Archive for September 2010
I went to the London Neighbourhoods Online “unconference” in Southwark at the weekend – a chance for a whole group of people who run locally-focused websites like this one to chew the fat, swap ideas, and look at the challenges and opportunities ahead. I could only hang around for the morning, but it was good to put a few faces to names and meet some other people, and to discuss the attitudes of local authorities and local “old” media to the upstarts that are currently springing up. Should local websites have a voice and be subjective, or stay cool and objective? That kind of thing. Onionbagblog and Arthur Pewty’s Maggot Sandwich have more if you’re interested in what went on.
One thing that did strike me was the difference between north and south London sites – many north of the Thames sites like Harringay Online, StroudGreen.org and King’s Cross Environment tend to be multi-authored, more conscious ways of trying to serve a local community. But south of the river, it’s tended to be lone operators who blogged for fun and found themselves covering more local issues as they went on. The little informal network that’s built up between SE London bloggers has been invaluable in what’s essentially a desert for informed local news coverage and discussion.
Not that this site is scrupulously neutral – but at least you know where I’m coming from and that there’s limits to what one slightly bored not-so-young man can do.
All of which activity made me think about my own neck of the woods. 853’s hyperlocal in the sense that it covers an area smaller than most other outlets, but the area it focuses on is pretty big – roughly Charlton, Blackheath and Greenwich – whereas true hyperlocals cover tightly-defined areas. Greenwich has its own hyperlocal site and a hyperlocal podcast, plus the Phantom, while Blackheath has the Bugle. Not forgetting the Kidbrooke Kite, Adam’s new project.
But what about Charlton?
I’ve done bits – but I’ve tended to shy away from doing too much Charlton stuff for fear of being boring (news on your doorstep isn’t always news to all, and it’s easier to gripe about what you see every day) and also because the SE7 stuff doesn’t seem to pull in much feedback. And also because… well, not a lot happens here, really. I generally look west because that’s where most stuff happens.
Or does it? Charlton is always going to suffer for being neither one nor the other; stuck between Greenwich and Woolwich and generally ignored. But there’s still issues to be dealt with – flytipping and rubbish, gangs of kids hanging around near Charlton station, cars speeding down rat runs, and a general lack of pride in the area. There’s no real forum for locals to express and share concerns, and neither the police nor local councillors ever make their presence felt beyond the odd meetings of residents’ groups which people outside them have little idea about.
But there’s also wonderful upsides to living in SE7 that I’ve come to appreciate in the 11 years I’ve been here. The parks are (mostly) great, with Maryon Park in line for a long-overdue spruce-up. Charlton House and its gardens are under-appreciated gems, while St Luke’s Church is a reminder that Charlton is a proper village. Southeastern’s “screw you” attitude to passengers aside, the train service (when it works) is rather good. The buzz of a matchday still excites me. We have the kind of industrial waterfront that’s been destroyed in Greenwich and Woolwich, and we have the best secret riverside pub in London – the Anchor and Hope.
So, how about a blog for Charlton? The core of SE7 is a fairly well-defined area, so there’s not so much chance of overlapping into other territory. One thing I’d like to do is to bring the local representatives out of their shells a little, and give them a space in which to do it. It’s worked with Brockley Central – which is even being asked by police to help with enquires – although Lewisham’s political culture is much less secretive than Greenwich. Frankly, though, we won’t make this place better if we don’t talk about it.
But I don’t want to do this alone. In fact, I can’t, because I don’t want the site to be too ranty and subjective (and I don’t have to the time). I’ve had some minor successes in trying to get my own street swept, and trying to make sure my street isn’t strewn with wheelie bins every Monday (both a bit hit-and-miss, really), but somewhere where we can share tips and advice on little matters like that would be handy.
So if you live in Charlton, read this site and think I’m missing loads of things – then I’d love you to contribute to a site that’d take a different approach to this one. With a bit of effort, we could come up with something special. I’ve got a few ideas about how to go about it – so if you’re up for contributing something about the area in which you live, and about the joys and pains of life in SE7, please drop me an e-mail or leave a comment below, and let’s talk.
When running for mayor on a platform that includes listening to the concerns of outer London, it helps if you can get the place names right. Unfortunately, Ken Livingstone botched it up this morning in Manchester, managing to mangle the pronunciation of “Eltham” (and west London’s “Feltham“) in front of the watching delegates. Both places, of course, take a hard “t” instead of a “th” sound. Watch it here on the BBC’s iPlayer.
Mind you, Boris Johnson isn’t that familiar with south London either – declaring yesterday that areas south of the river but off the Tube were too “isolated” to be included in his cycle hire scheme – and cutting funds to the bus network that we have to live with because we don’t have those Tubes.
Time to rally to the Free South London cause, perhaps…
Remember when it used to be easy to get from Charlton Road to the shops at Old Dover Road in Blackheath? Up a path by some garages, past a small housing estate, and there you were in front of Safeway.
Yes, Safeway. Because that’s how long ago it was.
Well, it featured on BBC London News yesterday. Here’s a couple of blog entries from the Westcombe Society – one on alleged council inaction, and one where it’s alleged in the comments that the council backed blocking the path in the first place.
What a mess.
(UPDATED WEDNESDAY 11.15AM – The government confirms its plans to crack down on titles such as Greenwich Time and launches a public consultation – see below.)
The government will confirm a crackdown on council-funded newspapers and magazines this week as it seeks to protect media groups which claim they cost them readers and advertising revenue.
Eric Pickles, the communities and local government secretary, will announce new guidelines ahead of the Conservative party conference this weekend that will effectively ban councils from using taxpayers’ money to produce free papers and magazines, MediaGuardian.co.uk can reveal.
Pickles promised at the start of the summer to ban what he called “weekly town hall Pravdas” in an Observer piece, but the details of tougher guidelines have now been agreed following consultation with the newspaper industry.
Under the new rules, it is understood councils will only be allowed to publish free titles four times a year. They will also have to remove any content which appears to praise the council or endorse the quality of its local services, including quotes from local residents.
For Greenwich Time, read Lambeth Life, H&F News, East End Life, and all the rest. I’m told some Greenwich Labour councillors attribute their party’s success at May’s election to the glowing coverage of municipal goings-on in the council weekly (as opposed to their hard work, high profile in the community, etc). It’ll be interesting to see how they react if these restrictions on council papers are as strong as Eric Pickles wants us to believe they are.
Meanwhile, the News Shopper – a stern critic of Greenwich Time – has been busy showing the fearless coverage of SE London matters it’s best known for, reporting on a police car parking in a disabled parking bay at, er, 4am. What a brave new world of journalism we are in. (LATER: See also this pub review dubbing Kidbrooke and Lewisham “crime hotspots” – nice.)
UPDATE: The Government has confirmed plans to crack down on council-run newspapers, as the leak to Media Guardian reported above. At present, all councils have to abide by “a code on recommended practice for local authority publicity”. The government plans to substantially change this – and here’s the paragraphs that directly affect Greenwich Time.
However, bearing in mind Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts has repeatedly defended GT as offering value for money compared with other ways of getting council information to the public, I wonder if this offers them a get-out clause?
And one further way around the proposals – could Greenwich seek a commercial partner to produce GT with? Tory-run Hammersmith and Fulham wants to go down that route.
The full proposals can be found here. They’re now out to consultation – so if it’s an issue you feel strongly about, you can write in as an aggrieved/ delighted council taxpayer between now and 10 November – details below.
If you do respond to the consultation, I’d love to know what you say. In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to find out what Greenwich Council’s next move on this will be, considering it’s only a couple of months after they stuck their head in the sand and ignored any prospect of this happening.
You can be forgiven for not subscribing to PR Week, but if you did, you’d find some interesting news about Greenwich Council you won’t read anywhere else. Remember how it cut funding for Blackheath fireworks because it said it needed to save money? Well…
Four weeks ago, PR Week revealed the council had hired a firm called Vero Communications to tout venues such as the Old Royal Naval College and National Maritime Museum to Olympic sponsors.
Curious, really, considering neither the old naval college nor the Maritime Museum are actually anything to do with the council.
Greenwich assistant chief executive, comms and community engagement Katrina Delaney confirmed that the council was using Vero on an ongoing basis. She said: ‘We’re very keen to get as much out of the Olympics as we can.
We have done a fair bit of work ourselves and we’re getting a little bit of support from them.’
Vero senior consultant Sujit Jasani added: ‘They’re trying to meet with a number of sponsors and relevant bodies, to network in the major international sport scene.’
The news that the council has appointed Vero could raise eyebrows, as it coincides with pressure from Conservative ministers for public bodies to reduce their spend on PR agencies. Delaney declined to reveal how much Vero was being paid.
Of course she declined to reveal how much the council was paying this PR firm. It’s only our money, after all.
But at the same time as Greenwich Council was deciding not to commit cash to Blackheath’s much-loved fireworks display - leaving neighbouring Lewisham in the lurch – it was opening its wallet to a second public relations firm, with Flagship Consulting hired to “raise awareness of the borough as a World Heritage Site ahead of London 2012″.
Yup, PR Week again.
Flagship’s three-strong team will be led by regional director Sophy Norris.
Norris said: ‘Our job is to focus on encouraging more people to visit the borough from a domestic point of view.
‘We’re focusing on hidden gems – getting people to do the stuff people from Greenwich do. We’re going to tap into social media to find that out.’
Norris added that the agency wanted to focus on the ‘village atmosphere of Greenwich’. She would not reveal fees. The aim is to generate repeat visits to Greenwich and encourage additional spend through extended stays.
“Village atmosphere of Greenwich?” Doesn’t look like anywhere east of the Plume of Feathers will get any benefit out of this, then. Curiously, the gig’s been won by a team based in Exeter, 200 miles away from London – keep an eye out for them lurking on Facebook and Twitter some time soon.
With the staffing involved in keeping these PR contracts going, I’m told they are likely to cost in the region of £80,000 each – although this is an estimate provided by someone who knows a bit about how the PR industry works, rather than from the council. If the combined cost of the contracts really is £160,000, then it could have paid for Greenwich’s share of Blackheath fireworks for four years. Or the wages for at least six street sweepers.
UPDATE: 8 NOVEMBER 2010 – It turns out the costs were less than feared, with a Freedom of Information Act request revealing the Vero contract cost £18,000 over a six-month period and the Flagship contract costing the council £2,240 over 12 months, the remainder coming from Greenwich tourist attractions. The Bexley Times reported the Vero contract as costing £12,000.
The council supports a fair bit of advertising for Greenwich already – notably the world heritage site ads seen in West End Tube stations. It’s also tried to market some of the annual events in SE10 as The Greenwich Festivals, so there’s already a lot going on. With cuts on the horizon, is it really wise to be coughing up more cash for PR agencies when local services are under very real threat?
PS: Also from PR Week – news that council communication teams are likely to face cuts of one third over the coming years.
Two consultations about things you might not be aware of, but may affect your life in the future…
You may have heard about the Thames Tunnel (no, not that one) being planned by Thames Water to deal with London’s sewage. Too much of London’s shit still ends up in the river, so the plan is to build a big tunnel under the Thames to take it all away. What you may not have known is that two of the proposed routes involve tunnelling under the Greenwich peninsula and a slice of the Charlton riverside.
Thames Water would prefer to send this all this effluent north, but the other routes remain on the table. If you want to find out more, there’s an exhibition at the Thames Barrier visitor centre on Thursday and Friday between 10.30am and 8pm.
Ah, sunset over West Thamesmead wouldn’t be the same without the roar of planes from London City Airport. But the airborne racket caused by take-offs and landings can be heard as far away as Blackheath, and a once-relatively innocuous neighbour is increasingly making its presence felt along the river with more planes and more jets using the Docklands airport.
Greenwich Council is remarkably slow on the uptake with all issues LCY, frighteningly so considering it’s responsible for a chunk of the airport’s crash zone… otherwise known as “West Thamesmead”.
The London Assembly, however, isn’t, and has been spending the past few months consulting with the public about the issue. (I don’t recall this being in “campaigning” Greenwich Time…) The consultation ends on Thursday, so if you want to fill in a short survey about your thoughts on City Airport, do it now and they’ll be very grateful.
Rather them than me. Fair play to the organisers of Run to the Beat, who this year seem to have managed to keep people informed about their third fun run through Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich and Blackheath. Well, by that I mean I got a mailout from them about road closures and whatnot, which is more than they managed last year. I still don’t quite see the event ever being taken to people’s hearts in the way the London Marathon has done – partly because there’s little chance of seeing your house on the telly with RTTB.
But with 15,000 competitors on the streets, each with friends or family cheering them on; and a bus network completely banjaxed by the race, how did the heavily-subsidised private monopoly which runs the trains through the area, Southeastern, step up to the challenge of moving people around the place? After all, there’s plenty of people at Charlton station at the moment…
By cancelling a third of the service, that’s how. Despite there being no bus services from Charlton to Blackheath or Lewisham, the entire Woolwich-Charlton-Blackheath-Lewisham service was also canned by Southeastern and Network Rail on Sunday – knocking the service at Woolwich Arsenal and Charlton down from six to four trains per hour.
The culprit was engineering works at Slade Green, it seems – although with a huge rail depot there, it surely would have been possible to turn round extra trains there anyway. But Southeastern seems fond of cancelling trains in inner London to accommodate engineering work in deepest Kent, presumably because it saves them having to employ an extra set of drivers each Sunday.
After all, we only pay them £116m/ year to run a train service, we don’t want them to push the boat out for major events or anything…