The astonishing gall of councillors in Lewisham’s most neglected ward

More detail emerges on how Lewisham’s Evelyn ward representative Jamie Milne earns his allowance

Earlier this week, we reported on serial skiver Jamie Milne, a Labour councillor for Evelyn whose increasingly rare appearances are but the latest in the ward’s strange pattern of absenteeism and scandal.

According to the latest figures, he attended council meetings marginally more than one in every two occasions for most of last year. But we didn’t know the half of it. Since that post, Lewisham Lately has delved a little deeper into his record and more has come to light. Continue reading “The astonishing gall of councillors in Lewisham’s most neglected ward”

The curse of Evelyn: the strange recurring cases of the errant Lewisham councillors

Serving Evelyn ward can have a strange effect on councillors

An unenviable streak of bad luck has hit the Lewisham council ward of Evelyn in recent years – at least as far as its local politicians go.

There’s been scandal, outrage, absenteeism and even deselection in the ward, which sits on top of the borough like a hat.

Back in 2013, a row broke out at a byelection after a member of the People Before Profit party referred to “an ethnic mafia”.

That byelection itself was called following the resignation of another councillor, Joseph Folorunso, who hadn’t turned up to any meetings for almost six months.

He quit a week before he would have been forced out, stating he was going to run an orphanage in Togo.

His replacement didn’t fare much better. Olufunke Abidoye was deselected just a few months after her election when it was discovered she faced disciplinary proceedings by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Then Jamie Milne stepped in. He had tried previously to serve on the council as a Labour candidate in the 2010 local elections when he was only just kept out of Lee Green ward by a Liberal Democrat incumbent (remember when there was an opposition in Lewisham?).

Once he gained the nomination for Evelyn, he was duly elected in the die-hard Labour ward, along with two other councillors from the same party.

The early signs were positive in 2014 and then into 2015 (when Milne received £13,499.27​ for his councillor duties). Milne’s attendance record was strong. He sat on various committees, including one of the three planning groups, as well as scrutiny and public accounts. In short, he seemed to be balancing his responsibilities as a councillor with his official job as the head of the constituency office of Heidi Alexander, the MP for Lewisham East.

Had the Evelyn effect lifted?

In 2016 things changed, official attendance figures show. Of the 50 meetings from January to early November where Milne’s presence was expected, he showed up to just 29.

The Guardian previously pointed out that Milne was not at an important committee meeting last September to review the compulsory purchase order for the controversial New Bermondsey development scheme.

Jamie-Milne-council-website
Jamie Milne as seen on the Lewisham Council website

 

In fact if Mr Milne was due at a council meeting, the chances of actually seeing him there were only slightly higher than one in two (58 per cent to be precise).

And of the 21 meetings he didn’t go to, he sent his apologies to only nine.

It’s not quite the staggering seven per cent attendance rate of Mr Folorunso – but engaged local residents were perhaps hoping for a higher bar.

Lewisham Lately didn’t wish to highlight this if there were extenuating circumstances so we emailed Milne (no response) then contacted him at Heidi’s Alexander’s office to check.

There was no particular reason for his absences, he said – just “work and family commitments”. He confirmed he wouldn’t be standing for reelection in 2018.

Until then, Evelyn residents may feel more inclined to direct queries to the two other councillors, Joyce Jacca and David Michael. And what of Jamie Milne’s successor? Will the mysterious absentee blight of Evelyn strike again?

Sparrow restaurant: welcome to a Lewisham pioneer

A fancy new restaurant called Sparrow has landed in Lewisham. Could it be the shape of things to come?

The words “fancy restaurant” and “Lewisham” don’t usually spend much time together.

Could this month’s arrival of Sparrow change that? It’s the first restaurant venture of husband and wife team Terry Blake and Yohini Nandakumar, a culinary duo who met while working in the Michelin-starred kitchen of St John in Smithfield (“a glorious celebration of British fare and a champion of ‘nose to tail’ eating”, according to the Michelin guide).

Sparrow lands officially in central Lewisham today (March 28), where there hasn’t been as much excitement for a new opening since the Model Market offered refuge from the long, hot summer of 2014.

It had its soft launch last week when Mrs Lewisham Lately and I managed to bag a table. Tucked just off the high street on the fringe of “old” Lewisham, the restaurant looks out over the “new”: the soaring towers and cranes of the Lewisham Gateway and the four-lane traffic that surrounds it. Continue reading “Sparrow restaurant: welcome to a Lewisham pioneer”

Tory Lewisham mayoral candidate announced (AKA the man with as much chance of getting the job as landing on Pluto)

The Lewisham Conservative party has announced its candidate for the borough’s Mayoral elections next year.

Ross Archer, the chairman of the Deptford Conservatives, will be among those  standing in May 2018.

Archer has been highly critical of the Lewisham/ Renewal/ New Bermondsey deal, and is also campaigning for better allocation of funds for schools and primary school places (although his pronouncements so far have notably glossed over the chronic problems with some of our secondary schools).

Here is his bio:

Ross has been Chairman of Lewisham Deptford Conservatives since March 2016 having previously been Chairman of Lewisham West & Penge Conservatives between 2012 and 2013. Ross has twice stood for election in Lewisham contesting Sydenham ward in 2010 and Grove Park ward in 2014. Ross has lived in Lewisham most of his life and has been a school governor in the borough. He works for a not for profit organisation in London and has previously worked in the Housing and Transport sectors.

(From the Lewisham Conservatives website).

Continue reading “Tory Lewisham mayoral candidate announced (AKA the man with as much chance of getting the job as landing on Pluto)”

Lewisham’s chronically troubled secondary schools: parents fight back

Local mothers and fathers gain more of a voice in the fight to improve education in Lewisham

The performance of secondary schools in Lewisham is under the spotlight
The performance of secondary schools in Lewisham is under the spotlight

There have been a few developments since this blog’s first post on Lewisham’s chronically troubled secondary schools earlier this month.

Firstly, parents with children are due to start their secondary education in September found out their school allocation. Many did not get what they wanted (42.2 per cent to be precise). Some were distraught.

Then last weekend, a new network for parents of the borough had its first meeting. Speakers included Heidi Alexander, MP, and Nicky Dixon, a member of the Campaign for State Education for South-East London. Nicky is a parent of a pupil at Sedgehill School, a local secondary rated “inadequate” by Ofsted and subsequently forced to become an academy – yet still waiting for a sponsor.

Nicky reports on the meeting as below:

There was lots of interest in creating a Working Group and working together to support each other, the schools and create a much needed parent education voice within Lewisham.  

Parents have lost consultation rights by the Education & Adoption Act for schools rated Inadequate, Causing Concern or Coasting, and Lewisham does not consider parents as part of the Education equation (we are not involved in the Secondary Challenge, were not invited to share our views on Transition (transitioning between primary and secondary)).
This is the start of a new journey for Lewisham parents, and we need to spread the word to create a truly borough-wide parent network.

Nicky also encouraged people to sign the Fair Funding for All Schools Petition and  use its guidance to complete the National Funding Formula Consultation, which closes on March 22.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons this week Heidi Alexander also mentioned Sedgehill and used education as her weapon of choice to attack the Government’s recent budget, calling its policy an “aspirational mirage”.  See the extended extracts below: Continue reading “Lewisham’s chronically troubled secondary schools: parents fight back”

Lewisham and its chronically troubled secondary schools

Primary education in Lewisham is outstanding. It’s a very different story for our secondary schools

 

school-silhouette

As noted elsewhere on this blog, the borough of Lewisham is abysmally served by the press. In a region of London with so much to report upon, both good and bad, there is very little effective probing into the issues that really matter to the residents of the area.

One of those issues is obviously education, a story on many parents’ minds today as secondary school places are announced. While the borough’s primary schools are among the best in the country, its secondary schools are an entirely different matter – so much so that the mayor agreed to the appointment of a Lewisham Education Commission, which compiled a report into the problems facing our secondary schools and suggested the best way forward.

It published its findings in April 2016. It’s surprising how few local parents seem to have heard of the report (perhaps related to the gaping void in media coverage referred to above). Its contents certainly do not pull any punches. Below, there are some of the key passages in the 98-page document, which as many parents as possible in the borough should read. In some instances, the situation has worsened since the time the report was pulled together. For example, the number of pupils going to good or outstanding schools has fallen markedly – Lewisham is now the lowest ranked of all London boroughs in this regard and has the dubious distinction of being one of the worst in the UK. Continue reading “Lewisham and its chronically troubled secondary schools”

Not on TripAdvisor: The king of the Lewisham greasy spoons – and why you should go

This warm, unfussy place, run by a Turkish couple for the past 13 years, has largely slipped off the radar

If, like me, you are used to TripAdvisor and its astonishing breadth of reviews, it can be baffling when you can’t find information on a café. Not even a snippet – and you know it’s been going for more than a decade.

But that’s the case for one institution on the eastern fringes of Lewisham borough, where the smell of a full English would easily waft into the Royal Borough of Greenwich. There’s simply no trace on TripAdvisor.

Mind you, the clientele at the Centre Café in Leegate don’t immediately come across as TripAdvisor types. The first time I go, there were two elderly regulars (“is it your turn to pay or mine?”) supping a mug of strong tea; and the Trinity schoolchildren politely ordering bacon butties before lessons start for the day.

On my next visit, there’s a smiling lady in the corner  by the window poring over a small, gilded bible. Two septuagenarians come in to wile away the time before a doctor’s appointment with a bottle of chocolate milk, followed by a sneaky fag outdoors. Then there’s the man in the high-vis jacket ordering a number two from the menu.

I may be stereotyping my fellow diners as the sort that don’t post TripAdvisor reviews. But the fact that there are none bears me out. So, without that as a backup source, you will just have to take my word for it when I tell you that, with my 8-month old little girl in tow, I had a more child-friendly welcome than I ever expect again. It was magnificent: like we had walked unannounced through the door of a long-lost auntie.

Throughout our breakfast, our host took every possible opportunity to smile at my daughter and wave as I tucked into my bacon and eggs. The teabag stiffened my tea, and my little one attacked two triangles of buttered toast when she wasn’t trying to paw at the giraffe illustrations on the bumper-size high chair – and throughout she got waves, was cooed at and fussed over.

Aziz Garip the owner of the Centre Cafe, Leegate
Aziz Garip of the Centre Café in Leegate

My daughter won’t remember the smiles or the place, obviously, but this was her first taste of the classic greasy spoon. Magic FM was on the radio; there’s a grey-tiled floor and a giant yucca plant guards the entrance to the cafe. On one wall there’s a Matisse print, on another there’s that classic shot of the New York skyscraper workers sitting on a beam eating lunch.

It’s also as spotless as they come (and that’s official). The owners are kind and welcoming. The food was exactly what you would expect. No signs of any organic free-range gentrification here. And yet this warm, unfussy place, run by a Turkish couple for the past 13 years, has largely slipped off the radar – on TripAdvisor and elsewhere.

It’s a story rather like that of its home, the Leegate Centre itself. Glibly dismissed as the worst shopping precinct in Britain – and it has been shamefully neglected – it is at the heart of a painfully protracted re-development plan. You sense its owners, the “regeneration specialists” St Modwen, would simply rather it weren’t there so they could get on with the real business of building over-tall apartment blocks and making lots of money.

And yet, even locals are guilty of forgetting there are still a number businesses trying to eke a living in pretty challenging circumstances.

Would I still be smiling after years of declining trade, of pushing back opening hours because the footfall simply isn’t there any more? I hope I never have to find out. But the people at Centre Café Shop still are – and then some, if you happen to bring a baby along.

That’s not all, either. Last month, the owner was in hospital to have a kidney stone removed. That lunchtime, his wife would join him there in unexpected circumstances. While he was away, the cafe was attacked by students from nearby Abbey Manor College, a pupil referral unit. She was punched repeatedly and had to take refuge in the upper floor of their café, locking herself  in with her son. Around 50 schoolchildren had to be dispersed by police, three of whom were hospitalised themselves. Four teenagers were arrested and charged, including one with grievous bodily harm.

A terrifying one-off you hope.  Certainly other retailers on the site say things are better now, and the police have stepped up their presence and communication.

But it seems just another reason to show solidarity with those that remain in Leegate – and the Centre Café in particular.

Don’t bother with TripAdvisor. If you like a traditional fry-up – or even just a cup of tea – vote with your feet. Yes, the precinct may be bleak. But doesn’t that just make the rays of sunshine all the brighter?