Tuesday 31 January 2012

Greenwich becomes 'royal' this weekend

What's this? We don't become a 'royal borough' until the weekend and yet I spied this road sign this afternoon which is a bit ahead of itself. It's the road leading into Eltham station, so presumably was given a bit of priority over the others.

The Greenwich website has details of the events around the borough to celebrate the borough becoming 'royal' from this weekend.

This follows the announcement originally made two years ago that:

"Her Majesty the Queen has bestowed the status of Royal Borough upon Greenwich, to take effect in the year of the Diamond Jubilee in 2012...The honour is bestowed in recognition of the close links between Greenwich and Royalty, from the Middle Ages to the present day. It also acknowledges the borough’s global significance as home of the Prime Meridian, Greenwich Mean Time and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are at present three Royal Boroughs: Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston, and Windsor and Maidenhead. They all reflect longstanding Royal associations."

Events are taking place in Greenwich, Woolwich and Eltham. Here's the blurb from the Greenwich website about the events in Eltham, on Saturday 4 February:

"Eltham will be hosting the festivities across three venues on Saturday 4 February.

The Eltham Centre

The Eltham Centre will have musical performances throughout the day, and the library will hold a drop-in crown-making workshop from 10am until 4pm. The Letters Patent will be on display.

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace will be open from 10am until 2pm, with a whole host of royal activities. There will be a falconer, interactive performers, hobby horse jousting, Tudor confectionery and workshops for children. Tudor musicians will entertain and Henry VIII will lead the dancing.

Well Hall Pleasaunce

A black poplar, given to each of the London boroughs by HM the Queen to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee, will be planted at Well Hall Pleasaunce at 2pm.

Tudor Barn

The evening festivities will begin at 5pm at the Tudor Barn in Well Hall Pleasaunce. There will be a stage with musical entertainment and outside food and drink stalls. The musical firework finale will be at 6pm.

Monday 30 January 2012

Spate of thefts in Eltham

Commiserations if you've been a victim - that's horrible. Be sure to lock up, Eltham peeps...
"BURGLARS struck in Eltham a whopping seven times in one afternoon last week.
A Greenwich police spokesman described the spate of thefts on January 25 as “highly unusual”. There were just five residential burglaries in Eltham North ward during the whole of December.

Burglars hit four homes in Westmount Road alone during the hours before 7.10pm. Further thefts took place at Beech Hill Road at around 3.45pm and two in Castlewood Drive.

Police say the burglars forcing entry through UPVC back doors in a bid to swipe jewellery and laptops..."
Read more at the News Shopper.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Eltham round-up

A quick round-up of some Eltham happenings which caught my eye:

BBC Radio London’s Eddie Nestor show came to town last week, 26 January. A 120 minute ‘Drivetime live’ radio programme was broadcast  from Middle Park Community Centre in Eltham “finding out how this south east London community has changed since Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993.” The show featured interviews with local Eltham MP, Clive Efford MP, Greenwich Borough Commander Richard Wood and talked to various locals who included Paul Webbewood, ex-Lib Dem councillor and local tweeter @Jackcabnory.  The range of views were to be found from:

- the area is changed and there’s no sense of community due to people from different cultures
- to testimony of racist behaviour,
- or of a community largely now harmonious and no different to others
- and to frustration with the ‘racist Eltham’ theme cropping up again.

According to views on twitter, some thought it was one-sided (Eddie’s ‘like a dog with a bone’) whilst others seemed more sanguine (‘Showing the gd side of Eltham’)
You can ‘listen again’ here for another few days only (is there a nifty way to download and keep these time-limited 'listen agains'?) 

Elsewhere, but on a related theme, local councillor Nigel Fletcher reported that this motion was debated and passed unanimously at Greenwich Council last week (click to enlarge)

Last Thursday, Eddie Nestor’s radio show started around the same time as ‘trespassers on the line’ at Eltham caused trains to back down the Charing Cross to Dartford line. At one point trains were held at New Cross while they turned off the power to investigate. My husband was held up in this. As one local tweeter put it:

kels_1987 Kelly Fox
worst journey home thanks to some numpties that decided to walk along the tracks at rush hour...only in eltham!!!”

Hilly at the the e-shootershill blog brought news that a public inquiry is be held on the 8th and 9th February into the proposal for Christ Church School to use common land on Eltham Common. She has a fab and detailed write here.

Last weekend’s Guardian carried a jolly piece about some women who last September hiked and camped their way around London’s ‘capital ring’ in eight days. The piece details their stop-off in Eltham:

“Our destination for the first night was Oxleas Woods in Eltham, an ancient and magnificent expanse of nature moments from intensely urban life, populated with stunning native British trees (oak, silver birch, hornbeam, hazel and wild service).
Even though wild camping in London is technically illegal without permission, we weren't ready to test our stranger-charming skills yet. So after six hours of walking, we bedded down deep in the 8,000-year-old beauty of Oxleas Woods, lulled by the soundtrack of an all-night car park party and the A207 just minutes away.
A broken night, but we recharged with a mighty vegetarian full English at Oxleas Cafe (oxleawoodcafe.info), looking out over the North Downs, before heading off through the woods again. We spotted rose-ringed parakeets – now an exotic staple of London birdlife – and a green woodpecker, and discovered a curious mixture of major roads, royal palaces (Eltham) and lovely locals including Bob, who sold us some runner beans from his allotment for our supper.”

The prodigious blog Tired of London had a lovely write up on the Tarn: “The Tarn, in Mottingham, is a small lake and nature reserve which once stood within the grounds of Eltham Lodge, a seventeenth century building which was itself once part of the grand estate of Eltham Palace.....”

This reminded me that I haven’t been here for years, and certainly not since some additions have been made, and must visit again soon with the kids.

Saturday 21 January 2012

"Cryin over SE9": Eltham and the Lawrence case

The verdict was announced on Tuesday 3 January for the trial of the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence in Eltham in 1993. David Norris and Gary Dobson have since been sentenced to 14 and 15 years maximum though neither has shown any remorse nor admitted to their guilt.

(Though I have been too busy with life to post anything more than a summary post and was only able to follow the news and media reactions, I too shared the mutual sign of relief. However, I also wanted just a bit of distance from the initial impact of the verdict and also from the plethora of stuff written. Consequently, this may all seem a bit after the event. This is a long post (sorry) and was difficult to write in places, but I found I had a ‘planning blight’ on the blog until I got it out of my system.)

Analysis of this case in the media and social networking seems to centre on:
- the extent to which the Lawrence case has raised awareness about racism, especially in institutions
- what was responsible for the way Norris and Dobson turned out? Why them, not others?
- how different is racial awareness / ‘race relations’ now in the UK, compared to 1993?
- whether there was something different about Eltham which gave rise to this horrendous crime and if so, how things have changed now

Many of these questions were tackled in excellent pieces on local blogs, e.g.
- by Darryl at the 835 blog
- by Bob from Brockley

Others have also written about their Eltham experiences, e.g.
- Lee Cox, at Jackabnory, republished at Kidbrooke Kite
- Sunder Katwala, British Future and here
- Peter Howitt in Huffington Post - ex-local boy, now actor, director (‘Joey Boswell’ in Bread)
- Owen Hylton’s personal reflection

There are also the ‘mainstream’ media pieces seeking to give a picture of Eltham today, e.g. The Independent, The Guardian and Mail online - some of which are being re-tweeted as truthful reflections, while others decry them for their generalisations about the Eltham population.

More latterly, there have also been pieces which criticise the ‘excessive racialisation of the public domain’ and suggest that ‘class’ should instead be the driver for achieving social justice. These include a piece by David Goodhart at Prospect magazine and chime with recent pleas for a greater focus on ‘white working class communities’. The magazine is known for its left-liberal critique of multiculturalism. Such articles point to a sense of grievence stoked up amongst these communities by cases such as the Lawrence one. The reactions to the Diane Abbott twittergate affair also demonstrates this sense of competing grievances i.e. we’ve got it just as bad, why are you getting all the attention etc.  (Sunder Katwala suggests a sensible solution to this in his piece).

Like many people, and to repeat the cliche, I feel as though I have grown up with the Lawrence case. I am a brown, (now) middle-aged, woman who has lived in Eltham since 1989. I lived for over a decade near Footscray Road/ Eltham High Street (in my single days) but for the last 12 years or so have lived with my husband (Greenwich-born and bred) and children in the Eltham North ward, not far from Well Hall Road, the site of that terrible murder.

All those years ago, I had never heard of Eltham before a chance rental opportunity came up through a friend (thanks Chris!). I remember my young brother coming to see me in an inaugural visit  (from west London, Southall/Bedfont, from whence I hail) and deciding to take me on a pub tour to get acquainted with my new area (more for his benefit than mine I think). We went innocently into old The Castle pub (now the site of the KFC)  (this decision now reads like a suicide mission...confirmed later by astonished local friends who told me it was the local NF haunt!). My brother, being a very friendly, sporting, chap, put his money down on the pool table, to join in the fun. It was soon shoved back to him and he thought it wise to leave quickly. I’ll always remember on the way out glancing over my shoulder at the out-of-place glitter ball spinning on the ceiling of the grubby, empty, back ‘lounge’.

Pretty soon after moving here I remember the frequent reports of various murders and stabbings. A Telegraph article gives a useful summary (in the context of how the same gang were involved):

“In 1991 Lee Pearson was stabbed outside a kebab shop in Well Hall Road, the same street Stephen was killed. The Acourts were the police’s main suspects, but Mr Pearson refused to sign a statement implicating them.

In July 1992 an Asian boy, Rohit Duggal, was stabbed to death by Peter Thompson, again on Well Hall Road. Thompson was named as a member of the Acourts’ gang in the anonymous calls to the police the day after Stephen’s death.

In November 1992 a black youth named Kevin London said that Gary Dobson threatened him with a knife after challenging him over the fact he had a white girlfriend. Dobson denied it and no charges were brought.

Norris and Jamie Acourt were also suspects in the stabbing of Darren Witham in Chislehurst in 1992. Both were charged, but the charges were later dropped.

A month before Stephen’s death, in March 1993, David Norris is alleged to stabbed a man named Stacey Benefield with a miniature sword after he tried to calm an argument Norris had with a friend of his.  Norris and Neil Acourt were suspected by police of being involved in the attack. Only Norris stood trial and was acquitted.

The same month Gurdeep Banghal, 22 was stabbed by a white youth while working in a Wimpy restaurant in Eltham. His attacker is said to have called him a “P*** b******”.
Information received by the police suggested those responsible for the Lawrence murder were also responsible for the stabbing of Mr Banghal.”

And of course, earlier in 1991, there was the murder of Rolan Adams in Thamesmead.

I decided it would be a good time to get a car. By 1993 I was working at a university in south-west London and had been travelling there by train, using Eltham train station. 

I very much remember the heightened tensions around that time. Far-right parties used to frequently leaflet in the High Street and the BNP ‘bookshop’ in Welling (an adjacent town) was frequently in the news.

I remember the campaigns around this time about the local stabbings and murders - I attended a conference at the Greenwich Borough Hall around this time, with many of the bereaved parents and families attending, including the Lawrences.  In the meantime I carried on driving to south-west London for work, studying in the evenings at Birkbeck College and also mostly socialising in central London.

Today, however, my life is much more integrated with Eltham, mostly because of having young children (and abandoning late night partying up town...). My children attend an Eltham primary school, they are part of a local beavers and cubs group, my son trains and plays for a local football club and my daughter plays her clarinet in the school band at various places. 

Some people have been attesting in the media articles to the racist atmosphere in certain parts of SE London, in its schools, pubs and cafes, while others are putting a display of pride in Eltham above giving the Lawrences their day, without any nuance in their comments.  I think that the true picture of Eltham is different to the one portrayed in the extreme hyperbole used in some of the articles - for example, the Mail online article refers to Eltham as an ‘insular bastion of bigotry’. That sort of language really is lazy, but in this case also inaccurate. 

On the whole, I feel that Eltham is a good suburban town for family life. It has its fair share of problems similar to many towns on the outer ring of London but it also has lots of facilities, lots of green spaces (including its own woods) and great historical places. I’ve had good relations with most people I deal with and am happy to see a mix of cultures about the place.

I have to say though that I probably only come across certain sections of Eltham and probably not the people and parts of Eltham which have been written about recently. And I haven’t been to an Eltham pub probably for years; I rarely wait at bus stops and I never have cause to walk around at night on my own. All this possibly puts things in a rather different perspective to the experiences that others have had. 

The nub of a current concern is the question “is there something particular about Eltham in relation to racism?” (yes, I’ve framed this in the openest way possible). In true academic style, I think the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

No, because I don’t believe that people’s views here are really any different to the variety of views to be found in any typical suburb in the other corners of London - more especially what has been called the corridors of ‘white flight’ around inner London e.g. Northolt, Woodford, Brentford (or at least these used to be such when I knew them well a while ago). In all these places there are some concentrations of views against immigrants/black people amongst some communities, perhaps those experiencing the worst economic problems. But there are there are many people in these towns that don’t have these views. Eltham is far more varied than the suggested proliferation of the Brook Estate as implied by numerous media articles. The town is more mixed than people allow for - it’s fairly mixed in class terms, housing, and “quietly more diverse than the 1993 imagery suggests.” (BBC, lost the link!)

Following the Lawrence trial, there were many comments on social networking sites but I thought that this one was a good illustration of Eltham have more than one side - a comment by a (white) Eltham woman: “The Estate Agents I worked for in Eltham used to tear up the registration cards of anyone of an ethnic background who registered to buy property in the area. I used to fish them out the bin and re-write them!”

Yes, because I think that the mere reputation of Eltham as racist (whether we agree or disagree), has attracted others of that ilk and made the town a target of far-right parties and whipped up that hysteria. A sizeable number, to my mind, of people in Eltham were motivated to spend their one vote on the BNP in the 2010 general elections. The EDL have also turned their gaze on Eltham and reared their heads on Eltham during the August riots. 

The association of Eltham with race also of course heightens all sensitivities so that more behaviours and comments come to viewed through the prism of race.

That Tuesday morning, the last day of the Christmas holidays for most Greenwich primary schools, just before the verdict was announced, I went to Eltham High Street with my children - it was very windy and rainy after a long, mild, dry spell. We visited the Nissan car show room (lovely service), the bakers (lovely service) and then had a long session at the Eltham Leisure Centre Pools (really nice atmosphere, especially the young attendants entertaining the kids with squirts of water). Life goes on in this town for ordinary people. I really applaud the people who highlight racism and work towards eliminating all forms of prejudice, but the situation is not helped by the hysteria whipped up in the press, some balance would be welcome. Apart from the generally desirable aim of being accurate, hysteria is to be avoided if more people are not to feel alienated at ‘got at’. Sometimes it’s a fine line. (There are, of course, some people who just can’t be reached by ‘balance’ - I’ve been disgusted by some of extreme and mindless comments in reaction to the verdict).

Finally, I completely bizarrely came across this video a few weeks ago which seems apt in some ways (without wishing trivialise things). It’s “Cryin over SE9” by Sister Company, a 2008 video shot in and around Oxleas woods, opening in Falconwood station:

“Can’t sleep tonight I’m crying over my glass of wine
My thought trains (?) just had a direct line through SE9
Coz now whenever my imagination roams
Eltham is calling my soul back home......etc.”

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Norris and Dobson found guilty of Stephen Lawrence's murder

The media are abuzz with reactions to the verdict announced today in the trial of the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence. Dobson and Norris found guilty, to be sentenced tomorrow.

Twitter is awash with reactions ranging from the factual, the relieved, and stronger reactions centering on views about Eltham - some thinking it is a racist town (can a whole town be racist!?) and others getting very defensive about Eltham (and as always, there’s also a more extreme tendancy but I’m not going to go there). Here’s a selection:

The factual:
GdnPolitics Guardian politics
Timeline of the Stephen #Lawrence case from @sandralaville bit.ly/uXOblE

JudiciaryUK Judicial Office
Following today's verdicts the Court of Appeal's full judgment in R v Gary Dobson can now be published bit.ly/vTbLOV

NewsShopperJR Jamie Ross
Stephen Lawrence murder trial - the background bit.ly/tjFlLz

BBCDomC Dominic Casciani
The microscopic evidence that caught the killers of Stephen #Lawrence: Our guide to the forensic work bbc.in/vFJeng

politicshomeuk politicshomeuk
The former MP for Eltham, where Lawrence was murdered in 1993, said that the police had learnt lessons, however.

CliveEfford Clive Efford
Stephen Lawrence’s family finally have justice and it is testimony to their dignity and determination that it has been served today

jonsnowC4 Jon Snow
Our crew filming point where Stephen Lawyrence died had racial abuse shouted at them from a passing white van:locals say it is commonplace

issuesinthenews Gbenga Akinyooye
Stephen #Lawrence was murdered in 1993 in Eltham, South London. Why? Because of the color of his skin. 18years later, justice is done.

RachelReevesMP Rachel Reeves
When Stephen Lawrence was murdered I was 14 living in S London near Eltham and was so upset & shocked. 19 yrs later justice finally comes.

MarkCF83THFC Mark O'Neill
@DuwayneBrooks Pleased for Stephen's family but specially for yourself. So easy could have been you left by the side of the road in Eltham.

politic_animal Political Animal
Peter Bottomley on #bbcnews demonstrating that he is one of the most sensible of Tories. Always forget that he was MP for Eltham in 1993.

amandapbishop Amanda Bishop
@fleetstreetfox hope so, the other lot strut around here (Eltham) like gangsters. 2 down 3 to go

tom_watson tom_watson
The #stephenlawrence verdict. I could almost weep.
in reply to ↑
@dalekwidow Fiona James
@tom_watson Me too! It's been far too long coming. I went to school in Eltham so this has been close to home #Lawrence #Justice

TonyNewsCamera Tony Smith
Fascinating admission in 5Live vox pop. Most young people in Eltham hadn't heard of #Stephenlawrence 18 yrs a long time

patrick_kidd Patrick Kidd
Eltham should also be known as former home of Frankie Howerd, Bob Hope, Herbert Morrison, E Nesbit and WG Grace, not just racist killers

journojames JournoJamie
Just been past The Lawrence Memorial in Eltham. People already turning up to lay flowers.

darryl1974 Darryl
Well Hall Road, Eltham. Photographers at Stephen Lawrence's memorial. Police watching from a distance. pic.twitter.com/Kff0FRS7

charlieconnelly Charlie Connelly
As an Eltham boy meself am pleased to see Stephen Lawrence getting some justice at last. Not a day for celebration, but reflection.

tpearce003 teresa pearce
RT @DPJHodges: : open letter to Stephen Lawrence's killers > tinyurl.com/7bjrscg > Telegraph //I grew up in Eltham & recognise this