Tagged: woolwich

Greenwich Council gives £100,000 to Woolwich Frida Kahlo show

The Four Fridas

An outdoor theatre production celebrating the life of Mexican surrealist artist Frida Kahlo has gained £100,000 in funding from Greenwich Council after backing from council leader Denise Hyland.

The Four Fridas is the headline show for this year’s Greenwich & Docklands International Festival, and will take place at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich from 1-4 July.

Greenwich has already committed £100,000 to GDIF, of which £20,000 was already earmarked for The Four Fridas.

Now the council is paying an extra £80,000 to festival bosses to secure the 45-minute long display of music, dance and flight, with a further £250,000 coming from Arts Council England and £60,000 from other sources.

Audiences will be able to stand and watch the show for free, with seats costing £16.

Kahlo, who died in 1954 aged 47, took up painting after being seriously injured by a trolleybus as a teenager. Her tempestuous personal life was explored in the 2002 film Frida, for which Salma Hayek was nominated for an Oscar.

An animated film will explore Kahlo’s “legacy as a disabled artist”, while the show “will feature a unique and powerful pre-hispanic Mexican cultural tradition by a group of young women from the village of Xochiapulcho in the Sierra Puebla, enacting the flight of the Voladores” – a ceremony that involving participants flying around a pole.

While the show is bound to pull in the crowds, the generous grant is likely to raise eyebrows at a time when the council is continuing to plead financial hardship. Over recent years, funding has been diverted away from smaller arts and cultural projects into larger, big-ticket events under the Royal Greenwich Festivals banner.

Smaller-scale grants have now been made available for community projects, and the council made a minor contribution to the Blackheath fireworks last year for the first time since 2009. But the Plumstead Make Merry festival is still struggling to survive while there remain fears for the future of Charlton’s Maryon Wilson Animal Park, an early victim of council cuts.

In any case, the funding decision continues a pattern of the council suddenly awarding extra funding to GDIF once programmes have been printed and press releases already sent out – the council found £100,000 at short notice in 2011.

“During a time of increasing financial pressures, Royal Greenwich is unique in making a significant investment in arts and culture to stimulate regeneration and access to the arts,” the council report says.

It adds the Four Fridas funding “strengthens Woolwich’s case as London’s newest cultural destination”, citing a decade of regeneration including new transport links, significant investment in residential, leisure and business development and evidence of grass roots arts-led development”.

How much this is actually apparent to the world beyond Woolwich Town Hall is worth questioning, though – an Evening Standard feature on the show describes Woolwich as “a part of London that is in desperate need of improvement”.

Other big arts events getting council funding – “developing awareness of ‘brand Greenwich'” – this summer include Greenwich Dance Festival (May-July £30,200), Greenwich International Book Festival (21-24 May, £12,000), Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival (23-30 May, £17,000), Greenwich Music Festival (June 2015 – March 2016, £25,000), Parksfest (May – July, £26,400) and the one-day Greenwich World Cultural Festival (£20,800).

Second Floor Arts, 17 May 2015

Update, 7.50pm: After writing this, I took a trip down to the open studios at Woolwich’s amazing Second Floor Studios & Arts, a community of 400 artists tucked away by the river (next door to where Ed Miliband’s notorious pledge stone is being stored).. Having a wander around, I couldn’t help wonder why Greenwich Council doesn’t take advantage of this if it wants to turn Woolwich into a creative hub.

Instead of blowing £100,000 on marching people up to the barracks for a show that will be gone in four days, why not use that money to help artists actually set up shop in Woolwich town centre? Greenwich town centre isn’t a year-round cultural hub despite having had GDIF events for years – so why would Woolwich be any different? Amazing as The Four Fridas may be, will it really have any lasting effect once the last visitor has walked back down Grand Depot Road? Or is this just one big, ever so alluring, ego trip?

Fix the 53: Petition demands bus runs to Whitehall once again

A 53 to Lambeth North
Back in January, this website noted the sudden cut to bus route 53 caused by roadworks by Westminster Bridge. The service stopped running the full length of its route to Whitehall, depriving many local workers, from cleaners to civil servants, of their usual route to central London.

The diggers have moved away from Bridge Street, but initial dates for the restoration of service in March and then April have been missed. Transport for London blames new works at the Elephant & Castle for continuing to stop the service at Lambeth North. However, no other bus through the Elephant is suffering such a severe cut in service.

Local politicians have been strangely silent on the matter – at least in public – although I do know Woolwich Common’s Labour councillor David Gardner has raised the issue with Transport for London, citing the number of low-paid workers who use the bus.

Now the Charlton Society (declaration of interest: I’m on its committee) has launched a petition to get the route back to is full strength once again. To sign it, visit Change.org.

Whitehall cut – TfL takes temporary axe to route 53

53 at New Cross Gate, 15 January 2015

The 53. Everybody loves the 53. It finds the parts of south-east London other links with the centre of town can’t reach – even if it isn’t allowed too near any fun spots any more (Routemasters ran to Camden until 1988, it last reached Oxford Circus in 2003).

The Plumstead to Whitehall service is also a vital connection for those who can’t or won’t pay expensive rail fares – from London’s army of service workers to those who simply appreciate a door-to-door connection with a view from the window.

It’s these people who’ve borne the brunt of fare rises under the current mayor – up from 90p in 2008 to £1.50 today. And for them, it’s about to get worse still. Travelling on the 53 yesterday, I noticed this message…

“From 17th Jan, route 53 will terminate at Lambeth North.”

Being cut to Lambeth North? From Saturday? No consultation, no notice, no explanation? I fired off a few tweets to see if anyone could work out what was going on.

It turns out things aren’t as bad as the scrolling message would indicate – the cut is a temporary one to facilitate roadworks at Parliament Square. I’m indebted to transport expert Paul Corfield, who passed on this from TfL this morning:

BRIDGE STREET/PARLIAMENT STREET, SW1 ROUTE 53: from 0415 Saturday 17th of January until Sunday 29th March, buses terminate and start at Lambeth Palace due to closure of Bridge Street SW1 for utilities work and carriageway resurfacing.

It’d nice if TfL had given us a bit more warning, of course, and maybe even talked it over with local representatives. At least it’s a temporary cut, but it’s going to be a painful one for many – especially with other connections with central London in turmoil.

But it’s worth watching this like a hawk. London Transport tried to cut the 53 back to the Elephant & Castle in the late 1990s, arguing that the new Jubilee Line extension meant it was no longer needed. I’m sure TfL would love to try that again if it knew it could get away with it. It helped that back then, local MP Nick Raynsford was a regular on the 53, as it provided a near-door to door link from his home to Parliament. In the end, express buses were axed – heaven knows they’d be useful now.

Indeed, the often-packed 53 really needs a modern-day champion. Frequencies were cut when the 453 was introduced in 2003 and haven’t been improved since, with successive mayors concentrating on the other service. The big groups of passengers changing from the 453 to the 53 at Deptford Bridge tell their own story.

So the news isn’t as bad as it first appears. But if you value a bus to central London, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

5.25pm update: Thanks to Neil for sharing the email he had from TfL in the comments below – the curtailment won’t apply overnight, so from midnight to 6am buses will still depart from Whitehall. The arrangements, worryingly, are “until further notice”.

Tall ships in Woolwich and Greenwich: How were they for you?

Tall ships at Woolwich, 7 September 2014

I couldn’t face the crowds in Greenwich, so nipped down to Woolwich on Sunday afternoon to see what the fuss was about.

And you know what? The Tall Ships Festival looked rather decent. At least in Woolwich, anyway.

Tall ships at Woolwich, 7 September 2014

A big crowd, nice atmosphere – it looked like a good job, well done. And it’s been lovely watching the ships go up and down the river this weekend.

Tall ships at Woolwich, 7 September 2014

I did pass on the opportunity to buy a £16 Royal Greenwich Tall Ships t-shirt for half price, mind.

Firepower, Woolwich, 7 September 2014

And here’s the most graphic demonstration of why the Firepower museum is closing down – its doors were locked on one of the busiest days the Royal Arsenal complex has ever seen. Madness.

It was a funny experience watching the ships by bike, though. Nowhere to park in sponsor Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal compound – well, apart from this one rack…

Tall ships in Woolwich, 7 September 2014

Greenwich Council later tweeted me to say there was bicycle parking in Beresford Square, but there were no signs from the Thames Path to indicate this. Which mattered, because loads of cyclists were using the path on Sunday.

At least there was some parking at Woolwich, however hidden it was. I thought I’d peek at the ships moored at sponsor Barratt Homes’ Enderby Wharf. But security guards were ushering cyclists off the recently-installed bicycle path.

Drawdock Road, 7 September 2014

So I trundled down Tunnel Avenue, surprised by the numbers of people coming away from Enderby Wharf towards North Greenwich. Was there anywhere to park the bike? Well, I could have taken my chances here…

Tunnel Avenue, Greenwich, 7 September 2014

After a couple of minutes trying to get a D-lock through a wire fence, I gave up and went home.

So that was my Tall Ships Festival. I know there’s been some gripes about it in Greenwich (see the comments on Friday’s post), and the traffic’s been murder this weekend, with packed roads and overcrowded buses. But it was fine in Woolwich.

Imagine it being called the Woolwich Tall Ships Festival, acknowledging where most of the action was…

Remember, though, it’s all about reputation-building. Here’s a naughty slip from Greenwich Council’s Twitter account.

Mehbooh Khan tweet retweeted by Greenwich Council

Retweeting praise aimed at the council leader? Cheeky.

Cllr Mehboob Khan

Even cheekier, because the original tweet, sent on Friday night, was it was amended the following night by Mehboob Khan, who juggles being a Labour Party adviser to London Councils with being a councillor in Kirklees, West Yorkshire. Very naughty. The original tweeters weren’t impressed.

Enough of what I saw, how were the tall ships for you? Share your praises or gripes below.

Sailing by: Why are the tall ships coming to ‘Royal Greenwich’?

Tall Ships flags in Greenwich Market

If you follow Greenwich Council’s media, you’ll have heard of little else for the past year. If you bin its weekly propaganda rag Greenwich Time and shun its Twitter feed, this weekend could come as a surprise to you. It’s the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival and it’s actually rather a big deal.

The first many would have known that this was actually something rather big was when parking permits started falling onto doormats last month. “Tow away zone” signs have sprouted up (even though many of the Olympics ones are still in place) and parking restrictions are in place all weekend.

Tall Ships tow away zone

Isn’t this all a bit much? Maybe not. A similar event in Dublin in August 2012 attracted over a million people to the Irish capital. And Falmouth, where this year’s event started (below), has been packed out, by all accounts.

L1230488

It’s a baffling thing, because nobody was really asked or consulted about the festival. Nobody put “tall ships” in their manifesto for May’s election. After Run to the Beat was finally given the bum’s rush, few would have expected another event to cause such major disruption the following year.

Victoria Deep Water Terminal, 31 August 2014

This one could be worth it, though, with plenty happening:

– 50 ships will be berthed at Greenwich, Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich and Canary Wharf between Friday and Monday. The Greenwich Peninsula location is Victoria Deep Water Terminal, which has been decked over and landscaped (above). You’ll be able to climb on board the ships and take a look.
– There’ll be fireworks in Greenwich on Friday and in Woolwich on Saturday.
– A “crew parade” will take place through Greenwich town centre on Saturday afternoon, to congratulate all those who sailed from Falmouth.
– There’ll be “festival villages” at Greenwich and Woolwich over the weekend with shows, music, and other events.

Woolwich Road, 30 August 2014

But there’ll be disruption, too:

– Greenwich town centre will be closed to traffic for much of Saturday. Buses will be diverted well away from the area.
– Transport for London is warning of disruption from crowds to rail, Tube and DLR services. Southeastern is promising extra services, though isn’t detailing just what it’s offering.

So how did we get here? It all seems to have started three years ago. Remember the ill-fated Peninsula Festival? That was part of a mini-Dutch invasion for the Olympics that included the similarly-cursed Oranjecamping campsite (above) and Sail Royal Greenwich, a series of hospitality cruises along the Thames, itself based on Sail Amsterdam, which takes place every five years in the Dutch capital.

Only the tall ships actually made it to the end of London 2012. The Peninsula Festival folded after a few days – oddly enough, the Greenwich Peninsula Tall Ships site is adjacent to where Frank Dekker wanted to put his beach – while Oranjecamping moved to Walthamstow. But Sail Royal Greenwich has been based in Greenwich Council’s offices at Mitre Passage, North Greenwich ever since.

Greenwich Council report, May 2013

By November 2012, Greenwich had decided to bid for a Tall Ships Race, which involved this trip to Latvia, so this weekend’s Tall Ships Festival is an important staging post if it’s to achieve that ambition. Here’s a report prepared for former leader Chris Roberts which outlines the council’s plans, which put the costs at £175,000.

In December 2013, the costs had ballooned to £500,000, plus £2.1 million in pier refurbishments. The council will be hoping to recoup the costs in sponsorship (including from Barratt Homes and Berkeley Homes) and merchandise (including programmes at £5/pop).

Greenwich Time, 2 September 2014Sail Royal Greenwich has a good deal from the council – it’s paying a service charge of £100/month towards each desk, while a games company based in the same office, which is aimed at digital businesses, pays £450/month, according to a Freedom of Information request made last year.

In 2013, the council paid £20,000 towards fireworks for Sail Royal Greenwich at Greenwich and Woolwich, and a further £19,000 for events to mark the ships’ arrival in Woolwich. With the council planning to bid for the 2017 Transatlantic Tall Ships Race, the ships’ll probably be sticking around for a while yet.

So what does the area get out of the tall ships? Well, if there are hundreds of thousands of people over the weekend, then it’ll be a huge boost to tourism – and one that’ll go some way of compensating for cock-ups during the Olympics. The ships and the fireworks promise to be a spectacular sight – there’s no denying any of that.

But what the council gets out of it is more interesting. It’s all about the brand, baby…

The Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival is, frankly, about pushing the “Royal Greenwich” brand. But this is also about how a depressingly secretive council sees itself – referring to itself in the third person as “the Royal Borough” even though the council itself is not royal.

cathedral_350It’s almost as if the council is trying to depoliticise itself, to portray itself as some kind of benevolent landlord/ events manager like the (barely-elected) City of London Corporation, rather than the highly political beast which it actually is.

Sooner or later, Greenwich’s 51 councillors will have to make some very difficult decisions about budget cuts. But while next-door Lewisham is asking residents to weigh up some of the dilemmas themselves, Greenwich residents are told “look at the tall ships!”

Yet with many of the tall ships berthing themselves in SE18, why not apply the high-sailed magic to one of the borough’s more battered brands? The Woolwich Tall Ships Festival, anyone? Falmouth-Woolwich Tall Ships Race?

Tall ships also make fantastic corporate entertainment venues. So the festival also offers some glorious opportunities for jollies, and for councillors and officers to be wooed by property developers and the like – Barratt Homes is a lead sponsor, while Berkeley Homes, Cathedral Group and Knight Dragon have also paid to be associated with the event.

In fact, all this is already evident in the pages of Greenwich Time, with two plugs for Morden Wharf developer Cathedral in this week’s council paper – one featuring council leader Denise Hyland larking about with sailing trainees sponsored by developers; another featuring Hyland, Cathedral boss Richard Upton and other trainees who, well, fancy that, are nicknamed the Cathedral Five.

I’ve been told Greenwich Council is terrified the tall ships will be a flop. Judging by the crowds elsewhere, it’ll almost certainly be a big hit. There were even photographers out on Greenwich Peninsula early yesterday evening to watch a trio of ships sail through the Thames Barrier and past the Dome.

It’s going to be an interesting weekend. If you’re well-disposed to the council, there could be plenty to congratulate it on. If you’re not, there’ll be plenty of bones to pick over the following weeks. There are many reasons to celebrate the tall ships’ arrival – but just as many reasons to be sceptical of what’s going on below deck. If you live anywhere near the river, get set to be swept along over the next few days…

Greenwich & Woolwich foot tunnel cyclists to get partial green light

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, 13 December 2012

Greenwich Council is to trial “shared use” of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, which will mean cyclists being officially allowed to use them at quieter times, it has emerged.

The council’s put in a bid for £100,000 of City Hall money to develop technology to record pedestrian and cyclist movements in the tunnel, to warn cyclists when the narrow passages make it unsafe for riding.

The Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels have been asked to act as partners on the bid, along with Tower Hamlets and Newham councils.

Fogwoft says: “The proposal would allow shared use between pedestrians and cyclists at times when the tunnel is fairly empty. It would require cyclists to walk when necessary. It would allow them to cycle when safe.”

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, August 2014

Any proposal to allow cycling in the tunnels will be a hugely contentious issue – while there is a blanket ban on riding bicycles, it is widely flouted, especially in the Greenwich tunnel, which is a major link for cyclists between south-east London and Canary Wharf. Since lift attendants were withdrawn some years ago, there has been little enforcement of the ban.

If Greenwich’s bid to City Hall is unsuccessful, the council says it will fund the scheme itself.

The council says: “The proposal will be to use state of the art technology to trial shared use in the tunnel. It will monitor cycle and pedestrian flows (and cycle speeds) at all times, and use this to regulate the cycling ban; at times of low pedestrian flow, considerate cycle use will be permitted, and conversely during high pedestrian flow periods cyclists will be required to dismount and push through the space. In other words, the permission levels would respond in a timely manner to conditions in the tunnels at all times.

“This will be enforced through clear, digital signage triggered by the flow levels during each period, which will be tracked throughout the tunnel. The visual signage could be backed up by audible messages, and reinforced through additional monitoring via CCTV and other means.

“Technology will also be used to monitor the speed of any person cycling through the tunnel, flashing up clear signage to anyone travelling quicker than a recommended limit (to be defined) in a similar way to speed warning signs used on highways.”

The bid document says a trial would last for 12 months and be “rigorously monitored”.

“In using digital technology to track, monitor and regulate permissions at various times of the day, users will feel that a sensible use of the space is allowed at all times. If successful, the trial has potential to be extended to other similar spaces throughout London,” it adds.

A further £10,000-£25,000 would fund “behavioural change” measures – enforcement, in other words.

The system would be trialled in Woolwich (left) before coming to Greenwich (right)

500+ people per day use the Woolwich tunnel, over 3,000 use the Greenwich tunnel

It’s believed that a system would be trialled in the quieter Woolwich tunnel before being moved to Greenwich by 2016/17.

Fogwoft has invited users to discuss the issue at its annual general meeting on 2 October. (See more on Fogwoft’s website.) The council will also have to consult the public directly about the scheme, which will involve a change to a by-law.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The announcement comes as the long-delayed refurbishment works on both tunnels enter their final stages, after long delays caused by poor management of the project, both by the council and contractor Hyder Consulting.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

While deep cleaning hasn’t taken place, the lifts at Woolwich are now working, though anecdotal evidence suggests the Greenwich lifts are still bedevilled by breakdowns. Indicators have been placed in the Greenwich tunnel to warn of lift problems, although they are difficult to read in sunlight.

In December 2012, a poll on this website showed 51% of voters would back cycling in the tunnel at all times, with just 16% favouring the current ban and 18% backing the kind of compromise Greenwich is going for. This may indicate something about the readership of this website, though.

But with Greenwich Council backing the motor vehicle-only Silvertown Tunnel, and with even more intensive development planned for the Isle of Dogs, the foot tunnel issue shows it’s clear there is still a massive, unmet demand for safe pedestrian and cyclist crossings from south-east to east London.

Monday update: Here’s an interesting project – the echoey sounds of the Woolwich Foot Tunnel captured in Waves of Woolwich.

Petition launched to move Woolwich Arsenal to Zone 3


A petition’s been launched to ask Transport for London to move Woolwich Arsenal station from zone 4 to zone 3. It’s currently approaching 250 signatures….

“As the opening of Crossrail gets closer and closer, and as the regeneration of Woolwich gains momentum, we think it’s important to help the area further benefit from all these positive changes. The number of commuters is growing and this trend is only going to continue.

“Moving Woolwich Arsenal station from 4 to zone 3 will help make Woolwich even more attractive and slightly less expensive for workers commuting west. There are talks of moving Stratford, a stone’s throws from Woolwich, into zone 2. Also Battersea is poised to be moved from zone 2 to zone 1. Gallions Reach, just north of the river and further east than Woolwich, is already in zone 3.”

I wrote about the absurdity of Woolwich being in zone 4 back in 2010, travelling out to leafy Chigwell, Essex, which is also in zone 4. Last week it was announced that Stratford station is being moved to the boundary of zones 2 and 3 to “boost regeneration” – a similar move would put Woolwich Arsenal on the boundary of zones 3 and 4, so passengers travelling from the east wouldn’t lose out.

Of course, there’s a cost to it and the popularity of the Docklands Light Railway from Woolwich would seem to indicate that the market can bear costly zone 4 fares – but a symbolic change could help attract travel *to* Woolwich, rather than from it.

(There’s a wider argument that London’s fare zones, which date back to 1983 and predate the development of Canary Wharf, need a complete overhaul as perceptions of “central London” have changed over the years – but that seems to be something nobody dare touch.)

It’s a simple change that could end up paying for itself over time if it boosts perceptions of Woolwich – but sadly, local politicians seem to have much more time obsessing over the Thames Clippers service to Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development instead.