I was astounded at the scale of yesterday’s Northcote carnival. Although I’d seen the programme and heard about some of the preparations (and, of course, went last year) I wasn’t quite ready to see almost the entirety of Northcote Road so dramatically transformed.
I spent a few hours with the council’s community safety team and local police offering advice and balloons to anyone interested (to be fair, my advice was usually to refer to the relevant expert there) accompanied by a police DJ!
But I also managed a nice lunch at Vito’s (I rarely get that far up Northcote Road) and a good few strolls around to take in the atmosphere of a huge and incredibly fun event.
I cannot imagine how many thousands of people visited throughout the day and evening, all in good spirits and with the weather staying good – despite some threatening grey clouds – I can’t imagine the organisers could have hoped for better. A fantastic day.
It’s the second Northcote Carnival this weekend. Sunday sees a day of events on a closed off Northcote Road.
Despite only being the second year this year has seen it get much bigger, as well as boasting the usual markets, stalls and entertainment it all has two stages (a gauntlet thrown down for all the other events, perhaps) with bands and entertainment running into the evening.
One of the things I think we do well in Wandsworth is enabling people to take responsibility for their own lives. The flagship of this is the low council tax, meaning people keep as much of their own money as possible. But I’m rather pleased with the contributions Wandsworth’s community safety team offer.
Neighbourhood Watch is perhaps the most obvious example, but we are always out and about offering advice and practical help and working with partners, like the police or fire brigade to residents.
A lesser known example is AlertBox, which was relatively recently installed in Northcote Road. The system is remarkably simple, a box with a few buttons that can be used to pass custom alerts to neighbouring shops with a linked unit. These can range from a low-level alert (perhaps a few suspicious people loitering) to a request for immediate help.
The AlertBoxes went in a series of smaller retailers on Northcote Road a few months ago and the manufacturer shared their recent appraisal with me. It’s been a clear success – 100% of people who had to use the box had a response from neighbouring shops. 91% felt it had reduced fear of isolation and 80% felt it had reduced fear of anti-social behaviour.
But most importantly 89% felt it had improved their relationship with neighbouring retailers and 93% felt it had improved their relationship with the police.
A real example of how, in many cases, life massive improvements are possible not with the state providing the solution, but in enabling people to provide the solution – in this case a contribution to the cost and some administrative work in setting it up. A fantastic result for everyone concerned.
It isn’t unique to being a councillor (although it might be exacerbated by the lack of structure) but I struggle to think of the things I have been up to this week! So when I can look to my diary to remind me of what meetings and appointments I’ve had I find myself thinking “was that really this week?” So, in a slightly different format, this week’s wrap-up.
Stuff I missed
Annoyingly I missed two Christmas light switch-ons this week – Tooting last Tuesday and Northcote Road yesterday. I like to attend them where I can, partly to show support for our Town Centres, but also because it appeals to the child in me!
A prior commitment meant I also had to miss one of the regular meetings between the council and Chamber of Commerce. These are useful meetings, if only because it means we get to hear directly from local businesses. And I would have loved to hear how the season is going. We did, of course, get the good news that Wandsworth is going to benefit by £52,000 from the Department for Communities and Local Government. An early Christmas present (although probably too late to use before Christmas) that will help us with our plans, which are already fairly well advanced, to ensure Wandsworth’s high streets are blighted by the recession.
Stuff I did, but didn’t mention
I’ve had a few of the fairly ‘routine’ meetings this week. Next week sees a Full Council meeting, the last before Christmas and New Year, so we had our usual Conservative group meeting to discuss it. It has an element of smoky rooms to it, since while we’re sat talking in one room the Labour Party are having the same sort of discussions just down the corridor. And afterwards the two whips compare notes to agree the agenda of council meeting!
I also had one of my regular policy meetings with the officers in my portfolio area. Checking on how things are going (a much nicer task as the recession seems to be easing and the spate of gun crime has ended) and discussing how various projects and ideas can be taken forward. Or not, if you’re of the Yes, Minister school of government.
Finally, I was at the inaugural meeting of the national Advisory Panel on Tackling Worklessness. I was a little surprised, as a councillor from a borough with fairly low unemployment, to be asked onto a body like that. I often wonder if I’m wheeled out as a token cynic because I do like to focus and concentrate on the deliverables, if you will allow me a little jargon. But an interesting body and one I hope will be productive, not least because, as a national group made up of many fairly frontline people, so many different perspectives can be brought to bear on the problem.
Stuff I’m not going to mention
A fairly self-defeating headline. But I occasionally worry I give the impression that everything is blogged and, therefore, if it’s not on here I didn’t do it. As usual the week has been peppered with reading, emailing, casework and small meetings and discussions; none of which ever get close to a blog post. While I’d love to pretend it’s because they are important and super-secret, it’s mainly because they are quite dull!
Regeneration and Community Safety OSC (well, cycling) I posted about the meeting the following day, so will not repeat the points. Except, rather smugly, to point out that I cycled to the meeting. I’m rather pleased that I’ve been managing to keep the cycling up – and am finding it an interesting experiment.
Last Monday was the first time I saw some really bad driving. Hitherto I’ve found other road users considerate, much to my surprise. There had been a few annoyances, but nothing major. However on Monday I found myself braking as a car turned left right in front of me and being nudged into the back of the bus by someone who didn’t want to give me any room. Perhaps worst was the driver who ostentatiously pulled into the oncoming lane to pass while pointedly accelerating then swerving rapidly to avoid a head-on collision with cars coming the other way.
My other cycling experiences have all been positive, and I’m going to carry on, but a salutary lesson that it isn’t all good!
Oxford Circus and Balham
It’s mischief and a little childish. But I really enjoyed the whole Oxford Circus and Balham episode. I think what made it sweeter, however, was that Westminster responded. As far as I’m aware the conversation was a few people with Balham connections tweeting about the crossings there. I don’t think anyone was really seriously suggesting Balham and Oxford Circus were the same.
Alertbox in Northcote Road
This morning saw a formal launch for AlertBox in Northcote Road. AlertBox is a remarkably simple system that connects retailers and allows them to alert each other to potential problems – for example if they spotted a shoplifter – and to call for help if needed.
The system already runs in Southfields and Tooting where many shopkeepers rave about it.
The installation in Northcote Road was funded by the council and Battersea Crime Prevention Panel, with the technical support coming from the Community Safety Division.
This weekend see two major events. The first is the Battersea Park fireworks on Saturday. The display has always been one of London’s best and I hope the weather holds out to make it another successful year.
The second are the Remembrance Day services on Sunday. The two ‘civic’ services are at St Mary’s in Battersea and St Mary’s Putney. But there are other services taking place across the borough.
The first St John’s Hill Festival takes place this Sunday (13 September). The event will take place from 11am to 5pm on the pavements and in participating shops on St John’s Hill between Plough Road and Marcilly Road.
The festival will have the usual mix of entertainment, food and drink and, naturally, shopping! It follows on from this year’s highly successful Lavender Hill Street Party and Northcote Road carnival and will be well worth a visit.
At last week’s Northcote Road Carnival I was having a chat with Essential Local magazine about the event. One of the things they asked for was a quote about the day. And it was virtually impossible to give, because pretty much anything you could say was put on the bottom of a list of other (far more important) people saying much the same thing: fantastic day, congratulations to organisers, excellent atmosphere, etc.
So I tried to take a broader view and pointed to how it illustrated the unique offer and character of Northcote Road, which in turn illustrates the unique offers and characters of Battersea.
If you consider Clapham Junction as a hub, whatever direction you walk you are in Battersea, but each is a very different bit of Battersea. To the north, you go up Falcon Road, Battersea High Street and Battersea Square. To the east, my own favourite bit (obviously) Lavender Hill. To the south is St John’s Road and Northcote Road. And finally to the west St John’s Hill. While each share similarities, accidents of history, architecture and even traffic management means each has it’s own character and style. They attract different types of resident, different types of shop and different types of shopper – even though they are just minutes walk from each other.
While I’ve found it fascinating watching each of these evolve over the 12 years I’ve lived in the area, what has been most exciting is the past few when, it seems, there’s been a much stronger sense of community developing – and the resurgence in street-party style events has been one of the most visible aspects of this.
Last year saw just Lavender Hill hosting an event. This year they were joined by Northcote Road and St John’s Hill are planning an event in September. This isn’t limited to Battersea, only slightly further afield Old York Road will be having their third street party later this year and Southfields are looking at their first event this year.
I’m not quite sure what has prompted these events. Clearly there will be an element of seeing the success of one event and wishing to emulate it – but that is slightly simplistic, since a huge amount of work is required to organise one of these days, along with a significant investment in time and money.
But whatever the reason I’m glad that it is happening. One of the real shames of London (and I know I’m as guilty of this as anyone) is that we’ve lost our neighbourhoods – and anything that helps restore that community spirit can only be a good thing.
If you are in SW11 today then it’s worth popping along to Northcote Road for their first Northcote Carnival. Wandsworth seems to be doing really well for businesses organising events to celebrate and promote their areas.
I hesitate to list them for fear of missing some, but just in the SW11 area we had the Lavender Hill Street Party last week and the first St John’s Hill street party later this year.
The Northcote Carnival have permission to close part of the road to traffic for the event – making it very pedestrian friendly – and will kick off with a parade of over 1,500 children from local schools. The remainder of the day will offer dancing and music, along with food, drink and plenty of instore promotions.
I will not deny that I was tempted to be a little flippant with this post, because there seems to be a little bit of panic in the air about swine flu. This dinky little blog attracted huge numbers of hits over the bank holiday weekend (and hits are generally down at weekends, moreso on bank holidays) all driven by various searches relating to swine flu in Wandsworth.
The fact is you, personally, probably don’t have swine flu. Around a 1,000 cases have been identified world wide, but this is in a population of around 6,000,000,000. In the UK the figures are 27 from nearly 70,000,000. Bringing it down to Wandsworth the figures are 3 in 280,000. And all those three are from the same family.
The school and nursery closed in Wandsworth – the Dolphin School and Noah’s Ark Nursery – closed themselves as a precaution, rather than on the advice of NHS Wandsworth, the council or anyone else. Anyone who may have been in close contact are being identified and offered anti-virals.
Swine flu remains a risk, so the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ advice remains good, but we’re still some way away from the sensationalist headlines we have seen.
I have already blogged about our Northcote Road plans so was pleased that these were agreed at the Regeneration and Community Safety OSC on Wednesday night.
Peter Dawson, one of the Northcote Councillors, attended the meeting and spoke in support of the plans. Peter has been involved right from the start – standing up for the Northcote Road traders and doggedly pushing officers and me to come up with a good scheme for the road. He deserves a lot of credit for the work he has done over the past two years.
The action plan seeks to protect Northcote Road as one of London’s special places and will look at de-cluttering the street, expanding the market, holding special markets and events as well as providing help to businesses and lobbying TfL to improve the awful junction with Battersea Rise. Hopefully, we can create a vibrant street that can win the fight against the spread of mobile phone and coffee shops.