Invicta: a great school deserves a great building

Invicta signInvicta Primary School is a great local success story. It has recently expanded to two forms of entry,  and was judged as “Outstanding” by Ofsted earlier this year. It has just started supporting Bishop John Robinson School in Thamesmead – a huge vote of confidence in the head, Marie Corbett, and the other staff at Invicta. It has a thriving Children’s Centre in its grounds, offering a range of services for under-fives and their parents.

But lnvicta deserves a better building. Its current building dates back to 1952, replacing a Victorian building that was badly damaged by wartime bombing, and this 1950s reconstruction was never intended to be permanent. By and large the building (apart from the addition of some portacabins because of its recent expansion to two forms of entry) is exactly as it was when I was a pupil there in the early 1980s (I am now a governor there, as is Labour candidate Cherry Parker). Its windows and roof have reached the end of their lifespan and the building is simply not fit for purpose. Read more of this post


Coalition Consequences: forcing children to move home isn’t fair – and won’t save a penny of public money

The penny has finally dropped for the Liberal Democrats: the Government’s changes to welfare benefits will do little or nothing to reduce public spending overall, will unfairly demonise the poor and jobless, and will prompt a mass exodus of poorer people from many parts of London to poorer districts – and in many cases out of the capital entirely.

So says former children’s Minister Sarah Teather (the Lib Dem MP for Brent Central)  in an interview in today’s Observer, belatedly echoing concerns that many community organisations, trade unions and housing and family charities – and the Labour Party – have been raising for many months. Read more of this post

Pat campaigning for better childcare and worklife balance

March was an important month for me because I look forward to the International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8.

The theme this year being ‘Getting More Women Onboard’, I thought as Women’s Officer for the Labour Party in Greenwich and Woolwich Constituency, I’ll get us, women, and men, together to think of how this could be done. In many households ‘Care’ of babies, children and the elderly is considered the more natural role of women (and for those of us working mothers who have tried to negotiate with a partner or husband to take time off work at sometimes short notices as is in the event of a child falling ill or, an unscheduled emergency meeting in the office will bear me out, that the energy used in arriving at a less- than- desired outcome from the male specie is just not worth the bother!).

Affordable and reliable care arrangements is therefore key to getting more women ‘Onboard.’
Alex Grant and David Gardner -the two other Labour candidates in the forthcoming Local elections helped me organise an event to to talk about supporting women and families in the area. We were joined by, Councillor Jackie Smith, Cabinet Member for Children and Families in Greenwich, who came to talk to us about the facilities are available to us that will ensure that we are able to work around this very ambitious theme of the 2010 International women’s Day celebration.

I just mentioned that I arrived at a local theme with the help of Alex and David, the two male candidates with me in the local elections. I strongly believe that women will need the menfolk to solve a lot of our problems. Why? Apart from the fact that they have created many of our problems through omission or commission by a lot of what they do or have done, at the end of the day we women are someone else’s sister, cousin, mother, aunt, grandma, and certainly, daughter! And, talk about a Dad’s love for their daughters!

So, back to our celebration of International Women’s Day! Emails are sent round and I personally do a lot of leafletting at Halstow Primary School. Councillor Jackie Smith had a good story to tell those present:
Labour has made a huge difference with :
• Tax credits-90% of families qualify for tax credits and many can claim up to 80% of childcare costs.
• Paid Maternity Leave-this has increased from 14 weeks in 1997 to 39 weeks now
• Paid Paternity leave-new Dads have now the right for two weeks paid leave
• Child Benefit-this has risen 80%since 1997from £11.05 to £20.00for the first child, and £9.00 to £13.20 for other children.
• Nursery Education-3 and 4 year olds now get 12.5 hours a week free nursery provision, rising to 15 hours later on this year.
• Flexible working-parents now have a right to request flexible working
• Sure Start Children’s Centres built to provide childcare, early education and family support.

There was a lively discussion after Jackie’s presentation; David gave his own experience of how Paternity Leave had given his family a much-needed work-family balance, and Alex gave a synopsis of Childcare facilities at Blackheath Westcombe. During ‘Discussion Time’, there were points about the need to have separate facilities to cater for children in the youth centres; particular mention was made of the lack of facilities for children between the ages of 8-10 years old; the issue of unhappiness about most parents not getting their children into secondary schools of their choice was raised; then of course a request for more nursery and childcare facilities for Blackheath Westcombe, and other areas in the constituency, notably East Greenwich.

So, yes, Labour has made a difference to Families in terms of childcare, all agreed, and there was the need for more to be done…
Why aren’t there Sure Start Centres in Blackheath Westcombe for example? It’s a matter of meeting criteria as is with most funded projects.

As I reflected over the day and the discussions held, it struck me that all present expressed the sentiment that there was the need to safeguard these gains in our family lives that Labour had brought about. It could only get better under Labour. And that is why we should be wary of the coming elections, and what a Tory government that opposed extending paid maternity leave and the introduction of two weeks paid paternity leave will do in the face of a recession.

Still in line with women, family and life-work balance, and March being the month that focus is brought to bear on how to move the interests of women forward, I attended the launch of the Young Women Fabian on March 18; all present- the younger women, and men, were taken through the early struggles of the women movement and how much progress has been made since then.
I spoke to a lot of the younger women and cautioned that their good intentions in being active in whichever sphere of life they would wish could be derailed without adequate provision of childcare when they got to that stage of their lives.

Not surprisingly, at the doorstep in Blackheath Westcombe, all well-meaning family members (of all ages) had raised childcare and the provision of nurseries as a genuine concern; that, and the advancement of women, and consequently of the whole family are inseparable.

This is my pledge, and I am not alone in this. My fellow Labour candidates, Alex and David are totally supportive of a push for the provision of better and affordable childcare in the ward.
This we know can be done only with the election of a Labour government into power

Just reflect on fact: There are 126 women Members of Parliament. 94 of them are Labour. Need we say more?

Pat Boadu-Darko




Fighting for Local Childcare

Two issues have dominated our discussion with residents on the doorstep in Blackheath Westcombe recently – overcrowding on local trains and childcare.

Residents are concerned about Conservative plans to reduce local support for early years children like Surestart.

Local parents benefit from four nearby Surestart Children’s centres at Invicta primary, Robert Owen, Sherington and the Storkway centre on Rochester Way.
But Conservative plans to target funding for childcare places more narrowly will particularly hit local Surestart centres, which cater for a wide social mix.
Labour introduced Surestart, free nursery places for 3 & 4 year olds, and has given parents the right to request flexible working, and has promised to extend statutory maternity leave.

But local families still face challenges in balancing work and childcare. There is still a long way to go before we have comprehensive local services for young children – and rising birth rates in the area mean some parents can’t find nursery places for their child.

Last Saturday, the Labour Party held a meeting with residents to find out how young families can best be supported in the area. As a result, Labour activists will be campaigning to protect and expand provision for young children locally. If you’d like to get involved, email us at – or add your comments below.

David’s campaign diary

A cold but sunny and dry weekend – Saturday meeting residents in Blackheath Westcombe and Sunday en famille.

Nestled at the back of the Royal Standard shopping area between Old Dover Road and Charlton Road is the Dornberg and Schofield estate where the Labour Team descended on Saturday morning. It is a well-kept estate which was tastefully refurbished in the 1990s by the Labour Council with glass panel shades giving the buildings a pyramid shape. The upper floors all have the protection of entry phones and there was no sign of vandalism, graffiti, littering or dumping. A pleasant estate around a green and, of course, very convenient for the shops. A good response with tenants pleased about the rents being kept down. The only significant issue was a faulty street lamp fitting which Alex Grant is straight onto as ever. We also visited the flats above the Old Dover Road shops which again were well maintained with some colour provided by plants and flowerpots Good to see the Blackheath Library refurbishment in progress and still due to open on time at the end of April.

Saturday afternoon we had an open coffee afternoon to mark International Women’s Day (actually 8 March) on helping young families to thrive. My daughters are now teenagers and were luck to live in Greenwich and benefit from free nursery education from the age of 3 – but now everyone does and going up to 15 hours rather than 12.5 hours per week. Also, we now have Sure Start and Children’s centres for many 0-5s as well as maternity pay for up to 39 weeks (compared to 14); paid paternity leave and child tax credits and higher child benefit. It is a different world, Mums and Dads have more options – they have the right to request flexible working and the right for emergency time off (say when the little one is ill). Many of these changes have been opposed by the Conservatives who claim to be the party of the family. A good discussion at Mycenae House led by my fellow candidate Pat Boadu Darko.

Sunday was my normal 10k run, cooking the traditional Sunday roast and a long walk in the afternoon taking in some very interesting heritage sites just north of the Thames along Greenway, Three Mills, the Lea Valley Park and Limehouse Cut. The East End does not have the great parks and open spaces that we enjoy in Greenwich, but it does have an amazing network of canals, old railway paths, old docks and industrial heritage. A busy week at work plus something on every night. Perhaps the highlight is an evening with Alistair Campbell on Wednesday in East Greenwich, a very capable and funny man even if (on occasions) given to bursts of temper.

St. David’s Day

Monday 1 March is St. David’s Day which brings out the Welsh in me (my middle name is Llewellyn) but should also be a sign of the first daffodils flowering and Batley Park (aka Blackheath Standard) breaking out in the colour of crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils. Alas, spring is delayed. Global warming is ushering in greater volatility in our weather. But hopefully soon, there will be more sunshine to help our confidence and the green shoots of the economy.

Despite, the cold and wet we have kept up the round of meeting everyone in Blackheath westcombe yesterday in the Kidbrooke Park estate nestled between Kidbrooke Park Road and the noisy A102. People were pleased to see the Labour team and the Decent Homes programme making a difference. The new entrocoms in the blocks are going in and will mean a big improvement in securtity and peace of mind. There is a problem with people dumping rubbish on the overgrown land at the back of the Rochester Way shops which is a real eyesore; the trouble is it’s private property and the council’s powers are limited. But we will press on.

Today my normal 10k run with my eldest (just adult) daughter and out meeting the people with Nick Raynsford MP (quite a few people coming back to Labour it seems) before some domestic chores. We discuss the nightly closure of the Blackwall tunnel which doesn’t affect me as a public transport fanatic but my wife and friends (and many on the doorstep) have been really inconvenienced by the southbound closure after 9pm. Why there cannot be a carefully controlled contraflow with a 20mph speed limit as in the rothehith Tunnel is quite beyond Nick and me. We will campaign on for Mayor Johnson to see some sense here.

Tomorrow is John Roan Governors which I chair. We will be reviewing progress with getting the final sign-off for the restroration of the Maze hill site and rebuilding of westcombe park under the Building School for the future programme. It is very exciting but also challenging. We fear that a change of Government would lead to the plug being pulled on the schools’ rebuilding programme and Boy George wields the axe. But the polls are now closing: it does very much look possible for Labour to win. In any event, the physical transformation of the school will not be allowed to get in the way of the educational transformation of John Roan which goes from stregth to strength. I remain very confident of continuing year-on-year improvement from 50% in 2008 to 62% in 2009, up to 70% this year and 75-80% the year after. We continue to attract more applicants, being three times over-subscribed this year.

Time to sign off for a little domestic harmony!

David Gardner

Helping Young Families Thrive

As part of the celebrations of International Women’s Day, Greenwich and Woolwich Labour Party will be holding an open “Parents and families” discussion to listen to the views of local families about they can be supported in helping young families thrive on Saturday March 6.

Since 1997 Labour has made a huge difference to young families. 90% of families qualify for tax credits and many can claim up to 80% of childcare costs. Paid maternity leave has increased from 14 just weeks in 1997 to 39 weeks now, whilst every father now has the right to two weeks paid leave. Child benefit has seen above inflation rises from £11.05 to £20 for first child and £9 to £13.20 for other children, whilst nursery education has massively expanded, with every 3 and 4 year old now getting 12.5 hours a week free nursery provision: which will rise to 15 hours later this year. Labour has support modern families’ complex career and childcare decisions by giving parents the right to request flexible working. Sure Start Children’s Centres have been built to provide childcare, early education and support for families. These are differences that would be jeopardised by a Conservative government. The Conservatives opposed paid paternity leave and opposed extending paid maternity leave. They have promised to cutting Sure Start.  Their policy on child benefits and child tax credits is not clear.

But despite these improvements, many mums and families still face many challenges balancing work, careers, money and ensuring the best for the children. Labour activists want to see further support for families – and we would like to hear your views and experiences about how that support can be best achieved, whether or not you are a Labour supporter. Please do join us for some tea, cakes and discussion.

Saturday March 6, 3-5pm, Mycenae House, Mycenae Road, SE3
Special Guests:
Cllr Jackie Smith, Cabinet Member for Children and Families
Cllr Alex Grant, Councillor for Westcombe Park Ward

Pat Boado Darko Women’s Officer, Greenwich and Woolwich Labour Party

David Gardner Chair, Greenwich and Woolwich Labour Party