gardening, for encouraging resident gardening like that which is taking place in Thorogood Gardens, working with schools, and more.
– insist that Keep Newham Moving, which has already improved many of our roads in the ward, takes full advantage of the opportunity we have to change our environment in line with Sadiq Khan’s Healthy Streets policy. When we resurface a road, we should be constantly assessing whether we also need traffic calming, additional planting, to widen the pavements, additional facilities for cycling, or anything else that can make our streets more pleasant places to be.
– carry on supporting my colleague Seyi Akiwowo in her tireless efforts to bring people together to tackle the issue of youth safety along with our local police force. Our young people are being hurt and in some cases killed on our streets, and ensuring their safety and their ability to participate in and influence their local area is one of the most important things we can do as councillors.
– do something to improve local understanding of the planning process. I had previously tried to organise a meeting when I was lead councillor, and I’d like to come back to this. Planning and development can be contentious, but if we have real input and feedback into the developments that are proposed then this helps to strengthen planning officers’ hands in getting the very best for our area. Even more important, but perhaps even less accessible, are the planning policy documents that form the basis on which planning decisions are made. I would love to help find a more easy and meaningful way to get input on these from Forest Gate North residents.

There is lots more I’d like to do! I am happy to talk more if you are interested.

Listening to you

The above is just what I’m interested in, and if reselected I’d like to do more listening to residents about their ideas for Forest Gate North. A lot of this happens already via our conversations with people on the doorstep, when the local Labour party is out canvassing, all year round, regardless of whether an election is coming up or not. But I would like to increase the way we engage with residents and with members, including holding another coffee morning like the ‘thank you’ one Seyi, Anam and I did with Lyn Brown in Familia Cafe a few months ago. It would be great to develop a local set of priorities for local councillors, based on feedback that you give us.

Conclusion

So, why am I sharing all this here? Firstly, as ever for transparency. I fear I’ve become a bit of a transparency bore, but I do think that it’s always important to be up front and honest.

Which is why I want to be open about the fact that if you are a member of the Labour party, and you live in Forest Gate North, then I am specifically asking you whether you would please attend the local selection meeting (which is scheduled to take place on either the 9th or the 10th of December) and think about voting for me. If you’re not a member, you might know people locally who are members, in which case perhaps you might remind them to attend and ask them to vote for me.

Whatever the outcome of this process, I would like to say – in a way that I hope is not too cheesy – that it’s been an enormous privilege to represent Forest Gate North along with my colleagues for the past three-and-a-bit years. Although I do receive a lot of complaints, queries and questions (and rightly so, that’s part of the job) I have also been extremely fortunate to receive plenty of local support. I have appreciated absolutely every single bit of it, from the wave across the marketplace, to the people who recognised me from twitter and came to say hello, from the people who were so kind after I resigned from the cabinet, to the person who sent me flowers to thank me for sorting out her casework. So wherever things end up after selections are over, thank you very much for reading this blog, and for your messages and of course for your forebearance for my overly long blog posts. I have enjoyed it very much.

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Thorogood Gardens update

Rachel and Seyi write…

Seyi and Rachel sheltering from the coldIt’s been almost exactly a year since we first stood in the dark in Thorogood Gardens carpark, meeting with residents (and drinking their tea) to talk to them about their ideas for a rather unloved little corner of Maryland.

Since then the improvements have included: replacing and improving the lighting, repairs being undertaken on the roof of the block, the road has been resufaced, a wild area has been made into a communal garden, and old broken bollards have been replaced. Seyi’s idea was to use money that was already available for separate projects, which might happen in separate places in Forest Gate North, and to bring them together in one place to make a real and noticeable impact. Turns out that to say this was a brainwave is something of an understatement….

Hochtief, who are refurbishing Maryland station as part of the Crossrail work, kindly funded additional planting and improvements, which the Forest Gate Community Garden organised and co-ordinated. Council officers held a ‘street connections’ event where residents hung up hanging baskets, and Hochtief were on hand to replace some fence panels that face onto the square.

In addition, in the summer residents got together with the help of a Let’s Get the Party Started grant, and held a barbeque in their new green space, and are now planning a Christmas event, and regular residents’ group meetings. Throughout the process, we’ve kept in touch with residents, including door knocking, letters, and producing a ‘Thorogood Gardens community update’ leaflet, letting them know about what we’ve done, what’s possible (and what’s not) and getting their ideas.

On Friday morning we had a quick meeting on site (picture above) to agree the last piece of work here. This last step is to create some ‘play markings’ on what is currently a large tarmac’d area. We want to encourage children to get out and play on an area that is currently not really used, and Hochtief are kindly funding the painting of some markings. We hope that these will include lines for a race track, hop scotch, and a series of little roads for children on bikes, scooters, roller skates or just on foot to run along and follow. Different markings that encourage play and movement whilst not encouraging ball games which might damage nearby windscreens and windows.

This is what the tarmac currently looks like…

We hope that encouraging children to get out and play will help to enliven the area, will help keep children active, encourage residents to use the new garden, and further encourage links between neighbours.  The work should be done soon, and we’ll report back here on the results. Fingers crossed.

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Meeting with St. Winiefride’s RC School

Seyi writes…

After it was revealed that a local primary school in Newham had asked it’s pupils to come to school dressed as slaves to mark the 30th Anniversary of Black History Month myself and Cllr Beckles took these actions and on of them was to meet with the headteacher of St. Winiefride’s RC School.

James and I were keen to hear the school’s side of the story and put forward our view for how they could move forward to cover Black History Month in a more holistic way.

On the morning of the 31st October we arrived at St. Winefride’s and were greeted by Paul Underwood the Headteacher of the school, we were also introduced to the Deputy Headteacher, School Governors including the Chair of Governors, a parent governor and a representative from the diocese.

The meeting was cordial and we were given a background to the incident in question. During the meeting we were shown a portfolio of Black History Month activities that had been planned for this year and told about successful BHM events that had happened in previous years. There was the sense that this incident had shocked and embarrassed the school and the reputational damage would be very hard to live down despite work done in previous years. Seyi and I set out our initial reaction to what had happened and the need for us to speak up about this incident as elected representatives. We also offered advice about how this might be avoided in the future, how to embed diversity, intersectionality and black history throughout the curriculum and the year.  James and I also spoke about how the school could work to become a lead in delivering quality UK Black History , working with the local community, parents and teachers. To their credit the school were very receptive to our ideas and will follow up  on some of these. They are reviewing their procedures to avoid a similar incident in the future.

Although these measures could not take away from what occurred it did show consideration and understanding of the situation and a need to repair trust with parents. We cannot say what the outcome of any investigation on the teacher will be and it isn’t our place to pass judgement here. But we came away with a sense the school wants to work with us and move past this incident. They also, crucially, do not want a repeat of what happened.

Before leaving the school we were given a tour, where we met a number of students and their teachers. Like most schools in Newham, St. Winefride’s has a diverse school population and there was, on first impressions, an indication the school sought to reflect and celebrate that.

On a separate but related note please consider signing this petition to have Black History taught in schools. 

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March- October Councillor Report

Seyi writes…

One of my top three proudest moments as a Councillor is taking a Syrian refugee family I helped apply for resettlement to the UK through Hillsong Church London to their first Friday Prayers in Newham.

Forest Gate North

Woodgrange Market

Since the 8th of July I’ve been supporting Woodgrange Market to be sustainable and to increase footfall. On Sat 28th October I organised a Black History Month grand finale which was about encouraging and celebrating our diversity and diverse traders.

Christmas lights

Very excited to be working on Maryland Christmas lights for the third year. Because of the Crossrail regeneration work it looks like this may be our last Christmas lights switch on for a while… so we want to go out with a big bang and with a Christmas around the world theme. We are looking for choirs, schools musicians to perform and local businesses to set up food stalls. If you’re keen to get involved please email: martine.murraythorbourne@newham.gov.uk

Environment

Rachel and I met with officers and residents a couple weeks ago to discuss plans to revamping our recycling and collection area on Leytonstone High Rd.

In July I went on a bike ride with Newham Cyclists (it was saved in my diary as “bike ride try not to die” lol). We rode from Capel Road to Coffee 7 to the Velodrome to meet our lovely tour guide who took us on 10.5 miles tour of Mini Holland in Waltham Forest.

It was super inspiring to see all the different treatment and interventions to make the highway suitable for all users.Thank you Newham Cyclists for inviting me!

Muralland

After months of various community consultations, walkabouts, meetings and call outs, I’m so pleased to announce #Muralland‘s first project… *drum rolls*Teddy Tyres (on the corner of Leytonstone and Maryland Road!) This will be the first Mural land commissioned wall and this will be painted by the Remi Rough.Please vote and share the link with your neighbours https://woodstreetwalls.typeform.com/to/tw1isv

Thorogood Gardens

The Thorogood Gardens project is almost coming to an end. I’m really pleased at the huge difference we’ve been able to make in a year, in terms of communication cohesion and regeneration. We’ve commission the Forest Gate Community Garden to work with local residents to do some community bulb planting in the communal garden. We also supported local residents holding a community party. The Street Connections project went well and we’re very thankful to Hochtief for donating your labour, resources & replacing fences for residents. We have a growing and active local residents group who we will support for the next few months. If you live on Thorogood Gardens or Warner Close the next meeting is next week Tuesday. Please drop me an email for more information

Scrutiny Commissions- Deputy Chair of Crime and Disorder Task & Finish  & member of Overview & Scrutiny Commission

At our last Scrutiny meeting we discussed the East London Health & Care Partnership and Mid-Year Review of 2017/18 budget. I raised questions around quality of the equality impact assessment of the budget, business plans for Red Door Venture and Council Tax Exemption for care leavers. I’m pleased that both the Finance Officer and Cabinet Member for Finance agrees to meet with me to discuss these two issues further. I also raised questions around STP, prevention strategies for diabetes in the borough and the engagement strategy ensuring inclusion of our diverse communities.

Crime and Police

On the 1st July and 21st October I held a joint surgery with the police at the Gate Library.

At number of Newham Council and Labour Group meetings I have raised several questions and concerns to both the Mayor and Cabinet Member for Crime and Disorder about the increase in violent crime in Newham and particularly Forest Gate North ward. I’ve given recommendations on how we can work better with the police.

I’ve met with specialist police teams including the Gangs Unit to better understand the driving factors, I’ve invited these officers to attend our FGN Safer Neighbourhood meeting. Residents appreciated being able to ask questions about incidents.

After Edson died in police custody, I met with the IPCC to raised my concerns around what happened and how IPCC communicate with residents. I also attended the vigil at the police station and wrote an article in the Guardian.

I’ve also built a good working relationship with our new Borough Commander, Ade Adelekan. He has invited me to be part of his Youth Talk Reference Group. This has led to be co-leading on a community call to action on youth safety in the borough. This will take place on Sat 11th November, 11:30am at Sarah Bonnell School.

Last week at General Committee meeting West Ham adopted a motion I proposed on Youth violence which will be taken to London Labour Regional Conference.  

We need to be lobbying for reinvestment in our youth services, outreach programmes and non-formal education. Increasing top and search is not going to solve the problem!

Forest Gate North Safer Neighbourhood Police Team are looking for local residents who would like to take part in community weapons sweeps in the area. If you’re interested or what to know more you can call the team on 02087212598

Newham Black History Month

After it was revealed that a local primary school in Newham had asked it’s pupils to come to school dressed as slaves to mark the 30th Anniversary of Black History Month myself and Cllr Beckles took the following actions:

  • We wrote joint statement  expressing our disappointment
  • We wrote to Sir Robin Wales asking for an urgent meeting to discuss relaunching Newham Black History Month
  • We wrote to the Headteacher of St Winefride’s Catholic Primary School asking to meet (we will be meeting tomorrow morning).
  • We’ve organised an open event with Paula Perry, Co-Author of UK Black History teaching guide on Monday 13th November.

Through social media, emails and phone calls we know many, many residents are interested in this and are keen to be kept updated. We’ll do our very best to share regular updates.

On Thursday 26th October, Councillor James Beckles and I met with the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales and the Cabinet member for Equalities, Tahmina Rahman. Ahead of our meeting we prepared a PowerPoint presentation, Newham Black History Month 2018-2022 Plan with a plan for reinstating Newham Black History Month through some quick wins and long term planning. You can read more here.

Committee other LBN Commitments

The Forest Gate Community Neighbourhood now has joint meetings with Stratford and West Ham Community Neighbourhood. At our last few meetings we discussed the Keep Newham Moving programme, many roads in Forest Gate North have been resurfaced including Sebert Road. It’s was also confirmed that all new lamp posts will have non-sticky paint so no more annoying massage stickers!

The #ForestGate North RPZ will be reviewed very soon. We will use this to look into concerns raised to myself and Rachel around visitor permits, timing, needs of businesses, carers, vulnerable and elderly residents and those without a phone to pay for a parking ticket. When we get a confirmed date for this review we will let you know.

We also hear updates of Fixed Penalty Notices and how the street cleansing team is progressing. For example, someone fly-tipped on Maryland Sq was taken to court and fined a total of £8,841 to pay in full within 6 months!

At Full Council on 18th July I asked a question to Cabinet:

In Forest Gate like many areas in Newham we have seen an increase in successful small local businesses and enterprises that support community needs in areas such as childhood obesity, mental health and loneliness. How can we ensure our business rates do not affect community-minded enterprises and small businesses from flourishing?

I’ll be crowdsourcing questions for December’s Full Council meeting early next week.

Events

Here are a few highlights of the events I’ve attended since my last ward report:

Easter Fun day at Forest Lane Park (had way too much fun!)

15th July attened Forest Gate Festival

18th July attended Forest Gate Safer Neighbourhood Ward panel meeting

27th July a vigil to remember the local Nazi atrocity, V1 attack on Forest Gate

19th August I attend the Forest Lane Park Fun Day

25th August I hosted an open air candlelight vigil for the Sierra Leone Flood Victims at St John’s

24th August I dropped into a Let’s Get the Party Started event for young people around Mc Donald Road.

30th September attended the Woodgrange Market Place’s End of Summer Party

21st October Attended the launch of Newham Heritage Week.
West Ham CLP/ Forest Gate North Campaigning

Was great campaigning with you during the snap election here in the Ward and in marginals like Ilford North.
We had a great local Labour presence at the Forest Gate Festival

I’ve been out to Chingford and Woodford Green to support Owen Smith’s Unseat IDS campaign.

We had our first Coffee Morning at Familia Cafe 16th September with Lyn Brown MP.

Our doorknocking around Moore Walk on 19th September was difficult as expected but we met a number of residents and we collected a lot of useful information and key casework. We will be meeting with Swan Housing soon to discuss some of these issues.

Our Street Stall on 21st September went well too.

Thank you to everyone for helping to deliver our Community Update leaflets. We had more residents attend our surgeries and make contact with us which is great

Thank you for reading!

If you have any question please feel free to contact me on

02032874797 or via @SeyiAkiwowo or www.facebook.com/CllrSeyiAkiwowo

My next Cllr surgery is on Sat 2nd December, 10:30am at The Gate Library.

 

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Follow up on Newham Black History Month

Seyi writes…

After it was revealed that a local primary school in Newham had asked it’s pupils to come to school dressed as slaves to mark the 30th Anniversary of Black History Month myself and Cllr Beckles took the following actions:

  • We wrote joint statement  expressing our disappointment
  • We wrote to Sir Robin Wales asking for an urgent meeting to discuss relaunching Newham Black History Month
  • We wrote to the Headteacher of St Winefride’s Catholic Primary School asking to meet (we will be meeting tomorrow morning).
  • We’ve organised an open event with Paula Perry, Co-Author of UK Black History teaching guide on Monday 13th November.

Through social media, emails and phone calls we know many, many residents are interested in this and are keen to be kept updated. We’ll do our very best to share regular updates.

On Thursday 26th October, Councillor James Beckles and I met with the Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales and the Cabinet member for Equalities, Tahmina Rahman. Ahead of our meeting we prepared a PowerPoint presentation, Newham Black History Month 2018-2022 Plan with a plan for reinstating Newham Black History Month through some quick wins and long term planning. This was presented to both the Mayor and Tahmina. At the heart of our presentation was a draft set of ideas for a five year plan which if implemented would make the preparation, commissioning and delivery of Black History Month in Newham part of the Council’s work and involving the community. The Cabinet had a week before agreed to set up a working group to explore how best to celebrate Black History Month in the future. This was a positive step but to go further the group will need buy-in at both political and leadership level, both points Seyi and I raised.

We set out how best we could work with this new working group, one of many suggestions was to make it an “action group” so it would be focused and proactive with clear objectives around the delivery of a growing and sustainable model that would mean Black History Month in Newham is relevant, educational and informative.

It won’t be an easy task but me and Seyi are prepared to play our part in getting this group off the ground, developing a plan that is inclusive, informative and more importantly steers us away from the misconceptions held by some about what Black History Month is and should be about.

Two years ago a small group including myself, James, Darren Steer and Rokhsana Fiaz, held a well attended Black History Month discussion. We did that on a very limited budget with good will from UEL/Birkbeck and high profile speakers. It just took will and commitment. We are hoping for the same now going forward. Just imagine what more a local authority could achieve, not just with financial resources and leadership but via a range of partnerships.

In terms of next steps the action group has been tasked to set objectives for Newham Black History Month and we’re waiting to hear from Tahmina and the Mayor, hopefully this week. We will do our very best to ensure that Newham Black History Month is another legacy we can be proud of in our borough.

 

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