Saturday, 20 March 2010

Granville Road Spinney gets a clear up

Volunteers including myself and Jayne Forbes, one of my fellow Green Party candidates for Stroud Green, cleaned up Granville Road Spinney today. Bags of litter were cleared from the wooded area, meaning the green space will look its best this Spring.

Granville Road Spinney is a small wood which is an oasis of calm for local residents. There’s a wonderful mix of trees including plum, cherry, hornbeam, hazel and willow. There’s also a range of other woodland flowers, including daffodils, crocuses, ramsons and three-cornered leek. There are also several edible plants including wild garlic.

The area also provides a welcome habitat for wildlife – volunteers uncovered a toad, to the delight of my three year old daughter, Clementine, who also mucked in (sort of!).

I often take some time out in Granville Road Spinney – it’s truly a local treasure. It was a pleasure to help make it an even better place to spend time.

Daffodils and crocuses are pushing their way through the soil, a sure sign that Spring is in the offing - at long last!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Private Sector Housing - time to get tough.

Sewage splattered across the path to the front door due to a broken fall pipe. Houses split into 10 or 12 rooms, looking decidedly delapidated. Huge bundles of wires strung along outside walls, clearly a health and safety nightmare.

These are just some of the badly managed properties that I have come across in the private sector whilst door-knocking in Stroud Green. One resident told me it was "like living in a slum" and that it had been that way for years.

All it takes is a landlord unwilling to spend the rent he or she collects on basic repairs, and soon you have a property in decline. Not only is it bad news for the residents, it's not great for the neighbours either.

I was interested, then, to hear at last night's Area Assembly from Dave Princep, Team Leader of the Private Sector Housing in Haringey. Mr. Princep stressed that 77% of residents in privately rented accomodation are satisfied with their abodes (I'd be interested to know where that statistic came from). If that statistic is true, it is just as well as about 1 in 3 of Haringey's residents reside in this sort of housing.

There are various financial incentives and schemes that landlords can take advantage of, including one to implement energy savings measures, which is good news for tenants because it obviously means lower bills. (Interestingly, when I put in a Freedom of Information Request last year, asking how many landlords in the borough had made use of this scheme, I was told that the council didn't run it and so they didn't know).

I was more concerned about the issue of enforcement, and what tenants could do if they found themselves at the mercy of a negligent landlord. The council's website gives woefully little information on this issue, merely stating that most large landlords have their own complaints procedure, though failing that tenants could call the council. This isn't the most reassuring of news for struggling residents.

The council are concentrating on registering good landlords through the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme, and relying on tenants to inform them if landlords are being negligent. This is all well and good, but imagine a tenant, perhaps not speaking English, trying to figure out how to complain about a landlord who is charging them to live in a veritable slum. It seems unlikely they will complain lest they lose the roof over their heads.

I asked Mr. Princep how much more money needs to be invested in enforcement, but he didn't seem to think it was the solution. But as I outlined at the beginning of this article, you just need to walk down a street to see some of the examples of run-down, over-crowded private sector housing. Sure, some delapidated properties will be that way because of a negligent owner-occupier, but the majority will be in the privately rented sector. Sure, some may look habitable from the outside, but inside might tell quite a different story. But I am confident that with more enforcement, more negligent landlords would be exposed and more tenants would reclaim their right to a decent place to live.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Mothers March because Maternity Matters

Today I joined over a thousand mothers, fathers and children marched from Lambeth to Downing Street, to protest about the closure of the Albany Unit in Peckham, south London. It supported women to give birth wherever they choose – almost half give birth at home – and medical intervention rates were low. All women have their babies delivered by the midwife they have seen throughout their pregnancy, and the group's caesarean and medical intervention rates were very low.

However, South London’s King's College Hospital terminated its contract last year, alleging that a disproportionate number of the babies it delivered suffered damage during the birth.

Children, many of whom brandished placards stating that they had been born at the Albany Hospital, marched to Downing Street to hand in a petition asking for the Albany midwives to be allowed to return to work.

Speakers at the rally included Professor Wendy Savage, a long-time campaigner for maternity rights and renowned obstetrician, and Beverley Beech, chair of the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services (AIMS).

The strength of feeling at this march was incredible. There’s a sense that, despite the government’s pledge that ‘maternity matters’, women are still not being listened to. Home births are still not an option for many women. By the Royal College of Midwives’ estimation, we are approximately 5,000 midwives short in the UK. Women are ending up with unnecessary interventions and are being traumatised. The day you give birth to a child is one you will remember for the rest of your life, and for many women it is a terrifying experience. This is partly because our medical approach to birth is completely wrong, and this is exacerbated by a chronic shortage of midwives.

I lodged complaints with both the Healthcare Commission and the Nursing and Midwifery Council after giving birth at the Royal Free in 2007. A catalogue of errors left me in labour for 48 hours, at which point an emergency caesarean was performed. I was then subjected to bullying by one midwife, who ordered me not to breastfeed. It was no surprise that The Ham and High reported later that year that high levels of complaints had been made about midwives at the hospital.

That the Albany midwives have been stopped from practising means that we have lost the ‘gold standard’ that all women should be entitled to. It was important to have this unit because it served as a reminder of what birth can, and should, be like. If I had had a one-to-one relationship with a midwife throughout my pregnancy, if I had been listened to in a non-pressurised environment, my experience would have been completely different. Bringing new lives into the world has to be one of the most important things to get right, and that’s why I was marching with my daughter today.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Plants, not Pogo Sticks

A corner of rubbish-strewn wasteland at the intersection of Ossian Road and Mount Pleasant Villas in Stroud Green was targeted by a group of locals and us Greens last Sunday in a massive clear up and greening operation. Anna Bragga and I, along with Crouch End candidate Pamela Harling and local residents, armed ourselves with sturdy bin liners, pitch forks and shovels to transform the eyesore into what we hope will become a thriving oasis of plants, flowers, trees and wildlife.

We spent several hours clearing a large quantity of litter and an assortment of bizarre objects from the tangle of ivy roots covering the turf.

Local resident, Gloria Else, who spearheaded the Stroud Green Reservoir Project, commented:

"There are not many green areas in Stroud Green, but the few areas that do exist are basically ending up as dumping grounds. We were shocked to find a pogo stick, feather dusters, shoes, cricket bats, pots, plates, a carburetor, a hub cap, the entire contents of someone's kitchen, builders' rubble including bricks and glass, check book stubs, plastic bags filled with dog poo and rubbish amongst the beer cans, bottles and crisp packets. If six year olds can enjoy caring for their environment as two young residents of Ossian Road did yesterday, maybe others can take their example and put a little love and care into this area."

I've been walking past this particular 'grot spot' for over a year, and it's been progressively been getting worse and worse, with more dumped rubbish appearing endlessly. Although we've made the council aware of dumping hotspots in Stroud Green, we thought we'd tackle this head on, encouraging locals to take ownership of this neglected corner.

By shifting four car-loads of dumping, which included a billiard cue and a pogo stick, and planting shade-tolerant plants, we hope to reclaim this space as a community garden for locals rather than a dumping ground. We should be making the most out of every bit of land we've got. It was great to have local residents come out and join us, despite the weather! The children seemed to have a good time too.

The guerrilla gardening movement seems to be really taking off in Haringey. Last August, the Hornsey and Crouch End Journal reported that local woman, Bethany Wells, transformed a disused public garden on Tottenham Lane into a thriving community garden with the help of local residents.

Bethany's project really inspired us and showed us how easy it is, with a little imagination, to transform derelict land for the benefit of the whole community. Ever since then we have been looking at neglected plots of land that would benefit from a little DIY gardening. Because we spend so much time in Stroud Green, we soon identified a number of areas needing attention and chose this one to get started on.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Crouch End's Got Talent

On Saturday night, Hornsey Vale Community Centre hosted 'Crouch End's Got Talent', a fundraiser for the Haiti Earthquake Appeal. As well as hearing the dulcet tones of 'Songwork's', the community choir, we heard from an amazing array of local people with some serious talent. I tried to get the Green Party's Parliamentary Candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green, Pete McAskie, to duet with me on 'Elected' by Alice Cooper. He was strangely reticent. (For the record, I refrained from singing and stuck to baking and waitressing).

I'm so glad that I am a trustee at Hornsey Vale - we managed to turn this event around in less than 3 weeks notice, and raised over £500 (the money's still being counted, so no exact figure yet). Added to that, we gave a lot of people a good time - which is an end in itself.

The top picture above is Hornsey Vale coordinator and Stroud Green resident Tanya Wright as you've (well, I've) never seen her before. She compered the entire event, and did an excellent job of ad-libbing (in various odd accents - she evidently trained at the Sarah Cope school of dodgy accents).

Knackered as I was after the Whittington demo, it was a night to remember - more please, and I promise never to sing.

Whittington demo gives hope

First off, apologies all my legions of blog followers (yes, all 4 of you) for my lack of postings of late. It sounds lame, but I have been too busy doing it to write about it. 'It' being knocking on doors, attending exciting meetings of various flavours, protesting about the Whittington demo (see photo), Guerrilla Gardening (post to follow), raising money for Haiti (ditto). Phew.

Friday night saw me, together with Haringey Green Party member Pamela, making placards a'plenty for the Whittington closure demo. Our placards read 'HANDS OFF THE WHITTINGTON', 'CUTTING COSTS COSTS LIVES', 'SAVE THE A&E: SAVE LIVES' and 'MATERNITY WARD MUST STAY'.

It was inspiring to see so many different groups in attendance, making their voices heard. Curious that Labour were there, opposing the cuts, and yet...

This is just the start of the fight to save the Whittington, and the placards are ready for their next outing, if needs be.