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Brockwell Park playground and building plans

Anja Stobbart reports on the renovation of the Brockwell Park playground and the broader changes taking place in the park

I’d known for ages about the work planned on the playground in Brockwell Park, but it was still a shock to turn the corner with my two children, heading for their beloved playground, only to come face to face with the earthquake like devastation.

They stood for a while looking at the places we once played.

My two year old described the scene: ‘Broken, Mummy’.

Brockwell Park dates back to 1892 as a public park, though the Brockwell Park Hall Estate was created 200 years ago in 1811.

Land Use Consultants (LUC) has been working on the rejuvenation of the Park since 2005 (with Lambeth Council and Brockwell Park MAC), originally securing £3.5million of Heritage Lottery Fund / BIG Lottery funding in 2008. Lambeth brought the total up to £5 million.

The new and improved Brockwell includes the ‘natural’ children’s playground (already completed) – better known as the sandpit and paddling pool – along with the re-building of the main playground, the restoration of the lakes and improvements to the paths, and plans for new trees and planting, new railings and gates. There will be a new centre for the Community Greenhouses and Gardens Project, plus restoration of the Walled Garden and Temple Building.

The paddling pool was the first part of Brockwell Park’s planned transformation. And, after the usual moans from some, including myself, it has proved a huge success (and no one seems to have knocked themselves out on one of the architect’s sculpted boulder[s] yet).

The paths around the park are also being dug up for new sewer runs – all of which appear to be going to plan too (and mostly finished). It looks like Brixton Water Lane will be the last one to be completed – running from the gate up to the fork of the road near the BMX track (still very much near BWL entrance at present, and a long way from the BMX track).

The end of October sees the closure of the Temple and toilets, as well as the Walled Garden. Winter is, obviously, the best time to close all these areas – but they will be missed. No secret winter garden this year.

The new playground is due for completion by the end of March 2012. Although there have been conflicting rumours, with some mums gossiping that it might be earlier, in February 2012. The various changes are all ahead of schedule at the moment – lets hope the snowy depths of winter don’t strike with such venom this year.

Paul Carter, the park manager, has been writing a regular report about the progress of the work – see here

The equipment has all gone now. But, in the age of recycling, it will be reused if it is in good condition. The ageing roundabout had probably seen it’s last spin – believe me, the sound of dragging metal had got rather grating.

I have had many conversations starting, ‘Why spend money on a new playground when it is fine as it is?!”

Well, the plans certainly look amazing. One report said the old children’s playground was poorly integrated in the park with little tree cover. The new playground and equipment has been designed to sit better within the park landscape, and provide that much needed cover – something come summer we will all appreciate.

The plans show how the playground will increase in size (reaching out to the new curved path ‘above’ the old playground area).

The toddler area will boast a platform playhouse and hut, a small platform hut and wide slide. A snake sandpit and wobble dish are bound to be popular along with the obligatory toddler swings of course.

Junior play may well tempt a few daring toddlers that way as they behold the suspension bridge, sand building site with chutes and wheel, along with a sand transport system, slide and fireman’s pole. And the list goes on.

Senior play has the big money entertainment with a large cableway – which may entice the odd embarrassing parent, along with the whirlwind roundabout. Playhouses and walkways beneath tree level, with huts, bridges, slides and ladders make the new playground sound like a true adventure for all.

Leaving to go home may become more of an issue, but there’s always the Chocolate Box round the corner for a carrot to dangle. Once in a while at least!

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Evelyn Grace Academy wins Stirling Prize for Architecture

Zaha Hadid has won the RIBA Stirling Prize for Architecture for her design of the Evelyn Grace Academy in Shakespeare Rd, Brixton. It is the first time a school has won the £20,000 award and is also the first school designed by Hadid. It beat the hot favourite, the Olympic Velodrome.

The Evelyn Grace Academy is an ARK (Absolute Return for Kids) Academy, set up by Arpad ‘Arki’ Busson, a hedge-fund millionaire. It had an especially complex brief. The average school takes up more than 8 hectares, but Hadid had only 1.4 hectares of space to play with in Brixton. Even more challenging – the Academy is structured as four small schools under the leadership of one Principal, so Hadid had to create a space where these schools could be independent but still maintain a sense of unity.

The small school structure is relatively new in the UK. Evelyn Grace has two schools for students aged 11-14 and two schools for students aged 15-19 all on one site, to provide smaller units in which pupils can be better supported. Each small school has its own headteacher, some of its own staff, and its own learning spaces.

The Academy’s specialism is sport and Zaha Hadid’s team cleverly solved the problem of space by inserting a 100m running track right up to the front door. The judges said, ‘this is a design that literally makes kids run to get into school in the morning.’

Angela Brady, RIBA President and Chair of the judges, said: “The Evelyn Grace Academy is an exceptional example of what can be achieved when we invest carefully in a well-designed new school building. The result – a highly imaginative, exciting Academy that shows the students, staff and local residents that they are valued – is what every school should and could be. The unique design, expertly inserted into an extremely tight site, celebrates the school’s sports specialism throughout its fabric, with drama and views of student participation at every contortion and turn.”

This is the second year running that Hadid has won the Stirling prize, with the Maxxi Museum of 21st Century Arts taking the top spot last year.

RIBA Stirling Prize 2011 winner – Evelyn Grace Academy, Brixton by Zaha Hadid Architects from RIBA on Vimeo.

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Tonight: Community Police Consultative Group meeting

In the light of the recent spike in shootings in Lambeth, some of you might be interested in attending the monthly meeting of the Community Police Consultative Group (CPCG) for Lambeth tonight. It’s taking place from 6pm at the Karibu Education Centre, 7 Gresham Rd.

The CPCG was set up after the 1981 Brixton Uprising and facilitates communication between the community and the police. Monthly meetings include a report from the Borough Commander and themed sessions on topics of concern, such as gun crime or stop and search.

You can find out more about the meeting and agenda here.

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The South London Line

Natalie Keeble reports on the possible closure of the South London train line, which runs between Victoria and London Bridge

Residents of Lambeth and Southwark are being urged to voice their opinions on the planned closure of a busy commuter train in a last ditch attempt to save it. The Labour Assembly member for the area sent out letters to show her ‘concern’ and to ask residents for their support. The inner ‘South London Line’ that runs between Victoria and London Bridge is set to be axed in 2012.

The current service, which runs twice an hour, allows residents to travel from Wandsworth Road or Clapham High Street to Victoria in just six minutes.

Valerie Shawcross has written to residents in the Clapham area to get a better picture of the extent to which withdrawing the line will affect them. She has asked how it will disrupt their work and leisure activities and whether they work in Victoria or the West End. This information will be compiled in order for Shawcross and her colleagues to “understand the need for services at the station, and, if necessary, press for improvements or changes.”

She has also set up an online petition for the cause, which already has 3,624 signatures, and a Facebook group with 1,507 members. Residents have been campaigning and protesting since word of the possible closure of the South London Line came about in October 2007.

The South London Line makes a U-shape, also providing a service for commuters in the north part of Lambeth and Southwark; including Denmark Hill, Peckham Rye, Queens Road Peckham and South Bermondsey.

It serves 3 of London’s major hospitals – Kings and the Maudsley at Denmark Hill and Guys at London Bridge. Shawcross is particularly interested to hear from residents who have regular hospital appointments.

Transport for London had been working with London Travelwatch to reduce the impact the closure will have on residents in Lambeth and Southwark. Findings from their initial study indicated that ‘in terms of affordability and value for money’ the most appropriate option was to address the gaps in the service by providing additional stops in long distance services at peak times. They identified the key areas needing services during peak times as Denmark Hill and Peckham Rye and those outside of peak times between Peckham Rye and Wandsworth Road. This would have acted as an appropriate part-replacement service, allowing commuters in Lambeth to travel from Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street to Victoria.

But then TfL had to announce that due to a reduction in TfL’s transport grant and the Government’s wider cuts, the £900,000 per year funding that was needed for this service could not be put towards this interim solution.

In 2008, Boris Johnson tried to persuade the Government to find the funds to extend the East London line which would have provided an alternative route. At the time Johnson said: ‘I urge you to agree to this £15.5million contribution at the earliest opportunity’, but his pleas were not successful.

Their argument now is that when the London Overground East London Line extension opens next year, passengers will be able to take the train from Clapham High Street to Peckham, Surrey Quays, Hackney and Clapham Junction. They say that ‘commuters can then travel from Clapham Junction to Victoria.’ But the direct link from Clapham to the West End will be lost.

TfL said: “We recognise that this interim proposal does not address the gaps in service at Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street stations as the trains on the Kent services are usually too long to call at these short platforms.

Unfortunately, we have been unable to find a solution which is affordable and value for money in the current financial climate.”

Southeastern, the train company that operates the current South London Line service, are in the process of carrying out their own assessment to determine if the proposed service changes could be incorporated within the current timetable and if there would be any associated costs.

If their analysis concludes that the proposal could be progressed, TfL have offered to work with them and Passenger Focus to ensure the views of passengers are considered when determining whether to take them forward in 2012. TfL have also pledged to address the situation in the longer term, by pressing for the full proposed service package to be specified in the next Southeastern franchise at the appropriate time.

With the forthcoming six-day tube strike approaching, the South London Line will be in demand more than ever. If the service is withdrawn in 2012, Clapham commuters won’t have this alternative means of transport when a tube strike next occurs. South London residents may have to ride the cycle highway instead.

Commuters from across Lambeth and Southwark have their say:

David Gordon: “As a frequent user of the 06:53 from Denmark Hill to Victoria, I’m most upset by the proposed closure. Once the train companies bring South London into the 21st century by accepting Oyster PAYG, there will be more, not fewer customers. And of course the Mayor’s cancellation of the Peckham to King’s Cross tram just makes us even more isolated. I’m fed up of being a transport Cinderella!”

Anthony Wright: “I can’t believe they are doing this. It’s mad. There aren’t enough trains as it is!”

Eva Szatmari: “What happens to those hundreds of pounds every single Londoner pays to TFL each month? Why do we have to commute in lesser conditions than animals are transported?”

Martina Van: “Why oh why, given that South London is already poorly served by the tube network, is not everything being done to enhance and increase train transport? It simply makes no sense. When we attempted to have Loughborough Junction included in development plans we were told “not enough foot fall”. I suggest they a) see the platform every morning – and the ensuing cattle carts we are forced to push onto and b) provide the trains and the people will use them! They’re so shortsighted. To regenerate an area, it is crucial to provide transport links. The area around Loughborough Junction, Herne Hill, Camberwell still has affordable housing close to central London for key workers and plenty of essential staff that don’t work in the city with the accompanying salaries. If they could have decent, reliable transport this area would be perfect for people to live in. The bus network is simply not good enough. For example – it takes 12 minutes to get from Loughborough Junction to Blackfriars by train and 40 minutes by bus.”


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The Ritzy at 100

To mark the Ritzy cinema’s 100th birthday, Kaye Wiggins went behind the scenes with general manager, Rob Belfield

It’s hard to imagine the Ritzy on its opening night in 1911. The cinema, then called the Electric Pavilion, would have been more imposing than it is today: the main auditorium, which now seats 350, had 780 seats.

But it is not known what the cinema’s first visitors would have watched. Rob Belfield, general manager of the Ritzy, says he has tried to find the name of first film shown at the cinema, but could not uncover any evidence.

“There are records to show it was opened by the mayor of Lambeth, but unfortunately they don’t say which film was on,” he says.As he shows me around the cinema – early one morning, when it’s eerily quiet – Rob paints a picture of how it would have looked 100 years ago.

“Where you’ve just come in, at the main entrance by the ticket desks, wasn’t part of the cinema,” he says. “It was the Brixton Theatre, which was bombed in the Blitz. After that it was used as a car park for the library, until 1994 when it became part of the Ritzy.

“The bit that’s now the restaurant would have been the box office, and the main auditorium would have stretched right back to where the bar is now.”

We head to the projection room above the main auditorium, a tiny room crammed with equipment. There is still an old film projector, although almost all of the films are screened from a neat digital box. “We’ve kept the film projector, but we don’t use it very often,” Rob says. “Now and again there’ll be a local filmmaker who will want to use it for a special screening.”

Below us, in the main auditorium, is a brand-new screen that can show 3D films and was installed just last month. There’s one problem with it, though. Because it is twice the size of the previous screen, it is too big to fit behind the cinema’s curtains.

“We had to stop the routine of pulling the curtains back at the start of a film,” Rob says. “There’s not much we can do about that. We still try to build anticipation in other ways, like dimming the lights.”

As we head downstairs for a closer look at the main auditorium, the history lesson continues. “The cinema nearly closed for good in the 1970s,” Rob says. “It was closed for two or three years and was becoming derelict, and the council was going to turn the whole area into a shopping centre.

“But a group of four local residents invested £10,000 in the cinema. They must have scrimped, saved and borrowed to do it, but they turned it around and it was reopened in 1974.”

Rob says the Ritzy has become more populist in recent years, showing blockbusters that it might previously have shunned. “We’ve definitely moved from arthouse to a more mainstream cinema now, because it’s what the community wants,” he says.  “When the new Harry Potter film is out and you’re not showing it, you’re not in tune with people.”

Despite the Ritzy’s local, individual, independent feel, 95 per cent of the films shown are chosen by the head office of Picturehouse, the national chain that owns the Ritzy and 18 other cinemas across the UK.

Rob insists, however, that he tries to give locals what they want, and often receives letters requesting certain films be screened. “I’ll always try to meet people’s requests,” he says.

And he is convinced that the Ritzy will not be taken over by a bigger cinema chain, or abandon the world cinema and small film screenings that set it apart. “We’ve got more than 10,000 members and they’re loyal, committed people who have strong opinions,” he says. “They’d be up in arms if the Ritzy became just like all the other cinemas.”

A tip – if you have a choice of screen, pick screen 5. It has plush new reclining seats and wine tables, but the tickets are the same price as all the others.

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Breakaway Brixton: Design your own Brixton flag

Neil Arun and Will Aspinall want to bring Brixton together – by getting people to design a Brixton flag. Today is the deadline for submissions and Brixton Blog interviews Neil Arun about the project

Documentary-makers Neil Arun and Will Aspinall together make up Breakaway Brixton. They want people to sketch designs for a Brixton flag. Why? Because they ‘believe making a flag is the best way to bring people together’ and thereby ‘make Brixton better’. The winning design will be unfurled on April 11, the thirtieth anniversary of the Brixton Riots. Aspinall and Arun are making a documentary along the way to explore concepts of identity and secession.

What’s the motivation behind Breakaway Brixton?

We’re making a documentary, so we’re coming at it as journalists. Why this subject? We’ve both lived in Brixton for a long time and like it a lot and we both have a sense it gets a bad deal. One way of rectifying that is to make Brixtonians themselves more conscious of the neighbourhood they live in. The best way to do that is to make a flag – it’s an excuse to get people talking.

There’s a broader motivation too – I’m very interested in secession movements. I’m a journalist and I’ve reported from a lot of places that have had separatist movements. I’d like to look at how that sense of identity works on a purely emotional level. What is the smallest unit of place someone can feel loyal to? It’s a very relevant question at the moment of course, if you look at what is happening in the Middle East. The idea isn’t to have tanks rolling onto the streets of Brixton, but to play with the idea of revolutionary methods and identity. It’s about having a voice and not being apathetic. If people ask me where I’m from when I’m travelling, I often say ‘’London’ and then if they know London, I say ‘Brixton’ –  I took the Brixton Pound to Iraq and of course it’s completely useless there. I couldn’t exchange it! But it had a far greater value. It made me feel like I belonged somewhere. I could show the Brixton Pound and feel for the first time a sense of pride. Regardless of how effective it is as a currency, it’s very effective as a symbol of Brixton. That was really the inspiration behind Breakaway Brixton.

How does the thirty year anniversary of the riots fit into this?

The riots occupy a strange place in Brixton’s collective memory. They paint a negative picture of Brixton, especially to those who’ve never been there. But people don’t ask whether the factors that caused it have really been eliminated. Thirty years down the line, we should be able to talk about it properly.

How have you been getting people to enter designs?

We’ve been stopping people on the street and asking them on camera to do quick designs. We’ve also worked at a primary school and have got local pubs and businesses interested. So far the response has been really good. At first we were worried that people wouldn’t get the idea, but actually when you stop them they do get it very quickly. You don’t have to live in Brixton to take part, but you do have to have an opinion about Brixton which you can share.

What will happen to the designs once they’ve been submitted?

They will be published online and on Facebook. There’s also talk of getting some of them displayed in a Brixton venue.

If you fancy entering a last-minute design, you can go to the Breakaway Brixton website or Facebook page for more details.

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More videos from the anti cuts demo last night

One protestor’s view of the public spending cuts in Lambeth

Videos by Kaye Wiggins

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Brixton on the BBC

BBC World Service set up a radio discussion about Lambeth public service cuts at Rosie’s Deli Cafe last week. Kaye Wiggins took part and here she explains what was discussed

The BBC World Service set up a makeshift base in the brilliant Rosie’s Deli Café in Brixton Market on Thursday, to present an “austerity special” programme about public sector cuts.

Presenter Dan Damon described Brixton in his introduction as  “one of the most cosmopolitan and at the same time one of the poorest parts of the capital.” He said it was worthwhile to look at what was happening in Brixton because cuts in services and public sector jobs would hit harder here than elsewhere.

“People love living here but also they know that the services that keep the place livable in, and a lot of the jobs, are provided in a large part by local government and those are going to be cut,” he said.

Cllr Pete Robbins reiterated some of the doom and gloom. Asked about the impact of the council’s funding cut from Westminster, he said: “There are going to be some immediate, fairly devastating effects.” (Interestingly, he also said two thirds of the £79m cut over three years would come from saving money on the council’s back office functions and administration costs. I’d be intrigued to see how this will work: what were they spending it on?)

Damon managed, largely because he’d spent several hours wandering round the area in the days before the broadcast, to also capture the brighter side of Brixton.

He said he loved the market’s cultural mix and he noted food and music from Ghana and the Caribbean, a Brazilian hairdressers (“although I’m not sure what that is,” he said) and a Japanese restaurant – I think he meant Fujiyama.

“Anyone who was fearful about the social impact of immigration should come to Brixton because 25 years ago this was a very troubled place,” he said.

“There were race riots here, the police were accused of brutality, of stopping and searching black people but not white people, and as a result cars were burned, there were many nights of unrest.

“But now what you see is a society that really does prove that immigrants not only can settle into an area but make it extremely colourful and diverse.”

Damon also praised the work of voluntary and community groups in the area, with a glimpse into the work of Livity, which aims to build up local young people’s skills and confidence by training them to be journalists. You can hear interviews with its co-ordinator Mira and one of its trainees, Celeste, about 28 minutes into the programme.

Damon said Brixton stood out because of the important role played by local citizens in holding the council to account using blogs, Twitter and other social media. “People can express themselves in different ways, they don’t rely only on local newspapers,” he said.

At this point I jumped in enthusiastically with my tuppence worth, saying dissatisfaction with Lambeth Life, the council-run newspaper, had spurred local people to hold the council to account themselves using blogs and social networks. “It means that the council is being scrutinised in a way that it never has been before,” I said – you can hear it here.

The programme managed to convey a serious, troubling picture of a place under threat from the loss of local services, but without losing sight of what people love about Brixton – the diverse culture, the food and music, the importance of community groups and the work of local bloggers and activists.

If Lambeth Council wants to make sure that Brixton’s reputation isn’t taken back to where it was in the eighties as a result of the cuts, it would do well to capture come of the positive story that the World Service found. Reminding people of what they love about their area, without ignoring the tough times it faces, might be a good place to start.

The BBC World Service ‘World Update’ facebook page features video interviews with Kaye Wiggins and Livity. See them here.

The full programme has now been taken down, but you can listen to Kaye’s audioboo here.

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Lambeth Primary Schools and cuts

Primary school league tables for Lambeth were published yesterday. The BBC explains how to read the tables here. It’s interesting to note that 15 Lambeth schools boycotted Sats this year in opposition to the way the data is compiled into league tables, with many claiming that the focus on Sats is to the expense of teaching the broader curriculum. Nationally, faith schools have performed the best and that’s the case in Lambeth too, with Corpus Christi and St John the Divine schools showing the highest average point scores.

And it was announced this week that Lambeth council will have 8.72% cut from its budget, exluding NHS funding for 2011/12. See here for Londonist’s very useful map. And here for Cllr Pete Robbins’ explanation of how the cuts will affect Lambeth.

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Haircuts and lager, courtesy of Lambeth

Guest blogger, Kaye Wiggins, finds a more concrete policy in Lambeth’s cooperative council plans

You can picture the tabloid headlines already, can’t you? As part of its plan to become a co-operative council, Lambeth is going to give direct payments to more and more of the people that use its services, to spend as they choose.

This could include haircuts, horse riding lessons, presents for their children and even going to the pub, according to a recent report about the plan.

Giving money directly to people, rather than spending it on services they can use, is part of the ‘personalisation’ agenda, a key part of the council’s plan to go co-op.

The report, called Survive and Thrive and published last month by the council and the charity representatives’ group Acevo, says this agenda will be extended in future, and will cover services including health, social care, criminal justice, welfare to work, education, children’s services and substance abuse.

Under the plan, the council will fund charities and community groups that will let the people using their services decide on how their problems could best be addressed.

If a person’s situation could best be helped by rebuilding their self-confidence, and that person decides that a haircut or horse riding is the best way to do it, then they can choose for the money to be spent in this way.

“Anything should be possible as long as it is legal and it contributes towards achieving a mutually agreed outcome,” the report says.

It gives the example of a supported housing association in Tower Hamlets, called Look Ahead Housing and Care, which used funding from the council to give service users £40 a week to spend however they liked.

It says one used the money to buy presents for her children, another had her hair styled and another “used it at a pub as a way of making contact with a local darts team”.

The report says: “Although this was initially challenging for staff, these activities reconnected those living at Coventry Road with the local community, developed skills in communication and social awareness and, ultimately, began making the believe there was a route to recovery.”

It looks as though more and more of the council’s services will be provided in this way as it progresses with its co-operative plans. There’s a stark warning in the report for organisations that don’t deliver personalised services: “It is essential that they do not rely on on-going support from Lambeth, the PCT or other statutory agencies which are committed to a new commissioning model based on personalisation.”

This might become the biggest way in which Lambeth residents are affected by the co-op council agenda. The plan to go co-operative has been criticised for being a big idea that local residents struggle to see the relevance of – but here, at least, is a concrete policy.

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