25 March 2021

Forest Hill Library Garden

By Lauren Goddard

After months of passing by the empty green patch behind the Forest Hill Library, and speculating about its emptiness, Harwood and I decided to go to Lewisham Council and apply for community garden funding. Fortunately for us, the council and the library were on board and we have begun to work on the space in the hopes of welcoming the community to an all-seasons edible community garden — once it is safe to do so of course. 

We have both worked and volunteered across a broad scope of local private and communal gardens over the years, including mental health gardens, and we have seen first-hand the absolute magic that comes from gardening alongside a group of people. It is now well known that horticulture has an incredible effect on mental well-being, but it also has the ability to enable a community to form from people who may never have met each other otherwise. 

As we come from a therapeutic-horticulture background, we want to offer a warm and welcoming space to members of the community who may have become isolated due to the pandemic. By scheduling session times with a set number of volunteers and providing personal gloves, a hand-washing station and strict tool disinfection we will be able to offer assurance that the garden accommodates social-distancing requirements and is as Covid-safe as possible.

So far, we have gathered advice from various contractors and green charities on how to make the most out of the small space whilst also making it as accessible as possible given its sloping topography: elongated raised beds will be incorporated into the slope whilst flatter paths will be carved out to wind around them.

Our main aim is to grow edible and medicinal plants, along with some ornamentals to lift one’s spirits. We want to share the unbeatable joy and satisfaction that comes from sharing and eating crops that you have grown yourself. The space will demonstrate ways to grow your own food, even if it’s just on a windowsill or balcony, and we know that we’ll all be sharing lots of crafty growing tips amongst us!

From then on, we will welcome local people for sessions and encourage participants to determine what we grow at the Library Garden and at home. By working together to grow, tend and share plants, we hope the same camaraderie and care will help us to navigate these difficult times as a community.

24 March 2021

Rubble, Frogs and Mince Pies: The December Workday on Albion Millennium Green

By Jorella Andrews, Chair of the Albion Millennium Green Trust

Saturday 12th December dawned fresh, cool and dry after a night of rain — ideal conditions for the work of digging and clearing we were carrying out on the Green, in preparation for planting a hedge along the Green's boundary with the recently extended housing development of Longfield Crescent. In fact, according to an 1870 map tracked down by Sheila Carson, Secretary of the Friends of Albion Millennium Green, we will be rejuvenating part of an old boundary line consisting of hawthorn trees that once ran from the railway line, along what is now the south side of the Green, up the south side of Redberry Grove, and on to meet Sydenham Park Road. 

Some of these trees are still living. We plan to reduce them in height and insert new hedging plants, between and slightly in front of them, with the aim of growing a new thick, mixed-species hedge. The hedge should provide food (hawthorn, holly and wild privet berries, rosehips, and hazelnuts) and nesting sites for birds, as well as sloes which could be foraged for gin-making. But before we can plant, we need to remove an expanse of bricks, rubble and lumps of cement that have been dumped onto the land over time and are now buried underneath it, shrouded by overlying brambles. Then we need to prepare the ground before planting next winter. 

On our workday, as we forked energetically into the earth and turned it over, we were conscious of the small lives we were disturbing: fleshy worms, wood beetles, spiders, slugs, and the acrobatic frogs, which would suddenly leap into view. We relocated the latter to a safe spot close to the Green’s pond.

We had a fantastic (socially-distanced) workout, cheered along by good conversation, coffee and mince pies. If this sounds appealing, look out for our next socially-distanced workdays on the second Saturday of each month. We meet at 10.30am in the area of the Green adjacent to Albion Villas Road. Bring gardening gloves and sturdy footwear. Even if you are only able to stay for an hour or so, we will gladly appreciate your company and your help.

A Year at the Lewisham Foodbank: A First-Hand Account

By Claus Murmann 

Early in 2020, as we were heading for the first lockdown, I answered a call for volunteer delivery drivers for Lewisham Foodbank — little did I know what I’d started. Naturally, as a keen cyclist, I asked if it was possible to deliver by bike. “Of course, we have a bike team too,” came the response from Caro, the foodbank’s volunteer coordinator and comms manager. My boss was happy for me to do one or two lunchtime sessions a week, so off I went. It’s fairly ad-hoc, informal and fun, riding around with a very diverse team of cyclists. We’ve been all over Lewisham and discovered new parts of town. It’s quite an adventure.

The serious side of this is that we see a lot of very needy people first-hand; doorstep delivery is the client-facing role. Often we’re going to very run-down housing estates;  doorbells are broken, people can’t answer phone calls as they’re out of credit, and homes are damp and mouldy. It’s really depressing to see the state of housing and meet people who struggle to look after themselves. Many clients seem to have found themselves suddenly homeless and in temporary accommodation due to the Covid pandemic, dazed and confused, stuck in limbo between jobs and before support kicks in — a common circumstance where the Foodbank gets involved. Probably the most crushing thing is that this evident poverty crisis is so hidden from everyday life; I’ve cycled past so many of these places on a main road without knowing what’s just around the corner. I hate to say it, but it does make me appreciate what I have, and on the other hand it makes me want to do more to help. That’s what kick-started me volunteering more and more of my time. During mid-year the foodbank was expanding its services so rapidly to cope with an increase in demand that it meant building a new warehouse for storage. Over a few afternoons we moved piles of canned peaches, tomato sauce and pasta and generally very heavy crates of non-perishable food. We built shelves, we stacked mountains of cornflakes and we piled toilet paper up high.

If you’re thinking of volunteering, drivers are often needed to make individual deliveries but also to move crates of pre-packed food parcels from the Forest Hill base at the Hope Centre on Malham Road to Deptford, Lewisham, Catford and Downham, in a hub-and-spoke model. Recently we’ve managed to work with the Cross River Partnership and Ecofleet cycle couriers to set up some Lewisham-funded green trial deliveries — fewer cars means less congestion and less pollution! Volunteers are also required to do regular restocking work as well as the huge logistical operation of putting together food parcels, which are packed and labelled with the correct dietary requirements.

Perhaps the hardest thing I’ve done is work the phones, which involves calling people to check addresses and dietary requirements, and whether they need nappies, period products, etc; and to ensure they would be home to receive their delivery. This can mean making 50-plus phone calls in 2 or 3 hours, and it’s emotionally draining. Many people are really grateful for the foodbank’s support and express it. Some are struggling and some want to tell you a story because they clearly haven’t spoken to anyone for a while. It’s difficult to keep moving through the referrals, as everyone deserves our time and help. People can even get downright rude because they didn’t get their preferred brand of Cornflakes (but that’s rare).

I asked Caro how many food parcels Lewisham Foodbank gives month by month. She told me that in January 2021 alone they fed over 2,200 adults and children. This is a massive increase compared to 2019 and 2020. It must also be noted that Lewisham Foodbank isn’t the only food project in the borough.

So yes, please keep donating to the Lewisham Foodbank; money is great as specific bulk items can be ordered that are always needed. Donations can be brought to Hope Centre from Mondays to Fridays, or dropped in local supermarket boxes. The other thing you can give is time; volunteering has been a hugely rewarding experience and I’ve met the nicest people along the way. The foodbank will need more help as some of its existing volunteer team members head back to work after lockdown. You never know — you might find yourself sorting carrots with a cast member from The Crown or Poirot, doing logistics planning with a member of the Eastenders family or packing laundry capsules with a star from Death in Paradise. You could find yourself on a team with an award-winning BAFTA actor, recognise a voice from The Archers or even a bit of hoovering with a comedian often seen on QI.

To donate money or food please visit lewisham.foodbank.org.uk

23 March 2021

Fairlawn Auxiliary Military Hospital

By Sheila Carson

Not long after the outbreak of the First World War, the numbers of wounded servicemen arriving in England threatened to overwhelm existing military medical facilities. Many civilian hospitals were requisitioned for military use by the War Office. This included a large part of the recently opened King's College Hospital, which became the Fourth London General Hospital. As the casualties from France increased, the hospital was extended into the nearby Ruskin Park. Huts and tents were erected, and a wooden bridge was built across the nearby railway line to provide access.

The British Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem combined to form the Joint War Committee. An important part of the work of this committee was the setting up and organisation of smaller auxiliary hospitals to ease the pressure on large military hospitals. These formed the final link in the chain of evacuation for many wounded soldiers. A network of over 3,000 auxiliary hospitals spread across Britain. These varied greatly in size and included private houses donated by their owners. One of these was Fairlawn House.

Fairlawn House was a large mansion with extensive grounds and outbuildings, built between 1808 and 1816. It stood on the west side of Honor Oak Road in Forest Hill.  

When Fairlawn Auxiliary Military Hospital opened in November 1915 to provide convalescence for enlisted servicemen, it had 35 beds, later increased to 65. In 1916 the hospital was expanded with an additional house — Border Lodge in Sydenham — and again in 1917, when a large house in Manor Mount was added, providing a total of 174 beds.

The principal role of auxiliary hospitals was the care of convalescing patients. However, the term 'convalescent' must be understood in the military context. The expectation was that these soldiers would return to active service as soon as they were fit enough. The War Office was concerned that recovering solders might abscond if they were allowed to go home. These hospitals enabled soldiers to be kept under military control and discipline and they were required to wear a distinctive blue uniform.

Fairlawn Auxiliary Military Hospital was run by a Commandant and a Quartermaster who were resident at the hospital. There were eight trained nurses, supported by 14 full-time and 32 part-time voluntary nurses from the London 216 and 35 Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs). The VADs were usually comprised of women but might have included a few men who had not been called up for military service. Local doctors provided medical supervision. There would have been a cook, but most of the domestic work would have been undertaken by local volunteers.

Nursing convalescent patients required a very different skill set from acute nursing. The focus was on rehabilitation through exercise, relaxation, diet, rest and sleep. Patients at Fairlawn Auxiliary Military Hospital would have also been encouraged to do gardening. The hospital would have been equipped and supported by local fund raising, which would have also provided for the daily needs and comforts of the soldiers by supplying items such as playing cards, board games, walking sticks and slippers.

The hospital closed in October 1919, and of the 2,724 admissions during the war period there were no recorded deaths. However, 30 patients and five VAD nurses who returned to the war were killed. After the war a memorial bronze plaque presented by the VADs was placed in St Paul's Church in Waldenshaw Road. No names were listed on the plaque, but the inscription read "To the glory of God and in memory of the patients and staff of the Fairlawn Auxiliary Military Hospital who have passed away during the Great War." St Paul's Church was badly damaged by bombs in 1943 during the Second World War. Thereafter, it was demolished and the war memorial was lost.

Fairlawn House was destroyed by a V1 flying bomb during the Second World War which also caused extensive damage to neighbouring buildings. Fairlawn Primary School now occupies the site, and an annexe to the school was built on the site of St Paul's Church in Waldenshaw Road.

22 March 2021

Oh, Christmas Tree

By Jason Kee

The festive celebrations may have been muted this past Christmas, but the SE23 (and SE4) communities enjoyed some great festive cheer with this season’s Christmas trees.

The tree decorating in Forest Hill outside WHSmith, organised through the Forest Hill Society, reached new heights in 2020 in both stature and decoration. For the second year in a row, local resident Lee Jackson, of design firm Jackson Morgenstern, designed and decorated the tree creating a flourish of seasonal reds, purples and golds.

However, there was little danger of a repeat of the great Forest Hill Hat Caper of 2019. This time, in the place of a Santa hat, three owls topped the tree and kept a wise vigil over Dartmouth and London Roads and the station’s forecourt. The owls were named “Hoot, Ann and Nanny” through a Twitter poll-beating stiff competition from “Blythe, Mayow, Horniman”, “Owly, McOwl, Face” and “Goldie, Frankie, Mervyn”.

The Forest Hill tree was big this season, but it was surpassed in height by a beautiful specimen on Perry Vale in the ‘Village’. Organised by councillors for Perry Vale ward, the tree’s decorations were kept simple and elegant, with strings of white lights. 

Christmas trees also appeared by Honor Oak Park and Crofton Park stations, and were graciously donated by Crofton Park’s Clickmas Trees. These trees were a real community effort with decorations and lighting provided by local residents themselves. Some may have noted that the HOP tree was topped by a mischievous little elf that had its own Twitter account. @HonorOakElf kept the Twitter followers among us amused with some friendly banter with @tweet_owls, a Twitter account manned by Hoot, Ann and Nanny themselves. 

Despite the absence of lighting ceremonies or carol singing this year, the Christmas trees of SE23 and SE4 brought great joy to kids and adults alike. Thank you to everyone involved in organising these trees during a very difficult time for the community. 

Forest Hill
Image: © Jackson Morgenstern Ltd
Crofton Park
Image: © Jane Martin
Perry Vale
Image: © SE23.life    
Honor Oak
Image: © Nicola Johnson

17 March 2021

Planning Application: Mast on the Pavement at the Esso Garage

There has been a recent application to install a 20m high monopole at the junction of London Road and Honor Oak Road, with cabinets on the pavement. Details of the application can be found on Lewisham Council website.

The Forest Hill Society has opposed this application:

We note a number of recent refusals for masts on similar pavement locations in the local area, most recently and locally DC/20/118720 at BLYTHE VALE, BELL GREEN AND PERRY VALE, SE6.

We believe the reasons for rejection of that application are equally applicable to this location that is within the Forest Hill Conservation Area and on an important pedestrian route between Forest Hill station and town centre, and the Horniman Museum.

The siting and appearance of the monopole would give rise to an overly dominant and highly visible development and the proposed cabinets would result in a visually cluttered streetscene out of keeping with local character of the area when viewed from London Road and the Forest Hill conservation area. The siting of the development would narrow the footway with the potential to impact pedestrian safety at a difficult crossing point and junction of the South Circular road.

This junction is not an easy crossing for pedestrians as there is no pedestrian phase on the lights, and the addition of cabinets and masts in this location will further obscure the sight of cars turning the corner on this busy junction.

We welcome the installation of 5G infrastructure around Forest Hill, but this should not increase street clutter and make pedestrian crossings more dangerous. There are a number of more suitable and less prominent locations for such a mast including council owned car parks and we hope that the applicant can work with the council to identify such locations.

[This application was refused by Lewisham Council]

16 March 2021

Forest Hill Society’s Members Help with Laptops for Schools

By Claus Murmann

At the turn of the year, I was chatting with John Doherty from our Transport Committee to see what, if anything, was new. “Oh,” he said, “I’m building laptops for one of Lewisham's schools.” He’d collected a few laptops from regulars at the All Inn One pub and had set about refurbishing them and re-installing Windows 10 and Zoom, so that they could be handed out to children who did not have access to technology at home or any way to interact ‘face to face’ with teachers during lockdown. The idea was to provide a stop-gap solution for some families while the school waited for national tech-supply programs to kick in.

Without quite realising what we were letting ourselves in for, I said why don’t we put this on our Forest Hill Society social media! Out went a couple of social media and forum requests for old laptops and tablets. We had a fantastic response, so much so that I had to start collating a spreadsheet with who was offering what and via what medium so I wouldn’t lose track. For more than a week I was messaging, emailing and then planning a cycle route around Forest Hill collecting up to five devices a day to drop off at John's house. John was almost overwhelmed, but he very jovially insisted it was all fine, and set about restoring machines and buying random licenses, parts, chargers and even keyboard decals from eBay. I heard stories of random screen and keyboard swaps, and all kinds of ‘surgery’.

We have now successfully refurbished over 27 devices including laptops, MacBooks and iPads — all repurposed and delivered. That’s pretty much equivalent to a whole new class online, plus a few more that were donated and used for spares.

The headteacher of the school has told us that every device is making a difference to the families who received them. It has removed the stress on children of not being able to log in to their daily meetings, eased the issue of siblings and working parents competing for devices, and increased active engagement in online learning in every class. She said,

“I can't thank John and all at Forest Hill Society enough for what they've done. Their generosity in terms of time and money is overwhelming and has made a huge difference to our families.”

It’s not too late — we’ve figured out that the school’s Apple remote install will handle Zoom right down to iOS Ver 9; so, if you have any old iPads from the old larger connector generation lying around, we can maybe bring them back to life. Ditto any laptops that have a webcam, probably going back to 2010; let us know and we will still pick them up.

Some donors have been exceptionally generous and provided more than one device, and one or two very up-to-date tablets and laptops have emerged too.

Thanks to everyone who donated, including the All Inn One pub who contributed £100 for spares, and Finches and Sushi Garden; and a huge thank you to John who’s spent most of January knee-deep in technology. Forest Hill Society has matched the £100 in order to help purchase data SIMs and dongles for households with no Wi-Fi/Broadband.

07 February 2021

Crime Update

The local Safer Neighbourhoods Team have contacted us to warn that the local area is currently suffering from a slight increase in motor vehicle crime. You can read their guidance here.


Always lock it

Fuelling up or popping back into your house to get something are perfect examples of how easy it is to turn your back for a moment and forget your vehicle is unsecured. So get into the habit of locking your vehicle even if you’re only going to be away from it for a moment. If your vehicle has wing mirrors that fold in automatically when locked, ensure you lock it properly. Criminal gangs are looking for vehicles like these where the wing mirrors are still out because it is clear to them that the vehicle has been left unlocked.

Close windows and the sun roof to prevent ‘fishing’

Leaving windows and the sunroof open invites fishing for items through the gap by hand or with, say, a bent coat hanger, which could also be used to unlock a door for them to get in. Thieves can be ingenious. Don’t give them the opportunity.

Secure your number plates with tamper-resistant screws

The easiest way to change the identity of a stolen vehicle or avoid speeding tickets and parking tickets is to fit stolen number plates. Using security screws to attach your vehicle’s number plates makes it harder for thieves to get your number.

Fit locking, anti-tamper wheel nuts to secure alloy wheels

Stolen wheels are valuable, either as parts or for their scrap value. Using locking wheel nuts reduces the risk of your vehicle’s wheels being stolen. 

Secure anything that’s on the outside of your vehicle

Anything left on roof-racks, tailgate racks, holiday top boxes or in tool chests are easily stolen when the vehicle is parked. The use of cable locks, padlocks and self-locking tools chests, which are secured to the vehicle, makes them more secure, but still, don’t leave things in them if you can avoid it.



Take it with you or hide it

Your mobile phone, coins for the car park, sunglasses, packs of medication or other items that can earn quick cash are irresistible to the opportunist thief. Remember, the cost of replacing a window is often much more than that of what’s stolen. And it should go without saying that wallets, handbags, purses and credit cards should never be left in an unattended vehicle. 

Hide electrical items and leave no clues

Leaving sat nav mounts, suction cup marks on windows or cables on view gives it away that you have left a sat nav, smartphone or other device in your car. Even if they can’t see the sat nav or iPad they might still break in to see if it’s stored in the car, out of sight.

Tool theft from vans

Vans are often targeted by thieves for the tools stored inside. If you have to leave tools in a van overnight, it's a good idea to mark them clearly with your name / company name and address using paint pens and seal with a clear lacquer spray. Alternatively, you can use a variety of other property marking systems. Items that are clearly marked are less desirable and more difficult to sell on. Consider using a lockable cabinet within your van to store tools – a number of security rated products are available. Small cameras are also designed to record inside vehicles. Visit Secured by Design for more details. You can also take photographs of items of value, make a note of the serial numbers and consider registering them online at a property register site.

Park in well-lit and busier areas

It can take less than 30 seconds to break into a vehicle. Parking in well-lit areas and busy streets increases the chances of a thief being seen, so they’ll probably steer clear.

Take your documents with you

Having a vehicle’s registration and insurance documents could let a thief pretend to be the owner. Which means they could sell it on quite easily. So, never leave any documents in the vehicle.

Catalytic converter theft

The precious metal in catalytic converters has led to an increase in their theft. To keep yours safe, ask your car dealer if they can give you any advice on locks or guards that are approved by the vehicle manufacturer. Alternatively, try to make sure your vehicle is parked in a garage overnight, or if you have a commercial vehicle park it in a secure compound. If this isn’t possible, park in an area that’s well-lit and overlooked and try to park so that the convertor can’t be easily reached by potential thieves. Vehicles that sit high above the road are particularly vulnerable.


06 February 2021

Laptops for Schools

One of our Forest Hill Society team has been refurbishing laptops & desktops for SE23 children in need of remote learning capability. Can we ask that any family and friends and/or anyone else out there who has a laptop stuffed in a drawer or a cupboard - would they be willing to donate it. We will collect, reconfigure, re-install and distribute where needed.
Base requirement is that it has a webcam and a power supply, and is powerful enough to run Zoom.
Every one means another child is linked in to remote teaching.
We have already collected and passed on more than 27 laptops and tablets that are now being used for on-line learning. A big THANK YOU to those who have already made contributions or are about to.

If you have a laptop of tablet that could be donated please email chair@foresthillsociety.com

Consideration for a Low Traffic Neighbourhood for Forest Hill

Members of the Forest Hill Society transport committee met with a small group of local residents and Sustrans to discuss ongoing concerns about rat-running in the local area bounded by Wood Vale, South Circular, Devonshire Rd and Honor Oak Park/Forest Hill Road. Local Councillors helped to facilitate the meeting. This was merely a kick off to understand what options were available in terms of investigating ways to mitigate volumes of non residential traffic in the area which is used for ‘popular’ shortcuts down local streets, addressing concerns about speeding, road safety, cycling and also accessibility. Various discussions and proposals for the area have been raised before, we’re now revisiting options.

We discussed Low Traffic Neighbourhoods  (LTNs), their benefits, but also concerns around LTNs and how they have been recently implementation and what could be done to avoid the backlash on future schemes. We also discussed alternative measures such as banned turns, single modal filters and no entry no exit roads.We agreed that the most likely solution to the issues would be through Lewisham council's existing healthy neighbourhoods programme. The Forest Hill area detailed in Lewisham's programme roughly corresponds to the road borders outlined above.

Sustrans suggested the best way forwarded would be a community led feasibility study into an LTN or other traffic restrictions in the Forest Hill. Evidence of community support for an LTN in the area will hopefully lead to Lewisham prioritising the area in their programme. Sustrans can put together a proposal for delivering this. The aim is to have Lewisham fund Sustrans to provide local community engagement and education prior to a formal consultation run by Lewisham. The objective here is to begin discussions and get local feedback on the options and proposals that Sustrans will recommend.
We would welcome thoughts from local residents in the comments or via email to email@foresthillsociety.com