The Greenwich Foodbank: helping those who the Coalition forgot

Foodbank 4

Just before Christmas a group of eight councillors visited the Greenwich Foodbank‘s headquarters in Eltham. We were all impressed by the hard work and determination of its volunteers, led by Alan Robinson who showed us around.

Although a foodbank had been set up by two churches  in Thamesmead in 2009, demand shot up after the coalition’s welfare cuts started in 2010, with people from all over Greenwich and Bexley boroughs beating a path to its doors. With help from the Trussell Trust, the Christian charity that helps foodbanks across Britain, a new borough-wide foodbank was set up in October 2012 by 45 Greenwich churches (including St John’s in Blackheath, which acts as a collection point for donations).

The Greenwich Foodbank is a very well-organised operation that gives out three-quarters of a ton of food and other goods each week. Increasingly, toiletries are given out as well as food: Office of National Statistics figures show that unemployed people on the breadline  are going without soap and shampoo to afford to feed themselves. People can only receive a week’s food if they have been given a voucher by an authorised person working at the sharp end: in Social Services, the NHS, Police, Probation service, or the voluntary sector (need is the only factor: the Foodbank helps people regardless of their religious faith).Foodbank 2

Normally, no-one is allowed to redeem vouchers more than three times: the Foodbank is determined to help people out of poverty, not make them dependent on handouts. As well as giving out food, the Foodbank has put together a cookbook (many of its clients are used to fast food, and find it hard to make a nutritious meal out of the ingredients the Foodbank provides). Giving out food helps alleviate some of the immediate effects of the cost-of-living crisis, but it is not a long-term cure on its own, which is why the Foodbank acts as a “signpost” to other services so its clients can find a long-term solution to whatever problems they face.

But no-one should be pleased that more and more Foodbanks are starting in Britain in 2014: everyone should afford to feed themselves and their families without the indignity of going to a Foodbank. Dave Wilcox, a veteran labour councillor in Derbyshire who helped his local foodbank get lottery money, recently wrote of his “sadness in success”. Like many, he hopes that one day foodbanks will run out of customers, return their money to the lottery, and that everyone will have enough money to buy their own food rather than need handouts. How right he is. Read more of this post

Is IKEA a good idea for Greenwich?

sainsbury-greenwichHow quickly do the architectural innovations of the late Twentieth century become redundant in the Twenty-First! The iconic Sainsbury’s store on Peartree Way, with its partly glazed roof, curved lines and timber cladding, is due to be made redundant once a much larger Sainsbury’s opens down the road off Bugsby’s Way in 2014.

IKEA have now put forward plans to take over the site – and knock down the Sainsbury’s building, which was nominated for the Stirling Prize and won the prestigious RIBA Sustainability Award in 2000. Until now it had been hoped that a new retailer would adapt the building, not demolish it.

Tony Duckworth, one of the Environmental designers of the Sainsbury’s store, predicted last year that the most likely outcome was its demolition (see a blog post from 2012 here). I’m sorry that it seems he has been proved right. Read more of this post

Coalition Consequences: Benefits Cap hits those in private rented accommodation hardest

coalition consequences logoI have posted before about the impact of the Coalition’s welfare polices in Greenwich, and Blackheath Westcombe ward in particular, and about the cuts in housing benefit which could force many people – including families with children – to have to move out of areas like Blackheath and Westcombe Park.

Since the “Benefits cap” came into force (it is being phased in between 12th August and September 30th 2013), we are beginning to see what the real impact is on families in the borough.

In a nutshell, the government’s new policy is that total benefits cannot now exceed:

  • £500 a week for couples (with or without children living with them)

  • £500 a week for single parents whose children live with them

  • £350 a week for single adults who don’t have children, or whose children don’t live with themold dover road

According to figures from the Royal Borough of Greenwich, about 340 families in the borough are affected by the Benefits Cap. Of these, the council is already advising 110 families – of which 68 (well over half) are in private rented accommodation, not council or housing association homes. Read more of this post

What the 2011 Census belatedly tells us: home ownership levels down since 2001, private renting up by 50%

Photos July 2008 029Better late than never: ward-level data from the March 2011 census has finally been released in, er, 2013 (it takes two years for the Office of National Statistics to crunch all the data).

What does the census data tell us about how society has changed since the previous census in 2001? The big news in Blackheath and Westcombe Park, like so many other parts of London, is the steep growth in private renting in the last ten years: up from 16.8% of households in 2001 to 24.5% in 2011.

One in four households in Blackheath Westcombe ward is now rented from a private landlord: a decade ago it was just one in six. 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

Tackling the loan sharks

IMG00374-20120322-1539When out delivering newspapers for Ken Livingstone over in Abbey Wood last week, I was shocked to find a flyer in the entrance to a block of flats, offering residents cash loans at an interest rate of 1,300% (I have removed the name and phone number of the company concerned to spare them any blushes).

This does appear just about legal, as it does at least say prominently what the interest rate is, and it does say clearly how much someone borrowing £100 would have to repay over ten weeks – a whopping £145, almost 50% more than they actually borrowed. Read more of this post

Keeping people in work

Gordon fired the starting gun on Tuesday, and we were away! – a few days before the Grand National.

Of course, in Blackheath Westcombe we’ve been out talking to people all year round – but it will now be meeting and greeting voters every day until 6 May. Still, time for my morning run with my eldest today before canvassing and for the traditional Sunday dinner with the family afterwards.

On the doorstep, I am finding people are very friendly, even those that are confirmed supporters of other parties. The main local issues are schools and probably Greenwich Park being used for the Olympics. People are very happy with the recycling and bins, generally with the state of the streets, public transport and with other public services.

On schools, the good citizens of Westcombe Park are very pleased with Halstow – an excellent primary that is consistently the best or second best in Greenwich and the good citizens of Blackheath with Brooklands (which has overcome the glitch from last year’s OfSTED inspection after some great support from Halstow). Invicta in the middle of the ward is fast improving and many also go to Sherington just over on the west of Charlton which is one of the most improved schools in recent years. At nursery and primary level, most parents are concerned about getting into the school. That is why Labour is committed in our plans to expanding Halstow from 1 form entry to 1.5 form entry and under the building schools for the future programme there is a commitment to rebuilding Invicta school.

I am only too aware that secondary schools have been more of a challenge for parents but am very pleased at the wide recognition that John Roan school is steadily improving in terms of its ethos, behaviour and, most importantly, its results. As Chair of Governors there with an excellent team of Governors we have worked extremely hard to transform the school with the new Head while building on the traditional strengths such as pastoral support. The fruits of all this will continue to come through with this year’s results and further improvements year-on-year. I did hear of a disturbing incident at the end of last term on Humber Road, which I shall get to the bottom of, though I am pleased to say this does appear to be isolated. After improving the school so it is the school of choice for all the local community, we our focusing on the physical transformation of restoring the listed Maze hill site and rebuilding the Westcombe Park site. At this point, we are waiting for approval of our Outline Business Case from partnership for school, the Government body in charge of the programme. Of course, there is no guarantee that a Conservative Government would honour this commitment and with the cuts proposed, the chance of rebuilding Invicta school would be very slim. Thomas Tallis, of course, has started their new building on the Blackheath Park side, so we trust this will be quite safe!

Overall, we have seen a transformation in school standards but I fully appreciate that all parents want the best for their children and we have further to go. Am very interested in people’s constructive ideas and comments. All I can say, from a Roan perspective, is that it is a school now of real energy and determination as well as commitment to our local communities – and perseverance of excellence.

Greenwich Park has been raised a lot with me and everyone loves the park – I am a longstanding friend of greenwich park and cherish it too. I understand people’s qualms about the impact the olympics could have, but I think the fears are largely misplaced. Not one tree will be knocked down and the park will only be fully closed for one day. There will be some inconvenience obviously, and if elected my job will be to make sure that the Royal parks agency and Olympics’ organisers are working closely with the four key societies – Blackheath Society, Westcombe Society, Greenwich Society and Friends of Greenwich Park to ensure that the whole process is smooth, causes minimum disruption and deals with issues that are bound to arise. But Greenwich will be a showcase for the world for the modern pentathlon and equestrian events and this will be excellent.

I intend to carry on talking to everyone throughout the ward, taking up issues with my fellow candidates Alex Grant and Pat Boado-Darko and getting things done. Now, I think a walk with the family (without knocking on any doors as people enjoy a sunny, peaceful sunday afternoon!)

David L Gardner