Monday, 1 August 2011

One Year On

This blog has had thousands of page views and we know many of you, both private individuals and those in both Local and National Government are following the story closely; so, first of all, apologies for the lack of updates.  However, although the blog has been quiet, much has been going on in the background.  

July marks the anniversary of the formation of the Save Sands End Community Centre Action Group – the start of the campaign and demonstrations – and the gathering of over 7000 signatures. But the voice of the Sands End Residents was ignored by Hammersmith and Fulham Council, who decided that the Community Centre was not viable and the building is now included as part of its asset sell-off.

What a difference a year makes!  Sands End Residents right across the board - young and old, rich and poor, Labour voters and Conservative voters - rallied to the cause and all the spirit and energy of the local community has generated an astonishing grassroots solidarity.  All of this has demonstrated that the voters of Sands End, although losing the fight to save their Centre in its entirety, are nevertheless as determined as ever to maintain the site for the good of us all.

This anniversary is marked by the birth of a new group - the Sands End Community Centre Association (SECCA) who have formed a partnership with a local businessman (and former Sands End resident) to buy the building and convert the rear part of the structure as a new Community Centre, serving the needs of the residents.  Now actively supported by their local Ward councillors, SECCA has put forward plans (see below) for the rejuvenation of the Community Centre. It is an exciting, imaginative formula and a win-win situation for all:  the Council will expand its coffers, the developer will make a decent profit and the People Of Sands End will retain those services most valued by the community.  This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime chance, offering everyone the opportunity to make a significant and long-lasting contribution to the whole community.  More than that, it is a chance to do something great; something truly good and noble.  It offers us all the opportunity to show that communities and local government can work together, in partnership, for the benefit of everyone. These chances don't come along very often.

We now await the decision of Hammersmith & Fulham Council: a decision in favour of SECCA’s proposal for a self-funding venture to maintain these essential services at the very heart of our community.


Thursday, 14 April 2011

Thoughts On The Library

We are surprised to see Sands End still listed, on the LBHF site, among the Borough's libraries.  This is obviously an oversight on the part of the Council so, before they wake up - and remove it - we thought it would be a good idea to take a snapshot.  For old time's sake.

Just in case anyone needs reminding, these are the services currently on offer:

All this is about to go.

Of course many of the Library's services do not appear on that list; so let's add a few.

•  A refuge for the weak, the elderly and infirm.
•  Daily newspapers for those who cannot afford them.
•  A quiet space for intelligent children anxious to catch up on their homework.
•  Access to the internet for those who do not have a computer at home.

This Library may well be, as the Council idiotically points out, "The least popular in the Borough".  However it is definitely the most popular library in Sands End.  When it goes, the nearest place of refuge for the weak, the elderly and infirm; the nearest place where newspapers will be available for those who cannot afford them; the nearest place where intelligent children can catch up on their homework and where the internet can be accessed by those without computers will be... well, nobody knows.

Selling the Sands End Centre - and with it the Library -  is not "Putting Resident First".  These recent Council decisions are the product of selfish, power-crazed autocrats whose motto is, "Putting My Career First".  We stupidly voted them in but will surely, absolutely and at the very first opportunity vote them out.  They think we won't remember what they have done when it comes round again to the ballot box - but they have miscalculated even this.  If this blog serves no other purpose it will at least keep reminding us of the travesty they have bestowed upon the ordinary residents: the People they were elected to serve.  

Their arrogant misuse of power will never be forgiven and will certainly never be forgotten.


Saturday, 19 February 2011

DECISION - Cabinet, 7 February 2011

It was the result we all expected.

On Monday evening, 7 February, representatives of the Community Centre Action Group, along with their many supporters plus hundreds of others, representing various doomed buildings throughout the Borough, gathered to witness the rubber-stamping of a decision made long ago - a decision made long before any so-called consultations - a decision that flies in the face and strikes at the very heart of the Prime Minister's cherished idea of Big Society.

Let's be sure of one thing - these recent consultations have been a sham and did no more than provide a thin veneer of legality over decisions already taken.  

And what of Democracy?

Let's examine the evidence: 75% of respondents to the Sands End Consultation (the Council's own figures) wanted the Centre to remain open.  7,000 people - in a Ward of 9,000 - signed a petition urging the Council to keep the Centre open.  If this was an election, the result would have been a landslide.  Yet, in spite of that, the Council is still going ahead and selling the building.

Let's be perfectly clear: this Council couldn't care less what you think.  Worse still, it cares nothing for the principles of Democracy.

On that Monday evening in the Assembly Hall, which was packed to the rafters, we, alongside our friends from the Irish Centre, Pailingswick House, the Shepherd's Bush Village Hall and others, made impassioned speeches before the Council Cabinet in a last-ditch attempt to make our case.  Cabinet members then went through the shoddy and senseless process of "asking us questions" all to give the impression that they were "listening" or to try to catch us out and to somehow justify themselves.  Yet we knew that the decision had been already taken - so what was the point?  For any of you who may be new to this, this is how it works: before such a meeting, the Cabinet gathers to make the official decision.  Whatever happens in public is purely for show.  Apologies if that came as a shock.  All of you good people who turned up at Town Hall, who waved your banners, who chanted your chants and sang your songs, who spoke passionately, intelligently and movingly to local radio stations, BBC London News, ITV London Tonight and the Newsnight programme: you may just as well have stayed at home.  The decision had been already taken long ago.

A few moments from that night stand out.  Firstly, the fierce Labour opposition.  The Action Group has no political stance (we're more-or-less evenly divided between traditionally Conservative and traditionally Labour voters) but we were struck by their passion and real effort to make the Tory Council engage with us.  Throughout this process they have been staunch in their support; not merely because it is their job to provide an effective opposition, nor because they are always looking to "give the other side a kicking" whenever possible. Much more than that, they have consistently provided us with insights into the process of local government and have supported our efforts to safeguard our communities against the ravages of this administration.  All in all, they have engaged with us to precisely the same extent as the Tory Councillors have not.

Secondly, Councillor Greenhalgh reiterated that the building would not close until all services currently run from the Centre had been reprovided elsewhere within the Ward.  Now, not even two weeks on, the "decanting" (their word) of Sands End Centre services has begun.  The first of the services will be closed at the end of April - the gym.  No more affordable rates for Sands End Centre members - just the suggestion to grab what you can at a here-today-gone-tomorrow private gym the other side of Sands End.  Never mind the pensioners, the vulnerable, the disabled and poor or the kids and young parents.  They are not provided for - they can look after themselves.  "Putting Residents First"?  You decide.

Thirdly, mention must be made of Councillor Greg Smith's contribution to Monday night's debate.  The Action Group has come up with two potential buyers for the site, should the Centre be forced to close.  One developer has already offered the Council's valuation price - the Council's own figure of £2 million - and both have offered to work with the community in order to run it on a private-public basis, whereby some of the building would be turned into residential accommodation, whilst retaining the ground floor for community use.  On hearing this, Cllr Smith quipped, "Well, if two people have already come forward, then the building must be worth more - so I suggest we raise the asking price".  He could be right - that the building may be worth more - but he's also, once again, entirely missing the point.  Here was a chance for Mr Smith to say, for the very first time in this process, "Hang on, that's a great idea.  Let's get together and see if we can make this work".  But, as on so many previous occasions, Mr Smith just failed to "get it".

That moment alone tells you everything you need to know and should alert us all as to the true nature of what we are dealing with.  This is not a Council which believes in community.  It is not a Council which believes in working with people.  This Council is not "putting residents first" - what it is putting first is its own politically motivated agenda.  If they were really interested in putting us first then surely this compromise solution of a private, local investor, prepared to work alongside the community, should at the very least have been properly considered by the Council and the decision delayed.  But no; like our business plans and so many other good suggestions, it was merely cast aside.

Until the last light goes out, the fight goes on.  The Action Group has not given up and will not stand aside.  Unlike the Council, we have never taken "the easy option".  We will continue the dialogue; to look for compromises and we will try to work with the Council, whatever their attitude to us may be.  Unlike them, our resolve is to seek a solution that is fair and that suits us all in order to save something of value from this process.

The lights are still on at the Sands End Community Centre. 

You can read the Action Group speech here (item 4 on the page)
Fulham Chronicle article
Evening Standard article


Monday, 31 January 2011

Sands End 'Walkabout' with Council Leader - 31 January 2011

This week, members of the Action Group met with councillors and officers to visit some of the alternative sites proposed by the Council for services currently operating from Sands End Centre.  

The tour started at the Playhouse in Pineapple Park which is to be the site for the new "spoke" of Children's Services in Sands End.  The future of Sure Start is currently under consultation but it is apparent that, with a massively reduced budget to provide local services to families, it will not be possible to provide the same level of care within the ward.  The provision of many of the children's and family support services from a "hub" (not yet built) at least half an hour walk away in Fulham Court, serving a much wider area, and with funds no longer ring fenced; families and young children from Sands End will be adversely affected. The Council argues that vulnerable families will be targeted and visited by 'locality teams' in their own homes but this is thought inappropriate as, it is believed, many people depend on Sands End Centre as place of refuge and comfort, sometimes escaping scenes of domestic violence or unable to cope with their home circumstances, needing counselling or urgent help with childcare, by staff they have grown to trust, at a place they know.  The Playhouse is a small purpose built play group building, ideal for its current occupants.  Its size, layout and location, away from other services, renders it unsuitable as a substitute children's centre.  Families will no longer be able to access services under-one-roof as they do now and where they currently benefit from library, sports, adult education and creche facilities where many of the children's and parent activities take place. 

Moving onto Sands End Centre, the tour passed by Langford Primary School.  The Headmistress is a strong supporter of the campaign to save the Community Centre and Library, knowing that alternative locations suggested by the Council, too far and across a busy main road, will mean that children will be starved of local facilities they currently depend on to do their homework, play, reading and learning out of school hours.  Across the other side of the road we passed by Elizabeth Barnes Court - an assisted living home for the elderly. Residents from there will miss their daily walks to Sands End Centre where they enjoy dropping in to see neighbours for a chat or to borrow books, keeping in touch with community life, rather than staying at home alone.  Walking along Furness Road we pointed out the mixture of housing, ranging from swanky flats for young professionals, to modest council and housing association flats for those in less fortunate circumstances and on low incomes.  People here in this area live in harmony, knowing that with Sands End Centre in the heart of the community, all walks of life are catered for.

Within the Centre we looked particularly at the huge Pottery which is of an exceptional standard.  It simply isn't possible to rehouse this without compromise, as has been verified by teachers and students alike.  We passed the jewellery and stained glass studio, the two fitness studios and the gym and library.  We talked about the advantages of a friendly local pay-as-you-go gym and the potential for more studio classes to be run.  The privately run Tai Chi class has a strong following and a beginners class may soon start.  The Fencing is at full capacity and a class for teenagers is much in demand.  A new kickboxing class for kids is due to begin and so too is a new course of Pilates.  It was stated that there was huge demand for an internet cafe at the Centre and there were perfectly adequate facilities for one to be easily established at low cost.  Moving out of the Centre we witnessed the Amici Dance Group and the disabled arriving for their long established weekly class - parents of one disabled boy wrote recently to express their sadness and dismay at the Centre's closure.

On the walk from the Centre to Hurlingham & Chelsea School we pointed out more social housing scattered along streets of mostly privately owned homes and the nearby Pearscroft Council Estate whose occupants rely on low cost local facilities at Sands End Centre.  Across the busy Wandsworth Bridge Road we entered the side streets of a much more affluent area and eventually we arrived at the secondary school.  We were shown the proposed location at the front of the school planned for development to provide a local library and, in the car park, the possible location for the Pottery.  These would be expensive new builds, paid for with Section 106 money, the Council claiming that many schools were becoming successful community hubs with shared school and community facilities.  We commented that this was the wrong side of the Wandsworth Bridge Road for such a hub and would leave those with the greater need with no facilities close by.  We thought the better solution would be to spend Section 106 money to develop Sands End Centre, already built.

We parted knowing also that Energie Fitness in the privately owned Piper Building, at the opposite end of Peterborough Road, would be the new destination for gym users.  Although there was a no-contract arrangement, there was little prospect for Lifestyle Card holders or continued cheap pay-as-you go rates.  It was also pointed out that Energie Fitness was the third company to try its luck in the Piper Building and there was no guarantee that the next company to take over gym would continue with the same terms and conditions.

The Council said the Wharf Rooms, near to Imperial Road roundabout, could be a possible alternative site - we visited this on another occasion and found it to have no natural light, built more as a conference room and isolated from other community activity.  The location on a particularly busy road and with no parking would make the location unsuitable for elderly, infirm or the very young.

The Action Group was dissatisfied that the needs of Sands End residents could be met by dispersing facilities across the ward.  The loss of the Centre would mean the end of a friendly neighbourhood resource that has a long tradition of looking after the needs of the community and ensuring social cohesion.  We have no doubt that the alternatives the Council were offering would cause damage to community life and was not the right solution, nor did it make financial long-term sense.  Instead it was felt that the Council should delay making a decision to sell the Centre and look instead at the most sensible option which would be to keep the building and work with the community to find ways to make it financially viable.  There was also the possibility of finding a compromise solution if a property developer would offer to buy the building leaving the ground floor for community use.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Meeting With The Leader Of The Council

Report on last week's meeting between the Council and the Action Group.  In attendance were 9 out of 10 members of the Action Group plus:

Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh (Leader Of The Council)
Cllr Greg Smith (Cabinet Member for Residents' Services)
Mr Andrew Christie (Director Of Children's Services)
Ms Gill Sewell (Assistant Director: Children, Youth and Communities)


Last Thursday 13 January 2011, nine members of the Save Sands End Community Centre Action Group met with the Leader of the Council. 

The catalyst for this meeting, as we understood it, had been a document we presented to the Council some two weeks previously.  This document - an income projection - shows clearly that, with a small amount of effort, the Community Centre could be run much more efficiently and could be making much more money than it does at present.  Although the Action Group cannot demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the Centre could break even, nevertheless our projection clearly demonstrates that huge savings to the taxpayer could be achieved.

But the Council didn't want to talk about that.

We were disappointed not to have had the opportunity to discuss our ideas for retaining the Centre for the community; ideas which would have embraced the Big Society ideal.  All that was cast aside. Instead we listened once again to the Council's justification for selling off buildings to pay off debt in order to "protect front line services". The report by Council Officers, which will be published on 28 January, will endorse the plan to close the Centre and on 7 February the Council Cabinet is likely to agree to put it up for sale.

Although the Council vows not to close the Centre until services are reprovided within the ward, the plan is to move what is left locally of Sure Start (after the major restructuring of children's and family support services) into the Playhouse, which will displace the current Playhouse occupants; and we expect a token library service will be provided in a school and to be run by volunteers. No premises for an affordable pay-as-you-go gym, sports hall and studios has yet been secured. Other support services and facilities will be separated, dispersed or compromised, including the unique university-standard Pottery, which they suggest could be accommodated at Hurlingham and Chelsea School (this would only be possible at enormous cost).

The Council puts no value on the argument for the interlinking of services under one roof. Nor does it have have any regard for the use of the Centre to provide wide ranging activities and support, open to all walks of life, which brings the local community together and encourages social integration and cohesion. Moreover the Council has no regard for the 7000 signature petition, the hundreds of people who turned out to protest, the dozens of objections on both their buildings and library consultations, nor the many letters of complaint they received objecting to the closure, not only from ordinary residents but also from many highly-qualified professionals.

The view of the Action Group is that a decision to close the Centre is both undemocratic and unsound, bearing in mind that the cost of setting up services elsewhere is unknown. We do not believe it makes financial sense to relocate facilities, especially to premises where expensive building modifications will have to take place in order to accommodate them. The Council has not conducted a feasibility study to assess whether the Centre could be saved if run efficiently by them; nor has it allowed us time to fully explore other possibilities for retaining the Centre for the community, which could include private investment. Instead, the Council is rushing headlong with its plan to sell, without properly considering all options, determined to get the £2m capital sum to reduce the Council's debt.

The result will be that Sands End will lose its Centre, right in the heart of the community, ideally located for all. An opportunity will be missed to build up the Centre to make it a flagship model for the Big Society. The result is that a place of learning,  support and care for the community will be gone forever.  The building's potential will only be realised by the property developers for exclusive luxury living accommodation.

The Action Group will continue with the campaign. We have let the Council know that our fight to keep the Centre is based upon the work the Action Group has done to find ways of improving its effectiveness, marketing and use by residents. We will emphasise that we would welcome the challenge of working with the Council on future plans for the Centre, if they would only be willing to consider alternatives to the Easy Option: selling the entire Centre for redevelopment.

Our next meeting with the Council is on 31 January, when the Leader of the Council has agreed to go with us to visit the proposed sites for relocation.
The Tour will begin at 5.00 pm, starting from Sands End Centre.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Council Appoints BNP Paribas

Despite the assurance by the Leader of the Council that no decision has yet been made on whether or not to dispose of Sands End Centre, everything we read leads us to believe that they want to sell up.  

Yesterday's Property Week (page 11 - see link below) reports that the Council have appointed BNP Paribas Real Estate Agents to assess other uses for Sands End Community Centre, presumably for marketing purposes.  The Council have gone ahead and found a school on the edge of the Ward willing to house a token local library facility which will be staffed by volunteers; and they are busy making plans to disperse children's services across 3 London boroughs.  It is true that by abandoning the Centre they may make savings on staff wages and building maintenance costs and these are significant: but the cost to the tax payer when staff join the dole queues and the vulnerable in our community end up in doctors' surgeries is also significant.  Sands End Library and all Community Centre services are linked together and hundreds have come out in protest several times to demonstrate against the Council's proposals to separate them and close the Centre down: this decision would be unpopular to say the least.  It is acknowledged by all that the Centre is poorly run but it has great potential as a community facility. 

BNP Paribas may put a price on it and market it however they like but, according to several property developers we have consulted, the building is a nightmare for development and is likely to be mothballed and could lay vacant, festering for years.  Instead of getting ready for sale and paying for yet more consultations and using all their energy in trying to justify the closure of our buildings, the Council should change tack and concentrate efforts on working together with the local community to find ways collectively to keep the Centre and build it up for the people of Sands End.  It isn't an easy task and neither is it the easy option.  An entrepreneurial spirit is needed as well as hard work and business brains.  We believe together we could have what it takes to save Sands End Centre - it's the effort and the will on the part of the Council which is missing.

Property Week (see page 11)