10 September 2021

Electoral Boundary Changes Proposed

By Gary Thornton

The Boundary Commission has published its initial proposals for changes to Parliamentary constituency boundaries which will be effective from 1 July 2023.

For the UK as whole, the total number of constituencies will remain at 650, with 10 additional seats in England compensated for by a reduction in the seats available to Wales and Scotland.

London will have 75 seats instead of 73. With some exceptions, the size of each electorate must be between 70,000 and 77,000.

For the Forest Hill area, the proposed boundary changes are significant. Currently SE23 falls into two constituencies. Lewisham West & Penge (which includes Sydenham, Crystal Palace, Clock House and Beckenham Hill), serves most of the area, with Lewisham, Deptford (which extends to the river just below Surrey Quays) taking in the roads north of the South Circular and west of the railway line.
 
Under the Commission’s proposals, Lewisham, Deptford will be renamed Deptford, and retain most of its existing boundaries, losing only Hither Green to Lewisham East.

The majority of SE23, however, will fall within a new Dulwich & Sydenham constituency. The southern boundary retains Beckenham Hill but will run further north from Lower Sydenham to Gipsy Hill, following the border of Lewisham Borough. The constituency will then be shared by Southwark council, rather than Bromley.

The western boundary (currently marked by Sydenham Woods) will be extended to include all of Dulwich as far as Herne Hill. The Bromley side of the existing Lewisham West & Penge constituency will become part of Beckenham, and those currently in Dulwich & West Norwood will fall under a new Norwood constituency.

In terms of voter demographics, and based on the last general election results, the proposals are unlikely to change the local political map. All constituencies in the area — Lewisham Deptford, Lewisham West & Penge and Dulwich & West Norwood — returned large Labour majorities in 2019, as did Croydon North, which will form a large part of Norwood. The next general election though could see a new MP in Forest Hill, as Ellie Reeves in Lewisham West and Helen Hayes in Dulwich & West Norwood will have only one seat between them.


09 September 2021

Louis Drysdale – the Musical Professor of Westbourne Road

By Gary Thornton

In January 1906, a rather unremarkable boat left Kingston, Jamaica, bound for Bristol. Its passengers included the dozen or so members of the Kingston Choral Union, a local choir who specialised in spiritual, traditional and religious music. The singers were due to appear at an exhibition of ‘Colonial Products’ in Liverpool later that month, billed as a ‘Native Choir from Jamaica’, followed by performances in Swansea, Worthing, Whitby, Bridlington and Wrexham. Such was their success that the ‘Jamaica Choir’, as they became known, returned in 1908 for a further tour.
 
One of the two tenors in that 1906 choir was Louis Drysdale (‘Dri’), a carpenter’s son from Kingston. With the encouragement of the exhibition’s founder, ship-owner Sir Alfred Lewis Jones, he remained in England after the tour, studying at the Royal College of Music, where he trained under Gustave Garcia, one of the influential family of singers who had shaped 19th century Italian bel canto, and whose members included some of the finest singers of their generations, who had variously performed in premieres of operas by such as Rossini, Verdi, Donizetti and Bellini.

Drysdale’s ambition though was not to perform, but to become a vocal tutor, training opera and concert singers in the art of bel canto, the tradition he had inherited directly from the lessons of Garcia. Working initially as a tailor to support himself, he began to attract more and more students and soon established himself as a popular and accomplished teacher.

Dri had divorced his first wife in 1911, and when he remarried an English woman, herself a talented accompanist, the pair set up a studio at their home at 11 Westbourne Road (now Westbourne Drive). His reputation spread, and when in 1926 the American cabaret singer Florence Mills (at the time starring in Lew Leslie’s Blackbird revue) visited him for lessons, she was so impressed that she wrote to the editor of the New York Age, which in turn led to work from many other artists, eventually enabling him to set up further studios in central London and Margate.

During his lifetime, the ‘palatial’ studio setting at Westbourne Road became a haven for black singers and musicians, where the Drysdales welcomed and taught luminaries such as Paul Robeson — who spent many years in London during the 1920s and 30s — and Marian Anderson, the renowned contralto who would become the first African-American to perform at the New York Metropolitan. At a time when racial prejudice was often far too obviously on display, overseas visitors could be assured of a warm reception and accommodation for their stay in England.

In a few short years Drysdale — known affectionately as the ‘Professor’ — had become one of the most highly-regarded vocal tutors in Europe, a view shared by his close friend, the ground-breaking composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, as well as the many famous singers whose talents he had helped nurture and develop, and whose photographs and testimonials adorned the walls of his studio.

After a short illness, Louis died suddenly in 1933, aged only 49, and was buried in Ladywell cemetery, his missing grave and headstone most likely destroyed by stray bombs during WW2.

Long forgotten after his death, his story is recounted by the notable historian Jeffrey Green (www.jeffreygreen.co.uk), author of Black Edwardians.

More information from Black People in Britain 1901-1914 and the Jamaica History website (jamaica-history.weebly.com/).

Local Olympians

By Gary Thornton

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, held over to 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will be especially memorable for each of the Team GB medal winners, who between them secured 65 medals, including 22 golds.

And for Forest Hill, these games will also be remembered as the first gold medal for one of our local athletes. Alex Yee followed his silver medal in the triathlon by anchoring the mixed relay team — also comprising Jessica Learmonth, Jonny Brownlee and Georgia Taylor-Brown — and obtaining the gold medal. Although Alex grew up close by in Brockley, he attended Stillness Infant School, so here in SE23 we can claim at least part of him as one of our own.

The 23-year-old first attracted attention when he won the 2012 Mini London Marathon and took gold for Lewisham in the London Youth Games, where he competed in cycling and the aquathlon. He recovered from a serious cycling injury in 2017 and began competing in the triathlon in 2019, finishing second in his first event, and winning his first World Triathlon Championship Series in Leeds earlier this year. 


 
Local artist Lionel Stanhope was also quick off the mark, commemorating Alex’s success with an addition to his Brockley sign:


 

There are few past Olympians from Forest Hill, and we have to look to our neighbours to bask in their reflected glory:
 
Tasha Danvers attended Sydenham Girls’ School. A finalist at Sydney in 2000, she won bronze in the 400m hurdles at Beijing in 2008.

Lesley-Ann Skeete was born in Sydenham and ran in the 100m hurdles at Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992.

Duncan Goodhew lived at Wells Park Road in Sydenham during the 1980s. He famously won gold in the 100m breaststroke and bronze in the 4x100m medley relay at Moscow in 1980.

Linda Ludgrove lived on the Sydenham Hill Estate, and took part in the 4x100m relay and the 100m backstroke at Tokyo in 1964. Linda also won 5 gold medals and 1 silver at the Commonwealth Games of 1962 and 1966.

Photo: Linda Lovegrove, Nederlands: Collectie / Archief : Fotocollectie Anefo


Victor Gauntlett was born in Forest Hill in 1884, but after his family emigrated, he represented South Africa in the 1908 London Olympics, playing in the men's singles and reaching the quarter finals of the men’s doubles.

Richard Barnett was born in Forest Hill in 1863 and finished fourth in the Men's Free Rifle 1,000 yards in the 1908 London Olympics. He later served as the MP for St Pancras South West.

These, and other Lewisham Olympians, are recorded in the London 2012 legacy website,
http://lewishamlegacy.wikidot.com/lewisham-s-olympic-heroes

Tewkesbury Lodge Folly

By Sheila Carson

This Folly tower, also known as the Bayer's Folly or the Forest Hill Folly, is medieval in appearance and can be found in the garden of a private house next to the Honor Oak covered reservoir. It sits on the ridge of Forest Hill at what is possibly its highest point of about 104 meters above sea level. Its position is shown on the map below (from the 1913 Ordnance Survey map). The tower is approximately 10 meters high including the staircase turret. From the top there are spectacular views of London in every direction. The Folly was built in the grounds of a large mansion in Honor Oak Road, Tewkesbury Lodge, which was built around 1855.

 

The Folly is Grade II listed by Historic England and constructed of random sized undressed ironstone blocks in a warm ochre colour. The tower is octagonal with a narrow spiral staircase contained within a turret which abuts the tower. There are concrete dressings such as quoins (corner blocks), a drip moulding at first floor level, a bow tell moulding at second floor level and a corbel table supporting a parapet which may have originally been crenelated. A section of the parapet over one of the octagonal sides collapsed many years ago. There are rooms on the ground and first floors and a flat viewing area at the top enclosed by the now incomplete parapet.

The original entrance door was badly damaged when the Folly suffered a fire and the door frame still has some burn marks on it. The door was first replaced with a pine one and more recently a hardwood one. The door has a hood mould which continues over the windows on either side. There are three pairs of windows on the ground floor. One pair either side of the door and one pair at the rear of the tower. Each of these windows has elliptical lintels which are reminiscent of the Tudor period. The room on the first floor is lit by four large windows with three smaller ones in between. These windows are of a different design to those on the ground floor being rectangular and housed in plain chamfered frames. There are also four slim windows in the turret which give some illumination to the spiral staircase within. The windows were vandalised many years ago so the glass and lead glazing is not original.

Opinions vary as to when the Folly was built (either around 1880 or about 10 years later) and who built it (Alfred Richards or Charles Bayer). Some sources say it was built about 1880 by Charles Bayer who made his fortune as a stay and corset manufacturer. However, Alfred Richards, a very wealthy barrister and probably the second owner of Tewkesbury Lodge, was living there at the time of the 1871 census and his death certificate states that he died in the house in 1887. So if it was built in 1880 Alfred Richards would have commissioned the project.

Charles Bayer appears to have bought Tewkesbury Lodge from the trustees of the estate of Alfred Richards in July 1889 and the 1891 census confirms that he was living there with his family. Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre hold the conveyance for this sale which might, if the Folly was built prior to the sale, be itemised in the document. However, at the time of writing it is not possible to view this document as the Centre remains closed to the public and it is not available digitally. So, if the Folly was built in 1890 it would have been by Charles Bayer.

At some point either Alfred Richards or Charles Bayer extended the grounds of Tewkesbury Lodge by purchasing a large area of land to the west and northwest of the Lodge's gardens. Charles Bayer was planning to leave this land and the Folly tower in his will to the London County Council as an extension to the Horniman Gardens. This would have provided an extensive area of grassland, bushes and trees for the public to walk in and enjoy the views over London. Sadly he died before this could be completed and his beneficiaries decided to sell the land which was rapidly built over to form the Tewkesbury Lodge Estate.

Many thanks to the owners, Sharon and Michael, for showing me the Folly, letting me climb to the top to see the wonderful view and being so helpful with information about it.

08 September 2021

Environment Update

By Quetta Kaye

Forest Hill station forecourt
General chasing — no, not a little-known military personage, but what has been happening over the last few months, which resulted in a meeting of interested parties (but without a representative of the Forest Hill Society) being held at the station the last week of July. It seems things are beginning to move in the right direction regarding the partial closure of the Forest Hill station car park. If finally approved this will mean a trial closure of the WH Smith side of the car park to allow pedestrians safe access, unimpeded by vehicle movements, with the hope that, if the trial goes without incident, we can then have permanent closure. In anticipation of positive action, we have applied for small grant funding from Lewisham’s Creative Change Fund to be ready to transform the area into a ‘parklet’ as soon as the go-ahead is given — with any luck later this year.

Good news, too, that following a complaint made in September 2020 (which apparently ‘went off the radar’) the collapsed wall in the forecourt next to the pavement is now on the books to be repaired. There is no news, however, on the repair or removal of the hulking loo despite representations to Lewisham Council.

The return of the plant life!
Weather-wise the extremes of hot, then wet, then hot, then wet again throughout spring and early summer have really stimulated plant growth this year, as can be seen in the luxurious greenery in parks, gardens and planters across Forest Hill.

But at Forest Hill station, two days before the judge came to inspect for the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ competition, the white rose overhanging the underpass had reached record measurements, the ‘danger’ hydrangea was in massive full bloom — and then they were cut down and removed, along with all the herbs in the herb container, when a decision was made by some unknown person that in order to tarmac the garden area on platform 1 ‘to relieve the rat problem’ all the plants should be destroyed.

An apology from Arriva for the removal of the plants which we had provided has been received by the Forest Hill Society, and some monetary compensation offered. Undeterred, as the picture below shows, volunteers have already been at work to regreen the area. Small planters have been replaced, the large herb container refilled, and as soon as new planters arrive, they too will be restocked. Meanwhile our wheelbarrow has been stolen from the platform 1 ‘secure’ gated area which had been left unlocked!

Clean air?
Have you ever wondered what the air in your neighbourhood contains? This picture was taken following the annual change of a filter in an air intake sited in the second floor flat of Frobisher Court, some 50 metres from Sydenham Rise — and opposite a park. Imagine what the air quality for someone actually living on the south circular road is!

Can you help?

Volunteers are always needed to support for the Forest Hill Society’s environmental work whether with our planting efforts, litter picking, adding street trees to our area, or to join in our campaigns to protect Forest Hill’s green spaces. Our work towards improving our air quality and our environment generally will continue in 2021 and 2022. No previous experience is needed, so please contact quetta @ foresthillsociety.com.

07 September 2021

Marvellous Greens & Beans

By Nicola Johnson

Opening a new business is a risk at any time. Some would say opening a business in the height of a pandemic and the middle of a lockdown is not just risky, it is crazy. Yet this is what three guys from South East London did. And over a year later, Marvellous Greens & Beans has become part of the fabric of Honor Oak Park.

Marvellous Greens & Beans are business partners Mat, Mattia and Berouz. Now in their early 30s, they are childhood friends. Mat and Mattia met as toddlers, then when Mat met Berouz at college, he introduced him to Mattia and the trio was formed.

They agree that growing up in South East London can be challenging for young men, but with their solid friendship and the values instilled in them by their families, they kept out of trouble. They fondly recollect hopping into their car for mini-adventures, driving for miles and parking up to embark on hikes through woods to find lakes and other landmarks they’d pinpointed on Google maps. Even back in those days, they would excitedly discuss going into business together, mulling over gaps in the market and Unique Selling Points, but their ideas never quite translated into actions and they each embarked on their separate careers.

Mat studied business, moving into hospitality and building a CV packed with managerial experience at London hotels. Meanwhile, Berouz worked his way up to managerial positions in the short-term rentals industry and Mattia worked for 10 years for an autism charity. Whilst on their individual career paths, Mat and Berouz started families and the trio remained firm friends. Then, in early 2020, Covid-19 struck and Mat and Berouz lost their jobs in the hard-hit hospitality sector. Although Mattia’s job was not affected, he was on hand to support his long-time friends, and the trio came together and reframed the pandemic challenges as an opportunity to finally fulfil their childhood dream of going into business together.

Passionate about great coffee, their aspiration was to open a coffee shop. But they realised the market was saturated and that it would be difficult to come up with a concept that stood out. They were attuned to the collective desire, resonant at the start of the first lockdown, to support communities and individuals facing restrictions and isolation, and the idea of a bespoke fruit and veg box delivery service was born. They then decided to open a shop too and invest in a top-notch coffee machine in a nod to their original intention.

When the unit on Brockley Rise came up, they jumped at the opportunity — they’d seen how Honor Oak had transformed over recent years and they instinctively felt it was a great community to invest in. It took just two weeks from getting the keys to open their doors, doing the entire fit-out themselves whilst being welcomed by locals passing on their daily lockdown walks, who’d heard about the shop via street WhatsApp groups and community Twitter accounts.

They quickly established themselves as a business selling good quality fruit and veg at competitive prices and, of course, great coffee. But it’s their congeniality and personal touch that makes them really stand out. When you visit Marvellous Greens & Beans, you feel amongst friends. The boys say it was important to them to place their personal values at the heart of the business, and they’ve done just this.

Touching stories abound of them surprising customers with impromptu deliveries or complementary coffees when they’ve heard that someone’s experiencing a challenging life event. Involvement in community initiatives has been a priority from the outset — they donate to FareShare, are in partnership with Lewisham Food Bank, fundraised to provide fruit to Stillness School pupils, and give out free fruit during the morning school run. Their creativity was showcased when they organised fun, interactive window displays and activities at Halloween and Christmas, to the delight of their younger customers.

Another Unique Selling Point is their fruit and veg box delivery service, which differentiates itself by its flexibility, again reflecting Marvellous Greens & Beans’ commitment to personalised customer service. They cater for weekly subscribers and one-off purchases and provide customers with as much freedom as possible — you can choose whatever you want, however you want it, with next day delivery for orders placed by 10pm.

Going into business with friends is undoubtedly challenging, but these guys have the most solid of friendships and an impressive ability to transmute challenges into growth opportunities. And growth is the name of the game for Marvellous Greens & Beans — with the opening of their second shop on Grove Vale in East Dulwich on 1 July, we ask them where they see Marvellous Greens & Beans in 5 years’ time. They say the dream would be to have at least a couple more shops, with a family of staff that embraces the trio’s ethos, whilst expanding their uniquely flexible delivery service beyond South East London and continuing to be involved in community projects.




Marvellous Greens & Beans is open weekdays from 8am to 7pm, and on weekends too. Next-day delivery is standard for all orders placed by 10pm.

72 Brockley Rise, SE23 1LN
https://www.marvellousgreensandbeans.com/
Twitter: @MarvellousBeans

Taste of Greek, 63 Dartmouth Road


By Rob Owen


Greek cuisine is, at its best, a combination of simple ingredients, prepared in traditional style. The mainland and islands offer a wide range of local variations and dishes, but in each Greek town there are thriving local grills offering the reliable staple of fresh, spiced and grilled meats, served with salad, chips and homemade tzatziki – reasonably priced and with no silverware in sight.


In recent years, Taste of Greek’s owner Andreas (Andrew) studied the techniques and ingredients of such grills across Athens, with a view to bringing the best of this concept to London. Luckily for us, Andrew found suitable premises in Forest Hill’s Dartmouth Road.


In March 2021, along with his supportive parents, Andrew began serving classic gyros and skewered meats (kanonaki) in Forest Hill. In typical Greek style, there was no major opening event, but rather a steady focus on sourcing and preparing the best Greek food around — and working efficiently to meet the growing peak-time demand.


Taste of Greek has become available for delivery on all major fast-food ordering platforms, but we also recommend stopping by to collect your order from time to time — to witness the dedication and craft that goes into the perfect gyros.


Taste of Greek is open from noon to 10pm each Friday through Wednesday.
63 Dartmouth Road, SE23 3HN
https://tasteofgreek.co.uk/order-now

Me and Mr. Jones

by Jason Kee


Last November a new business, Mr. Jones Watches, opened at 61 Dartmouth Road in a unit once occupied by the Forest Hill Supermarket.  

Glimpse inside through the coloured shutters and you’ll see a bright and airy workshop with a team of artisans leaning over tables surrounded by an array of small tools. If you’re really lucky you’ll see Stanley in the window, the owner’s dog keeping a close eye on local shoppers. Our new arrival is only open by appointment, but a look at their website shows off a collection of the most ‘unique and unusual’ watches. The designs range from the colourful and fanciful to the monochromatic and macabre. But with names like ‘a Perfectly useless afternoon’ and ‘the Promise of happiness’ you feel each must have their own story, perhaps just as mysterious as some of the watch movements themselves.

Mr. Jones is Crispin Jones and on one hot summer day (there have been so few) I met up with Crispin for a chat about this new business, watches and his unusual journey from artist to watchmaker.

Mr. Jones Watches’ new Forest Hill location was born of necessity. With customers from around the world, many of them collectors, Crispin found himself in need of more space after 13 years of operating in the Oxo Tower and Camberwell. Now living in Honor Oak Park, Crispin and his partner Amy had fallen in love with the area. Saturdays included visits to Dartmouth Road, lunch at Aga’s Little Deli and visits to the many independent stores. So when the shop at 61 Dartmouth Road became available they had no qualms in buying it. This was followed by a complete refit with part of the rear turned into a double height space bringing it lots of natural light and perfect for a new workshop for their exquisite watches.

This is their third location. Mr. Jones Watches first opened in a small unit in the Oxo Tower in 2009. Crispin describes this as the smallest unit in the building but from there he assembled his watches and sold them to the public. After repatriating production to London from China around 2012, they opened a dedicated workshop in Camberwell. This Forest Hill location was intended to house their entire team, but business has been good and now they plan to keep both Camberwell and Forest Hill operating along with the store in Bankside.

Crispin did not start out as a watchmaker. His undergraduate degree at Kingston University was in sculpture through which he developed a fascination in Photoshop (then a new design tool) and in graphic design. His output focussed on the documentation of imagined pieces through photography. A Masters at the Royal College of Art in computer-related design encouraged him to look at the social function of technology. In his own words, this was a ‘playful’ way to look at the world using technology and the interface with it. Following graduation, he began work with Phillips Design (of shaver fame) and for IDEO London — a multi-national design and consulting firm.

It was while with IDEO, in the early 2000s, that he created ‘Social Phones’, an exhibition of mobile phone designs that forced users to be more aware of their environment. This included a phone for people who spoke too loudly (think Dom Joly), delivering an electric shock to the user dependant on how loudly the person on the other end was speaking. Another recreated the phone as a musical instrument with the numbers ‘played’ to dial the phone.

This led naturally to Crispin’s next project, an exhibition of watches designed to question the function of the watch itself. He produced seven designs, among them Fallax, a lie detector and Summissus a watch to remind the wearer of their mortality. The exhibition and these watches were a success and gave Crispin an international profile.

While a success, Crispin also found the process unsatisfying. The watches were one-offs and while provocative in their function, they were simply exhibition pieces. He began to imagine a watch that was both unique in its design but affordable in price. It is here we see the fine artist with a computer design degree become the watchmaker.

In 2006, Crispin’s first five watches were all self-designed. Some drew inspiration from past exhibition work, like the Summissus — now re-created as ‘Remember you will die’, this has become one of his best sellers. By replacing the conventional hands with transparent disc hands, he was able to explore designs that step away from traditional watch faces allowing the face itself to be an integral part of the movement. Today the watches move between the macabre to the sublimely beautiful.

At first Crispin designed his own watches. Often the designs did reference mortality. As he himself noted, timepieces by their nature offer a narrative on death. After four years, he began to collaborate on designs, where his collaborators were people with a connection to time. For instance, a collaboration with Graeme Obree, A Scotsman who twice held the world hour record in cycling.

Today most of Mr. Jones Watches’ new designs are realised through collaboration. Many are from artists known to Crispin, though some originate through unsolicited submissions. This includes their best-selling watch ‘A perfectly useless afternoon’ which came from working with Kristoff Devos, a Belgium illustrator and author. Keeping with the theme of ‘time’ and storytelling, this watch serves as a gentle reminder to take it easy and spend time enjoying the moment.

Britain once had a clockmaking industry, but after the war, much of this art was lost to the Swiss and then the Chinese. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that Crispin’s journey to watch making was unconventional.

His first attempt to manufacture came by randomly contacting Chinese manufacturers, finally finding one only requiring a minimum order of 500. After visiting the manufacturer in China in 2012, he became confident he could shorten the design process by printing the prototypes in London. By bringing this process in-house, Crispin also discovered he could introduce more colour, texture and affects. He found he could create a scene inside the watch face, and the time becomes part of it.

Today all the watches are designed AND produced right here in London including in Forest Hill. This makes Mr. Jones Watches a very rare business today. Watches are still designed in small production runs, but the printing is now done in house and by the hand of artisans. Crispin continues to create a few new designs each year, with the most popular joining the permanent collection.

Speaking with Crispin it is very clear he is passionate about his watches, proud of the design collaborations and their accessibility to the public. These are truly unique artworks, designed and produced right here in Forest Hill, and enjoyed by customers and fans all over the world. When it comes time to buy a gift that special person, be it a friend, a loved one or even you give some thought to a Mr. Jones Watch. After all, a timepiece is timeless.

61 Dartmouth Road, SE23 3HN
https://mrjoneswatches.com/

Pantry, 14 Perry Vale

By Rob Owen

Opened in April on Perry Vale, Pantry is a bright and airy produce shop and coffee bar run by husband and wife team Niya and Septembre.


Offerings include seasonal British produce from London and the South East. There's a vibrant vegetable selection and daily-fresh doughnuts and pastries, along with a range of natural wines. Excellent coffee comes courtesy of Herne Hill roasting company Press.


Septembre is working up a schedule of collaborations with other local outfits, starting with a pop-up oyster bar from Rocks Oysters in Dulwich. Details of these events are shared on Pantry's Instagram feed.
Pantry is open weekdays from 8am, with late opening until 10:30pm each Wednesday through Saturday — perfect both for your morning coffee or evening purchase of a great bottle of wine.


14 Perry Vale, SE23 2LD
https://pantryforesthill.co.uk
Instagram: pantry_foresthill

06 September 2021

Review of 2021 in Forest Hill

By Claus Murmann

I’m sitting at my desk reading former chair Michael Abrahams’ 2019 AGM invitation where he announced he was standing down and also the impressive list of achievements throughout his 8-year tenure. A few months after that he tapped me on the shoulder saying the Forest Hill Society was looking for a new chair, would I be interested. Long story short, here I am another year later wondering how time could fly by so fast during such an unprecedented period. Thanks to everyone for the friendly welcome aboard.

Firstly, I hope that everyone has managed the pandemic as best they could. It’s difficult to say “hope you’re OK” because I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected in one way or another. For the Forest Hill Society it has perhaps also been more subdued; we haven’t been out much, have partially met as an executive only once all year in person and have had to conduct all our meetings across subcommittees on this thing called Zoom, which most of us hadn’t heard of a couple of years ago.

So, what have we been doing during a year mostly in lockdown? We break down the Forest Hill Society into four committees; Environment, Planning, Transport and Communications. We also organise popular community events and activities as well as engaging in wider local issues such as our response to the draft Lewisham Local Plan.

Environment
Quetta leads our Environment team. She keeps Forest Hill Society involved in various outdoor pursuits, with volunteers engaging in activities to enhance the green spaces around the town centre including the Forest Hill Station and town centre planters. These are regularly spruced up and watered by volunteers, we even have help from the lovely people at London Energy Garden, and more recently we’ve been talking to the Horniman Gardens team about picking up surplus plants to redistribute around the town planters (rather than buying our own) — win-win for everyone. Volunteers are always welcome to help with planting. It’s fun, fresh air and sociable! There’s more about the environment team on page 11.

Planning
The Planning team look at many of the larger planning applications which might affect Forest Hill, regularly investing time and effort into making considered responses both in support of and against various projects. We get many emails asking for advice, comments, or support with various local issues. Notable progress also includes supporting neighbouring societies with opposition voiced about the Mais House proposals on Sydenham Hill and opposition to 5G mast proposals specifically on public land where they would block pavements for pedestrians.

Lewisham Local Plan
We wrote a long response to the council’s proposals contained in their Lewisham Local Plan (available for review on the website). This was fairly involved and consolidated a lot of work and thinking around the Town Centre redesign plans including site allocations, public realm issues, cultural and environmental concerns and of course another opportunity to mention the flight path issue. In general, the Town Centre proposal is something that I hope will pick up steam again as we begin to emerge from lockdown as it has been difficult to get people together on a virtual round table to engage and plan. We’re expecting a response to our response towards the end of the year, so we’ll see what if any impact this has had.

Transport
We’re actually looking for a Transport committee chair so volunteers are welcome — speak to me before the AGM. It’s been a tough year to progress things here: we’re aware of concerns still outstanding about the Perry Vale crossing as well as the crossing in front of the station. We had tried late last year to discuss this with both local councillors and representatives from TfL with a somewhat disheartening Mexican standoff of responsibilities and who owns what in terms of governance and oversight (quite an eye opener in terms of local government function I have to admit). Generally, the message was along the lines of “we have no budget to do anything anyway, even if we wanted to”, applied both to TfL and the Council.

We’ve had questions about traffic and speeding around the area, mostly from residents bounded by the area around the Dartmouth Road and Honor Oak Road which include some popular ‘cut-throughs’. At the suggestion of the council we spoke to Sustrans who offered to run a consultation for a not insignificant amount of money which we had to politely decline. My impression is that the pandemic has thrown a spanner into the works, from everything TfL budget related through to council workers being reallocated to deal with more urgent public health and safety matters. Any kind of consultation on LTNs looks a way off. I should probably reiterate that in this regard we’re facilitating a discussion and not campaigning.

On a brighter note I wanted to highlight the on-going excellent work by Tim and John on flightpaths and airspace redesign by continuing to highlight the issues and tirelessly challenge the airports to address the issue of flight corridors in the skies right above our heads. It was recently even picked up by our MP, Ellie Reeves.

Events & Communications
Our year began with the AGM in October 2020. For the first time this was held virtually, following the trend of most meetings during the pandemic. While we missed the in-person social aspect, this allowed more people to participate and we were very grateful to have Ellie Reeves MP as our special guest. Ellie updated us on her role as an MP and local area issues in which she is actively engaged.

This year the Horniman Museum has kindly agreed to host our AGM in their Pavilion. We’re also pleased to announce that Lewisham Mayor Damien Egan will be our guest speaker. I’m really looking forward to this as it will be great to meet and greet everyone in real life.

All of our events were held virtually over the last twelve months. This included two history presentations. The first centred on a history of Forest Hill, first created by local historian Steve Grindlay, and updated by our vice-chair, Michael. The second was a history panel where we had three excellent panelists who talked about their personal experience of living in Forest Hill, including stories about surviving second world war bombings and businesses long gone but not forgotten.

We hosted two quiz nights. The summer lockdown quiz in July and the Christmas quiz in December included both seasonal and local questions. Thank you to Andy and Gary who organised and compered these events.

Importantly both quizzes raised several hundred pounds for the Lewisham Foodbank which supported families and children in need during the pandemic and beyond. We also organised a collection drive for old laptops, to be refurbished and were donated to a very happy and grateful local school. Special thanks to John for all the work on this.

This year we were not able to organise carol singing in the town centre, but we had a bumper crop of Christmas Trees, with the Forest Hill Society taking particular responsibility for the tree at Forest Hill station, which was decorated by Lee Jackson (a.k.a. Mr Christmas).

We continued to use social media including Facebook, Twitter and occasionally Instagram to promote local events, provide local information and to support local businesses. Our #ShopSE23 highlighted the many local businesses that continued to serve us during lockdown, and promoted their services and wares leading up to Christmas. Thank you for all those the businesses who used our campaign and to our followers who amplified our posts. Thank you to Jason for his work on this.

We also produce two newsletters per year and the March edition was one of our largest. We also produce a monthly e-newsletter and encourage all to sign up for these through our website. Once again thank you to Michael for his editorial work and to our many contributors. Should you wish to contribute an article let us know.

As the world returns to some sort of normality, we are looking forward to organising more events in-person. Keep an eye out for more announcements.

And finally…
Thank you all for staying involved with the community and helping to make Forest Hill a nicer place to live, work and play. Please do stay engaged, email us or get in touch on social media with feedback, ideas or comments. We hope to see many of you at the AGM on 13th October at the Horniman Pavilion.

01 September 2021

Gin Tasting

Friday 24th September, 7:30pm.
The Forest Hill Society has teamed up with Subplot 57 to bring you a taster of Gin.

Charlotte Rose — Gin Judge, Gin Blogger and Gin Festival Organiser will introduce us to the world of Gin, including three gins for £10 at Subplot 57 — beneath Leaf and Groove at 57 Dartmouth Road.

Due to social distancing places are available limited and advanced booking required. Please book early via Eventbrite at https://tinyurl.com/FHGin21