Sunday, August 31, 2008

Foxy Fun Day Success

Well done to all those in the recently-formed Foxborough Gardens Tenants and Residents' Association, who organised yesterday's 'Foxy Fun Day'. It was an excellent event, with a really good community atmosphere. I would guestimate that well over half of the residents on the estate took part. As well as lots of stalls and food there were also loads of activities for children including a Punch and Judy show, a treasure hunt and an inflatable slide. Sadly I arrived too late to see PC Brian Jemmett from the Ladywell Safer Neighbourhood Team get put in the stocks, but I heard that the kids took great pleasure in throwing wet sponges at him. Definitely above and beyond the call of duty!

Thanks should go to all those from Regenter B3 (Pinnacle, Equipe and Higgins) and Lewisham Tenants' Fund who supported the event. Hopefully it will become an annual event.

As well as being a fun day, the event was also to raise money for a playground on the estate. The group will be making a presentation to the Mayor of Lewisham on 13th September to bid for some of the £1m Playbuilder Programme that Lewisham has been given by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) for the transformation and creation of 20-25 play areas in the borough.

Update 03/09/08: Newsshopper article and picture.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Top Twenty Green Blog?

According to this, Green Ladywell has been ranked the 6th best Green blog in the country. Sandwiched between George Monbiot (5th) and fellow Green Party member, Philbiblon (7th). Very honoured and all that, but I suspect that this list, which we didn't make it into, is probably the more rigorous of the two, with a lower tolerance threshold for long absences from the blogosphere, too many references to potholes, CPZs and a preponderence of Ladywell- specific issues rather than 'green' issues per se. However, it's very nice to be in the Total Politics list, and that's the one I'll be referring to henceforth! (Jim, you're off my Christmas card list!).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Local Restauranteur Branches out into Biodiesel

Richard Simpson, owner of the Cummin Up chain of Carribbean restaurants in Lewisham (who also incidentally stood for the Greens in Ladywell in 2002) just called to tell me about his latest business venture. Working with a partner, AC Energy is going to be collecting and converting the used cooking oil from restaurants in the area and converting it into biodiesel, which will then be offered back to the same businesses to power their vehicles. The website isn't quite there yet, but they have the waste licence and are launching soon. Sounds promising.

Maybe one small upside of higher fuel prices will be more cooking oil is recycled and less ends up clogging up London's sewers? While Greens have joined many NGOs in expressing concern at the devastating consequences of land being used to grow fuel crops, or agrofuels (leading to higher global food prices, feeding the cars of the rich rather than the mouths of the hungry etc, rainforest being cleared to grow palm oil, destroying habitat which may lead to the extinction of the oranguatan in the wild etc), biodiesel from waste cooking oil is to be welcomed. It is only ever likely to fuel a small percentage of the cars currently on the road, and in a world of high oil prices and an urgent need to cut carbon emissions, reducing private vehicle use and switching to electric cars is key, but biofuel from waste cooking oil can have a role, even if just in a limited way.

See Biofuel Watch or the Greenpeace website for more info on the issue.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Come on Thames Water!

This is the pavement on the corner of Ladywell Road/Algernon Road. Someone spilled a tin of paint there last week and Council cleaners did their best to clean it up, but couldn't clean it all. What really makes that corner of the street look at eyesore however, is the roughly tarmaced over area that has been like that for months, since Thames Water carried out some repair works there last year. They are supposed to come back and restore the pavement to how it was before, but they/their contractors never have.

Every few weeks a highways inspector from the Council comes along and sprays blue paint on the tarmac (blue paint = Thames Water), then Thames Water is issued with a fine and a reminder. They must have clocked up a fair few hundred pounds in fines by now, but still haven't got the pavement sorted. So I thought I'd post this on the off-chance that someone from Thames Water comes across it and decides to sort it out. I've also asked Lewisham's highways team to chase them again. Lewisham is supposed to be getting some extra powers soon to deal with utilities companies whose road works overrun etc - hopefully that will help.

UPDATE 30th August: It's now been fixed - hurray! (though there's still a bit by the drycleaners that needs sorting).


Just found out that Streetcar, the car club that are rapidly expanding across London and have 14 sites in Lewisham, now also have Streetvan. 50 locations across London, including one in New Cross. White van driver mentality and driving skills not included, ideal for greenies to make occasional trips to DIY shop, freecycle bulky items etc! Thanks to Nick Ingham for telling me about that.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Lewisham Greens at Kingsnorth Protest

Pictured: Lewisham and Greenwich Greens outside Kingsnorth Power Station

Last Sunday I took part in the march from Rochester to Kingsnorth Power Station to oppose E.On's plans to build a massive new power station on the site. I met a number of other people from Greenwich and Lewisham there, and there was a strong showing of Green Party members from across the country. The march heralded the start of Climate Camp, which culminated in a mass action to shut down the power station today.

The government and E.On's media spin doctors have been out in force, but Climate Camp activists are pretty effective at getting their story across too. If built, Kingsnorth will emit between 6 and 8 million tons of CO2 every year, which is even more than the proposed third runway at Heathrow would produce and would seriously undermine any other efforts we might make to cut carbon emissions.

Political Policing
A lot of media attention has focussed on the policing and the politics behind it. After I attended the march I headed for the climate camp. I wasn't planning to stay long, as I had to go to work the next day. I just wanted to pop in, take a look, meet a few friends and spend an hour or so there. So I set off on my bike from Kingsnorth to the climate camp.

As I got within about half a mile of the camp, I met some fellow London Greens heading back, also on bikes. The police were searching everyone before letting them into the camp and seizing all bike locks. We could kind of see why they might want to seize d-locks from a group of people who were open about their intentions to carry out direct action, so thought fair enough, we'll lock our bikes up here and walk down to the camp.

Before we had managed to do that, a police van pulled up and warned us that if we tried to lock our bikes there, the locks would be cut and the bikes taken. So we asked if we could lock just the locks there and take our bikes with us to the camp. Nope. In the end we took our chances and joined the queue to be searched. Just like queuing for the toilets in a nightclub, the queue for women to be searched was much longer than the queue for men, highlighting the gender inbalance in the police force. The reason they gave for searching me was for 'items for criminal damage'. Funnily enough, they didn't find anything. After much debate the police officer who searched me relented and let me lock my bike to a fence, while the person I was with hid his lock in a hedge and retrieved it later. Fortunately, when I returned after an hour it was still there, though other cyclists were less lucky - clearly us cyclists are a big terrorist threat, especially compared to climate criminals like E.On.

The policing of the whole event has been excessive, political and oppressive, not to mention a waste of £3m of public funds. Police have confiscated all sorts of innocuous items from protestors, ranging from soap and kid's crayons to an ironing board as activists on the video below outlines.

Today a fellow Green was arrested and detained for 5 hours for possession of vitamin c tablets - clearly a big threat to national security and justified use of draconian police powers, not. Met officers whose time would better have been spent dealing with genuine crime on our streets were also drafted in to intimidate protestors. Many of the officers on duty looked frankly embarassed at the orders they were given. Politicians from across the political spectrum have been critical of the policing of this event and rightly so.

I don't buy the 'all police are corrupt' line and at a local level I have worked closely with the Ladywell Safer Neighbourhood team on various issues. However, the actions and behaviour of the police at Climate Camp over the past week have made me deeply cynical, and all the more determined to exercise my democratic right to protest in the future.

All Change on Ladywell Road

Ladywell Road has seen a number of changes over the last few weeks and there are a couple more hopeful developments in the pipeline.

Firstly, of course, was the long-awaited re-opening of Ladywell Tavern. Ute and I had Sunday lunch there a few weeks back and it is a great improvement - a much more relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere - the kind of place you could happily go and read the Sunday papers by yourself and have a coffee, without feeling intimidated. The new owners are very keen for it to be part of the community and tentative plans are already afoot with Ladywell Village Improvement Group (LVIG) to host a Ladywell Beer Festival there at some point in the future. Good food and decent wine and beer too.

Next up, Oscars has now opened on the site of the former International Minimart. Once again, a complete transformation. Part deli, part cafe, serving paninis, cake and ice cream, plus a range of decent bread. Beautifully done, with a lovely garden to the rear and nice touches such as the mosaic by the entrance. Good luck to local resident Petra who is behind Oscars and also active in LVIG.

Thirdly, YOGIS newsagents changed hands this week, with the previous owners moving to Lee Green after 30 years running the business. The new owner, Kaidaya, is keen to make a few changes and expand the shop to the rear. I dropped off a copy of the results of the survey that LVIG did about Ladywell Road, but now might be a good time for lots of people to go along and ask him if he is thinking of selling some fruit and veg (and then supporting him if he does!).

Shop Local in Ladywell Bags
There are a very limited number left now - just a dozen or so scattered between a few of the shops. Most of the money has been collected and banked now and a second order will be placed soon. Feedback so far has mostly been asking for longer handles for the next batch - anything else? Although we didn't make any profit out of the first batch, we did prove wrong all those who said it wouldn't work and the scheme couldn't compete with the bags sold at supermarkets etc etc!

Finally, I don't think I've mentioned that way back at the beginning of July I organised a walkabout in and around Ladywell Road with Deputy Mayor Heidi Alexander, highways officers and representatives from Ladywell Society and LVIG. It was a really useful to have Heidi there as well as officers, and for residents to explain their concerns and hopes for the road. Perhaps as a result of our previous walkabout and various casework enquiries (or perhaps just a happy coincidence), highways have submitted a bid for £250,000 to TfL to make improvements to the area along Ladywell Road. We will find out in November if they have been successful. If they are, highways will carry out a feasibility study and possibly do a consultation to coincide with the Ladywell CPZ consultation next spring. Highways issues raised on the walkabout included:
  • the railings
  • traffic speed
  • the need for a safe crossing at the end of Algernon Road
  • uneven paving (the patch outside the drycleaners that has been roughly tarmaced over for ages is waiting for Thames Water to come and sort it out. Every two weeks or so highways come along, inspect and fine Thames Water, but they still haven't sorted it).
  • parking: residents' parking and the need for short-term parking for shops
Other issues raised included:
  • long-term empty premises such as Nightwatch and the Snack Bar which bring down the rest of the street
  • the run-down state of Coral's building with empty flats above (with all the money they are draining from the local economy, you'd think they could at least restore the top half of the building and rent the flats out really)
  • the possibility of a Christmas market by the station, like Brockley had
  • the garages site on the corner of Malyons Road (planning permission was granted a few years ago for flats and retail premises, but no approaches have been made to planning yet to do this)

Lewisham Green Drinks

Just a quick plug for Lewisham Green Drinks, which takes place on the 1st Monday of every month at Mr Lawrence Wine Bar, 389 Brockley Road. It's for anyone with an interest in green/environmental issues to meet up and chat/network informally with like-minded individuals. You can join the e-mail list to get a monthly reminder here, and there's also a group for Facebook afficianados.

We get a wide range of people coming along, from allotment holders and real ale drinkers, cyclists, fairtrade campaigners to those just thinking about greening up their life. And Mr Lawrence's does a good range of local ales and fairtrade and organic wines.

Could your street be Lewisham's first eco street?

One of the Lewisham Green Group budget amendments that we got through earlier this year was money to run a street-by-street energy reduction scheme. The pilot programme has been announced this week and the Council is looking for a road in the borough to become Lewisham’s first ‘Eco Street’.

Residents have until Wednesday 10th September to submit their street's entry, saying why they should be the lucky eco street. So roll up Ladywell residents, get speaking to your neighbours and submit an entry. Although the Council press release dumbs it down a bit with talk of an 'environmental makeover', what this programme should (at least as we proposed it) be primarily about is insulating all the participating properties in street (economies of scale bringing down the cost etc) and other measures to reduce both your carbon footprint and your fuel bills.

You can download the application form from here.

The only criteria is that nominated streets should have at least 100 households, preferably made up of more than one type of dwelling (ie, houses, conversion and purpose-built flats). [Personally I can't see any reason why 2 adjoining small streets couldn't submit a joint entry, but I'll check that].

Residents on the street will receive:
- A free energy assessment for each home
- A free pack of environmentally friendly ‘goodies’ for each household
- Financial support for measures to make their home more sustainable and to reduce energy bills
- Information and advice on how to reduce, reuse and recycle

Improvements for the street will include:
- Local clean-up events
- A ‘sustainable living’ event for the street
­- Development of a car club for the street
- Opportunities to support local wildlife and other biodiversity improvements

You may also be interested in taking a look at the Council's Greener Home Guide.

Ladywell to get Controlled Parking Zone Consultation - in Spring 2009

The Mayor has agreed to another round of consultations on controlled parking zones (CPZs) in a number of areas, including two within Ladywell ward - one around Ladywell village itself and the other for Sunninghill Road. Sunninghill Road is likely to be consulted quite soon over extending the Central Lewisham CPZ to include their road, as the new medical centre has exacerbated their parking problems. However the main Ladywell CPZ consultation is unlikely to take place until April next year (the date has already slipped back several times) as they are consulting a number of other areas first.

Everyone in the proposed area should get a consultation leaflet through their door. If you live outside the area being consulted, you will still be entitled to ask for a form or complete and return a response online.

Whatever your views on CPZs, it is important that as many residents as possible return the document so your views are considered. The borough's policy is only to implement a CPZ if the majority of residents in an area support it. Last time Ladywell was consulted (2005 I believe), there was a very low response rate and as a result only the top end of Algernon Road and the adjacent roads were added to the Central Lewisham CPZ.

I know it's an issue that provokes strong feelings both ways, and as councillors we get a number of enquiries from residents about parking pressures. I suspect that a number of residents in Ladywell, particularly in Malyons Road, Marsala Road, Gillian Street and Ellerdale Street may welcome the proposals, as these are the roads that seem to be particularly affected by commuter parking.

Click here to see a map of the area the Council plans to consult for the proposed Ladywell CPZ.

Empty Properties - Your Views Sought

The letter below has this week gone out to amenities societies and action groups within the borough inviting them to contribute to the scrutiny on empty properties that my committee is carrying out this Autumn. I think I have a pretty good idea of the problematic properties in Ladywell, and indeed one or two of them may well be used as case studies for the investigation (!), but if you have anything you would like to contribute, please do. I'm particularly keen to look at how we are using our powers under planning and environmental health laws and how effective our carrots (shop improvement grants, grants to bring properties back in to use for social housing) and sticks (empty dwelling management orders etc) are compared to other local authorities

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to let you know about a review of empty properties being carried out by Lewisham Council's Sustainable Development Select Committee. The Committee will be looking at how the council addresses the issue of empty homes and commercial properties in the borough, and what can be done to further reduce numbers.

As empty properties can be a blight on local areas - often leading to anti-social behaviour such as graffiti, fly-tipping and pest infestations - the Chair of the Committee (Councillor Sue Luxton) is keen to hear from local societies such as your own. Any contributions you wish to make to the review will be considered by the committee, along with a range of other evidence, when making their final recommendations. Contributions you may wish to make to the review might include:

  • examples of empty properties (domestic or commercial) in your local area - particularly those which have become derelict or have led to anti-social behaviour such as those listed above;
  • your experiences of how problem empty properties have been dealt with by the council; and
  • the impact of empty properties on your neighbourhood.

Contributions can be made by email ( or by post to:

Joel Hartfield
Overview & Scrutiny
London Borough of Lewisham
2nd Floor Civic Suite
London SE6 4RU

If you don't feel you have anything to contribute to the review but would nevertheless like to attend the review sessions held in public, then they will take place at 7:30pm on the 2nd September and 7th October. Details of each meeting will be available on the council website around a week in advance of each meeting. The final report and recommendations are likely to be presented to the Mayor and Cabinet in November or December.

Further information on the work of the Sustainable Development Select Committee is available here.

Pushing for Action on Enviro-Crime

A lot of the casework we do as councillors we can't talk about on the blog , but there are a few enforcement issues we've been working on for a while that have recently seen some progress.

Howson Road - skip hire lorries
It is over a year ago now since a resident first wrote anonymously to Darren about skip lorries being illegally parked at the end of Braxfield Road and in the forecourt of the council-owned garages on the corner of Braxfield/Howson Road. Sometimes there were as many as three vehicles parked there and the owner carried out repairs to them at evenings and weekends, disturbing the peace of neighbouring residents and making a mess of the road in the process.

Since then, I have chased this up on numerous occasions (well over a dozen times) with environmental enforcement, highways, housing/Pinnacle and the local police. Eventually the lock to the garages gate was changed and the owner of the skip hire lorries evicted from the garages, but he persisted in parking his lorries on the road and carrying out repairs. Finally, after repeated requests and a question to the deputy mayor, there have been more regular visits by parking enforcement and 3 fixed penalty notices were issued. Just over 3 weeks ago (maybe after the 3rd FPN?) the lorries disappeared, and haven't been back since. It's still early days, and the problem may yet come back, but for now residents are breathing a sigh of relief and enjoying the peace and quiet.

This kind of issue really highlights the need for housing, parking, environmental enforcement and the police to work together to solve it. My impression is that this didn't happen as effectively as it should have, hence it took so long to get anywhere, but hopefully we have finally made some headway on this.

Loampit Hill Salvage Yard
Ladywell Safer Neighbourhood Team and ourselves have both received complaints from residents about the salvage yard on Loampit Hill spreading its goods across the pavement, making it difficult for pedestrians to pass safely. Ute followed up on this with environmental enforcement and the owner of the business was given repeated warnings but failed to comply. However, Lewisham Council took him to court and a couple of weeks ago he was fined £2,000 plus £1,390 costs. Hopefully, the pavement will now be kept clear . . .

Mercy Terrace Fly-Tipping

Mercy Terrace is the road off Algernon Road that leads to the mini-industrial estate under Ladywell Road railway bridge. Again, a resident got in touch to complain about the fly-tipping on one site in the terrace. Environmental enforcement followed up on several occasions but the problem continued. Eventually, the Council took legal action against the owner of the land, for failure to comply with their obligation under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to secure it against fly tipping and should the fly tipping occur to clear the land.

This was due to go to court a couple of weeks ago, but in the end following negotiations between the Council and the legal representatives for the site owner, the owner accepted a formal caution and share of court costs. The owner has also agreed to erect a fence and regularly inspect the land to make sure it is clear. In return the Council dropped the court action and agreed to provide a 'no fly-tipping' sign for the land. The formal caution can be sited in court should the Council ever need to take action against the same individual for this offence in the future.

So maybe a result on this one too, though we will need to keep monitoring. I understand that the owner is ultimately keen to put flats on the site.

We will continue to follow up on other environmental enforcement issues in the ward and try to get action, though sometimes it can be a painstakingly-slow process. Ute is continuing to push for progress with the derelict shop on the corner of Tyrwhitt Road and Loampit Hill, while I am still pushing for enforcement action against the owners of Nightwatch (46 Ladywell Road). Also on the list are the garages on the corner of Malyons Road/Ladywell Road and the mews to the rear of the shops between Adelaide Ave and Margarets Road.

Foxborough Gardens Fun Day, Saturday August 30th

OK, having been pretty scathing of the Brockley PFI in the previous post, I just wanted to touch upon a couple of positive things that have happened recently and are planned over the forthcoming weeks.

Back in June, I posted about a petition organised by residents of Foxborough Gardens, calling for a playground on the estate, which I presented to the Mayor. Since then, rather than sitting back on their laurels, residents have formally established a tenants and residents association (TRA) and are planning a fun day on Saturday 30th August. The purpose of the event is two-fold. Firstly, and obviously, for the community to have fun, but secondly, they are also hoping to raise money to put towards a playground on the estate. A bouncy castle, magician, face-painting and BBQ are just a few of the many attractions planned for the day.

Foxborough Gardens TRA are also bidding for some of the £1m that Lewisham has got to improve play areas in the borough. Along with other organisations and communities, they will be giving a presentation to the Mayor at an event on Saturday 13th September. The Mayor will then decide which 6 projects will get funding in the first year, and years 2 and 3 of the funding.

Pinnacle's tenant and residents' participation officer, Jim, has been supporting residents in getting this off the ground and I've been very impressed in how the community is working together on this.

So why the picture of Punch and Judy? Well, residents are keen to have a Punch and Judy show at the Fun Day, but are struggling to find someone to do this. So if you know anyone who does Punch and Judy (you know, lots of domestic violence, police brutality, dog stealing sausages etc), let me know and I will pass it on to the residents.

And don't forget to come along on the day - Saturday 30th August, 12-6pm - fun and for a good cause!

Brockley Housing PFI - Plenty of Room For improvement

Both Brockley and Ladywell councillors have had a fair amount of casework recently from Council tenants and leaseholders affected by the Brockley housing PFI.

Leaseholders have been concerned about the estimates they have been receiving for repair works and have formed a leaseholders association to work together and ensure their rights are respected.
Brockley councillor Darren Johnson and I recently met with members of the association and Darren is hopefully arranging a meeting with the Mayor to enable leaseholders to discuss their concerns with him directly and agree a way forward.

a number of tenants feel that their views are being ignored or ridden roughshod over. We have had several reports of bullying behaviour from Higgins contractors, which we are following up on and hope will be swiftly stopped.

A further concern is the way in which in certain instances the wishes of leaseholders and tenants are being played off against each other. There was a vociferous campaign led by leaseholders and Ladywell Society and supported by local councillors, against plans to rip out the original features of Victorian properties in Ladywell and install UPVC windows. After lengthy discussions, we secured a small victory in that 38 Victorian properties in Algiers Road, Veda Road, Vicar's Hill and Ermine Road are now being treated as if they are in the conservation area.

However, the contractors, Higgins, are now telling tenants in some of the effected properties that they won't get double glazing 'because someone from Ladywell Society objected'. They are being told that their wooden sash windows will just be repaired (not even any draught-proofing), and if the window needs replacing it will only be replaced with single glazing.
The tenants, who like the rest of us face rising fuel bills are understandably p*ssed off.

The Council's housing team are telling me that this isn't the case and that these properties will get double glazing, as will the conservation area proprties, but I'm still waiting for a definitive answer, with details of exactly what work is being done to improve the thermal efficiency of these Council homes. Clearly, i
n an age of rising energy prices and fuel poverty, to be missing this opportunity to insulate homes and reduce fuel bills would be scandalous.

It is also a big mistake to play off the wishes of those wanting to preserve the character of the area against the entirely understandable wishes of tenants to have warmer homes. Whoever is spreading the rumour that Ladywell Society are the villains of the piece for daring to oppose all the applications for UPVC windows in Victorian properties in Ladywell is wrong - they were entirely right to question the wisdom of ripping out original Victorian features from properties that are likely to be included in a future conservation area and replace them with UPVC windows (which have inferior thermal qualities to wooden-framed double glazing and are an environmental time-bomb). No one was ever suggesting these properties shouldn't have double-glazing, just querying the wisdom of UPVC.

It would seem that when drawing up the 20-year PFI contract, in all the 1,500 pages of legalese, the Council's Housing team didn't get round to specifying exactly what thermal improvements to homes would be made. Unbelievable, but, this, it would seem, is what often happens when the legal teams of private consortiums run rings around the Council's lawyers.

I hope to be proved wrong on this, but I am concerned about how things are currently progressing with the PFI. Balancing the rights of leaseholders and tenants is always going to be a tricky thing, but it seems that the contractors and Council between them are currently managing to annoy both. We urgently need clarity on what improvements to thermal efficiency those 38 properties, and those in the conservation area, are going to get, as well as dramatic improvements in communications to leaseholders.

Green councillors in Lewisham consistently opposed the Brockley PFI scheme from when it was first proposed to when it was signed, as did many residents, but New Labour ploughed on with it, and the deal was finally sealed, several years later than planned. Since then we have been working constructively with the Council's housing team, contractors and residents, to see that residents rights are respected and repairs and improvements are carried out to a high standard and we will continue to do so.

Is your sleep disturbed by aircraft noise?

A resident who lives near Hilly Fields came to my surgery recently. For the past few years he has regularly been woken up early in the morning (sometimes as early as 4.30am) by aircraft noise, and finds it difficult to get back to sleep. Back in January, when I asked the deputy mayor whether Lewisham would be submitting a formal response to the consultation on Heathrow (LBL didn't, Greens did) she said that the borough only received one or two complaints a year from residents about aviation noise. However, I'm now wondering if this is a case of a few individuals who are very light sleepers being particularly effected, or if the problem is more widespread and people are simply suffering in silence.

HACAN and the London Assembly environment committee have both at various times commissioned research on the impacts of aircraft noise on Londoners' quality of life. HACAN are very concerned at the impact a third runway or ending the runway alternation at Heathrow will have on those living under flightpaths are they are calling for the adoption of the noise levels recommended by the World Health Organisation.

So, I would like some feedback from residents: are you disturbed by aircraft noise? Does it wake you up/stop you from sleeping? E-mail me or post in the comments please.

Guest Post from Tim Lund: Landfit

Somehow, the longer you go without posting to your blog, the bigger the task of getting back into it seems, so apologies for the lack of posts recently. However, stand by for a veritable flurry of posts as I catch up with what we've been up to over the last few weeks. However, to kick things off I'm delighted to have a guest post from Tim Lund, Sydenham resident, who has been working with others residents to set up Landfit. At the same time that Tim in Sydenham was thinking about the wasted opportunity that many front gardens are, a couple of Brockley residents visited Ute at surgery with a similar idea. The two were put in touch with each other and the result is Landfit. I think this is Green Ladywell's first ever guest post, although I am happy to consider more if you would like to e-mail them to me. Anyway, over to Tim:

‘Landfit’ is a concept - the concept of matching people who want to do some gardening with some garden that wants a gardener. For me the idea goes back a few years to when:

  1. I saw a friend looking after a bit of ground in front of Penge East railway station. She wanted to put some plants in it, and the station operators were happy to give her a space to leave some tools
  2. I read or saw something about Guerrilla Gardeners
  3. I was managing the waiting list for my allotments

I’ve always found untended gardens distressing - a combination of thinking that whoever is responsible for them is missing out, and seeing them as somewhere I could put in things I’ve grown in my own garden. In economic language, supply and demand aren’t matching, and the challenge is how to break down the barriers so that they can. In other words, how to get permission for gardener A to cultivate / look after B’s garden. Or rather B’s garden, but taking into account any number of other parties - neighbours, residents, managers, etc.

Thinking like an economist here gets you to identifying two essential requirements:

  • Information about people wanting to garden, and gardens wanting gardening
  • A flexible and robust contractual arrangement for the parties to a ‘Landfit’ arrangement

Thinking like someone who’s been involved in managing allotments adds another requirement if you want to help such arrangements stick, which is

  • Access to training for would-be gardeners

My experience is that many new gardeners - maybe most - don’t have a very good idea of what gardening involves.

In response to a couple of people from my allotments telling me earlier this year about grants for Local Food growing, I started trying to work up the ideas more fully, and discussing them with other people. This has led to an informal group of ‘Landfitters’ and a web site There’s more going on than is up on the site at the time of writing (Aug 9th), since thanks to the networking we have done, we have been approached by a local Housing Association, Hexagon, with the idea of using the Landfit concept with them.

It’s important for me that Landfit should not be seen as an organisation, and that it doesn’t get bogged down in the business of applying for grants, and then demonstrating that it has met various bureaucratic criteria. When I finished my first attempt to explain the concept, I felt I had to test immediately how it would work at the simplest (grassroots?) level, so what better way of finding out than to go three doors down my street and pitch the idea to the occupiers of a house with such an untended garden. And I really did want to find somewhere to put a dessert gooseberry I’d just been given, and they do have a nice south facing wall it should appreciate … I wasn’t exactly surprised by the cautious reaction, since this was the sort of thing I had been thinking about - how to present the idea, address likely concerns. But we came to an agreement, and it’s all going very happily

It’s hardly surprising that the idea can work as this sort of simple level - and in fact, as I knock the idea around, I discover other people who’ve done exactly the same sort of thing. I also learned of a group in North America, ‘Sharing Backyards‘, that is trying to develop the concept in the same way that we are.

But making the concept work at a local level really requires very little more than having the idea. We had a meeting a while back at which someone told us of a neighbour’s garden that was neglected … and what could be done about it? Well, you just go and ring the bell, introduce yourself, and take it from there! At which point the amateur sociologist in me emerges, and wonders what on earth it is that makes this so difficult. Thanks to making this approach to my neighbours - who I’d never met - I now have that many more friends on my street. I also get into conversation with people passing, and residents of the sheltered housing block overlooking the garden.

For us, working with with Hexagon Housing is going to be a test of the concept at a more complex level. One challenge will be keeping records of gardeners and gardens, and the matches between them. Sometimes the IT developer in me would like to be able to focus simply on this, since it’s not hard to imagine a really cool web site in which gardeners enter their details, garden stakeholders enter theirs, and through the magic of an interactive Web 2.0 site, everyone lives happily ever after. ‘Sharing Backyards’ is already doing this sort of thing, and I have been in contact with them to discuss how their model could be exported to London. However, I think we’ll be able to handle the IT requirements at this stage with an Access database - which is something I can manage.

The main challenge, I think, will be working out what gardening training is required, and delivering it. It would be nice if this could happen informally, in the same way that most people who enjoy gardening have learned what to do - learning from their parents, trial and error and a few books. But this is probably not the best way of learning, and where there are requirements to deliver qualifications that will help people get back into work, as with a Housing Association, something more formal will be required. This is not the time to go into all this, since I’m still developing ideas, and un-thought through thoughts are that interesting to read. I’m going to have to get down to thinking about where funding will come from, and how what we do meets others’ requirements, which will be a learning experience.

That’s just a part of it. We’re always interested to hear from people who are interested, and tell them about what we are doing. If you want to do some Landfitting yourself, what is stopping you? As to the word ‘Landfit’ - it has three ideas to it:

  • Fitting people to bits of land, and vice versa
  • Getting fit by working on a bit of land
  • The slogan a ‘Land fit for heroes’, which was around when allotments where at the peak immediately post the first World War