Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Guardian

The Action Group was delighted to have our campaign mentioned today in the Guardian newspaper's online edition.  The article, by Sarah Hartley, features the role which online communities play in the wider democratic process, singling out W14London for particular praise.  Most of us - and many residents of Sands End - are members of W14London and enjoy keeping in touch with local issues through its pages.

Our thanks go to the Guardian for mentioning our campaign and to Annette Albert, co-ordinator of W14London, for bringing us to their attention.

The Guardian (Joe Public Blog) 1 December 2010

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Action Group Response Document

On 10 November, the Sands End Community Centre Action Group (SECCAG) delivered its Response to the Council's Consultation Document (Consultation 12.10.10).  Both (PDF) documents are hosted on MediaFire.Com and are available for download here:

1.  Council's Document
LBH&F Document (Consultation 12.10.10)

2.  The Action Group's Response Document
SECCAG Response Document 

Both documents should be read side by side, as the numbered sections in the Response Document refer precisely to the corresponding numbered sections in the LBH&F document.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Support from The Fulham Society

While we're on the subject of important documents, this one may be of special interest.  We have received much welcome support from The Fulham Society, who describes itself thus:

"The aim of the Society is to keep Fulham as an agreeable place in which to live and work for all present and future residents and to improve its amenities. The Society is non-political, a registered charity and affiliated to the Civic Trust.  To promote Fulham's future, the Society monitors all large-scale development proposals and, where necessary, campaigns for alteration. The Council Planning Department consults with the Society on matters relating to buildings, open spaces and the river frontage."

You can read more about the Society here:

In September 2010, The Fulham Society published a document which contained its own assessment of the value of Sands End Community Centre and presented its own arguments for maintaining it.  We have quoted the Society many times in our own Response, both directly and indirectly, but feel that its views should be made available more widely.  The Society's comments appear below.  

SECCAG and all the people of Sands End wish to thank the Fulham Society for its invaluable and continuing support. 

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Full Council - 27 October: SECCAG Report

On Wednesday 27 October, the Action Group and dozens of supporters attended a meeting of the Full Council, at Fulham Town Hall (yet another piece of our heritage which is scheduled for demolition).

Much of what went on that evening has been written about in greater detail elsewhere (links below) however the main points now follow.

The main business of the evening, as far as the Action Group was concerned, was to present to the Council a Petition against the closure of the Sands End Centre.  This petition, bearing almost 7,000 signatures, represented over 80% of voters in Sands End Ward.


Proceedings began with a speech delivered by the Action Group, detailing the many reasons why the Centre should be not merely retained but reinvigorated and made to work harder in order to serve the community better.  The main thrust of the speech was just this: that we all know savings must be made in these difficult financial times but merely selling the Centre would be "doing the easy thing" before exploring any other options.  Alongside all the many other arguments for retaining the Centre, The Action Group stressed that it wished to work with the Council to discover ways in which the Centre could become virtually self-sufficient and could be run without cost to the taxpayer.


After the main speech, the Action Group put three further questions to the Council, each answered by Cllr Greg Smith, who chose to respond to each in a similar vein: namely that, as the consultation was still ongoing, he was unable to give specific answers to our questions.  It need hardly be said - but we will anyway: this was pure evasion, as none of the questions that were asked required answers which may or may not have been provided by the outcome of any consultation.


Council Rules dictate that a petition bearing over 5,000 signatures should "trigger a debate" in the Council Chamber and, in some sense, that is what we got.  But it was all a bit one-sided.  The Labour members, to their enormous credit, spoke passionately, intelligently and warmly about the value of the Centre to the community; about the importance of the Library and the many, many smaller yet vital services and amenities which the Centre offers - the Sure Start complex, the Family Assist programme, the Crèche, Adult Education and so on.  

This Petition is probably the largest ever collected in this Borough.  Certainly, no Officer Of The Council could remember one of such magnitude.   The Labour members recognised the importance of it and responded with great dignity.

By complete contrast, the Conservative councillors remained silent.  No Conservative councillor rose to speak.  Not one Conservative councillor could be bothered to get to their feet and say a few words to any of the 7,000 residents who had signed that Petition.  Perhaps they failed to grasp the importance of the situation.  Perhaps they were tired - who knows.  The fact remains that not one of them spoke in that "debate".

When the talking was over, the matter was put to the vote.  Out of the five possible motions, two were chosen for the vote and they were these:

A - For the Council to act on the wishes of the Petitioners and to abandon its plans to sell the Centre.
C - For the Council to undertake further research on the matter.

Needless to say, the vote went precisely according to Party lines - all the Conservatives voting for 'C' and all the Labour Councillors voting for 'A'.  Other than the Mayor (who is obliged under these circumstances) there were no abstentions.  No abstentions.  None.

Let's make this abundantly clear:  our three Ward Councillors, Messrs Karmel (née Law), de Lisle and Hamilton all voted against the Petition - against 80% of the residents in their Ward.  Whether or not there was a "whip' on this vote, it seems to us that they could have easily - and at the very least - abstained, thus demonstrating a small amount of dignity.

We put this question to an experienced Council source, who explained the situation as follows:

"Of course they could have abstained or even voted to support you. 
It's a political judgement every elected representative has to make in that
do they follow what their leadership orders (no matter how ridiculous) and
risk not being promoted or even re-selected as a candidate or do they do
what their constituents tell them or act against their constituents'
interests - and risk not being elected. The real judgement (for me anyway)
in these matters is to do what you think is right.
So to be fair to them they may agree that's it important to close the Sands
End Community Centre. The question for you and all their other constituents
is what did they do to reach that conclusion? Do you feel your three
councillors have make sufficient effort to engage with you, hear your case,
ask questions of their leadership and tell you were they stand before they

To answer the questions in that last paragraph, the answer is a resounding "no".  Moreover, to say that the dozens and dozens of people who had filled the Public Gallery were disappointed would be an understatement.  They were disgusted.  

But what makes our councillors' betrayal (and the Administration's complete disregard for the democratic process) even worse is this: the Conservatives know they can win any vote in the Council chamber, as they have an overwhelming 2-1 majority.  Even without the votes of the three Ward councillors, the Conservatives would have won this vote comfortably.  The Leader of the Council, Stephen Greenhalgh, should have said to them, "I think you should abstain - it will look good in the eyes of your constituents."  Maybe he did - and they still voted against the Petition.  We will never know.  What we do know, however, and will never forget, is that our three councillors were offered a chance to do something good - to do the right thing - and each of them failed.

But then, on 27 October, the Conservative Council failed all the residents of Sands End.

Read the Action Group Speech here

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Letter to The Right Hon Eric Pickles, Secretary Of State for Communities And Local Government

This is an important letter, sent by the Action Group on 20 October 2010, as it outlines, in very few words, the case for saving the Centre from closure.


Dear Secretary Of State

In the summer our Council, Hammersmith and Fulham, decided to consult with the public on their proposal to sell a number of buildings in the Borough.  The ‘first wave’ of these ‘disposals’ comprises nine buildings.  One of these is a community centre, situated in Broughton Road, London SW6.  This building had, only a few years ago, undergone complete refurbishment, at a cost to the ratepayer of some £2 million.

This Community Centre, situated as it is in the most remote part of the Borough, miles away from the main conurbations of Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush, has been a lifeline to many people for two generations.  It houses a Library, a well-equipped gym, two dance studios, a Sure-Start children’s complex, an internationally renowned pottery, stained-glass and jewellery making studios and countless other, smaller, rooms which are used for adult education classes and as offices.

The Council speaks of relocating services to other buildings, whilst ignoring the much greater benefits of having so many services under one roof.  People of all backgrounds and all ‘classes’ gather under this enormous roof, bringing a good deal of social cohesion.  It is a place of  learning, a sports facility and an area of refuge for the elderly and the very young. 

The Council claims it needs to sell the building in order to reduce its debts.  This may be true but merely selling it is, to use the Prime Minister’s phrase, “doing the easy thing”.  The Centre has been run down for years, possibly - even probably - as a pretext for selling it off.  It has been poorly and unimaginatively managed.  Gym equipment has not been properly maintained.  Potential users of its office space have been turned away.  The Centre has not been advertised properly.

Our action group, which we formed in order to fight the closure of the Centre, is trying to point out to the Council that merely selling this building is short-term thinking and that the Centre could, if re-invigorated and properly managed, bring untold benefits to the community in the longer term.

In your speech to Conference just a short while ago you reminded us all that “slash and burn is pointless and wrong” and yet this is precisely what our Council is proposing to do.  You also said that “it is time to put communities back in charge”.

We are putting forward far-reaching and imaginative ideas to the Council; to demonstrate to them the folly and short-termism of “slash and burn” whilst highlighting all the untold benefits of putting this, our community, “back in charge”.

What we are are proposing to do here is nothing short of building a model - a flagship - for the Prime Minister’s Big Society; and all of this right in his “favourite Borough”.

The Action Group would be delighted - and very grateful - if you could help us in our struggle to save this, our much loved Community Centre.

Yours sincerely


Friday, 8 October 2010

Protest Meeting Outside The Centre

On 8 October, around 300 residents of Sands End, accompanied by the children of Langford Primary School and the Silk Street Band, gathered outside the Centre to protest against the Council's plans. Originally we had envisaged this as an action against the proposed closure of the Community Centre - but we soon realised that other groups should be involved, each fearing for the future of their own piece of the community.  We all felt that this Ward was somehow being singled out and picked on. Thus it became the "Save Sands End" protest.  Represented were groups defending the Centre, the Playhouse, the Adventure Project and Clancarty Lodge: each in imminent danger of becoming the victims of "slash and burn".

The children walked to the Centre, accompanied by the band, and all were gathered outside the Centre by 11.00 am.  The children then gave us all a beautiful rendition of "Sands End Centre's Falling Down" - which got an enormous cheer  - before the more important stuff got under way.

First up was an impassioned speech from the Action Group, presenting the argument against closing the Centre.  Those arguments are detailed all over this blog (see specifically our Response to the Council's consultation document in the 16 November entry and 'Important Links' tab above). However, if you would like to read the speech in full, you can:

Read the Action Group speech here

The microphone then passed to our MP, Mr Greg Hands.  Regrettably, Mr Hands did not show much support for keeping the Centre, merely echoing the Council's rather tired mantra of "services before bricks and mortar" whilst failing to understand, as does the Council, that it is these very bricks and mortar which house all the many and varied services which the community needs.  However Mr Hands did say that he would raise the matter with the Council.  He was then presented with the Petition.

At this point the Labour leader on the Council, Stephen Cowan, said a few encouraging words.  He reminded us that campaigns conducted with this level of vigour and dedication often bring results.

There then followed the ceremonial attaching of a new letter H, missing for so long from the front of the Centre.  This simple omission has been emblematic of the way the building has been regarded by the Council - for a few pennies this letter could have been replaced years ago.

After a few more words from the Action Group, the gathering dispersed.  Mr Hands then held a meeting with representatives of the Playhouse before being taken on a tour of the Centre.  Although it was obvious that he had never set foot in the building, we are sure that he was amazed by its size and the variety of different spaces which the Centre offers.  We believe he was particularly struck by the Sure Start complex occupying, as it does, most of the first floor.  How the Council thinks the entire Sure Start programme can be relocated to a space as small as the Playhouse is, once again, testament to its lack of research - the Playhouse is just not big enough and neither does it have enough separate rooms.

On 8 October the residents of Sands End gathered in their hundreds to demonstrate to the powers-that-be their opposition to the closure of their Community Centre.  They had organised a good-natured protest and taken time off work (and school) in order to be there.

Despite them being invited, not a single Conservative councillor bothered to show up.


The Fulham Society commented on the day as follows:

The Fulham Society News Letter, Number 83, October 2010

On Friday 8 October about 200 well-wishers gathered in Broughton Road to demonstrate, in a polite friendly manner, their support for The Sands End Community Centre.  The Police kindly kept the road free of cars while pupils from the nearby Langford Primary School sang their song and three bowler-hatted brass instrumentalists played stirring music.  The speakers included Councillor Stephen Cowan, Labour Leader on the Borough Council, and Mr Greg Hands, the local Member of Parliament.  The latter emphasized that the decision on the Centre's future rested with the Council, but that he, personally, hoped it would continue.  Everyone agreed that Local Government cuts were necessary but thought the Community Centre was too important, for the area, to be allowed to close.  It was announced that the Consultation Period had been extended until 10 November.


You can read the Fulham Chronicle article on the protest here:

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Meeting with Greg Smith

After starting up the Action Group, one of the first things we did was to set up a meeting with councillors in order to voice our opposition to the sale.  At this meeting, we presented them with a dossier which outlined, in detail, our case for keeping the Centre open.  We agreed with Cllr Smith that the Centre was run down and underused but put the blame for this fairly and squarely on the Council's shoulders by demonstrating to them that this was entirely their fault: the Centre has been poorly advertised and, to a large extent, mismanaged for years.  For instance:

•  Potential letting business has been turned away.
•  Gym equipment has not been repaired.
•  The Library is under-stocked.
•  Adult Education does not offer enough courses or enough variety.

The Action Group presented Cllr Smith, Cllr Steve Hamilton and officers of the Council (including Gill Sewell and Sue Harris) with a dossier outlining the case for keeping the Centre.  This dossier contained dozens of letters of support from, amongst others, teachers at the Centre, the Police and a child psychologist.  Since then, of course, we have received hundreds more letters.  As we received these, often by email, we forwarded them on to the Council. No letter, no comment and no email was wasted. We thoroughly appreciate them all.

At the meeting Greg Smith, of course, merely stated the case for closing the Centre and all this on purely financial grounds.  At no time did he even vaguely concede that there may be any other option to a straight sale and thus it was apparent, from the outset, that the Council had made up its mind.

Disappointingly, our Ward Councillor, Steve Hamilton, agreed with him on every point... but more of our Ward Councillors later.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Petition

The very first action which anybody took to try to save the Centre from closure was by a local pensioner, May Patterson, who began a petition. May spent many hours gathering signatures - knocking on people's doors, going into shops and standing outside Sainsbury's - and eventually this Petition would grow to be, as far as anyone can tell, the largest in the Borough's history. When it was eventually presented, at a meeting of the Full Council on 27 October (see later entry) it numbered 6,900 signatures. This number, combined with the 254 signatures on, gave us a total of over 7,000 signatures. No-one can remember anything like it. But what do these numbers mean?

Politicians don't think much of petitions on the grounds that "people will sign just about anything that's put in front of them". That may be true, so let's take a moment to examine what this number may really amount to, bearing in mind two things: the number of voters in Sands End Ward is about 8,500 - and all the signatures on our petition were gathered within the Ward.

• Let's knock off 10% for people who signed twice (we did notice a few of these)
= 700
• Let's knock off (a generous) 15% for people who signed but who live outside the Ward
= 1050
• Ok - let's knock off another 10% for those who really will sign just about anything that's put in front of them
= 700

Amended Petition Total = 4,550

That is still over 50% of voters in Sands End Ward - real voters who really don't want the Centre to close.

But the truly amazing things we learned whilst gathering these signatures were these:

• Signatories came from all walks of life. Rich people, poor people, people of all races and colour and creed, able-bodied people and the disabled, from the very young to the very old. The issue crossed all those boundaries.

• Signatories came from all political affiliations. We had as many dyed-in-the-wool Tories as right-on Lefties sign - in fact, many more Conservative voters than not. Well, think about it: this is now an established, and safe, Conservative seat. The Electoral Roll alone will tell you that, statistically, more Tories than Labour people would sign. We never bussed in people from Islington - this petition was gathered fair and square in the streets, in the shops and outside the homes of this (Conservative) Ward.

• Many people had never even heard of the Centre.

• Those who do not themselves use the Centre, for whatever reason, nevertheless wish it to be there and to thrive for those who do.

• Many, many people told us that they would rather pay more Council Tax than see amenities like the Centre close.

Overall, the Petition had one very important effect. It allowed us to talk to and question the people of Sands End. We had a dialogue with them... which is more than the Council ever did.