Battersea Park memorialFollowing on from my post about the Act of Remembrance at Battersea Park last week I was contacted by someone who felt the memorial looked a bit, well, dirty.

I followed up on it with the council staff responsible for the park. It seems the dirt is here to stay for two reasons.

First, cleaning the statue carries a risk of damaging the memorial which, obviously, we want to avoid.

Second, the build-up of dirt is seen as symbolic of the dirt, mud and smoke of the trenches. While I’m no artist having had it pointed out I can see how it adds to the drama of the memorial.

The artist’s daughter lives locally and the council talks to her about the statue (she originally advised the council against cleaning). We are also looking at getting a consultant to advise on the long term maintenance of the parks statues and sculptures. So while the memorial might be getting the occasional brush-up it won’t be getting a deep-clean any time soon.

Poppies and crossesAs I go into the weekend I find myself almost computerless (mainly through my own fault) and using an old and slow computer means I’ll be keeping it brief!

Town Centre meetings
I had a meeting with representatives from the borough’s town centre partnerships early in the week which, I thought, was useful and generated a lot of ideas and issues for the council (and the town centres) to take away and work on.

The different character of the five town centres is one of the defining characteristics of Wandsworth and help give the borough its heart soul. There is nothing worse than an out of town shopping centre (having spent a large part of the day at Westfield, I’m glad we have never gone down that route).

It’s easy for a council to concentrate on its residents and not think about the businesses needed to serve the people who live there and provide jobs for local people. While I think we generally do a good job I know we don’t always get it right and am pleased the partnerships are prepared to tell us when we don’t!

Act of Remembrance
I took my son along to the Act of Remembrance in Battersea Park on 11 November. As always it was a moving ceremony that involved not just those affected or involved in the armed forces, but also local children. And while I do get a little annoyed at the few dog-walkers who cannot pause for a moment at 11am, it was good to see most people in the park taking a few minutes to those who have sacrificed so much for us all.

Civic Awards
Another defining characteristic is the council’s commitment to volunteering and giving some recognition to those who have given so much to their community. One of the year’s highlights for this is the Civic Awards which seek to recognise a handful of people each year who have given, voluntarily, huge amounts over the years to the area.

Wednesday saw five awards made to those whose lifetime of commitment had made a difference. It was an opportunity for the council to say thank-you, and for the recipients, their friends and families to celebrate. And one of those nights that really shows that the council is, and should be, about so much more than just providing services.

Building Confidence in Our Community
Finally, I spent yesterday in Roehampton at a conference organised by the police (with some help from the council’s Community Safety Division) about the different factors affecting confidence in the police in the borough.

You might, superficially, think it is just a function of the police themselves – but there are so many factors that affect what people think about safety in the area. We happen to have excellent police, but many other factors seem to determine how people think. For example, many ‘communities’ within the borough have different views because their access is restricted, not deliberately, but because people haven’t thought about their situation.

There were some powerful presentations given, I was particularly touched by two ladies who discussed their experiences of interacting with the police when they were victims of domestic abuse. It is a recurrent theme for me, but it is important to realise that things are very very rarely as clear-cut as they might seem.

Battersea Park memorialI took my son along to the Act of Remembrance in Battersea Park this morning.

It might, at first sight, be a slightly odd thing to do. He has just turned one and I can’t claim he showed much awareness of the service – the passing ‘planes interested him far more. But I felt it was an important thing to do. Now, more than ever, we should observe these small acts that force us to stop and think.

This was the first Remembrance Day for which there were no veterans of the First World War alive in this country. Indeed, we will soon be in the situation in which the ‘war to end all wars’ will have moved out of living memory. Even for the Second World War a veteran will have to be in their eighties (or have enlisted illegally) to have seen active service.

For people born in my generation such wars are unimaginable, and our links to them fairly distant. While my mother was old enough to remember WWII most of my classmates’ parents were either born after the war or were too young to recall it. Growing up the Falklands Conflict happened at a time when I was young enough to see it as exciting, and would watch the news marvelling at the Harrier. Our first involvement in the Gulf came when I was a teenager, and while I could intellectually grasp the issues I fear I had neither the age or the life experience to fully understand what a war really entailed.

Even now, with our troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, we perhaps allow distance and trivialities to crowd out what is happening and what our troops are facing on a daily basis.

We have, perhaps, become slightly arrogant. I think the UK, in particular, views relatively peaceful Western-style democracy as a stable end-point of a country’s development. In fact, it isn’t. History, both classical and modern is littered with examples of democracies failing or being overthrown, by internal and external forces, to be replaced by dictatorships and tyrannies.

If we value our freedoms and our liberty we must be vigilant and fight for them just as much now as our armed forces have done, almost continually, since the first Remembrance Day in 1919. As those terrible, all-encompassing, wars fade from living memory, those two minutes and everything they represent becomes all the more important.

We will remember them.