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.
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.
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.
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.
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.