Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Three Films about the April 1981 Brixton Riot

plus discussion

 “We Want to RIOT, Not to WORK”

Monday 12th August

7.30pm, free entry

At Pogo Cafe, 76 Clarence Road, Clapton, London, E5 8HB

for directions check out:

Organised by North London Solidarity Federation

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

FINSBURY PARK - a history of community empowerment

from Hugh, Friends of Finsbury Pk

When Finsbury Park became neglected and rundown in the 1990s I wrote letters to Haringey Council and the Home office and joined others campaigning to stop its buildings being burnt down by vandals, its lake killing the birds with botulism, its grass and trees trashed by commercial concerts. I started to research a history of the park to show how important Finsbury Park had been to the community over the years. It was then I discovered to my surprise that I was just part of a long history of local people campaigning for and in the park, campaigns to get the park built, campaigns to protect it once it was in existence, and political demonstrations on its green spaces.

The creation of Finsbury Park took 20 years of agitation by north Londoners before it became a reality, and although the reality was a poor shadow of the earlier proposals, it would never have been built without thousands of ordinary people meeting up and writing letters and signing memorandums.

From 1800, land north of the city of London shot up in value and was rapidly built over, including traditional open spaces like Finsbury Fields. Everyone could see the need for new open spaces, particularly for health reasons. In 1833, a select committee reported to the House of Commons in favour of the establishment of parks for the eastern, southern and northern districts of the metropolis (The west of London already had Regents Park). Whilst Victoria Park in the east and Battersea Park in the south were created with Government funding, a park for the north of London came up against impossible hurdles, due mainly the ever rising cost of land for new buildings to accommodate the massive influx of people from all over.

In 1841 a petition for a north London park numerously signed by residents was sent to the Queen and various sites were suggested but they were built on before action could be taken. Agitation for a park continued and when the Metropolitan Board of Works was created in 1855, funded by local ratepayers, with a remit to oversee “improvement of the metropolis, a new group began agitating for a park for Finsbury and a plan was created in 1856 with an estimate of costs. It was opened in 1869.

Out of the 131 acres, The Albion Cricket Club was given its own patch by the New River, the East London Water Company was given an underground reservoir and 20 acres were allocated as building leases in order to cover costs. Local ratepayers were up in arms and meetings in 1868 followed by a petition signed by 14,137 local residents and a deputation to parliament had its effect. In 1873 the MBW decided to give up on leasing the 20 acres for building and designated them for recreational purposes”

Those many people who fought for a park for Finsbury in order to promote the health and improvement of the moral condition of the middling and poorer classes may not have intended the park to become a centre of protest and demonstrations. Once opened, there were regular meetings by labour groups and religious groups and during the First World War large meetings of pacifists belonging to the Herald League attended on one occasion by Sylvia Pankhurst. Between the wars there were famous clashes between the British Union of Fascists and the anti-fascist organisations. Interestingly, in the 1950s the committee of 100 had their offices at no 4 Blackstock Road and it was there that the ban the bomb sign was discussed and agreed upon.

In recent times, the Finsbury Park Action Group (FPAG), with support from many local people, fought for increased funding... The Friends of Finsbury Park came out of this group, formed in 1986. It was the efforts of FPAG that managed, after a number of attempts, to get £27m SRB funding for the area in 2001. The Friends of Finsbury Park focused the large number of complaints about the park... They also ran festivals, art and music events, Easter egg hunts, produced a history of the park, opened the community garden and ran a successful history project about the park with talks, exhibitions and signage about the park.

They brought in over £300,000 of funding, and helped galvanise Haringey into successfully applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund supported by the SRB money. About £6 million was spent on restoration of the park.

Whilst fashions change and the park has had to provide more sport, or allotments during the war, or put up with commercial concerts to pay council bills, it is important to remember that Finsbury Park is there only because thousands of local people have fought for and defended its existence for over 150 years.

Another park, another time, another struggle...


Friends of Lordship Rec, Tottenham

Lordship Rec, Tottenham's largest public park at 26ha, is bordered by 2 large Council estates (Broadwater Farm and Tower Gardens) and streets of terraced housing of all tenures. 12 years ago when the Friends of Lordship Rec set up it was a poorly-maintained and virtually abandoned park with no on-site staffing, no flower beds, semi-derelict buildings, poor quality and decaying infrastructure, and few organised user groups or activities apart from a mother and toddler group running an old hut, and a local youth football club (Broadwater United) managing the enclosed sports pitch they’d helped to rescue in the 1980s.

Inspired by the community-led regeneration of the Broadwater Farm estate in the 1980s and early 90s, and the successful campaign for extensive traffic calming on the Tower Gardens estate in the late 1990s, in 2002 the Friends conducted an initial park users How Can Our Park Be Improved? survey, and then teamed up with Broadwater United FC to launch the Lordship Rec Users Forum (LRUF). The aims of the Forum were to get all the stakeholders' organisations (User Groups, Council, Residents Associations, Schools etc.) to work together, to promote and encourage a range of new user groups, to develop a community-led vision to regenerate the site, to lobby for the resources needed to achieve that vision, and to move towards joint community/Council management of the site.

Both the Friends and the Users Forum have ever since continued to meet monthly and to consult the public widely to achieve the above, and indeed our achievements have multiplied beyond even our own wildest expectations!

* The number, breadth and membership of dedicated autonomous user groups has mushroomed, and now includes the Friends, Broadwater United FC, a new Lordship Rec FC, Wildlife Group, the Mother & Toddler Group, Walking Group, Running Group, Back 2 Earth environmental charity, Trax youth cycling club, Brakethru mobility cycling club, Shell Performing Arts Collective, River Moselle Management Group
* Guided by the results of public surveys and consultation efforts, and after 5 years of discussions, preparations, planning and design, and lobbying of funding bodies, the LRUF and Council succeeded in obtaining £5m, mainly from the Heritage Lottery Fund, for much-needed regeneration works. Weekly LRUF/Council coordination meetings have just overseen the completion of these works, including a brand-new flower-lined channel for the River Moselle, a new Loop bike dirt track, an Environmental Hub building with cafe and classroom, refurbishment of the Shell Theatre along with a new park staff team depot, renovation of the enclosed sports pitch, restoration of the historic and nationally-unique Model Traffic Area, new meadows, flower-beds and tree planting, and general improvements to drainage, paths and entrances
* There are now a wide range of public activities and events in the park organised by local groups, including our annual LRUF-organised Community Festival. 2012's 'relaunch' festival on September 22nd introduced the new facilities and attracted 8,000 local residents, double our previous highest turnout.
* Building upon the growing partnerships and co-management philosophy developed in the last few years at every level of decision-making, the Friends, LRUF and Council are committed to the ongoing co-management of the park as a whole, and the micro-management of each of its facilities and features, eg Lordship Woodland and Lake / Friends; Bike track / Trax Club; Spinney / Lordship Wildlife Group; Eco-Hub / Community Room; Football Field / Broadwater United; Community Gardens / Back 2 Earth; + similar micro-partnership arrangements for the River Moselle and the Shell Theatre.
* Inspired by the improvements achieved so far the key partners continue to meet for fortnightly Lordship Coordination meetings to monitor any ongoing works, discuss and plan further improvements and the fundraising necessary to achieve them, and to encourage and coordinate a wide range of events and activities by user groups.

It can be truly said that an inspiring and path-breaking community-led total transformation of this vital but neglected space is being achieved by exemplary community/Council partnership-working and LOTS of hard work!

Leaflet produced by Friends of Lordship Rec (2019)
commemorating Ray Swain, valued friend and colleague


by Dave Morris

Was it really only 3 years ago that a few of us Friends Groups activists first met up to help organise a London conference to discuss our common concerns as park users? We discovered that there were over 500 Friends groups around London, many having already formed local Friends Forums in various boroughs to support one another. We realised that if we could link up we could become a force to be reckoned with on behalf of London's green spaces.

Every local space is different and has different needs. My local park is Lordship Rec, the largest public green space in Tottenham. I have been active in the Friends of Lordship Rec since 2001, and am very pleased to say that after a lot of collective effort and partnership-working with the Council we have reversed the previous slide into neglect and are near the completion of a major lottery-funded and community-led £6m regeneration programme.

Local Friends Groups are set up by park users and local residents to promote, protect and improve a local green space - in essence to 'take ownership' of the space on behalf of local communities and park users. Friends Groups are responsible for a wide range of highly positive achievements, including: organising local events of all kinds, planting bulbs and helping increase biodiversity, disseminating information and news, producing publicity, history pamphlets, working closely with parks staff & managers, getting key user groups to work together, developing visions for improving local spaces, accessing resources & funding, etc.

Every green space should have the management and maintenance it deserves to enable the local community to enjoy its many benefits. This includes adequate on-site staffing, buildings and facilities in good condition and in daily use, and well-maintained natural and horticultural areas, playgrounds, paths and park furniture. And most importantly, the local community and in particular any Friends or User groups need to be able to be fully involved in the management of that green space.

Take my borough, Haringey. There are now over 40 local Friends groups involved with the Haringey Friends of Parks Forum, which has been active since 2002. We have discussed every green space issue under the sun, but in the last 2 years we have had to respond to the biggest crisis yet - 50% budget and staffing cuts to an already-underfunded parks department! We have therefore had to learn how to lobby, petition and protest, and to link up with other community groups and trades unions to stand up for the many local public services facing similar cuts.

We don't want London’s green spaces to return to the scandalous neglect and dereliction that afflicted most of the country's urban green spaces after the savage cuts to public services in the 1970s and 80s. Most Friends Groups were set up in the last 15 years precisely for that reason. Their often stupendous efforts have gradually borne fruit, but for most the recovery is nowhere near complete and Government cuts have thrown the gears into reverse. As well as totally inadequate levels of staffing there are also growing problems caused by privatisation and fragmentation of local services. Most spaces don't even have a Friends Group yet so are likely to be in a particularly poor state.

People can help out in a number of ways. For example: support local Friends Groups or help form them where needed, publicise their activities, help with local history projects, lobby for protective planning policies and for planning gain funds to go to green spaces, oppose cuts to parks budgets and maintenance....

We are encouraging the development of active Friends Forums in all London boroughs. Nationally, there are well over 5,000 local Friends Groups and the many local networks are linked together through the new National Federation of Parks & Green Spaces. It feels that our grass-roots (literally!) movement is growing and evolving into something very significant. We are aiming for a Friends Group and community empowerment for every urban green space, a Friends Groups Forum for every area, adequate resources & a statutory duty on all Councils & landowners to protect and manage all their spaces to Green Flag standards.

It is very exciting and empowering for those of us actively involved - but most importantly, despite the current problems and cuts, we have a real opportunity to promote and defend the country’s green spaces.

Community Empowerment in Parks & Open Green Spaces

This and following posts:
Background notes for tonight’s RaHN meeting
Wednesday July 10th, 7.30pm
Wood Green Social Club
3 Stuart Crescent, Wood Green, London N22 5NJ
[5 mins walk from Wood Green tube]

Community Empowerment in Parks & Open Green Spaces
(in Haringey, North East London and beyond...)

What can we learn from our urban green spaces regarding...

- some of the history of the establishment and development of public parks and green spaces
- their potential as sites for empowering and creative community activities
- community involvement in management (esp. with the rise of Friends Groups over the last 20yrs)
- some of the new (old?) ideas on environmental sustainability and potential for food growing
- and how parks could be better run in the future by those who work in them and use them.


“ The history of public parks and green spaces can be traced back to ancient cultures; the city of Athens, for example, created open spaces for the health and recreation of its citizens. In the 19th Century, Britain pioneered provision of public parks that were the envy of the world.

With the migration of people from rural communities to the rapidly growing and often overcrowded towns and cities, and following the Industrial Revolution, parks and public spaces were regarded as essential to the health, recreation and improved lifestyles of working people and their families. For generations urban parks have been valued for the economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits they bring to communities.

Almost every town and city has a park, or network of public green spaces, and these account for around 20% of the developed land area in the UK. They are also a significant feature of our urban heritage and, where the standards of management are high, are regarded as an essential component of successful cities around the world. Parks are often the most highly regarded services provided by a local authority. It is estimated that 2.5 billion visits to public parks are made each year by over half of the UK population.

Despite their popularity, public parks and green spaces in this country have witnessed a period of decline and failed to play their proper role in contributing to the quality of the urban infrastructure and the public realm. The "Public Park Assessment" survey published in 2001 by the former Urban Parks Forum (now Green Space) reported that well over one third of all publicly managed parks were in a serious state of decline. Savings from Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) and Best Value management regimes have not, to any great extent, been re-invested in parks. The contracting-out of grounds maintenance has led to the widespread withdrawal of site-based staff, to the great concern of local people, as well as to the removal of apprentice training schemes which are important for developing well-trained and experienced park managers. There is now a perception that certain parks should be avoided due to increasing levels of vandalism and anti-social behaviour and that institutional neglect often contributes to these problems.

Public parks are an essential element of local communities. They encourage strong community identities through social interaction & have the ability to foster public spiritedness. They are one of the few public services that cut across social, financial, cultural & ethnic barriers. They epitomise the concept of social inclusion.

CIWEM urges "joined up thinking" and the collaboration of all those who are responsible for, and care for, the rich resource which is our public parks and green spaces.”

- The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, 2008

A Radical History of Hackney Parks:

Booklet produced for this meeting, now available online in a slightly expanded form:

Monday, July 8, 2013

Two Radical history walks: bits of Hackney

1) Stokey Church Street and suchlike

Sunday 21st July
from North East entrance to Clissold Park
(by the gate on Queen Elizabeth’s Walk, London, N16, near the lakes)

400 years of squatters, levelers and urban revolutionaries

2) Dalston to Stokey Cop Shop.

Thursday 1st August
from Gillett Square, London, N16

includes, police spies, police killings, community organising,
anti-fascism, ’81 riots, refugee squats, armed struggle and just how shit
does someone have to be to get roads named after them?

All welcome, especially those who know more than us about these things.

For Radical History of Hackney, see blog at:
“broadly anarchist / libertarian communist with a few cultural deviations!”

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Meeting on Parks: Wednesday July 10th, 7.30 p.m.

Next RaHN meeting

Wednesday July 10th, 7.30 p.m.

Presentations and discussion...
Community Empowerment and Open Green Spaces (in Haringey, North East London and beyond...)
Wood Green Social Club
3 Stuart Crescent, Wood Green, London N22 5NJ
[5 mins. walk from Wood Green tube]

We will be looking at
- some of the history of the establishment and development of public parks and green spaces
- their potential as sites for empowering and creative community activities
- community involvement in management (especially with the rise of Friends Groups over the last 20 years)
- some of the new ideas on environmental sustainability and potential for food growing
- and how parks could be better run in the future by those who work in them and use them.