A weekend of community events

2014-07-13 14.32.12

Rachel writes…

Probably not the biggest problem in the world, but last weekend was stuffed full of community events. Busy, tiring, encouraging, interesting – and all at once. Plus a house full with my inlaws visiting for the weekend.

On Saturday we all went to Woodgrange Infants School fete, which is the school where my two eldest girls go and also where I am Chair of Governors. I know that there was a question mark over whether we could hold a fete this year, as the school – like many others in Newham – is expanding from three to four form entry. This is in response to the birth rate and the numbers of children moving here, and is a massive programme of expansion. Locally, here in Forest Gate as elsewhere this translates into exciting new facilities, but also building work, deliveries, and all the disruption that goes with it. At Woodgrange, we have lost some of our playground to the new classrooms but gained a fantastic new woodland play area.

I need not have worried. The fete was a wonderful success, with the decidedly changeable forecast translating into hot sun, and the playground was full of families enjoying themselves on the bouncy castle, eating cakes, throwing sponges and ping pong balls, having their faces painted, and much more.

On Sunday, I nipped across the road to Wanstead Flats to join ‘Tidy Our Flats’ for some litter picking. Started by the indefatiguable Misty, #tidyourflats is an opportunity for all the community to come together to improve this much-loved green space. Once a month, Misty gathers us all together, supported by the Corporation of London who provide litter picks, gloves, and bags, and take away what’s collected.

I am torn about the experience of picking up litter on the Flats. On the one hand, it feels incrementally, undeniably positive. Unlike so much of the kind of work I do, it is physical and measurable. ‘One bag of litter collected’. It has weight and substance. It is also brilliant to see so many local people out and caring for our beautiful green space. I saw plenty of people I know, and met some new ones, too. Although I couldn’t make it, there was a community barbeque afterwards, to thank participants. This was supported by a Let’s Get the Party Started grant from the Council, and looked like a glorious way of enjoying the weather, good food, and good company.

On the other hand… the Flats were FILTHY. Littered, literally, with the debris of thoughtless, stupid people who had obviously enjoyed the green peace enough to bring their takeaways over the road but seemed to have suddenly taken leave of rational thought once they’d finished their food and drink. What goes through these people’s minds? I muttered to myself as I picked up empty soft drink bottles, empty chicken boxes, and worse. Who do they think is going to pick this up after them? I thought, angrily.

There are no answers to this. Except, of course, to scrupulously not drop litter myself, and to teach my girls not to do so. But this is not really an answer at all, and it all makes me feel very despondent sometimes.

But there was no time to fall into a slough of despond. It was time to cover myself and all the girls in sun cream, and head off to the Mayor’s Newham Show. I spent some time in the Community Neighbourhoods tent, with the enjoyable task of handing out balloons to children, pinning on badges, and chatting to people about events and groups in their local areas. Then I headed off to enjoy the atmosphere with the girls: watching them splash and run about at the beach area, and tucking into freshly cooked and sugared doughnuts being the main highlights. It was amazing to watch the event now that I have been elected, thinking about what it says about Newham that so many people from different backgrounds all come together for the weekend to enjoy themselves, to find out more about what the borough has to offer, and to learn about how they can contribute to it.

Then, exhausted, happy, lightly sunned, and very slightly dehydrated, we all headed back home again. A packed weekend of community events. As a new councillor, a perfect, if tiring combination of work and play.

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