Lewisham and its chronically troubled secondary schools

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

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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?

Lewisham Glass Mill centre and the battle of the silver chair

Mothers brawl at Lewisham pool during their children’s swimming lesson

Glass Mill Leisure Centre Lewisham (picture from Google Street View)
There were even more colourful scenes than usual at the Glass Mill Leisure Centre [pic: Google Street View]
There are 1001 ways to entertain yourself around Lewisham. One moment you could be watching a swing band inspiring Manor Park to move to its rhythm. Another you could be grinding up Hilly Fields with 250 others in the latest park run. And then you could be watching blood being spilled at the local pool between two mothers watching their children take a swimming lesson.

Such was my experience in the Glass Mill Leisure Centre this afternoon. As my four year-old kicked his legs on the other side of the glass and learned the finer points of clinging to ribbon float, a heated discussion broke out beside me between two mothers who were also spectating.

It was, as these things so often are, an incredibly worthwhile flashpoint … over a chair, and whether the recent arrival had asked politely enough to use that space. (One of those silver cube chairs if anyone who knows the poolside café is wondering).  There was more back and forth. A little bit of under-the-breath effing.

“Or you’ll what?” one of the women postured.

“There’s enough fighting in the world,” another watching mother told the pair. Children looked up and stared. And that, bar a bit of muttering and staring, seemed to be that.

But no. As the lessons drew to a close, the chair war flashed back into life. Two more women got involved. Voices were raised. Children got properly spooked. Punches were thrown. Big men rushed over to stand between the combatants. Blood was spilled. Security called. By the time my four-year-old was changed from his lesson, seven police officers were on the premises, hearing the whole sorry tale for themselves.

And those silver chairs aren’t even very comfortable…

Lewisham house prices rise by 601 per cent in 20 years, report suggests

Good news if you have already bought property in the borough – but troubling for those struggling to get on the ladder

A study released last week by Lloyds Bank shows a dramatic rise in house prices in Lewisham over the past two decades – outstripping most other London boroughs. Continue reading “Lewisham house prices rise by 601 per cent in 20 years, report suggests”

Lewisham Council and Millwall scheme unravels yet more

Lewisham Mayor resigns from charity, and millions of pounds of funding come into question

Millwall secured a two-nil win against Port Vale this evening.

But the real drama, as has so often been the case this season, happened off the pitch. Continue reading “Lewisham Council and Millwall scheme unravels yet more”

Fifty Shades of Valentine’s Day survey desperation

Some people will do anything for attention on Valentine’s Day

Two surveys out today timed to coincide with the day of love in London. The least shameless first: the London Fire Brigade released a study which at least contained some, erm, hard, facts.

Continue reading “Fifty Shades of Valentine’s Day survey desperation”

Lewisham solicitor shut down due to ‘suspected dishonesty’

Bilson Henaku on Lewisham High Street has been closed by the solicitors regulator

A Lewisham solicitor firm was forced to close indefinitely last week due to suspected dishonesty on the part of its founding partner.

Bilson Henaku Solicitors, based at 73a – 77a Lewisham High Street, was ordered to cease practising by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) on February 6. Continue reading “Lewisham solicitor shut down due to ‘suspected dishonesty’”