Thursday, 17 June 2021

Planting communities

There has been much publicity recently about people growing their own food. A BBC Countryfile program featured planting communities, looking at the different ways food is being produced across the country. Some 4% of food in Britain comes from allotments and gardens. It cuts food miles, packaging, as well as contributing hugely to people’s mental health. Growing your own really is a win win all round. There is the produce itself, which tastes great but also the whole process of nurturing of the plants right up to the final harvest. For many having an allotment or being part of a community garden provides real value. There is the work in developing the plot, growing the crops and improving the soil. Many people put up their own sheds and green houses. They have water butts and raised beds. The whole thing becomes a circular process. Allotment holders and gardeners improve the biodiversity around them. Many allotments have ponds and wild areas. Then there are the people that you meet at the allotment. A whole community, with a shared interest in growing their own. Allotments and gardens have played a huge role in keeping people sane over the difficult months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Redbridge has a fantastic network of allotments running right across the borough – there is heavy demand, with most having waiting lists. I have had an allotment at Redbridge Lane West for the past 10 years. It has been a fantastic place to be – with good and bad years regarding the harvest. One year going back and forth with bags and bags of runner beans, another year the rust disease will hit and nothing grows. There has been some consternation recently amongst the 40 plot holders at the meadow site in Redbridge Lane West, caused by the plans of gas company Cadent to use the site in order to do work on the neighbouring gas works. Cadent have said they want to use the site for two years, meaning allotment holders would have to move off elsewhere. Not surprisingly, plot holders have been upset, facing the possibility of loss of their treasured plots – even, if later restored. Cadent, Redbridge Council and plot holders are in discussions at present, so hopefully, a resolution can be found that is agreeable to all involved. There are many other exciting possibilities developing across the borough, like Transition Ilford’s Forest Garden and the Growing Communities project at the Walled Garden in Ray Park. We need our growing spaces. Ideally, the spaces for growing our own vegetables will increase as part of local efforts to improve biodiversity, counter climate change and save the planet. Not forgetting, ofcourse, the contribution that such activities make to everyones mental and physical health.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Time to call out football racists

A friend was recently excited to get a ticket for the final game of West Ham’s season at the London Stadium. A rare event in these Covid times. He recalled how his young son said before the game started, how he hoped the crowd did not boo, when the players took the knee. Sadly, there was some booing. This trend has seemingly returned, as the fans have come back into stadiums. Some of the small attendances – 10,000 in the West Ham case – seem to believe they have to register their protest. Or put another way maybe they are just racists. The same thing has happened with the England games. TV pundit and former player Gary Lineker put it well when he said: “If you boo @England players for taking the knee, you’re part of the reason why players are taking the knee.” The response of this small minority of fans to this act of solidarity really is quite abhorrent. Fans come back into the stadiums, so does the racism – discuss? The taking of the knee was a football response to the Black Lives Matter movement that grew incredibly across the world following the terrible murder last year of George Floyd in America. Black footballers have for many years suffered terrible racist abuse, going back to the chanting and throwing of banana skins onto the field during the 1970s and 80s. The Black pioneers like West Ham’s Clyde Best, West Brom’s Cyril Regis, Brendan Batson and Laurie Cunningham had to deal with this abuse week in week out. Best had to be given police protection at one point due to a death threat. Things have improved over recent years but not as much as some like to think. The racist abuse, particularly online, against Black players like Marcus Rashford and Raheem Stirling has been horrendous. The dignified response of the Rashford and Stirling, among many others, should be applauded. Everyone needs to come together in society to drive out this vile racism. The taking of the knee is a dignified gesture of solidarity against racism. That racism needs to be called out, wherever it occurs. Fortunately, at football games, the majority of fans have reacted, by clapping to drown out the boos. The clubs have taken action to drive out racism. But there is a duty on all of us to call out racism wherever it is happening – in the football grounds, at work and on the streets. Virtue signalling simply will not do, it is not and never has been enough. This most recent example of racism at football matches is upsetting but also highlights how much needs to be done to build a truly inclusive society.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Cut the rubbish

The level of rubbish and plastic being created does not seem to be in anyway decreasing at the present time. Locally, as the lockdown restrictions eased more people came out into our open spaces to socialise. Unfortunately, too many brought rubbish with them that they then left deposited behind. Some of the things that people just dump are incredible. On one of our monthly litter picks there was a full set of china plates and cups left in the middle of George Green. The masks that have become essential wear over the period of the pandemic are liberally dumped on the ground, for others to pick up. What is it that makes people believe that they are so entitled that simply putting rubbish in the bin or taking it home is below them? No , dump it on the ground for someone else to pick up. At one point, Redbridge Council were taking more litter off Christchurch Green than Valentines Park. Note, the full time worker deployed simply to clear up after those who cannot deal with their own rubbish. Plastic is another particular problem. The planet is simply getting clogged up with plastic, being used and discarded on land and in the sea. There are efforts to cut single use plastic, as well as find alternatives but progress is slow. One initiative we can all take part in is Plastic Free July (, which seeks to cut single use for that month. What is really needed to address the problems of litter and plastic (often one in the same) is to stop creating the stuff in the first place. Recycling is very good and should be encouraged but a step further is to not create the rubbish in the first place. The Cleaner Greener Wanstead initiative sought to address the joint problems of plastic waste and litter. An early initiative was to try to get shops in Wanstead High Street to not use single plastic. One Saturday, as part of a nationwide project, activists took the plastic back to a number of supermarkets, including the Co-op, Tesco and M&S. The stores listened attentively and promised to take the argument on board – some progress is being made at a national level but what about here? There is still a lot of single use plastic in Wanstead High Street- the thousands of plastic lids on take away coffee cups spring to mind. These have been difficult times with the pandemic darkening everyones lives over the past 14 months. Some of the initiatives begun pre-pandemic have stalled due to the crisis but now is time to redouble our efforts. We need to take real action to cut the amount of waste being created and when that is not possible, deal responsibly with the residue. There is only one planet and we all have a responsibility to look after it.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Coming together for the common good of all

The weather patterns recently have been odd for the time of year. The seasons seem to be slightly behind where things would normally be in May. This struck home when an organic grower recently posted two pictures of broad bean plants. One was this year in flower, the other, at the same time last year, with pods on. The pictures nicely illustrated how things are about three to four weeks behind where they usually are at this time of year. The effects of the delay can also be seen in the trees, now bursting forth with leaf, though slightly late. There have been long periods without rain, then a period of deluge. It has been very unseasonly cold at night. Resilient stalwarts have been refusing to put on the heating in May, which has meant piling on the jumpers at night. The climate is changing. The gardeners and wildlife observers will be well aware of the change, seeing it at first hand. I recently visited Rye Harbour nature reserve in Sussex. Again, the reserve was more reminiscent of April than May, with birds like the bitterns booming in the reeds, as part of their mating ritual. The long dry spell had held back some of the birds. All around us things in nature are changing due to fluctuations in climate. What all these things show is how inter-related and dependent we all are on each other. It is no good putting ones head in the sand and pretending nothing is happening. Unfortunately, this does seem to be the attitude of many humans to climate change and biodiversity loss. Whilst many people have recognised what is happening, believe the science and are acting to bring about change. Others seem in complete denial, rather than read the signs of the times, they prefer to carry on exactly as before - polluting the atmosphere, consuming to excess and dumping their waste everywhere. What will it take to wake some people up and make them realise we a have to change - have some respect for each other and the planet on which we all depend. Everything is inter-telated, we are literally all in it together. And as such we all need to come together for the common good of all.

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Exciting happenings in Wanstead Park and on the Flats

Wanstead Park and Flats must have contributed much to the sanity of people over the period of the pandemic. Over the dark days of lockdowns, a walk in the park or across the Flats, as part of daily exercise offereed a welcome respite. Many people seem to have discovered the area for the first time over this period. Local people are particularly protective of their open space and rightly so. The recent fantastic display of bluebells, in Chalet Wood, drew people in from far and wide. Not that many years ago the bluebells were a fairly well kept secret but with the arrival of social media, the good news has been spread far and wide. People have come from all over to see the flowers, most stick to the paths and respect the area, a few seem to think the rules are for others. Another recent success has been the fencing off of a small area of the Flats to help protect the nesting skylarks. The population has been dwindling over recent years, so it is hoped this extra protection will help the birds prosper in future. And there is more to come with the Long Horn cattle returning to the park in August. Three Long Horns crazed in the park for a couple of months last summer, proving hugely popular with the public. Their return is eagerly awaited. Another development resulting from the pandemic has been the wild flower field planted on the Flats, near the City of London cemetery, where the temporary morgue stood, early last year. A fitting natural memorial to that grim period. The Corporation of London have plans for future developments. There is an ongoing consultation on cycling in the park. The three options being to stay as things are, ban cycling all together or allow cycling throughout the park. I'd favour the third option but would like to see some restoration of paths, so that cyclists and pedestrians can co-exist without tearing up the terrain, something that has happened due to the heavier footfall, over wet periods in recent months. There are other outstanding issues in need of attention such as the the lakes in the park and some of the entry points. It would also be good to see the rewilding efforts continue, with suggestions like more wild flower areas around the brick pit area (adjacent to Aldersbrook Road between Blakehall and Park Roads) acted upon. There is much happening and lots to be done but this is also a time to give thanks for our fantastic open spaces in Wanstead and to those who have maintained them and by extension us over these recent difficult times.

Friday, 14 May 2021

Time to reset the clock on climate crisis

It is a sobering thought that the dip in carbon dioxide emissions over the last 12 months, falling up to 17% due to the pandemic, meant the world was back to 2006 levels for the year. The same year incidentally that Sir Nicholas Stern's prophetic report for the UK government advised that if we acted then crisis could be averted and to delay would cost more. Sir Nicholas's words were largely ignored, as humanity continued consuming more and dashing like lemmings toward the cliff edge. Humanity continues to consume more, choking up the very planet we depend upon for life. The avalanche of plastic, both in land and across oceans offers a very good example of this process in action. The political class have begun to stir, resulting in the Paris agreement in 2015. But as Greta Thurnberg points out, they have then failed to deliver on those promises. At local level there have been climate emergencies declared but time is running out. Covid has shown what a crisis really looks like and the mobilisation needed to counter it, The government has moved to invest in the development of green infrastructure but is it too little too late? Following the 2008 financial crisis there were radical measures taken to kick start the economy. Among these were the feed in tariff scheme to encourage people to put solar panels on their roofs. There was a big take up. Polluting cars were taken off the roads in their thousands. Then though came the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. Conservative leader David Cameron made much of his green credentials, being pictured famously with huskies in Greenland but the empty promises were exposed once he got in office, later being quoted as calling for “the ditching of the green crap.” The feed in tariff and other progressive moves have been phased out by a series of Conservative governments. The green economy is where the jobs, as well as the future of the planet reside. Wanstead Climate Action recently highlighted how green jobs could help replace job lost over the period of the pandemic. Thousands of jobs can be created in this sector in Redbridge and beyond across East London. The Green New Deal UK has estimated that 1.2 million green jobs could be created across the UK over the next two years at a cost of £68 billion. The opportunity is there to create good jobs as part of a move into the growing sector of sustainable living. The climate crisis is on us. The Covid pandemic offers an opportunity to take stock and reset the clock. Part of that process must involve fundamentally changing the way in which we live. This means making real change in the way we live and work, failure to so means lurching ever closer to that precipice.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Rich history of Wanstead

The history of Wanstead and the surrounding area makes for a fascinating study. There was Wanstead House that used to stand in the grounds of the park and golf course with its rich history. The final episode being well chronicled in Geraldine Robert’s excellent book, the Angel and the Cad, which tells the story of William Wellesley-Pole and Catherine Tylney Long. The frittering away of the estate, which stood comparison to Blenheim Palace, to the point where it was physically sold off piece by piece. Prior to that, the previous Wanstead House had been the playground of Tudor and Stuart monarchs and courtiers. The house was variously owned by the infamous Richard Rich and later Queen Elizabeth’s favourite Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley. The latter is believed to have married his second wife Lettice Knollys at the house, resulting in his being exiled from court by a scorned and angry Elizabeth. A new study titled Wanstead House: East London’s Lost Palace by Hannah Armstrong comes out next year . Beyond the house, though, here is so much else that has gone on in the area. A lot of Wanstead, as it appears today, came about in the early part of the 20th century. Up until that time it seems to have been mainly made up of farms and forest – a very rural setting. The building of the likes of the Eastern Avenue and arrival of the railway seems to have led to much of the developments. Previously, the landscape was punctuated by large houses, such as the Lake House, which stood where the Belgrave Heights block of flats now stands. On the site of Wanstead Station, there used to be another large house occupied by William Penn, after whom Pennsylvania was later named. Another striking house, was the former the agent’s residence for the Wanstead House Estate, pictured in 1912, with the hunt outside. It was demolished in 1932. In his recent talk on Wanstead history, Chris O’Donnell told the story of the three Nutter sisters – Gertrude, Jessie and Mary, who gave the field at Nutter Lane to the people of Wanstead. It was in their honour that the road was renamed Nutter Lane, it previously having been known as George Lane. Chris also told of the fascinating history of St Marys Church, with links to slave owners and those who fought for abolition, both commemorated in the grounds. It is also a sobering thought that Wanstead House was no doubt financed by income derived from the East India Company, which was linked to the slave trade. Then there is the United Reformed Church at the top of Nightingale and Grosvenor Roads, moved brick by brick from St Pancras and rebuilt here. Another more recent nugget of history concerned the battle post war to stop West Ham Council compulsorily purchasing 163 acres of Wanstead Flats to build a housing estate linking West Ham and Wanstead. A mobilisation, involving the War Damage Organisation in Aldersbrook, together with people from East Ham and West Ham stopped this happening. There is so much history in Wanstead and the surrounding area