It’s been a busy 2019 for 853 – and you, our reader, made it happen. Site editor DARRYL CHAMBERLAIN gives an update on how the site is going a the end of another year…
That’s another year done. Scarily, another decade done, too. It is 10 years since I first went to a Greenwich Council meeting and watched a man trying to present a petition get treated shabbily by the occupant of the mayor’s chair; that began the process that turned this website into what you are reading now. While I hope that 853 makes a positive contribution to life in these parts, council meetings – now a regular, almost-monthly date – are still as dismal as they were then.
Out of all this, though, have come good things. THANK YOU to those who help fund this website – it provides a part-time job for me, and without your funding I simply wouldn’t have been able to produce exclusive stories based on research and asking questions. 2019 has seen the last remnants of traditional local journalism as we knew it in SE London shrivel up – and for much of the year, I have been the only reporter at council meetings and putting in questions about local issues.
If you’d like to help this website continue, then please feel free to give a monthly donation at presspatron.com/853 (charges in sterling) or patreon.com/853 (charges in dollars and adds VAT). A special thank you to Coffee Lounge in Woolwich for the site sponsorship – if you want your business’s name to appear on this site, get in touch! Thank you also to those who have sent tip-offs and got in touch about issues.
Last year, I had huge ambitions for the site – to recruit other people and publish more stuff. In the end, juggling two jobs has left me grateful to be able to just keep the site running as it is. That said, if you know SE London and are interested in writing for the site – particularly if you have or are training towards a journalism qualification – then feel free to get in touch.
How we fit in with the others
In the broader industry, I’m grateful again to the Independent Community News Network for their wise counsel and support; the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporter Service has come in very useful in providing additional material and a genuine end-of-year corking scoop. I’m proud the site is part of the scheme and will continue to highlight its stories. You’ll hopefully be seeing the new reporter for Greenwich, Lachlan Leeming, make his debut on the site soon.
Elsewhere, we lost the Mercury in April, finally folded into the South London Press. During the summer, the News Shopper‘s entire reporting staff upped sticks and left – including those funded by the BBC and Facebook. A curious plug for its sacked editor’s new business appeared on the paper’s website in November – a nice “screw-you” to the bosses who have all but killed the title.
Despite all this, print still carries kudos and credibility (and can raise more in advertising revenue than websites can) – how do we fill the gap left behind by these titles?
Fear of Facebook
Once again, 853 served up 1.1 million page views in 2019 – pretty good going when so much of the local conversation is now taking place on Twitter (which increasingly feels like shouting at the bins) and Facebook, which seems to have replaced the whole internet for many people. (Why share a link when you can post a context-free screengrab?)
The effects of smartphones and social media on our conversation are now being felt – The Guardian did some research last month which was both horrifying and unsurprising. (Here’s a nice example of people commenting merrily on Facebook on a story they clearly hadn’t actually clicked on, although at least it ends well.) I’ve no idea what the answer is – all the power is with the likes of Facebook. All I can pledge to do is to link to as much source material as possible and be as transparent about what I do as much as I can.
The top 10
Of those 1.1 million page views, what were people reading? Here’s a top 10…
TfL lifts lid on possible Thamesmead DLR extension (15 February 2019)
Possibly kept high by Google searches, the first glimpse in the wild of what a possible rail link to Thamesmead could look like was the most-read story on the site in 2019. It’s a reminder that actually going to council meetings – which is time-consuming and a bit of a pain at times – can actually come up with the goods. Now, will we see trains to Thamesmead by the end of the decade? Don’t bank on it…
Woolwich Street Feast shuts after botched electrical work and Crossrail delay (6 February 2019)
Other traders interested in Woolwich Public Market, Greenwich Council says (20 June 2019)
The first story was dismissed as “bollocks” by the boss of Street Feast, but the second showed otherwise. Much of modern capitalism seems to be based around getting things free from taxpayers and making a profit from them – when Street Feast was landed with (horrors!) a bill for work it’d carried out in Woolwich Public Market, which Greenwich Council had given it rent-free, it took its toys away and walked off in a huff. Turning the old market into a street food haven helped boost Woolwich’s fragile self-esteem – the fiasco which followed shattered it once again. There are questions to be asked as to why the lease allowed Street Feast to sit on an empty market for a whole year – no politician bothered to ask.
Greenwich Ikea opening: Preview days announced as traffic anxiety grows (26 January 2019)
Ikea Greenwich: Can you take a Billy bookcase on a bus? TfL has the answer (9 February 2019)
While the legacy press faithfully reprinted Ikea’s press releases, 853 asked questions. But the clicks were in the lead-up to what was the most-anticipated event in SE10 since the Olympics – for both good and bad reasons. Fears of spectacular traffic jams were wide of the mark, but it’s undeniable that the supposedly sustainable store has put even more pressure on an already-struggling local infrastructure. Ikea is the definitive example of Greenwich Council’s policy of sweating the last drop out of the north-west of the borough – at whatever cost to those around it, and no matter how useless the infrastructure around it – in an attempt to boost the borough’s economy. Viewed from Woolwich Town Hall, it is a shining success story. For those closer to the store, it’s a struggle to get to Woolwich Town Hall on a Sunday. For everyone else – ah, cheap picture frames!
Hop Stuff Brewery sells out to Carling owner and leaves local investors with nothing (12 July 2019)
The moral of the story: if you’re a brewery, tell HMRC when you move to a new site. Hop Stuff didn’t do this, kicking off a troubled 2019 which ended with the company going into administration with its assets picked up by one of the world’s biggest beer companies. The losers were the local people who’d helped fund Hop Stuff in its early days. The bars in Woolwich and Deptford, at least, have stayed open, but Hop Stuff beer seems to have disappeared. Locally-owned, locally-brewed beer continues, though, thanks to the Greenwich Brewery at Up the Creek, Villages in Deptford, Ignition in Sydenham and Common Rioters in Plumstead.
Enderby Wharf: Greenwich cruise liner terminal formally sunk by new owners (6 July 2019)
No flowers for one of the most absurd schemes of the Roberts/Hyland era at Greenwich Council. How many more homes can be packed onto the east Greenwich riverside? We may find out in 2020.
Greenwich Millennium Village ‘development by stealth’ attacked by neighbours (1 August 2019)
This story from local democracy reporter Tom Bull brought bigger traffic than expected, as the peninsula’s growing population struggled to get its head around what is going on around them. GMV is 20 years old in 2020, and its long-term residents are feeling what many of us felt back then – we don’t have much say in the development of our neighbourhoods, and those new places don’t look like they’re aimed at us. Incredibly, GMV still has another decade of development left – and another cluster of planning applications for future phases has recently gone in.
Beckenham Place Park: SE London’s new wild swimming lake revealed (14 July 2019)
Another story from a local democracy reporter – this time Bridie Witton – gave us a preview of Lewisham Council’s pride and joy, the revamped and golf-free Beckenham Place Park. The opening coincided with a heatwave and the council’s contractor struggled to cope with demand. Despite the ugly fencing that has now appeared to stop families from letting their kids swim out of lifeguards’ sight, the new-look park (and revamped mansion) is well worth a visit.
TfL drops Bakerloo objection to 35-storey Lewisham student tower (10 July 2019)
The tower, on the old Carpetright site, got the go-ahead from councillors and construction is already under way. It will include space for a Bakerloo Line ticket hall – councillors will be expecting some movement on a tube for Lewisham (and beyond) in the new year.
Blackheath public toilet among seven set to be sold by Greenwich Council (20 February 2019)
Funny what stories get read – no sign yet of this or any of the other toilets being sold. If you fancy a des res close to the 53 bus and Blackheath tea hut, apply c/o Woolwich Town Hall.
Mayor Khan swings axe on SE London’s commuter bus links as 53, 171 and 172 cut (12 April 2019)
Rounding off the top 10, an echo of the story that was 2018’s biggest. Sadiq Khan is up for re-election in May; it remains to be seen whether decisions like this (we haven’t even got onto the Silvertown Tunnel) will dent his popularity in these parts.
What’s coming up in 2020?
Two big council stories coming up in the first half of year: the fraud trial of Greenwich councillor Tonia Ashikodi is due to begin on 3 February, while Labour councillors will vote on the council leadership in May. Bigger still, though, are the rumbling worries over council finances after a decade of austerity, and uncertainty over what the Johnson government will have in store for councils in London. The council’s £31m Woolwich Creative District is due to open its doors by the end of the year, while expect more rows over the likely lease of the Borough Halls in Greenwich to the theatre company Selladoor.
We’ll see the results of major planning appeals over SE London’s two Tesco towers – in Woolwich and Lewisham – and the controversial Rockwell development in Charlton. Work is due to begin on the Silvertown Tunnel – just as Sadiq Khan aims for re-election as mayor. There’ll also be a week of serious travel disruption when the Bexleyheath rail line is closed during the February half-term. Plans for a “fan zone” in Greenwich Park for Euro 2020 will go before councillors, while we’ll also find out more about the new plans for the Spray Street development in Woolwich.
With that, thank you again for your support in 2019, and have a wonderful new year.
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