853

news, views and issues around Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath and Woolwich, south-east London – what you won't read in Greenwich Time

Societies’ secrecy hides Olympics good news

with 10 comments

This post could have brought you news of Wednesday night’s meeting between the organisers of 2012’s London Olympics and local societies in Blackheath and Greenwich, about the planned equestrian events in Greenwich Park and their ramifications. Unfortunately, the Blackheath Society did not respond to a request for access to the meeting, and I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not welcome to attend by the Westcombe Society’s chairman, Gordon Baker, because I was not a member.

So, I took my press card, and went to my neighbouring residents’ association’s AGM instead, where there was beer and crisps and a warm welcome. And a news story too. I’m not a member there, either. So, instead of the welcome news that 2012 organising body LOCOG announced at the meeting, here’s a photograph of Blackheath Halls, where the event took place. Nice, isn’t it?

Blackheath Halls, 23 September 2009

To be honest, I should have got myself organised for this meeting a while back, and I was prepared for a friendly knock-back. But I didn’t realise it was a ticketed event until recently, and so dropped the Blackheath Society a line on Monday, asking if I could come along to observe. The meeting was organised by them in conjunction with the Westcombe Society and the Greenwich Society as well as the Friends of Greenwich Park for their members. Clearly, with the massive interest in the Olympics around here, and huge fears about 2012, I hoped a request for access would be looked upon kindly. No chance. No reply, to be exact.

On Wednesday afternoon, I fired off a note to LOCOG mentioning this, and asking if they had any plans for any more public meetings in the area, since I was mulling over a post on the subject. After all, anti-equestrian body NOGOE have ramped up their PR offensive lately, are claiming 13,000 signatures on an petition, and are planning a “hands around the park” event on 11 October. The Olympics’ organisers, meanwhile, haven’t been seen much since the public meeting at the O2 arena in December – save for a couple of sessions with a stall in the park itself, and appeared to me to be starting to lose ground in the battle for Greenwich Park. LOCOG told me to contact the Greenwich Society (by then it was too late in the day) and said they’d get back to me on the meetings. Fair enough on the last point.

I’m lucky enough to have done enough professionally to have a press card, so I thought I’d wander up to Blackheath Halls and see if I could pop in. NOGOE-rs waiting outside, smiles for me on the door, best suits everywhere, then stopped because I didn’t have a ticket, directed to a gentleman over there, was knocked back, explained I was a journalist who’d been following events and pointed out that others might like to know of what went on at the meeting. I was politely asked to wait for the chair of the Westcombe Society. Fair enough.

But the hostility I received from Gordon Baker was quite unlike anything I’ve encountered before. He didn’t even try to listen to me. I was made to feel like I was challenging corruption at at a croquet club, not trying to squeeze my way into a residents’ meeting. Towards the end, it became quite comic. Mr Baker speaks very well, but looked straight past me as he repeated: “No, it’s a members’ meeting. You can’t come in.” Was any other media there? “No, it’s a members’ meeting.”

“There are going to be other LOCOG consulation issues,” a younger gentleman with him said. “It’s not like it’s unique…” (Well, it was the first time LOCOG representatives have stood on stage south of the river and spoken to the public for nine months, but that’s by the by.)

It was time for Mr Baker to start up again: “There are LOCOG members here, and there are NOGOE people outside, and some of them will come in because they’re members.”

– “So why can’t other…”

Gordon Baker: “I have explained to you – this is a members’ meeting, there’s nothing more to say. I’m sorry, you can’t come in.”

- “Gordon Baker, wasn’t it?”

“Yes! Put it in your headlines!”

I thanked him and shook his hand.

“I don’t know why you can’t accept my word that it’s a members’ meeting. It’s a perfectly simple proposition – it’s not something that’s negotiable, it’s a members’ meeting. Right?”

I was getting a bit tired of being spoken down to here, and asked – “It’s a very good attitude that the members of these societies have to their neighbours, isn’t it?”

Mr Baker spoke slowly. “People pay their subscriptions to come to events like this.”

- “Should journalists be able to come and see what happens?”

“It’s a members’ meeting, I’m sorry, that’s all there is to it.”

Ah, all the local democracy money can buy… I knew it was a bit of a gamble rocking up on the night, but I really didn’t expect to be spoken to as if I was some errant member of the lower orders. I’ve never lived in the catchment area of any of the amenity societies, and, like the vast majority of the people of the Greenwich area, have had very little to do with them. I actually had a fairly high opinion of the Westcombe Society before I encountered Mr Baker, having grown up just outside its catchment (literally the wrong side of the tracks) and seen its newsletters, and had no opinion of the others.

But… is this all we’re going to get from LOCOG? A meeting that’s only open to a very select, very unrepresentative group of people – most of them over 60 – who’ve basically paid to be there? And who won’t allow journalists in? Is this how much the people of the Greenwich area’s views matter to LOCOG? I really hope not. Clearly I’m only Nobby the blogger, but this website aside, as a journalist that is looking to follow the effects of 2012 on my community, I thought Gordon Baker’s behaviour was shocking. All I was trying to do was sit in on an event about something of massive public interest. Are these the people LOCOG think represent us?

Andrew Gilligan issued one of his regular beatings to the Greenwich Society on greenwich.co.uk earlier this week – I’m no expert on that particular argument, but I think the row masks the wider danger of using these societies as a substitute for actually talking to local people, who are worried about what day to day life will be like in the summer of 2012, and want to know if they’ll get their park back safe and sound. Wednesday’s meeting at Blackheath Halls shows LOCOG seems to have fallen right into that trap.

One bit of news did sneak out of the meeting, though, courtesy of Lorraine Turton, chair of the East Greenwich Traders’ Association via her Twitter feed:

locogtweet

This sounds like very good news for Greenwich – the Olympic Route Network would have put “no stopping” restrictions on one of the area’s main shopping streets. However, because – according to Mr Baker – no journalists were allowed into the event, that’s all we know. Hopefully more will emerge during Thursday.

10 Responses

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  1. I’m the wrong side of the tracks, too, 853…

    What a debacle – it just makes them look silly, parochial – and as though they have something to hide.

    What a shame. I used to have a lot of time for the Westcombe Society.

    One really has to start worrying at the clout these amenity groups are garnering at the expense of those who have not paid to have an opinion.

    They are not necessarily representative of residents, even in their own areas (Andrew Gilligan has a point about the Greenwich Society and the recent market proposals) let alone those they don’t allow in for boundary purposes.

    TGP

    24 September, 2009 at 10:27 am

  2. I guess you can excuse LOCOG for engaging with the obvious local societies, but although I wasn’t there last night, apparently you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of poeple who weren’t white, middle class and over the age of 60. Hopefully the LOCOG types at the meeting might have twigged that too, and will now attempt to engage the local population at large.

    noel

    24 September, 2009 at 11:52 am

  3. I’m hoping to hear more from LOCOG later, but it looks like there’s some interesting developments on the horizon about roads and closures.

    It is just a shame, though, that it gets announced first at a closed meeting, but there you go. In their defence, LOCOG have pointed to the stands they’ve held in Greenwich Park (and the stick their staff get!), but I do think they need to hold a few more meetings, if only because they should attract the media (admittedly an iffy prospect in this area) who’ll broadcast it a bit more widely than the societies would.

    I suspect if an alien landed in the Blackheath Halls last night, they would have reported back to base that they’d safely arrived in Eastbourne.

    darryl853

    24 September, 2009 at 12:04 pm

  4. [...] the meeting is a bit of a mystery as this was a strictly members only event, with local journalist, Darryl from 853, being barred from entering at the [...]

  5. I am a life-time member of the Westcombe Society but could not be at last night’s meeting. However, I have been at other meetings and, wrongly or rightly, I think that Gordon Baker wants the equestrian events in the Park and he finds all the opposition tiresome rather than democracy in action.

    Indigo

    24 September, 2009 at 8:35 pm

  6. [...] announcement follows a closed meeting it held with local amenity societies on [...]

  7. [...] The lead is what purports to be a report from the Blackheath Halls meeting two weeks ago which Westcombe Society chairman Gordon Baker barred me from entering on the grounds that journalists weren’t allowed. [...]

  8. [...] what’s happening in the park don’t feel particularly transparent – with only the usual suspects in the local amenity societies involved, and they’re not exactly open to any outside involvement, as I found to my cost when I tried [...]

  9. [...] events planning meeting from Gordon Baker, chairman of the Westcombe Society – the man who banned journalists from a LOCOG briefing for amenity society members in 2009. Even those lucky enough to be on the inside with LOCOG are [...]

  10. [...] and other bodies instead of actually talking to people. The Westcombe Society‘s chairman once threw me out of a “public” meeting with LOCOG because I wasn’t a member, but wielded a press card [...]


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