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 iPetitions.com, 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)
• Let's knock off (a generous) 15% for people who signed but who live outside the Ward
• Ok - let's knock off another 10% for those who really will sign just about anything that's put in front of them
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 teenagers to grandparents. The issue crossed all 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.