Archive for July 2012
It seemed like a good idea to watch the Olympic opening ceremony up at Blackheath’s big screen. In fact, it was a good idea, since I knew a good few people up there. With the Olympic cycle park on Talbot Place not yet in operation, benches and Lewisham Council street signs were taking their place as I found I wasn’t the only one to have to hunt around for a space to leave the bike.
What a turnout there was. I reckon at least 4,000 people were up there to see the festivities – it was packed. And there was my problem – I had no chance of finding anyone in that crowd. But this is going to be a lovely spot for watching sport in over the next fortnight. There are some downsides – decent beer costs £4.50/pint, but screens have to be paid for somehow, I guess, and the sound isn’t particularly loud. I left as there were cries of “turn it up!” from the back. I’ll definitely return when it’s quieter – although I might bring my own beer along…
So, off on the bike I went. I couldn’t hear a dicky bird from the big screen at the Royal Naval College as I passed through the Olympic checkpoint at Park Row – surprising as it’s become a regular place for live music – so I took a sharp right and ended up on the peninsula.
The Peninsula Festival still hadn’t opened its gates when I passed by just before 7pm, but it’d attracted about 250 people by 9.45pm. There was a decent atmosphere – a bit like a big pub beer garden. But there wasn’t much else to do – and getting inside involved negotiating huge empty lanes with “Royal Borough of Greenwich” banners, and the needless hassle of being frisked and scanned. Cans of Stella at £4.50 each and cash machines charging £2/withdrawal didn’t seem to be having many takers, although I’m told its hog roast is rather good.
Now it’s finally staggered to life, can the Peninsula Festival flourish? Suspending my scepticism for a moment, it could be a decent spot with enough to do there – but the poor and highly-priced bar’s a major deterrent. The area around the Dome was phenomenally busy on Saturday as the artistic gymnastics swung into life, but there was nobody promoting it up there. Passing the site at 6.30pm on Saturday it looked very quiet – although sheeting’s been put up to prevent viewing from outside – and an 853 reader reports it closed early. Greenwich’s oddest soap opera continues – but it’s worth a visit if you’re nearbu.
I also popped up to Greenwich Yacht Club – no big screen, but lots of tellies, a barbecue, and all open to the public during the Games. It’s a lovely venue and the only one with a view of the Olympic Stadium – but my half-arsed idea of staying for the fireworks were dashed by the realisation we were only at “B” in the athletes’ parade. Oh, and a pint of Guinness cost – you guessed it, £4.50. Maybe that’s the price us non-members pay for access to the club and a fantastic view of and across the Thames.
So I buggered off to the pub instead, where I still couldn’t get away from council sponsorship, as a woman frantically waved a “Royal Borough of Greenwich” flag she’d been given at the naval college. But if you watched the opening ceremony at one of the big screens in this area, or have been watching any Olympics action, how has it been for you?
PS. There was a Deptford connection with the opening ceremony’s boy/girl story…
You’d think with all the military firepower we’ve got surrounding us at the moment we could have done something… oh well, time to prove this ignorant fathead wrong, eh? Bring on the Games!
Places to watch the opening ceremony (show starts at 9pm) – and the next two weeks of action
Greenwich: King Charles Lawn, Old Royal Naval College
Greenwich: Peninsula Festival (Area 12, West Parkside – yes, the site’s starting to look ready)
Blackheath: The Lewisham Big Screen (off Tranquil Vale)
Woolwich: The BBC big screen in General Gordon Square
Long-time readers of this website will be familiar with Greenwich Council’s shonky Destination Greenwich app, which, instead of helping promote local digital businesses, it paid a company in Belarus called CactusSoft to create. A year and a half ago, it’d cost the council £10 per download. Designed to promote the borough’s tourist treasures, it was notable for only featuring one location outside SE10, places for which information is already readily available.
Well, just in time for the Olympics, it’s been updated. And it’s full of howlers – the best of which is moving Woolwich Dockyard to a spot just off the A2 in Eltham. Clearly nobody in the council’s communications bunker bothered to proof-read it before it went live. See if you can spot the reference to an Olympic venue called the “Royal Artillery Barracs” by searching for “Greenwich”, not “Destination Greenwich”, in the iTunes App Store.
And if you want to see how it’s really done, take a look at Visit Stratford – a classy production for a very unpromising part of town.
Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts refused to answer a question about the trouble-hit Peninsula Festival at Woolwich Town Hall last night, despite the authority funding the event with £50,000.
Greenwich has paid the festival cash to provide a big screen showing Olympic events on its site close to the Pilot pub, but other elements of the events – such as a Dutch campsite and a beach by the Thames – have failed to materialise.
The meeting had already been rescheduled to allow councillors to visit the launch of the Sail Royal Greenwich tall ships event later today, and had also been cut short, with no questions from the public permitted, even though it was the last meeting before the Olympics.
Mayor David Grant told councillors – who also received invites to Monday’s opening ceremony rehearsal – that “many members would have to be or want to be somewhere else” on the original meeting date.
Opposition Conservative leader Spencer Drury has denied suggestions his party agreed with the Labour leadership to block questions from councillors and the public.
One of his councillors, Nigel Fletcher, tried to use a motion about council finances to slip in a question about whether the festival still represented value for money.
But Roberts refused to answer in public, instead telling the Eltham North representative that he would send a written answer instead.
Festival organisers are now racing to get their site, “Area 12″, ready for Friday’s opening day. Late last night, a big wheel was illuminated, while cash machines and portable toilets have already appeared on site.
The lack of questions saw a depleted attendance in the public gallery – indeed, I’m piecing this together as I couldn’t be there.
Indeed, I also missed a one-man rebellion by Labour councillor Alex Grant, objecting to the process under which the council appointed a new member of its standards committee, which will adjudicate on complaints about councillors.
After an ad appeared in council weekly Greenwich Time just 10 days ahead of the closing date, five applications were received, but the council decided to reappoint Sir Michael Pike, who had previously carried out a similar role with the council.
While the process has caused considerable disquiet among Labour councillors, none of them supported his rebellion, and he is likely to face disciplinary action for defying the leadership.
Thursday afternoon update: Here’s the non-answer from Chris Roberts to Nigel Fletcher:
However, his council doesn’t exactly seem to be confident about its £50,000 investment on its website – there’s no mention of the Peninsula Festival on a listing of local big screens. Like the Blackheath big screen, it’s been consigned to outer space…
And here’s some of the work on Area 12 last night, erecting a dome…
I was lucky enough to get to see a rehearsal for Friday’s Olympics opening ceremony last night. All I can say is… it’s going to be a show this city and this country can be proud of. Danny Boyle and his army of volunteers have done a fine job.
The Olympic Stadium’s incredible and the park is spectacular, although the Orbit sculpture doesn’t look any better close up. Watch out for exorbitant food and drink prices and long queues, but the motif of London 2012 may just be the good-humoured members of the military – far better ambassadors for our country than any outsourced security jokers could ever hope to be.
Also at the ceremony rehearsal were a number of Greenwich councillors – the same ones who are cutting their meeting short tonight and avoiding questions because “of the Olympics”. They were offered tickets as a “reward”, I’m told.
Heading home was a bit of a trauma, though – the Central Line being down provided an early test for London’s capability to deal with big crowds and transport troubles. Crowds were diverted towards West Ham station to pick up the District line or rail services to Fenchurch Street, but that didn’t stop a big bottleneck building up inside Westfield, on the way to Stratford station.
But I turned round, walked back through the shopping centre, and got a seat straight away on the Docklands Light Railway from Stratford International instead. (Things weren’t much fun for those waiting for the high-speed trains to St Pancras and Kent, mind.)
It dawned on me that the cable car could be a useful way to avoid he Jubilee Line crowds… except that it shut two hours earlier at 9pm (11pm during the Olympics). In the end, the Jubilee Line from Canning Town wasn’t too bad.
So, that’s your first Olympic travel pro-tip – if you’re travelling from the Olympic Park, use the DLR from Stratford International.
Which got me thinking – have you got any similar pro-tips for getting around during the Games? Obviously we face massive disruption by road and rail, but do you have any ideas for ways around it? It’s worth sharing them, particularly as the Get Ahead of the Games campaign has been lamentable, to say the least.
One thing that’s worth noting is that North Greenwich Tube isn’t due to be too busy during morning rush hours, although progress may be slow later in the day. Buses up there can be awful, though – walking will at least guarantee a stress-free trip there, if you live close enough. It’s a useful place to cycle to, as well.
It goes against TfL advice, but with patience, it may well be your best bet. And it’s not as if we’ve been left with any other option, except for ones which charge extra like the river boats or cable car.
Avoiding London Bridge station (particularly next Monday) is also a good idea, although to be honest it’s one to avoid at the best of times anyway… as for other train disruption, local buses are taking Southeastern train tickets to compensate for the loss of services around Deptford, Greenwich and Woolwich.
New Cross-bound trains on London Overground tend to be quieter than those heading to New Cross Gate, providing a decent alternative route to west Greenwich and Deptford, or to 53 and 177 buses, while it’s surprisingly quick to get a 380 bus between Lewisham station and Blackheath or Charlton – and the walk’s not bad, either.
Plus there’s trains from Victoria to Lewisham, Blackheath and Kidbrooke if you find traditional routes too much of a squeeze.
Those are all the ones I can think of. If you have a useful tip to share, feel free…
(There’s a similar thread over on Brockley Central, too.)
It’s one of the best things to have happened locally all summer. The rebirth of Charlton Lido has been met with near-universal approval from those who’ve used it – surely, it’s a story you’d want to yell from the rooftops if you were Greenwich Council.
Yet I’ve discovered that Greenwich Council failed to invite the local press along to the reopening of the lido, instead preferring to keep the story for its own weekly, Greenwich Time. It’s another example of the baffling communications strategy employed by the council, which seems to solely revolve around Greenwich Time.
The lido opened on July 9, yet neither the Mercury nor the News Shopper were invited along to its launch, on 13 July which was lovingly covered in the following week’s Greenwich Time. Indeed, the council took until 17 July to send out a press release about the lido‘s opening.
While the local press, particularly the News Shopper, regularly come into for criticism on this website, Greenwich Council does go out of its way to make life difficult for the borough’s two newspapers. In particular, news releases are often only sent out on Friday evenings, after the deadline for both papers but ensuring coverage is exclusive to Greenwich Time. Even with good news stories like the lido, events are kept from outside reporters, who only find out about them after they have happened.
Meanwhile, there is now one fewer media outlet scrutinising the council after the Bexley Times was relaunched and refocused on its home patch. The paper now comes in a “quarter-fold” format – half the size of a tabloid – with bigger, magazine-style features and less news.
It had covered issues in Greenwich as well as Bexley – a throwback from the days when it published an Eltham Times – but it now sticks to Bexley stories from its office in Ilford.
It has also dropped all sports coverage. An interesting demonstration of the weak state of SE London’s local media came in May, when Charlton Athletic – another local institution who could do with a bit more scrutiny – were the only promoted football club in the country not to get front-page coverage from their local papers.
Greenwich’s Peninsula Festival will now kick off a week later than planned after a second event was cancelled.
The Peninsula Festival will now start on Friday, the day of the Olympic opening ceremony, which is due to be shown on a big screen on the site, Area 12, close to the Pilot pub.
It’s the second cancellation to hit the event, which has been given £50,000 of taxpayers’ money by Greenwich Council to fund “community” events including the big screen. The London Blues and Soul Festival was due to have been held on Friday and Saturday with performances from Jools Holland and Bill Wyman, but was also axed from the line-up.
Tickets for a “family funday” featuring reality TV star Mark Wright, set for 10 August, have also been pulled from sale, although festival organiser Frank Dekker said the event was still happening.
Plans for a beach at Delta Wharf and a campsite by Greenwich Millennium Village have also fallen through, and this website understands there is nervousness among companies due to take part in the event after seeing the festival’s plans alter so dramatically. A countdown on The Beach’s website suggests an opening date of 1 August, although no construction work has taken place on the site.
Even though the beach has so far failed to materialise, club organiser Circo Loco is still promoting an event there for 15 September – falsely claiming “no sound restrictions” for the site, a claim which has already landed it in hot water with residents across the Thames on the Isle of Dogs.
The Peninsula Festival also faces competition from other local venues for Friday’s opening ceremony. The Old Royal Naval College is playing host to a big screen, while Greenwich Yacht Club – which pulled out of the PF at a very early stage – is opening its doors to non-members during the Olympics. Lewisham Council is also operating a big screen on Blackheath for the Games.
I used to live in Combedale Road, Greenwich. If you’d told me back then the Olympic Torch Relay would be passing my house during the 21st century, I’d have asked if I could have some of your mind-bending drugs. So with the route studiously avoiding Charlton, there seemed only one spot to head for. A good thing too, as it turned out, because I got to avoid the crowds elsewhere. And I met the people who, if I hadn’t moved 13 years ago, would be my next door neighbours now.
First, a word from our sponsors.
As a kid, I used to walk to school up Westcombe Hill. Thirty years on, I followed the Olympic flame up the same hill. A handover by Westcombe Park station, then…
Another handover after a steady stroll up Westcombe Hill. Come on, you wouldn’t run it either…
And then they were off, the relay heading through Blackheath and Kidbrooke to Eltham, and to Woolwich as I type for a trip on the ferry to North Woolwich. If you missed it today, it’s in Erith and Bexleyheath on Sunday afternoon, and Deptford, Lewisham and Catford on Monday morning.
Run by: Lewisham Council/Glendale Services
Distance from Greenwich Park? 1.6 miles on foot – cross Blackheath and walk via Heath Lane (map)
Manor House Gardens in a sentence: Secret haven in the back streets of Lee.
It took me until 2010 to discover Manor House Gardens. Why would you if you don’t live in the immediate area? Tucked away off the Lee High Road, and hidden on three sides, it’s easy to miss. I came across it by accident while on an early cycle ride – I wheeled myself in, and found myself gawping at a fountain in the middle of a beautiful lake. How had I missed out on this place?
So my knowledge of Manor House Gardens is limited. But I do know it was restored in 2000, bringing nature back to what had been a dead lake and breathing life back into the park. It’s dominated by the manor house itself, once owned by the Barings banking family but sold to the London County Council in 1901. The following year the house became a library and the grounds became a park, and things have stayed that way since.
Just below the manor house is an ice house, recently restored and opened to the public occasionally. But that’s not the main attraction these days – that honour goes to the first Pistachios in the Park cafe, a favourite with local families.
Come during the week and you’ll find a secluded getaway, with kids playing and mums chatting – but at weekends Manor House Gardens is buzzing with local families. Once inside, it’s deceptively large, but it’s only when you walk around the streets surrounding the park that you realise how small it is.
The revival of Manor House Gardens has provided a template for revamping green spaces all over London; followed even more closely in East Greenwich Pleasaunce and Hilly Fields, Brockley, which have both gained their own Pistachios branches.
If you’ve never been, it’s worth a look. You’ll wonder why you’ll never been before – but be grateful that this part of London can still offer such pleasant surprises, even to those who thought they knew it all.
Got a burning question to ask Greenwich Council about the Olympics? With just days to go until the biggest events to hit Greenwich and Woolwich since the war (and with probably only a smidgeon less disruption), what will “Royal” Greenwich’s councillors be discussing when they hold their last pre-Games meeting on Tuesday? What questions will they be putting on our behalf?
None. For south-east London’s democratic champions have decided to shift their meeting forward by a day, and ban the public from asking questions of leader Chris Roberts or his cabinet. So the Olympics parking problems, the state of Greenwich Park and other worries certainly won’t be discussed.
In May, the council agreed to hold its final meeting on 25 July. But at some point last month, they changed their minds, and shifted the meeting to a day before.
The reason for the change? The launch of Sail Royal Greenwich, which will see a flotilla of tall ships sail up and down the Thames during the Olympics. While it’ll be an amazing sight, I understand all councillors are due to get an invite to what’s billed on its website as “the most stunning corporate entertaining opportunity London has seen for many years”.
So, instead of discussing how best the borough will run while the spotlight of the world is on it, the council’s leadership will be messing about on the river.
But if we allow them Wednesday’s fun and games, what about Tuesday’s meeting? Well, an agreement between Roberts and Conservative leader Spencer Drury means the Tories, the only other party represented on the council, will ask no questions, and there will also be no questions from the public. With a lack of press scrutiny of the council, public questions are often the only way to get information out of Woolwich Town Hall.
I’m told the council has got around this by cancelling Wednesday’s meeting and declaring Tuesday’s a “special” one. The official reason for shutting public questions out is that council officers are “too busy with the Olympics” to draft answers for cabinet members, who are presumably incapable of doing it themselves. It’ll be interesting to see how many of those accept a free drink on a ship.
The compromise agreed by Spencer Drury was that the council would hold a “proper” meeting at the end of September – in recent years, the council leadership has granted itself a three-month summer break between meetings – so all those urgent questions about the Olympics can wait until a fortnight after the Paralympics are over instead.
You might have scoffed when I went on about Greenwich councillors ignoring Blackheath Bluecoat pupils at a meeting last year to go off and drink wine. But this is just another incident which gives the impression that they’re not really comfortable with the public they’re meant to be representing.
There’s 51 councillors on Greenwich Council, all trousering a £10,000 allowance, half of whom take home more in “special responsibility” extras. As the Olympics approach, it’s worth asking your local councillors what they did to represent your worries about the event – and keeping the answer in mind when the next set of elections come around.
3pm update: Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher insists his party did not agree to the blocking of public questions. Separately, I’ve also been told the Sail Royal Greenwich launch the council cancelled its original meeting for only runs from 5-7pm – so what was wrong with the rest of the evening?