October 2009

Chessington Community College - celebration as new building is formally opened

The new building for Chessington Community College was formally opened by Edward Davey MP on Monday.

Of all the 100 Pathfinder new school projects in the country this was the only one to have been built on time and within budget. And it's not just a bog standard school building, but probably the best new school building in the country.

Enjoy the photos...

Government threat to Freedom Passes

If you have a London Freedom Pass you may know that it is partly paid for through a £55 million grant from the Government to local authorities like Kingston. Up until now the Government has funded two thirds of the cost and the London councils have found the other one third.

And now, it seems, Labour is planning to reduce the grant so it only covers a half of the cost. The only way the scheme could continue would be if London Councils could find £50 million.

The unfair thing about this is that outside London the Government covers the full cost of concessionary passes.

If you want to keep Freedom Passes then please sign the petition which has been organised by Caroline Pigeon, Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee.

The picture shows Caroline Pigeon (fourth from left) standing next to Cllr Derek Osbourne, Leader of Kingston Council who is supporting her campaign.

Honesty box

Yes, I do have a Freedom Pass myself ...

3000 Quest Seekers

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to stand in for the Deputy Mayor who was unable to attend a function. I'm always delighted to do these events - I had such a great time as Mayor and loved meeting all the people who are contributing to the community.

I've now got a photo to share with you from the Library Service, and we have to thank the librarians for another hugely successful project. Over the summer 3000 children in the borough enrolled on the Summer Reading Challenge, which this year was titled 'Quest Seekers'. They were encouraged, with sticker books and posters as incentives, to borrow books from the libraries. The challenge was to read six books over the summer holiday and around 1000 children managed this.

That is pretty impressive - I'm pleased if I manage three books when I'm away on holiday, so six books is quite a lot.

All the children who completed the challenge were given a certificate, and some lucky winners were invited to the Rose to receive prizes. The youngest age group was 0-3 years!

You are invited to an exhibition on a roundabout

... and a very busy one at that!

. . .

A few weeks ago I mentioned the plans that are being developed for Tolworth Broadway and the roundabout over the A3. There was quite an extensive consultation at the time, but there is now another opportunity to see the latest plans and give your views on it to the Council.

On Saturday (10th) the plans will be on display by the footpath inside the roundabout. Just turn up any time between 10am and 4pm. Fortunately the weather forecast looks benevolent.

Maybe friendship doesn't have to be regulated after all - Government clashes with Ofsted

Last week I wrote about the case of two police officers who were both job sharing and caring for each other's children. Ofsted had apparently told them that they should register as child minders in order to do that.

I urged you to sign the petition and today I've received a response from No 10:

The Childcare Act 2006 requires anyone providing ‘childcare for reward’ to register with Ofsted, with the aim of ensuring every child in a commercial childcare service is safe and well cared for. Parents would expect no less. However, our intention has always been that friends and families caring for children through informal arrangements should be exempt from having to register and we believed that was what always happened. In the light of this recent case we are talking to Ofsted about how we can make sure there’s a shared understanding with Ofsted, and with parents, of what the law means and how it should interpreted.

Since 1997 we have invested £25bn in childcare and early years services, doubling the number of childcare places available for children under 8 to support working families and providing more support than ever before with childcare costs, with over £3.8 million a day going directly into parents hands to help pay for childcare through tax credits.

In other words, Ofsted was wrong.

Polysystems - how to provide medical help nearer to home?

You have probably heard that there are some interesting proposals for the future of Surbiton Hospital. These will affect people in South of the Borough because it means we will be able to go to Surbiton for some outpatient services rather than travel to Kingston Hospital.

Illustration kindly provided by NHS RedbridgeIllustration kindly provided by NHS RedbridgeThe concept is to bring medical services nearer to home, which means that consultants will hold clinics at Surbiton, and all sorts of procedures, such as X-rays, will also be available there.

This array of services (including GP practices) all under one roof is known as a polyclinic. But NHS Kingston is taking it futher and talking about 'polysystems' in all four Neighbourhoods. The idea is to provide some new kinds of services right here in the community, through the existing GP practices.

For a start, they have awarded a contract for a walk-in health clinic for the area in Chessington and Hook south of the A3. This will be run by a new GP practice, but anyone will be able to drop in between 8am and 8pm for advice. There has been some concern about how this might impact on the four existing GP practices, but I have been told by NHS Kingston that we are, in fact, under-provided for GPs in the area.

We are kicking off the South of the Borough Neighbourhood meeting on Wednesday (14th) with an opportunity to hear about all these proposals and to give our views on them. Everyone is welcome. The meeting starts at 7.30pm in Castle Hill Primary School, Buckland Road.

If you can't make that, then the NHS is holding a couple of consultation meetings about the proposals on Tuesday (13th), one at 1.30pm and the other at 7.30pm. This will both be in the St Mary's Centre in at the top end of Church Lane.

You can read more about the proposals on www.kingston-polysystem.nhs.uk. You can download a copy of the consultation survey from the website if you can't get to a meeting.

Why don't we value jobs according to their social usefulness?

I've recently come across an organisation called Edge, who want to raise the status of practical and vocational education.

That is something very close to my heart. I've always hated the academic/vocational divide in education, which is often an oblique restatement of old-fashioned class prejudice. You know the old put-down: "Some people are good with their brains but others are good with their hands".

What is often overlooked is the fact that some of the highest status courses of study, such as medicine, law and engineering, are essentially vocational, in that they are tied to particular professions. On the other hand, everyone, whatever their path in life, needs a basic level of academic education in order to make best use of the job-specific knowledge that they have to learn.

I also hate the idea that jobs are graded (and probably paid) according to some outmoded assessment of status. Society depends on a huge range of tasks being undertaken, and it would be so much better if we valued people's work according to some scale of social usefulness.

What would be your top ten jobs, rated in terms of social usefulness?

Here's my initial thoughts (in no particular order, as they say), but I'll probably come back and think again:

  • refuse collector
  • builder, especially plumber
  • shop assistant
  • teacher (of course!)
  • musician
  • social worker
  • medical professional
  • hairdresser
  • cleaner
  • software engineer

Coming back to Edge, one of their current projects, chaired by Sir Stuart Rose, of M&S fame, is called The Big Converstion. It's remit is to improve work experience for school students, by getting business to improve what they offer.

They also drew my attention to a competition for college students that is being run in conjunction with Colleges Week. The challenge is for students in Further Education and Sixth Form colleges tp prodice a short film, showing what they would do if they were 'running the show', where the 'show' can be anything from a football club to the country itself.

Boris Johnson announces 20% bus fare rises!

Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson seems to think that a 20% rise in costs for public services is acceptable in a recession.

He has just announced the inceases in fares on London buses from early next year.

The Oyster pay-as-you-go bus fare increases by a massive 20% from £1.00 to £1.20.

There's also a 20% increase in the cost of a seven day bus pass, which will go up from £13.80 to £16.60

Tube fares also go up, but mainly by 12.5%. Out here, of course, bus fares have a far greater impact than Tube fares.

The awful thing about this is that the people who will be hit the hardest are just those people who have suffered most in the recession - the unemployed and those on low wages.

I'm fuming.....

Whatever the national picture, our libraries are thriving, especially at Hook

One thousand new people joined Hook and Chessington Library between April 2008 and March 2009! That is pretty impressive and far exceeds the other libraries in the borough.

The librarians believe that this is because the Hook Centre itself attracts many people who might not otherwise go into a library.

And that figure is even more remarkable when you realise that it builds on the huge jump in membership during the previous year, after the Hook Centre opened in January 2007.

At South of the Borough Neighbourhood Committee this week we were presented with a review of the library service, paying particular attention to our local branch. Here are some more facts from that review:

  • Across the Borough 3000 children enrolled on the Summer Reading Challenge, at least 500 of them through Hook.
  • Bookstart packs have been distributed to 100% of 1 to 3 year olds in the borough.
  • 33% of borough residents regularly use a local library.
  • Kingston University, Kingston College and the Library Service have got together so they can make resources available to each other and jointly promote what they offer to local residents.
  • Visits to the website have increased by 9%.
  • There were an astonishing 11,548 attendances at Baby Rhymetime sessions which introduce the very youngest to the fundamentals of language that underpin successful reading. These are particularly successful at Hook.
  • Hook Library had 45 class visits from the five local primary schools.
  • There were 118 computer classes at Hook, covering everything from inroductions to computers to digital photography.

The only thing that concerned me was the drop in the numbers using the public computers in the libraries. A couple of years ago the libraries introduced a charge for using a computer after the first hour, which had always been free. I was very sceptical about this, as it was hitting at the very people who were most excluded. My view is that the libraries should be introducing paid-for services (such as access from home to online resources that do charge) aimed at those who can afford it, whilst keeping the provision of basic access free at the libraries.

However, the libraries went ahead with these charges, because they needed to generate some income. But my scepticism was justified and not only has usage dropped but so has the income. So I am hopeful that the charges will be dropped when the library charges are finally agreed for 2010.

Hook Parade base for our local Police teams?

For some years now, each ward has had its own Safer Neighbourhood Police teams. The Chessington South and Chessington North & Hook teams work together to everyone's benefit, and they have been looking for a joint base within the area. At the moment they work out of Surbiton Police Station which is a frustrating distance from the two wards.

The Metropolitan Police have now submitted a planning application to convert one of the shops in Hook Parade for this purpose. It is the shop to the right of the Debra charity shop - in fact, the one where they used to sell furniture - plus a part of the building behind the charity shop.

The Police are not proposing to have a front desk here, but to create office space.

The South of the Borough Neighbourhood Committee has the final say on the planning application, which means that I am not allowed to make any comments at all about the actual plans, but you can view them here on the Council website. You can also submit your comments through that web page.

Alternatives to landfill?

You are invited to a series of ward meetings in South of the Borough about the waste management consultation. If you can't attend your ward meeting then you are welcome to attend one of the others. They are:

  • Tolworth and Hook Rise, Thursday 22nd October, 7pm at Corinthinan Casuals (King Georges Recreation Ground)
  • Chessington North and Hook, Wednesday 28th October, 7pm at Castle Hill Primary (Buckland Road)
  • Chessington South, Thursday 29th October, 7pm at Chessington Community College

About 50% of the rubbish collected from homes in Kingston is sent for recycling. But what about the rest? At present it goes to landfill sites, which produce methane gas, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

In future we need to find other ways of disposing of non-recyclable materials. And that is exactly what the SW London Waste Partnership (Kingston, Merton, Sutton and Croydon) is looking at. They have been consulting on some possible sites across the four boroughs for 'waste management facilities'.

Some of the potential sites are in our Neighbourhood - one at the the corner of Jubilee Way, a group of possible sites on the Chessington industrial estate, and one near Chessington South Station - hence the local meetings.

Nowadays waste can be treated in quiet hi-tech plants that do not emit smoke or fumes, but understandably people have visions of air-polluting incinerators. The fact is that whilst these plants do generate heat, in the same way that compost heaps warm up, they are not incinerators in the traditional sense.

In fact, there are several possibly clean technologies that could be used, and the final choice will depend on the successful tenders for the massive contract next year. The most efficient systems generate electricity which can then be used to power nearby homes.

My main concern is about the traffic these plants could generate. In my ward there is a real problem with lorries driving through residential streets, instead of using the correct access to the industrial estate via Jubilee Way. In another piece of work I am very hopeful that at last we will be getting physical gates across the road opposite the Maverick, which will stop lorries from straying. But Mount Road and Roebuck Road are not so well protected from errant heavy goods vehicles.

I've been told that only 25% of the proposed sites across the whole four boroughs will actually be used in the end. Villiers Road is already used as a waste transfer site, so it would make sense to feed the waste directly into a plant on the spot rather than transport it elsewhere. I can't see any need for any further plants in the borough.

We need Refugee Action Kingston more than ever today

I spent a happy couple of hours today with Refugee Action Kingston. They are one of those highly effective organisations that work quietly in the background, providing essental support to asylum seekers and refugees.

So what do they do?

A major part of their work centres around their Learning Centre, where they offer English classes at all levels from complete beginners onwards. These classes also provide a safe place and friendship network for the clients. A good number of them spoke to us about themselves, demonstrating their language skills and giving the tiniest insight into their lives.

Of course, many of the people who turn to Refugee Action Kingston have suffered dreadfully in the past - you know the kinds of traumas they will have endured in their home countries, and the dangerous routes they may have taken to escape to the UK.

They all spoke very highly about England, and how much they like living here.

And yet I couldn't help thinking about the kind of Daily Mail fuelled 'welcome' they must get. The frequent confusion between asylum seekers and illegal immigrants; the assumption that they are taking our jobs, when asylum seekers are barred from working, often for years; the refusal to acknowledge the reality of the danger they have been in; and the covert racism.

And tonight the BNP will take those assumptions and attempt to present them as moderate patriotic beliefs. We have never needed Refugee Action Kingston more.

Although English teaching is very important, they also offer advice on immigration, housing, benefits, health and education, supported by an advocacy service. They run a summer playscheme for the 5-10 year olds and a young people's project for the older ones.

Sadly, many asylum seekers and refugees develop mental health problems - some of these can be traced back to the violence and fear they have experienced in their home countries, but some can also be attributed to the uncertainties of waiting, with no visible means of support, for the decision about their status. So Refugee Action Kingston offers a counselling service that is specifically targeted at their needs.

New play areas for King Edwards and Churchfields Recreation Grounds

I was really excited to hear earlier in the year that Kingston has been given £1.1 million to spend on improving play equipment in the borough's parks.

Although the funding will be spread over two years, the plans are moving ahead quickly now. So next week there are a couple of meetings in the parks to look at plans.

Anyone can join in, so go along to Churchfields Recreation Ground Play Area on Monday 26th October between 12pm and 3pm, or to King Edwards Play Area on Wednesday 28th October between11am and 2pm.

Next year they will be looking at improvements for the Woodgate Avenue recreation ground.

In parallel with this, the officers are working up plans for a play area for disabled children at the Moor Lane school site, which is now a Centre for Families with Disabled Children. They will, of course, be discussing those plans with the parents.

How much of the price you pay for charity Christmas cards actually goes to the charity?

Did you know that if you buy charity Christmas cards from a high street store then as little as 6% of what you pay might be donated to the charity?

Which? has just done a report on this. It hasn't been posted online yet, so I can't give a direct link, but the BBC reported it.

Whilst a small handful of promotions in stores do give up to the full retail price to the charity, the vast majority do not, with an average donation of about 10%.

So how do you make sure that most of the price you pay for a charity card goes towards the cause?

First, you can buy directly from the charity, by post or online.

Or - and my preferred method for many years now - you can go along to Kingston Parish Church any time during the day from Monday to Saturday. There is a Cards for Good Causes stall at the back of the church, run by volunteers. At least 75% of the price of each card goes to the named charity.

The best thing about this option is the huge range of cards for sale, from about 40 different charities, so you should find something to suit you.

Obama follows my lead ....

Warning - this is mildly technical!

I've mentioned before that I developed this site using Drupal, which is an open source content management system. I've used Drupal on a number of sites in the last year or so including www.edwarddavey.co.uk and www.stpaulschurchhook.org.uk

Now it seems the White House is following suit, and has ditched its previous system in favour of Drupal, citing its flexibility and reliability.

Some of us have been saying for a long time that government websites should move towards open source software; maybe parts of the UK government will wake up to its strengths?

Christmas Craft Fairs

The Craft Fairs at the Hook Centre have been very popular and I've been impressed by the excellent range of stalls.

You will get a chance to buy Christmas presents, or just to treat yourself, at the Christmas Craft Fairs on the following dates:

Saturday 31st October
Saturday 7th November
Saturday 14th November

All will run from 9am to 4pm in the Hook Centre.

The cafe will be open as usual, and they are now serving full roast lunches as well the usual sandwiches and light meals.

Mayor of London endangers Rape Crisis Centres by cutting funding by over £800k

In his election manifesto Boris Johnson promised to spend £744,000 per annum on new, badly needed, Rape Crisis Centres in London.

And guess what? He has broken that promise already. And on a big scale.

The Mayor only allocated £1.4million over 3 years instead of the promised £2.23million - a difference of £832,000.
See the press release from the London Assembly who are challenging him on this.

First, he taxes the least well off by increasing bus fares by 20%; next, he withdraws support from rape victims. I'm disgusted.

Published by Mary Reid, 126 Clayton Road, Hook Chessington KT9 1NJ
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