Worcester Park at its best

A selection of events happened to come together this weekend to show how much goes on within the community and to make it a very special time in Worcester Park.

Worcester Park Christmas Night poster
Worcester Park Christmas Night poster

Friday night we had the annual Worcester Park Christmas Night organised by Worcester Park Traders Association. Having been the organiser of Cheam Charter Fair for the past few years I understand how much hard work is involved in an on-street event like this. This event was however much more complex so I was particularly impressed by what Worcester Park Traders Association achieved for our benefit. The kids seemed to be particularly impressed by the sight of Santa and a Gruffalo going up and down Central Road in an army jeep!

Saturday we had the Worcester Park Christmas Produce and Craft Market organised by EcoLocal on behalf of Sutton Council. It’s nice to see the stalls added to our usual array of shops at this regular event which should help to boost our shopping centre. As always with local shopping facilities – USE IT OR LOSE IT!

Mayflower Park, The Hamptons carol singing
Mayflower Park, The Hamptons carol singing
Mayor of Sutton, The Hamptons Christmas Tree
Mayor of Sutton, The Hamptons Christmas Tree

Saturday evening saw a new event in the Worcester Park calendar with the Hamptons Estate Company placing a Christmas tree on the hill in Mayflower Park and arranging a switching on ceremony for its lights.  When we arrived there were carols being sung around the still-dark tree at the top of the hill, providing a unique atmosphere in the cold, still, but very clear evening with the Shard and other London landmarks visible, glowing in the distance.  We then saw headlights coming up the hill towards us as the Mayor of Sutton, Worcester Park’s own Cllr Arthur Hookway, approached in the Mayoral car. He then spoke to the assembled crowd of adults and children before turning on the lights of the large Christmas tree, his red robes and tricorn hat adding to the theatre of the occasion. I wonder how far away our Christmas tree can be seen?

Green Lane Primary and Nursery School Choir
Green Lane Primary and Nursery School Choir

On Sunday the Worcester Park Royal British Legion provided a stage for children from Green Lane Primary and Nursery School to sing carols. A major change since I was a kid, and even when my sons were at school, is that the children were able to both sing AND sign the songs –  at the same time! I was also impressed that the money collected for the school after the performance was matched by Worcester Park Royal British Legion; real community spirit.

Later on Sunday I made my annual trip to the 4th Worcester Park Scout Group  for their Christmas ‘Scouts Own’. All my children went to the 4th (and one is still a helper) and I was Chair of their fund raising team for a while so I am no stranger to the Group and the excellent work it does for local youth. I estimate I have been going to the Christmas Scouts Own for about 25 years and it is now a part of our family’s Christmas ritual.

My thanks to the organisations that made all this possible, and particularly to those that give up their time to run things. If you have time to spare why not find a local organisation to join. You will not only help the community but are likely to make new, and possibly life long, friends.

Off to the big City; Saturday at Guildhall

After a lifetime of being tied to working a notional ’09:00 to 17:00′ type pattern the life of a councillor can feel a bit strange. Meetings of the Council, community groups etc can happen at any time but are often in the evening. Entries in the diary also appear for training, community events and of course for knocking on residents’ doors, which also aren’t constrained to the Monday to Friday pattern.

This weekend the whole of Saturday was booked for my attendance at the London Councils Summit which happens every year to give councillors from across London a chance to meet, attend information sessions and meet organisations of relevance to the local government sector.

London Councils Summit - Guildhall Old Library
London Councils Summit – Guildhall Old Library

The event was hosted by the City of London Corporation in the historic Guildhall in the heart of the City. Luckily there aren’t too many commuters on a Saturday morning so I had the luxury of a seat on the train from Worcester Park to Waterloo AND on the Waterloo and City line, or ‘the drain’ as it’s been known to generations of City workers. Regular Worcester Park commuters will be more familiar with a ‘cosier’ journey and probably don’t understand the concept of a seat!

I have worked in the City at various stages of my career so had walked past the Guildhall many times over the years but this was the first time I’d had cause to enter. It is a lovely historic building with modern additions to allow it to continue to fulfil its role in City life. It also has an interesting art gallery and the basement contains the remains of a Roman amphitheatre so I can recommend a visit if you haven’t been there. Maybe something to do at lunchtime if you work in the City?

My first stop was the Old Library exhibition hall for coffee and a pastry. I also used the time to explore the exhibitor stands and had a chat with some representatives from TfL. As a Worcester Park resident and councillor I used the opportunity to discuss the capacity problems on the X26 bus route before spotting a new Crossrail 2 leaflet and discussing the reasons why the new rail route should include the Epsom branch and a stop at Worcester Park. Those that know me will be aware of my strong views on the proposed service and may have signed the Crossrail 2 petition local councillors put together with our MP, Paul Burstow.

The day’s events then started in the impressive Livery Hall with the morning including a session of overviews and discussions which reminded us of the huge task London councils face in changing services to allow for the huge cuts in Government funding. We are well aware of this in Sutton due to the ongoing Sutton’s Future consultation with residents but it was comforting to know we are not alone and all councils are suffering. There was also an interesting, and at times amusing, overview of the political landscape from Steve Richards, chief political correspondent for The Independent, to give us a break from financial worries.

London Councils Summit - breakout session
London Councils Summit – breakout session

Following a break for lunch we could choose one of three breakout sessions to attend. I chose the session titled ‘Getting local people involved’ which, by coincidence, was chaired by Ruth Dombey, Leader of Sutton Council. Sutton tries hard to get residents’ views to guide its strategies but it was interesting to hear how other councils go about getting residents involved.

The final session included an interesting but light-hearted look at the forthcoming general election, including lots of statistics to see how the political landscape might change with different voter patterns.

It was dark by the time I left Guildhall  but the weather was still pleasant so I decided to walk through the interesting historic back streets of the City of London and along the south bank of the Thames before getting the train back to Worcester Park from Waterloo.

A long day but an interesting and informative way to spend a Saturday. My family might have seen my absence, for the second Saturday in a row, in a different way!

Councillor in court

Potential jurors are selected randomly from the electoral register so I had always found it strange that for the whole of my life neither my parents nor I were ever called for jury service. It was convenient being missed out but on the other hand I had always wondered if it might be quite interesting.

Then, a couple of months ago my Jury Summons arrived in the post with a date on which I had to turn up at Crown Court for two weeks service. In a way this wasn’t perfect as my councillor duties and other activities were already taking up a lot of my time. It is possible to postpone your service but I didn’t take this route as I couldn’t see when losing two weeks was ever likely to be convenient. So, forms filled and date confirmed I just cleared my diary apart from a few evening Council meetings and hoped I wouldn’t be required outside of office hours.

Sitting in the jurors area waiting to be called can be tedious but having access to my emails and electronic files meant I could get some work done – a benefit of ‘Cloud Computing’. When your name is called you are taken down to the court as part of a panel of 16 from which 12 are randomly chosen. Each selected juror then stands up to read their oath and those not chosen are required to wait in case the defendant objects to anyone and wants a replacement. Some people can get to the end of their service without sitting on a case but I was lucky to be on the panel for two cases and was one of the 12 chosen in each with no replacements being requested. The first case lasted just over a week and the second took three days so I was occupied for most of my two weeks.

Each of the cases followed a similar pattern which started with the prosecution presenting their side of the story. This was followed by the defence case, summing up from both sides then finally the judge’s summing up of everything we had heard. After this it was down to us to weigh up the evidence and make a decision on the innocence or guilt of the defendant, bearing in mind it is for the prosecution to prove guilt not the defence to prove innocence. To do this we were taken to a deliberation room where we handed over our phones and other means of communicating with the outside world and were locked away until we all agreed a decision.

One of the jobs the jury is given by the judge is to elect a foreman who will stand up in court and return the jury’s verdict. It is not a popular job and in both cases I ended up taking on the role. It is both strange and emotional standing with everyone in the court watching you while you return a verdict that could change the course of someone’s life. It is however comforting that all of the jury came to the same conclusion so you are not alone in making what is likely to be a sound decision.

So, having now performed jury service would I want to do it again? It can be boring while waiting around and trials can have their slow sections but it is an important job which has to be done. Overall I found it very interesting and a useful learning experience so the answer is a definite yes.

Digital inclusion – do YOU know anyone that doesn’t use the Internet?

Those who know me or have seen my posts on this site, Facebook and Twitter will probably have realised that I am a great fan of computer technology and am an avid user of the Internet. My interest partly stems from almost 40 years in the IT industry but, some might say, also comes from a ‘techie-geeky’ interest in computers and their uses.

Computers can be annoying and frustrating at times but they can also bring huge benefits. Almost three years ago I decided to take a sabbatical from IT Management and used some of my new found free time to become a volunteer at Sutton Central Library helping to deliver their weekly ‘It’s never too late to learn’ classes. These sessions aim to get Sutton residents over 50 who have never used a computer onto the digital superhighway. This activity increased my awareness of the benefits the Internet can bring to people, especially those living alone or with physical limitations. The ability to communicate via email and video and shop online can make a huge difference to the quality of some people’s lives. The title of the libraries’ courses is also accurate as I haven’t yet found someone who is too old to get on the Internet. To prove the point, we recently had a student who was 92!

During this time I have also worked with Age UK Sutton facilitating IT sessions for their target age group and have made contact with other groups in the borough who provide IT sessions. They are all doing a great job but I have felt there is a need to work together and pool our resources if we are to see a significant increase in the percentage of computer and Internet users in the London Borough of Sutton.

This week a couple of opportunities presented themselves which enabled me to get a broader view of training opportunities in the borough. First, I was able to spend an afternoon at Sutton Council’s ‘Let’s get digital’ event in Sutton Civic Centre helping Sutton Libraries to increase awareness of their digital offerings which include the sessions already mentioned plus downloadable digital books, magazines and audio books. The event was attended by other providers of free and low cost IT sessions including Age UK Sutton, SCOLA, SCILL and Barclays Bank. For me this also presented an excellent chance to meet representatives of these organisations, establish contacts and discuss ways to collaborate.

By coincidence I also became aware of Sutton Council’s Digital Inclusion project and was kindly offered the chance to discuss the project with key council officers. The project has a broad scope which includes council systems, public web sites and the staff intranet, but the part that caught my attention was the one which aims to improve levels of digital inclusivity of residents in the borough. I was given a thorough overview of the project’s achievements so far, it’s current activity and its future aims. The resident inclusivity part of the project is still being developed, but the meeting provided a useful opportunity to understand their aims and feed in my views and experiences.

My activity so far has been with over-50 groups but I realise there are also younger people who have slipped through the digital net and need some help and encouragement to reap the benefits of computers and the internet.

Now to the title of this post! One of the big issues encountered by groups trying to find people who would benefit from using the Internet is how do you find them? It is relatively easy to engage Internet users via email, Facebook, Twitter etc but, by definition, the target audience doesn’t use them! So, if YOU know anyone who is not an Internet user, or know of organisations in the borough whose membership might contain the target audience PLEASE get them to contact the organisations mentioned above – it really is never too late to learn and it can make a huge difference to the quality of people’s lives.

Will Crossrail 2 come to Worcester Park?

Cross London schemes

I thought it would be useful to start by putting Crossrail 2 in context with a quick run down of other cross-London rail routes as it helps to set the scene for the scheme.

  • Thameslink. We are already able to use this service which came into existence in 1988 after the old Snow Hill tunnel was reinstated to link Blackfriars with Farringdon and Holborn Viaduct station was sacrificed. The result was a through route which is currently used to link stations north of London on the St Pancras main line, such as Bedford and Luton, with stations on the main line to Brighton including East Croydon. It also has a south London loop which provides Wimbledon, Sutton and stations between with a service to the City and stations north. The service is currently being expanded to provide new trains and new destinations including Peterborough and Cambridge.
  • West London line. I am old enough to remember the few trains a day that ran between Clapham Junction and Kensington Olympia in the 1970’s using a two coach diesel unit. Over the years this improved and has now grown into two frequent services. One provides a service from Clapham Junction to Milton Keynes and the other is now part of the Overground network and provides a long loop (not quite a circle) from Clapham Junction back to Clapham Junction via north London and Docklands. Some services give up on the loop part way around and provide a direct service to Stratford.
  • Crossrail 1. This is the route currently being built, causing some very big holes in Central London and due to open in late 2018. It consists of new tunnels running west to east under Central London with trains making use of new and existing lines at each end. It links places including Reading and Heathrow Airport in the west with Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. Central London stops include Tottenham Court Road and Farringdon to service the West End and City respectively.

Crossrail 2 background

The population of London is expected to, in fact is planned to, continue growing and growing as the government and GLA press councils to build more houses across London and increase available office space, particularly in Central London.

The schemes already mentioned have been part of the plan to increase transport capacity in line with this proposed population and business growth but these schemes only help to cope with growth expected in the next 15 years so more capacity needs to be added to keep up with our need to travel after that.

Crossrail 2 is a suggested scheme to provide this next capacity boost and currently it is estimated it will be up and running by 2030.

Crossrail 3 has been mentioned in some places but I’m not aware of any official activity for it.

Crossrail 2 plan

The current thinking is to build a tunnel under Central London from Wimbledon in the south  to Alexandra Palace in the north. It would also emerge before Tottenham Hale to join the Liverpool Street National Rail line towards Cheshunt.

The part of particular interest to us in Worcester Park is where the trains would go after they emerge from the tunnel in Wimbledon on their journey south. The current proposals show three branches with trains going to Twickenham via Kingston, Surbiton and Epsom.

Some or all of these routes may appear in the final plan and the station stops for these services are yet to be decided. Crucially the route maps showed a stop at Motspur Park on the branch from Wimbledon to Epsom but implied trains would sail through Worcester Park without stopping.

Crossrail 2 consultation

The initial Crossrail 2 consultation in 2013 was to gauge reaction to the scheme and Sutton Council submitted a proposal which supported a Worcester Park stop and highlighted other benefits to the borough.
A second Crossrail 2 consultation in 2014 considered the central, underground, section of the route. It is particularly important that this part of the route is decided so that its path can be protected from other building projects which might otherwise get in the way.

Crossrail 2 campaigning

Crossrail 2 petition. Worcester Park station.

The campaigning for a Worcester Park service seems to have started with Sutton Council’s response to the 2013 TfL consultation and the online survey at that time which was completed by the public, including me! The results were summarised in a report which came out later in 2013 and mentions Sutton Council.

Current activity includes a petition initiated by Paul Burstow, MP for Sutton and Cheam and councillors in the Worcester Park and Nonsuch wards which cover the Sutton Council portion of Worcester Park.

This week I also had the opportunity to join Paul Burstow MP and Nonsuch ward councillor Richard Broadbent in a meeting  with Richard de Cani, TfL Director of Transport Strategy and Policy. It was useful to understand the project from TfL’s point of view and to confirm our efforts so far haven’t been wasted – a branch to Epsom WITH A STOP AT WORCESTER PARK is still possible. The project is still however in its early stages so we need to keep the pressure on!

Paul Burstow MP will be working with Sutton Council including Worcester Park and Nonsuch ward councillors to ensure they understand our case for Crossrail 2 but you can help by adding your name to the online petition.

Does your group need £500?

Neighbourhood Grants are a way for Sutton Council to help local community and voluntary groups. For the past three years the six Local Committees of the council have awarded grants of between £50 and £500 to local organisations operating in each of the Local Committee areas.

The Cheam North and Worcester Park local committee still has over £5,000 available during the 2014/5 financial year to allocate to organisations in the Worcester Park, Nonsuch and Stonecot wards of the London Borough of Sutton.

Applications are accepted from voluntary, community and self-help groups but they must be formally constituted.

A Neighbourhood Grants guidance document and application form are available on the Neighbourhood Grants page of the council web site or if you would like to discuss your project and find out more about applying you can email neighbourhoodgrants@sutton.gov.uk or phone 020 8770 6003/4391.

Dealing with residents’ problems

One of the first things that start to hit your inbox when first elected as a councillor are emails from constituents, and others, who have a problem or issue. To existing councillors and council officers this type of work is referred to as ‘casework’.
The first casework I logged was actually from me as there happened to be an issue close to my home that needed some input from the council to get it resolved. This was quite useful as it provided an opportunity to try out the council’s processes with only me to account to. In this case the system worked and the problem was resolved – great start!
A steady flow of casework has followed and now forms a regular part of my life. It is good that I am able to help people but I find it difficult to avoid dealing with emails and phone calls at weekends, when on holiday, or even in one case when rushing across London to catch a train for a business-related meeting.
I have received enquiries with a broad range of subjects and work done as a result has included replacing a manhole cover in Central Road, painting parking bay lines which had been missed due to a parked car and replacement of a fence damaged in last winter’s storms. Other subjects of casework have included parking penalties, litter, waste collection, a broken tree branch hanging over the pavement and even a missing tap!
It can be quite a job keeping track of everything but it is very pleasing when issues are resolved and you are contacted by a happy and/or relieved resident.
It is worth mentioning that residents can register issues and then follow their progress via the Report It area of the London Borough of Sutton web site. On occasions where things don’t work out as expected your councillors are of course available to help and can be contacted as shown in the Your Councillors section of the Sutton web site.

Frenetic Friday and manic Monday

It’s always nice if you can organise your workload so that Friday is not too hectic and the day gradually gets you into the right frame of mind for a relaxing weekend. Likewise a well planned Friday should enable you to ease yourself back into the working week without a huge backlog.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite work that way last weekend as a Friday morning meeting at Council offices in Carshalton required a quick start and a trip in the tail of the rush hour by 151 bus. It was however a pleasant morning and a quicker than expected bus journey gave me some time to have a walk around Carshalton.

My first meeting was arranged to enable me to provide input into deciding the priority for the numerous requests for changes to yellow lines and similar markings within Worcester Park, Nonsuch and Stoneleigh wards. These requests are typically submitted by individuals and organisations due to perceived safety and/or traffic flow issues. The council officers were very helpful guiding me through the long and diverse list of requests but it was still difficult to pick the ones that would move to the top of the list for a chance to benefit from the limited funds available.

This was followed by a meeting to discuss the responses to the recent consultation on a proposed cycle route for Worcester Park. There were responses both for and against the new route so we needed to find a solution that would allow the scheme to progress while at the same time dealing with the concerns expressed by some residents. It wasn’t easy but I believe we have come up with a flexible solution that will enable a new cycle route to be delivered within the funds available.

Finally a session to discuss things relating to my role as Chair of the Cheam North and Worcester Park Local Committee. This included discussion about the placement of the large poppies purchased from the Royal British Legion to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One. Councillors had decided at the recent Local Committee meeting that we would save around £1,600 of residents money by placing the poppies ourselves, or with help from the community, rather than paying for installation and the hire of a ‘cherry picker’. I still think this was a pragmatic approach but this now leaves the task of planning where, and how, to place one hundred 15 inch poppies!

The weekend then provide a chance to catch up with some domestic items and some councillor-related reading before spending Monday dealing with emails outstanding from Friday and the weekend. Who assured me things were quieter in August?!

Worcester Park Ward Panel

As the days and weeks go by since becoming a councillor I am continuing to discover new things about Worcester Park and the London Borough of Sutton and am attending new (to me) events and meetings.

This week I attended the Worcester Park Ward Panel meeting for the first time which was held at Maple Lodge in The Hamptons. The Panel has existed for many years and provides a forum at which representatives of local organisations, ward councillors and others can meet with local police and Sutton Borough Safer Neighbourhoods Team officers to discuss matters relating to security and crime in the ward and set objectives for the next period.

One of the good things about living in Worcester Park, and the London Borough of Sutton as a whole, is the relatively low levels of crime when compared to the rest of London. Having said that, there are always antisocial people in our society who are looking for opportunities to commit crime and consequently some crimes are inevitably committed.

I felt it was a very positive meeting with all parties wanting to work together to reduce, and prevent, crime using the police and Worcester Park Safer Neighbourhoods Team resources in the most effective way.

Hands up if you know what a Sutton Council Local Committee is

To quote from the London Borough of Sutton web site  “Local Committees are local meetings of ward councillors and community representatives which are open to the public. The committees are attended by the local Safer Neighbourhood Police, local people and others to discuss matters of local interest, influence the decisions that the Council takes and encourage public services to work together to solve local problems. The Committees can also allocate funding to projects which affect the physical appearance of local areas and award Neighbourhood Grants of up to £500 to local groups”.

There are 18 wards in the borough covered by 6 local committees with the Cheam North and Worcester Park local committee covering my own Worcester Park ward plus Nonsuch and Stonecot wards. Each ward has three councillors so a total of nine councillors sit on the committee. Following the recent elections I was asked to take on the role of Chair of this committee and Councillor Samantha Bourne (Liberal Democrat, Nonsuch ward) accepted the role of Vice Chair.

The meeting is also attended by non-voting representatives of local community groups. The current list of groups is:

Last Thursday was the first meeting of our local committee since the elections in May and therefore the first time I had been required to Chair the meeting. A daunting prospect, particularly as a new councillor, but I was well briefed during meetings with Sutton Council officers and supported by  my fellow councillors including the three experienced ‘old hands’ from Stonecot ward.

The meeting was well attended and a full agenda made it a challenge to deliver all the items within the allotted timescale. The Public Question Time section of the meeting was particularly popular but sadly time did not allow everyone to put their questions to the meeting.

Don’t forget you can also put questions to your ward councillors via email or at their regular ward surgeries. Dates and times of Worcester Park and Nonsuch ward surgeries can be seen on the Events page of the Worcester Park Info web site where meeting details will also be published.

If you want to know more about this and other meetings the agenda, minutes and an audio recording of the whole meeting are available on the London Borough of Sutton web site.

The next meeting will be held on 23 October 2014, commencing at 19:00, at Christ Church with St Philip, Ruskin Drive, Worcester Park, KT4 8LG. It is very tempting to hold all meetings here as I live nearby but to be fair to residents we will move the meeting around the three wards over the coming months.

Blog of Councillor Richard Marston of the Worcester Park Ward of the London Borough of Sutton