Category Archives: Housing

News from the Mayor of Lewisham

Almost one year ago, Damien Egan (sixth from the left) was elected mayor of Lewisham by local residents, after standing on a bold and radical manifesto making over 100 pledges. Earlier this month he recorded some of the recent steps forward.

Lewisham has some of the country’s best early years services; its primary schools are among London’s leaders and now its secondary schools are beginning to see improvements. The council is spearheading Lewisham Learning, a borough-wide schools partnership, funded by schools and the council coming together. As Lewisham’s GCSE results are improving faster than the national average, more parents are choosing a Lewisham school as the first choice for their children.

Lewisham’s parks were ranked last year as being the best in the capital by Parks for London. Beckenham Place Park, south-east London’s largest park, has been regenerated and has become a thriving green space. It will also be home to south London’s first wild swimming pond from this summer.

Though there have been huge cuts to police budgets and youth services and crime is an increasing concern, Lewisham council has been able to support four local youth projects with their £282,000 bid from the Greater London Authority.

A Conservative justice minister visited the borough’s Youth Offending Service as an example of best practice and praised the trauma-informed approach that had improved outcomes for young people and in their local elections manifesto, the Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats cited the borough’s support for homeless people.

Almost a decade of austerity has hit local government hard, but a difference is still being made in the borough by delivering ambitious policies, big and small, that are transforming our communities. Nearly a year later after Damian Egan was elected there has been significant progress:

  • council services have been brought in-house,
  • 50 agency staff have been given permanent contracts and we are working to get that number up to 100,
  • £37m has been secured to deliver 384 new council homes,
  • 28 new sites have been identified for social housing,
  • three more innovative pop-up housing developments have been confirmed, lifting 112 homeless families out of emergency accommodation,
  • Lewisham is the first council to start to address obesity by banning junk food advertising
  • and their first annual Modern Slavery statement has been published.

The borough is one of the most diverse in the world, home to people from all backgrounds, with a history of embracing new communities and those fleeing violence. It is now becoming a Sanctuary Borough, protecting the rights of all migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and the first of 100 new refugee families is expected to arrive by summer.

 

 

 

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Level-headed Scotland forges ahead

From time to time good news comes from Scotland and – after March’s items prompted a document search – 1097 items in which Scotland was mentioned were found. The following news items were selected and arranged simply because the country was named in the title of the file. Due to the lapse of time some links no longer work – these are marked with a cross

2004 – a fairer, less stressful house purchasing system

When you buy a house in Scotland, if your offer is accepted, you are immediately under an obligation to buy that property. This is why an agreement in principle is required before you go house-hunting. By contrast, in England and Wales, you can pull out of buying the property without penalty up until the time when contracts are exchanged. The Scottish vendor is also committed to the deal as soon as he accepts the buyer’s offer. Hence the risk of gazumping (where the vendor later accepts a higher offer from someone else) is removed. http://www.icplanning.co.uk/buying_scotland.shtml x

2004 – unfluoridated water

The Scottish Executive axed the proposal to add fluoride to the country’s water in favour of better targeted dental services.

2005 – taking freight off the roads

Councillor Julia Southcott, Convener of East Dunbartonshire’s Development & Environment Committee said “Reusing the canal for transporting freight is one of the key sustainability options being investigated.” http://www.waterscape.com/news/nid45 x Since then, though constrained by lack of funding, the Scottish government has endeavoured to preserve its shipbuilding capacity and maintain and use its waterways.

The Timberlink project, collaboration between ports, British Waterways and forestry companies, provides a good example of shifting traffic to waterways. 

2007 – fair trade in food

Points made in a report written by The Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, focussing on the need for fair trade in food, unusually considering Scottish farmers as well as those in the two-thirds world, included these points:

The major buyers of domestic production are the supermarkets and their suppliers who control most of the food bought for home consumption. Directly or through the food supply chain farmers must sell to large multinational businesses.

The current distribution of resources within the food supply chain is out of balance with effort and risk. The food supply chain represents a market failure. There is need to increase the bargaining power of primary producers if they are to survive.

The power of the multiples and the detached attitude of government seem likely to result in an increasing proportion of UK consumption being sourced from outwith the UK. To pay more for food than the market rate might seem contrary to supermarkets responsibility to their shareholders. However this market rate is determined by these major buyers. Change in practice would require a revision of the current concept of corporate responsibility.

2008 – re-opening a railway

The Stirling–Alloa–Kincardine rail link , which was re-opened for the first time in almost 40 years, is delivering economic, social and environmental benefits to the communities directly concerned and to the wider Scottish economy. The government website adds that there are direct hourly passenger services between Alloa, Stirling and Glasgow Queen Street and peak-time services to and from Edinburgh, Monday to Friday.

The line also offers freight services along the line and provides the option for diverting freight trains from the existing, longer route via the Forth Bridge.

2008 – no more PFI

Other measures were noted. The devolved government in Scotland has acted energetically to improve the lives of many electors. Scottish measures to help the frail elderly and students are well known but far more is being done. The Scottish Government announced that the new South Glasgow Hospital would be publicly funded instead of using the expensive and often unreliable PFI system.

2008 – Scottish food for Scottish people

The government is aiming to see more beef, lamb, pig, chicken, fruit, salmon and white fish processed in Scotland rather than being exported. The Rural Affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said “I would like to see more Scottish food ending up on our plates.”

2008 – no more nuclear power

Tidal and wave generated renewable energy, hydropower and offshore wind is being backed. Alex Salmond explained that it has no need to install more nuclear power, ‘a dirty technology’, in which it has no advantage.

More energy is now generated in Scotland by renewables than nuclear power and exports of electricity to UK rose by 50% last year.

2013 – Community land reform

Remote crofting communities are being enabled to flourish and Scots have been given the right to buy land they’ve worked for years. The Agricultural Holdings Review which was launched to examine the situation of land ownership and use, tenant-owner relationships, and the relevant legislation eventually led to Land Reform (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Parliament  passed by the Scottish Parliament on 16 March 2016. It created a Community Right to Buy for Sustainable Development. Like the earlier Crofting Community Right to Buy and the Community Right to Buy abandoned or derelict land, the Community Right to Buy for Sustainable Development does not require a willing seller but allows ministers to compel landowners to sell if they decide that the sale will further sustainable development in the area.

2015 – GM crops ban

Scotland banned the use of all genetically modified crops in a move which the government says will preserve the country’s “clean and green brand”. There was “no evidence” of a demand for GM crops among consumers in Scotland, The SNP rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said, adding: “The Scottish Government has long-standing concerns about GM crops – concerns that are shared by other European countries and consumers, and which should not be dismissed lightly.”

2016 – MSPs back fracking ban

MSPs backed an outright ban on fracking proposed by Scottish Labour. There are ongoing calls for first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s temporary prohibition or moratorium on the technology being used in Scotland to be made permanent.

2017 – basic income trial

Four Scottish councils are to undertake feasibility studies and to develop pilot models for the first pilot basic income schemes in the UK, with the support of a £250,000 grant announced by the Scottish government last month. This funding will cover the financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20

2019 – call to recognise state of Palestine

A cross-party coalition of Scottish politicians urges Britain to uphold the rule of law and recognise the state of Palestine.

2019 – dignity in dying

On March 31, The Sunday Times reported that a group of nine MSPs has called for dignity in death for people who face ‘terrible suffering’ called to mind many other reports of beneficial developments in Scotland.

 

 

 

 

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News from the Environmental Law Foundation

The Environmental Law Foundation Ltd is a charity which promotes the collective, good decision-making which is at the very heart of civilised, democratic and stable societies.

It does this by providing free information and advice on environmental issues to individuals and communities via its in-house and university-based law clinics, and via its network of specialist environmental lawyers and technical experts.

ELF exists primarily to help socially and economically disadvantaged communities which want to address their concerns but lack the resources or information to do so. All, however, are welcome to enquire.

This message from the Environmental Law Foundation focussed on:

  • National Planning Policy Framework Review
  • Third defeat for government on air quality
  • Environmental Crime in Europe

It included information about ELF’s assistance to a residents’ association in Farringdon which represents vulnerable social housing tenants. ELF helped the association to make their case at a Public Inquiry into the proposed building of a 180 room Whitbread run hotel and commercial area by Endurance Land.

The Catherine Griffiths and Clerkenwell Community Tenants’ and Residents’ Association (chair and members left) claimed developers are “land grabbing” Clerkenwell, and the site should be used for “useful” shops and affordable housing.

They felt that the proposals would have significant effects on an already stressed community where development was forcing the indigenous community out. There were serious concerns over the proposed loading area on traffic flows, significant light impacts of building a high rise building and the serious impacts on local historical assets, including the Finsbury Health Centre a Grade 1 Listed Building.

ELF member barrister Jonathan Metzer and Charlotte Gilmartin at 1 Crown Office Row, appeared on behalf of the group who had Rule 6 (main party) status. They led evidence from two expert witnesses and two lay witnesses. They acted pro bono through the Environmental Law Foundation, on the instruction of Emma Montlake. The inquiry lasted 7 days.

 

 

Smaller charities which genuinely help the poorest in Uganda, Cambodia, Ladakh and India

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In his seminal book, Lords of Poverty, Graham Hancock presented a chilling exposé of the mainstream ‘aid game’ and the ‘well-heeled czars who control this multi-billion-dollar industry’.

He gave a brutally frank account of the strings attached to aid and questioned the criteria and agendas set by western aid agencies in disbursing aid. The Times of India comments, “As we have seen in our own part of the world, a plethora of middlemen has come up in the aid business. It is they who negotiate on behalf of the voiceless dispossessed and it is into their pockets that the bulk of the aid resources goes. (TOI: 8.2.03)

        Brief accounts of four projects which have in common:

  • they have voluntary organisers or co-ordinators,
  • they are supported by voluntary fund raisers in the UK,
  • centred on service to the young
  • and staffed by well-motivated and capable local people.

Ben Parkinson and the Butterfly Project in Uganda

The Butterfly Project was founded in 2009, recruiting able and socially concerned children from rural Lyantonde and slum areas in Kampala.

The initial recruits are now young changemakers, winning awards, and establishing social projects, attracting international funding for their work. They are creative thinkers, working to solve some of Uganda’s social problems, forming a team used to working with others on projects, most recently the Slum Run for children working in quarries, the Active Youths magazine and the Changemaker Band.

There are now almost 40 young changemakers who are in or have completed their training, which starts with a one-year intensive programme in Kampala, then continues with support and guidance, through giving opportunities to deliver and participate in youth programmes, as they go through school.

In Year 1, tuition is paid for Butterfly members in a school in Kampala, but the plan, for all subsequent years, is to teach members in a specially empowering school, to be called the Chrysalis Secondary School, which will encourage its students, whether they are a member of the core project or not, to see themselves as architects of change in Uganda, just as Butterfly Project members already do.

During term-time, the school will offer regular ICT training to its pupils, both during the school day and after, helping some to become programmers and games designers.  Regular sports, athletics, netball, volleyball and football, will be provided. Children are encouraged to expand their vision, by engaging other leisure pursuits, to discover their passion and how they might focus this passion by becoming a changemaker.  The Butterfly Project believes in play for young people and will include games (sports, boardgames and computer games) in both teaching and leisure time.

Christine Parkinson and others raise funds in UK via CYEN.

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The Sacred New Era (SNE) School in Ladakh

The Sacred New Era (SNE) School provides holistic education to those in need. Founded by Shabir Banday, with the help of his parents, friends and supporters, the school opened in 2001 with 5 pupils aged 2½ & 3 years of different faiths and ethnic groups, from villages around Leh, and even further away.

Progressive knowledge is offered. This does not mean abandoning the age-old culture but upholding the rich heritage and promoting it along with modern concepts.

A Montessori approach encourages children from an early age to think for themselves and become aware. This school is different from general Ladakhi Schools and is growing because parents are realizing its beneficial qualities. It offers a unique education and is an example of diverse communities within Ladakh working together.

The main difference between SNE and other private schools in Leh is that children and teachers are from Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu backgrounds. In addition to their general studies/subjects, they are also taught their own basic religious studies. They work and play alongside those of other Faiths, where friendship and knowledge can contribute to tolerance and understanding between faith cultures—so vital for our troubled world today.

On 2nd July 2011, Denise Moll, Rachel Tolmie, Phillida Ball and Shabir Banday got together and founded SESOL Charity (SC041237) in Scotland. The primary aim of the charity is to help SNE School in India, and also to help disadvantaged communities in Scotland.

In the latest newsletter, Shabir Banday and Denise write about challenges faced by the school. The government decreed that the school could only teach pupils up to 12 years, so the older class and 2 of the teachers had to leave (all have done well since then). The building, which had enjoyed a solitary life, was now being crowded in by much building of houses all round it, and they lost a crucial playground … building in Leh has accelerated almost as much as in Europe, with hotels popping up everywhere, some roads being tarmacked and many improvements made to attract tourists. The school building also was in need of some repair and decoration. Throughout this period, the teachers have been patient and understanding. It was a real test for their commitment to the school. They showed enthusiasm and belief in the school, its teaching and place in Leh with regard to other schools. They are all owed money as, during the unsettled period, payments were deferred. After much discussion and thoughtful consideration, they decided they themselves could not find a better school in Leh and banded together to do what they could to keep SNE alive and kicking. They donated spare time to making necessary repairs to the building and painted it from top to toe. Money had been put aside for the needed materials, and they prioritised this over their own pay which has amazed and awed Shabir’s family and myself!

Whilst in Ladakh last year Shabir had meetings with a wider group outside the School about the piece of donated Government land on which it is proposed to build a new SNE School with greater facilities. First, a wall needs to be built round the land for protection, and the land levelled. He met with an architect to discuss a draft design for a new school building, and the architect, together with a small group will be seeking appropriate funding.

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Grace House, Cambodia

Grace House Community Centre works in several villages between Siem Reap and Tonle Sap. Little of the tourist dollar reach the families who rely on subsistence farming and fishing. Bridget Cordory (Chair) is one of the original founders of GHCC and managed the project in Cambodia for 8 years and remains actively involved with GHCC. Her husband, Alan, remained in Cambodia as Bridget returned to work in social care and the arts in Gloucestershire.

At Grace House we strongly believe education and inclusion will improve the livelihoods of this generation and the next. Our programmes start from early years and continue through to further education. Sometimes poverty leads parents to place their children in orphanages; we support the families ensuring children remain in education in English language, health, leadership, IT, training electricians and craft and stay in the family unit.

Starting with a converted Khmer house and 70 students GHCC has grown to educating 300 + students in 8 classrooms, a library, IT suite, electrician’s training room, 2 social enterprises, special needs classroom and small group home. In providing opportunities to learn vocational, craft and language skills, families will increase their ability to earn an income or run a business, enabling them to become self-sufficient.

Grace House Community Centre intends to achieve this by –

  • Educating the children in English Language and ensuring they receive a state education.
  • Supporting families while learning new skills and setting up new business with the help of micro loans.
  • Access to health care sanitation, clean water, dry homes and safe electricity.
  • Encourage inclusion of children with special needs in Siem Reap Province by enabling them to receive specialist education and a safe, caring environment for respite and transitional care.

Learn more and see the video pictured above here: https://www.gracehousecambodia.net

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VRI: Amarpurkashi, Uttar Pradesh : the project continues, but the volunteering scheme closes

Australian born Jyoti and Mukat Singh set up the International Task Force for the Rural Poor [INTAF] twenty years ago after seeing that most well-intentioned policies of various governments to uplift the rural poor have either failed or proved ineffective.

In addition to routine activities, connected with the school, polytechnic, eye camps and sustainable farming initiatives, VRI took part in a campaign against industrial pollution in and around the village of Amarpurkashi, covered here in 2011. Mill owners had been dumping live ash on the roadside where cyclists and pedestrians walked or rode and many suffered serious burns. Tons of ash from two paper mills were deposited on the banks of the river and by national highway 93, coating buildings and plants in a black dust, harming passersby and residents. As a result of breathing such heavily polluted air, local people developed respiratory problems – in the worst affected areas, as many as 1 in 2 people suffered from asthma.

The stench of chemical effluents polluted the air of the surrounding villages and black dust from the factory chimney blew far and wide. The water table dropped dramatically as the factories used huge amounts of water and all the roadside ponds dried up. The underground water supply was also polluted, causing a rise in the number of people suffering from jaundice and villagers were forced to pay for ever-deeper borings to ensure a clean water supply.

As part of the campaign, VRI’s co-founder, Mukat Singh, and many other local people fasted, an agreement was reached with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and decisions were made which addressed the problem.

VRI have now decided it is time to close the volunteering scheme that had run for some 35 years and Jyoti recently visited APK to make sure that this was the right decision. She explains:

“I am glad to say that everything I saw in the project supported it. Amarpurkashi is no longer a suitable place for volunteers, although visitors will always be welcome. “There is no longer anyone in the project who can guide and help volunteers. This has always been an important part of the scheme.  Volunteers definitely need someone, preferably a woman since most of our volunteers have been women. However, that person has to be able to speak reasonable English and be able to help volunteers with the use of toilets and bathrooms, the food and various customs around eating and so on. There is no one now who can do that.

“It is also essential that there is something for a volunteer to get involved in while they are in the project.  However, the success of the project means that there is nothing now that a volunteer can do.  The project is fully staffed with local people.  Volunteers have always had difficulties because of the language barrier and significant differences in the way things are done in India”.

She ended by saying that the scheme was closed at exactly the right time and adds that “Fortunately, there are many new projects to be found on the internet where volunteers from abroad can be recruited for specific roles”.

We wish Jyoti and Mukat a peaceful and rewarding retirement. Read about their work on the VRI website.

 

 

 

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3D house printer bound for El Salvador

In the Times, Will Pavia reported that a small white house which appeared recently in a pleasant neighbourhood of Austin, Texas was built without bricklayers. It was an experiment in ‘house printing’ that is being held up as a model which could replace slums of corrugated iron shacks with in the poorest parts of the world.

The printer was developed by Icon, a firm founded by Jason Ballard, a sustainable housing specialist, with the 3D printing engineer Alex Le Roux and the businessman and venture capitalist Evan Loomis.

The giant 3D printer, an enormous aluminium machine, spat out mortar like grey toothpaste, applying even layers of concrete in precise lines that rose steadily to form the outer and inner walls of a 350 square foot home that met all the local building codes (see the process briefly on this video). The roof is made of wood.

Mr Ballard said that the process required mortar that could flow like ink but was thick enough to form a wall. Like paper printers, their machine suffered from jams; when it rained heavily in Austin, he said, “We had to clean it, like, every eight layers”.

Icon has started working with New Story, a San Francisco charity that builds homes in countries such as Haiti and El Salvador – ‘the non-profit working to create a world where no human being lives in survival mode’. It needed a printer that could work outside and manage interruptions to the power supply.

The printer will be shipped to El Salvador, where New Story hopes to print a few test homes by the end of the year before starting on a larger batch to house an entire community.

 

 

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Hawes: as government sheds commitments, ‘we are going to provide for ourselves’

As large-scale cuts in public expenditure began to ‘bite’, the 2010 Conservative manifesto presented the Big Society as its flagship policy, later endorsed by the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition. The Big Society Network was formed, owned by The Society Network Foundation charity. It had £2 million from the National Lottery and public-sector grants. However in July 2014, the Charity Commission investigated alleged misuse of funds by the network; it went into administration and was wound up. David Cameron did not use the term in public after 2013 and the phrase ceased to be used in government statements.

Years earlier the people of Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales were realising this vision, because, as John Blackie, a district and county councillor explained: “Here we say (to government), ‘If you aren’t going to provide for us, we are going to provide for ourselves’”.

Necessity has been the mother of invention.

Hawes: 1137 population, 683 dwellings

The Wensleydale line and Hawes railway station had closed in 1959. Then both police houses closed. Last year one of the town’s two banks left, leaving Hawes with a single branch open three days a week. “One of the big issues here is that we are losing young families; if we lose services we lose families,” Mr Blackie said. Four local schools in the Upper Dales are only half full, he added.

In 1992, Dairy Crest, its biggest employer, sold the Wensleydale Creamery, featured in the 1989 Wallace & Gromit film: ‘A Grand Day Out’.

Four of the creamery’s managers and a local businessman bought the enterprise and revived it. More than 200 people now work there and it produces 4,000 tonnes of cheese a year.

Since then the business has gone from strength to strength and a new dairy was built there in 2014.

In 1997, the community opened the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership, in a place where people could get access to council services and pay rents and rates five days a week. Before this, a council clerk visited Hawes one day each week.

Over the years they began to run their library, post office and police station. The police moved in, using a room in the community centre which moved to a new site in 2005, bringing the library with them and opening it five days a week instead of two. These local services would have shut down if locals hadn’t volunteered to run them ‘on their own terms’. The town has a retained Fire Station, crewed by firefighters who provide on-call cover from home or their place of work.

After years of dwindling bus services the community launched its own Little White Bus in 2011 to meet the trains at Garsdale station seven miles away. Today they have a fleet of 10 minibuses that rely on 53 volunteer drivers and nine part-time staff, ferrying 65,000 passengers a year. They also have a Land Rover to take children from the most remote farms to and from school.

After the village was hit by Post Office cutbacks, the Northern Echo reported in 2014 that the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership had voted to run a post office at the Community Office, a sorting office in the town’s business park and outreach services in Askrigg and Bainbridge. The move followed the retirement of Hawes postmaster whose departure left residents facing a 17-mile drive to the nearest post office. Councillor Blackie said he would also aim to relaunch post office services in some of the 11 villages where sub-post offices had closed over the past 17 years.

Their latest enterprise (October 2017) is taking a three-year lease of the petrol station which was closing down. They hope to install a 24-hour self-service pump and an electric charging point and – one day – to buy the site, offering community shares. It is the first in the country to be run by its community, (part-time staff and volunteers) not for profit but to save local people from making a 36-mile round trip along narrow roads to the nearest filling station open full time. Hawes is so remote that they qualify for a government rebate of 5p per litre to keep the prices down.

Many readers will wish them well as, next year, the partnership plans to buy two plots of land to build affordable homes for rent in perpetuity . . .

and as the Wensleydale Railway Association plans to rebuild the railway from Northallerton to to join the Settle-Carlisle Railway at Garsdale, re-opening the station in Hawes.

 

 

 

Environmentally friendly concrete – the Roman or French model?

As was widely reported in July, a research team led by Paulo Monteiro (professor of civil and environmental engineering) of the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, had been analyzing samples from a 2,000-year-old Roman concrete breakwater to determine why Roman seawater concrete is so durable, how its manufacture was more environmentally sound, and how to adapt those characteristics to modern concrete production.

“It’s not that modern concrete isn’t good. It’s so good we use 19 billion tons of it a year,” Monteiro said in a 2013 news release. “The problem is that manufacturing Portland cement accounts for seven percent of the carbon dioxide that industry puts into the air.”

Analysis of samples provided by team member Marie Jackson pinpointed why the best Roman concrete found in 2,000-year-old Roman piers, massive breakwaters, Trajans Markets (below) and the Pantheon in Rome, was superior to most modern concrete in durability.

Phys.org™ a leading web-based science, research and technology news service, updated this news in a July article. Ms Jackson and her colleagues found that seawater filtering through the concrete leads to the growth of interlocking minerals that lend the concrete added cohesion: when seawater percolated through the concrete in breakwaters and in piers, it dissolved components of the volcanic ash and allowed new minerals to grow from the highly alkaline leached fluids.

Marie Jackson says that the mineral intergrowths between the aggregate and the mortar prevent cracks from lengthening, while the surfaces of nonreactive aggregates in Portland cement only help cracks propagate farther. The results are published in American Mineralogist.

As ‘tufo’ volcanic rocks (tuff), common in and around Rome, are not found in many parts of the world, the team is experimenting with substitutions. A more immediate innovation, we suggest, would be further use of the ancient and durable French hemcrete or hempcrete (isochanvre) in Europe. For more information go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hempcrete.

 

 

 

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