This has been going on for a while, but if you ever wanted an unusual souvenir of this year’s Olympics, then today (Sunday) is a prime chance to get hold of one of the street banners that decorated the capital this summer. Search for “banners”, and you’ll find a load from across London, including those that hung from lamp posts across Greenwich and Woolwich.
Delivery’s a steep £15, but it’s a once in a lifetime chance… (even if nobody’s made bags out of them.)
I think I’ve overdosed on the Paralympics. I went to the opening ceremony, I saw Oscar Pistorius beaten, and Ellie Simmonds win her second gold. I was there when Team GB got its first gold in the velodrome, and been wowed by judo, sitting volleyball and powerlifting. I’ve seen wheelchair basketball in the North Greenwich Arena, and yesterday I got sunburnt at the Royal Artillery Barracks taking in the archery. More about that later in the week, hopefully.
And on Saturday, I went to see the dressage in Greenwich Park. Tuesday’s the final day of competition, and if you haven’t seen the park as a London 2012 venue yet, then this advice from Kate might be useful. Bear in mind I’ve not been able to verify it, but I’ve heard about tickets being available on the gate from elsewhere too…
Was told at the Paralympic equestrian dressage at Greenwich Park today that tickets are most probably available from 1 hour before the sessions, from the box offices. They only know how many on the day itself.
They are not being pre-sold online as Greenwich Council has apparently put a block on the no of tickets sold, as believe with schools going back, that local transport would not be able to cope. That was the reason given to me by an official at ticketing at the venue today.
Hope this is useful info for anyone wanting to go.
It’s fair to say this summer has had a lasting effect on many of us, although hopefully its impact on Greenwich Park will be minimal. But there’s one thing that intrigues me.
If you’ve been, and walked down from Blackheath, you may have seen this water feature that’s gone in below the Observatory. I imagine it was a water jump on the cross-country, and it’s stayed in place while most of the others have been removed.
The funny thing is – it looks like it’s been there for years. There’s been a few “hold on, that wasn’t there before” reactions to it. So, I wonder – should it stay there? Would having a small, shallow, water feature be a benefit to the park?
Then again, it’s also in the park’s best spot for sledging when it snows, so probably not. That said, it’s interesting that one small change to the park can make you think of it in a different way. I know that one of the equestrian jumps is staying (which one is it?), but are there any changes to Greenwich from the summer of 2012 – aside from an upsurge in local pride – that we really should be keeping?
He also adds: “The observatory has reopened (but looks very busy if you were thinking of visiting). The viewpoint is not yet open as the pylon for the high-wire camera is still there. You can also now cross the park from Crooms Hill Gate to Vanburgh Gate (on Maze Hill). Most of the south of the park including the Flower Garden is now accessible.”
1pm update: I’ve just got home (from the table tennis at ExCeL, natch) and found the latest edition of Greenwich Time on my doormat. This headline from the propaganda weekly shows the council’s reputation-first communications policy falling flat on its face – there’ll be a few hollow laughs in Greenwich town centre at this.
I couldn’t get to take a peek for myself, but from the tellybox Greenwich Park looked amazing during Monday’s cross-country event. The day that some predicted would end in crowd crush catastrophe and equine tragedy ended up as nothing of the sort. Instead, it was the best advert for the area since, er, that ITV documentary with John Sergeant the other night. And across south-east London, thousands of people felt their hearts swell with pride as our park – our park, not just belonging to those who live adjacent to it – took on a new identity, and was showed off to the world.
No mysterious holes opening up in the ground, no sewer collapses, no shortages of water, and no bio-terrorist attack requiring the evacuation of an area stretching out to Charlton for several years. All these things seriously predicted by opponents of the Greenwich Park Olympics, still trying to bully local correspondents up until the day of the event. All those things didn’t come to pass, and they’ve been left looking silly, despite their efforts to bully local correspondents for not agreeing with them.
Yet one widespread worry has come to pass – a dramatic drop in trade in Greenwich town centre, as stewards encourage people to go straight between venues and transport hubs. There may well be tourist jam tomorrow, as the coverage encourages visitors, but it’s a thin gruel in central SE10 right now, it seems.
What struck me was the defensive Greenwich Council quote in the BBC’s story from Monday, pinning the blame on LOCOG, just has it has done for the ongoing parking permit mess in this staggeringly self-serving page on its website. That’s the same LOCOG it spent years snuggling up to, of course.
But the council only seems to have reacted once BBC London came calling on Monday, when it could have utilised its clout to help local firms earlier. It’s recruited an army of volunteers, ostensibly to help visitors to the borough (on top of LOCOG’s Games Makers and City Hall’s London Ambassadors).
They’ve been employed to give out a free newspaper called Games Extra, a thinly-disguised copy of The Greenwich Visitor, the free monthly which has proved local papers can still have some life in them. There’s been restrictions on what people can hand out around venues, but the council appears to be exempt.
Instead of advertising in GV, the council decided to compete with it. Like GV, it has a map of local attractions in the middle. It even uses similar headline fonts and has an ad for a skip firm at the foot of its front page. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but not when it’s trying to barge out a locally-run business.
The volunteers have also been handing out leaflets promoting the borough’s attractions as a whole, prefaced by none other than an introduction from council leader Chris Roberts.
All this is part of Greenwich’s terrible habit of prioritising boosting the council’s reputation over anything else. Hence its readiness to point blame anywhere but at itself, its notoriously slow press office, the weekly doses of bull in Greenwich Time, the “Royal Greenwich” banners, and the referring to itself as “the royal borough” like a pound shop Kensington & Chelsea.
This disastrous strategy has finally come to pass during the Olympics. Only a fool would read too much into what goes out on Twitter, but it’s a handy snapshot of the council’s communications policy. Rather than use the short-message medium to promote local businesses, it has provided a running commentary on gold medals won in the borough (other news organisations are available) and retweeted messages warning people to avoid public transport. Clearly the intention was to show off the borough as an exciting place packed to the gills with crowds. But on the other side of the coin, having read all these messages emphasising how busy the place was, who can blame potential visitors to Greenwich from staying at home?
This added to TfL’s notorious messages of doom and gloom – the hated Boris Johnson announcements are now being silenced – while several years of predictions of chaos from certain quarters can’t have helped either.
Thankfully, during Tuesday, Greenwich belatedly started using Twitter to promote local shops, and a meeting was held yesterday to hammer out just what the council can do to help improve things for Greenwich’s shops. Hopefully, this is what’s brought about the barriers coming down. Although the council’s statement still reeks of chest-beating – if the council is frustrated with TfL, why was it retweeting its messages of transport doom and gloom?
A more bizarre situation is the terrible fate of the Peninsula Festival, which has now decided to close its site until 5 August. On Monday night at 9.45, it was closed, dark and deserted.
So much for the £50,000 Greenwich Council coughed up for its community big screen – why wasn’t this promoted by the council’s volunteers standing outside the North Greenwich Arena, handing out council PR material? The place has been the busiest I’ve ever seen it – yet those crowds aren’t going anywhere beyond the cable car station.
This isn’t the time for blame, though. This is the time to put things right. So, what can the council do to rescue matters? What it should have done all along. It should put itself in the background and put local business in front.
No Olympic visitor gives a damn about what’s happening at a school in Kidbrooke – but they do want to know where they can get something to eat, something to drink, somewhere to watch the rest of the action and where they can buy some a present for the folks back home. Something bespoke for each of the three venues – Greenwich, North Greenwich, and Woolwich – would do the trick. It has volunteers to hand out this information – and they can also hand out flyers.
It’s time to bin the council PR, and get doing PR for local businesses instead. It’s time to pull together and support Greenwich’s businesses. Wednesday’s a rest day for the equestrian contests – but Thursday or Friday would also be a good time to visit. Or Saturday, Sunday, Monday…
Greenwich has always suffered from a lack of a common purpose – traders often competing against each other, and the council and landlords pulling in different directions. Hopefully some lessons will be learned, and this experience will forge a real sense of unity in SE10.
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
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?
So the gates are shut, and the countdown gets louder. Most of Greenwich Park has been closed to the public since Saturday, with only the flower gardens and children’s playground remaining open for business. At the foot of the hill, the equestrian stadium looks ever more impressive, and a cable camera is being strung up across the Thames, to provide a worldwide audience with a spectacular view across the park. Our temporary loss will be the world’s gain.
In the meantime, though, we’ve lost (most of) our park. But if you live within a couple of miles of Greenwich Park, you’re spoiled by green space compared with other parts of London. Chances are, though, there’s a few that you might not have explored. So over the next few weeks, I’ll be profiling some of those green spaces make this bit of the capital so special. Greenwich Park is great, but there’s much more besides around here.
And where better to start than in Hornfair Park? Because as the locks went up on Greenwich Park, the gates swung open on a long-lost favourite in SE7. Charlton’s got its lido back…
Whisper it, but there’s a quiet revolution going on in the bottom corner of SE7. And for all the stick it gets on this site, it’s fair to say that Greenwich Council is quietly playing a blinder here – although it’s taken its time about it. Three years ago, Hornfair Park had seen better days – unloved, neglected, and a haven for after-dark crime. Definitely the poor relation to neighbouring Charlton Park, its decline was capped by the tatty state of Charlton Lido, left clinging to life after council cutbacks. A botched plan to redevelop the lido as a diving centre didn’t help matters.
Opened in 1936 as Charlton Playing Fields on land originally bought by the old London County Council from the old lords of the manor of Charlton, the Maryon-Wilson family (more of them later), with the lido coming three years later. It was the last of four LCC lidos – the others being at Parliament Hill, Brockwell Park and Victoria Park. All but the latter survive today.
Renamed Hornfair Park in 1948, a long decline started in the 1970s when a cash-strapped Greenwich Council was forced to take it on from the Greater London Council, with opening hours at the lido cut back and it even became a skateboard park for a short spell. A swimming club kept the lido alive for some years, until Greenwich Council embarked on the ill-fated diving centre plan.
It was the BMX bikers that heralded the rebirth of Hornfair Park. Controversial when it opened in summer 2011, the BMX track has brought new life to the flat, featureless field at the rear of the park, which backs onto the edge of Woolwich Common. A revolutionary decision to, er, lock the park gates at night helped cut crime. The tennis courts and paddling pool are being upgraded, and Charlton Lido finally reopened its doors on Monday after a two-year closure, boasting a heated 50m-long pool. More work will continue when the summer is over, and next year a fitness centre and cafe will be added.
Things still aren’t perfect – much of the park still needs a lot of work as the council battles to overcome years of its own neglect. There’ll also no doubt be more tension with local residents as the council seeks to use Hornfair Park as somewhere to inspire young people to take up sport – an issue not helped by Greenwich’s attitude to “consultation”. But while a lot of the talk of “Olympic legacy” in this area is bunkum – in Hornfair Park, if the council can get it right, it’ll be real enough.