The Big Society, and Greenhalgh’s Community Champions

higton2A guest post from Mark Higton

On Thursday I was privileged to attend the 4th Annual Community Champions Tri-Borough Conference, which celebrated the work of the Community Champions programme – the purpose of which is to connect communities and residents with local services by utilising the passion and experience of local volunteers to improve health and wellbeing, and to reduce inequalities. It was a significant event, celebrating the achievements of our volunteers, with over 320 delegates in attendance from across Hammersmith, Kensington & Chelsea, and Westminster.

champoneI was moved by the public and private testimonies of our volunteers, of George Shaw (Notting Dale), who spoke of his happiness at being able to listen and engage with people, solving problems and improving his skills and knowledge in the process; Heba Al-Rifaee (Old Oak), whose involvement as a Maternity Champion has allowed her to help neighbours, make friends, and to give something back to Britain; David Rice (World’s End), who compared the event to ‘the Brit Awards’, and marvelled at how the isolated and vulnerable have been reached as community barriers were broken down; and Julie Isaac (Queens Park), who read a beautiful poem dedicated to her fellow Community Champions.

The programme was launched in White City, in 2008, as part of the Dept. of Communities and Local Government’s “London-wide Well-London Programme”. As such it was a direct response to David Cameron’s call for Big Society solutions. It was supported by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, led ably by Stephen Greenhalgh, who had also anticipated the need to devolve the commissioning of services to the local community. The levels of engagement exceeded all expectations, and by late 2012 the programme was expanded. Its objectives being to:

  • Implement effective and sustainable community-led approaches, particularly in areas of greatest need
  • Engage and invest in people to build and strengthen good health and wellbeing for their communities
  • Building confidence, knowledge, skills and capacity of local people
  • To work in partnerships with local organisations and agencies to provide volunteering and employment opportunities

champtwoIt was at this juncture, with the support of Councillor Joe Carlebach, that the initiative was launched in Old Oak, and I became involved as a local authority representative. I reflected with some bemusement therefore, when a Hammersmith and Fulham Labour Councillor spoke of their pride on Thursday, ‘in leading the way’, as Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster announced that they intend to adopt Hammersmith’s devolved commissioning and delivery model.

Could this be the same devolved delivery structure that was devised by Stephen Greenhalgh, providing greater funding for areas with long-term social issues than ever before? The one which the Labour group were bitterly opposed to, campaigned against, and pledged to revoke, in stark contrast to their enthusiasm for (Cameron’s) Community Champions? A week, never mind three years, is a long time in politics, but thank you Stephen Greenhalgh!

There have been many accomplishments this past year, but I would like to specifically mention the Maternity Champions programme that was trialled at Old Oak. It was a national first, and a fantastic success. It enables volunteers at Community Centres and Queen Charlotte’s Hospital to sign post services required by mothers and new families, and to provide help and support regarding breast feeding. One of our Champions has commenced a foundation course in Midwifery, and with the Borough-wide (and National) extension of the programme it is hoped that she will be the first of many. We also have high hopes for other programmes that are in development.

As we approach the fifth year of the Tri-borough programme, it is no mean thing to reflect that Hammersmith’s share of volunteer Awards on Thursday accounted for 50%, with 33% in total going to Old Oak. I cannot underline enough what an incredible achievement and success story the programme is, with many volunteers gaining formal qualifications in ‘understanding health and wellbeing’, ‘mental health’, and ‘child birth and beyond’ whilst helping to identify and commission new services that meet local health and social care needs, and resolve long term structural problems.

I would like to thank all our Community Champions for all their wonderful hard work, as well as H&F’s Community Champion’s group: Helen Rowe and the Urban Partnership (Edward Woods), Ewa Kasjanowicz and Kim Barclay (Parkview), Carla Martin, Caroline Lister and Carmella Obinyan (Old Oak), and Mary Hennessy of the original White City pilot scheme. It is interesting to reflect that the facility funding for some of the Centres are now uncertain (having been extended for just 12 months), as the Labour Group look to potentially reduce the number of Hubs from 5 to 3 across the borough.

I would also like to extend my best wishes and hopes to Hammersmith’s new Community Champions, and as the programme is expanded further, to the new teams joining the group: Barbara Shelton (Addison), Sarah Benjamin (West Kensington & Gibbs Green) and the Field Road team (Bayonne and Field Road).

If you know of anyone that would like to get involved, please get in touch via this link.

St Andrew’s community garden blessed by Archdeacon

ffiskeCllr Caroline ffiske writes:

Volunteers at St Andrew’s Church in Barons Court have transformed the church grounds.  Across the project, over 300 “volunteer hours” were recorded and around 20 individuals gave their time. Over 200 bags of refuse were removed from the site.  More than 100 new plants of many varieties have been planted.

The garden looks a little new and wintry at the moment but it is all set to flourish in the spring.

Today the gardens were blessed by Archdeacon Stephan Welch. The Deputy Mayor of Hammersmith & Fulham, Cllr Daryl Brown, gave a speech and opened the gardens.  She referred to the fact that plants prefer to live in groups, and that under the ground, plants share information and nutrients.

The little holly tree donated by W6 Garden Centre in Ravenscourt Park looks very comfortable and perfect for the spot.

Below the ground, plants form communities and share resources.   Above ground, volunteering and community spaces help to make communities thrive.garden1


A holly tree for St Andrews Church

Cllr Caroline ffiske writes:

W6 Garden Centre has kindly donated more plants for community gardening in Hammersmith.  In the autumn I picked up a lovely holly tree and other plants that the Centre had not sold over the planting season.  If you haven’t visited the Centre it is just off King Street and is a perfect green haven to meet friends and have a coffee.

holly-treeToday volunteers from St Andrews Church in Barons Court picked up the plants from my house. Volunteers have transformed the gardens around the church and the plants from W6 were very gratefully received.

By Christmas, St Andrews will have its own holly tree. It will be nice to know that some of the decorations inside the church will come from its own garden.  Now we just need some ivy.

Thanks to W6 and to the hard working volunteers from St Andrews Church!


By the way, St Andrews will be holding some lovely Christmas services and other activities.  There will be carol singing at the Barons Court tube station on Monday 19th December.  And a beautiful crib service for children on Christmas Eve in the late afternoon.  Small volunteers are needed for all the main roles.  Please turn up to apply.  Details here.



The Sikh sacrifice for British freedom

higton2A guest post from Mark Higton.

Last week I wrote about the Church of St Katherine, Westway, and how it’s cross, salvaged from the broken and twisted steel superstructure of St Catherine Conway, provides a link with those Killed in the early months of the Blitz in September and October 1940. The cross also has a connection with another religious site – the Central Gurdwara London, built by the Khalsa Jatha British Isles in 1968 on the site of Norland Castle – a derelict Salvation Army Citadel which was damaged in the same raid.

Central Gurdwara in Queensdale Road

Central Gurdwara in Queensdale Road

The Sikhs trace their faith from Guru Nanak, born this past week in 1649 in the village of Tawandi, in present day Pakistan. He was a Brahmin, and developed an interest in philosophy at an early age, amazing his Muslim tutor with his understanding of Hinduism, Islam, and the New and Old Testaments. This led him to travel north, south, east, and west, inc. Mecca and possibly Jerusalem – teaching that before God everyone is equal, regardless of race, religion, caste, gender, or wealth.

The term Khalsa can be taken to be a brotherhood of initiated Sikhs, i.e. those that observe the five articles, and are pure of faith. This is similar in context to those that are confirmed rather than baptised. Jatha, on the other hand, means an armed body. Khalsa Jatha therefore is an Association of Sikhs, but it’s literal meaning is the same as a body of warrior saints in the early Christian church, those sworn to honour god and to protect people from persecution.

The Khalsa was formed by Godind Singh, the 10th Guru, in 1699. He is associated with lake Lokpal, a high altitude glacial lake which is important to Sikhs and Hindus. I had the privilege to bathe in this serene spot a few years ago, having joined the pilgrimage trail after making several first assents in the Indian Himalayas with friends. The friendliness of the Sardars, and the warmth of their sweet Peshawari tea, is something I fondly remember.

Sikhs in Hammersmith

sinclairroadPrior to 1968 the Sikh community worshipped at no 79 Sinclair Road, which was acquired by the Maharajah Bhupinder Singh of Patiala in 1913. As such Hammersmith has strong links with Patiala and the Punjab. During The Great War it welcomed many Sikh Officers and Men from the Front, or those convalescing at the Indian Hospital, Brighton – including a group of men from 47th Sikhs who had distinguished themselves at Neuve Chapelle on the 28th Oct. 1914, earning 8 Indian Order of Merits. Most would be killed the following year at Ypres, or in Mesopotamia in 1916.

No citation for these awards survive, but Subadar Sucha Singh would earn the IOM a second time in Mesopotamia. The citation reads: “For conspicuous gallantry on patrol work under heavy fire. He went out in front of our line and located three enemy picquets; on the following night he displayed marked ability in assisting to drive back the enemy … His coolness and courage during the operations and his constant eagerness in volunteering .. are worthy of the highest praise.”

sinclair2Many distinguished and famous people visited ‘the Maharaja Bhupinder Singh Dharamsala’ in Shepherd’s Bush, including various Secretaries of State, Indian Princes, Dignitaries, Historians, and Revolutionaries. It would be amiss to omit the socialite, nurse, and suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, or her sister Princess Bamba Sunderland, the last heir to the Kingdom of the Punjab, but it was two Sikh Aviators which were to capture the imagination of the British Public.

Hardit Singh Malik

Hardit Singh Malik

Lt Hardit Singh Malik came to England with his family in 1908, going up to Oxford in 1912. On the outbreak of war, he volunteered with the America Hospital at Neuilly-sur-Seine, and then with the French Red Cross as an Ambulance Driver. In 1917 he was granted an honorary commission in the RFC, and began a career which would see him shot down twice, and claim 6 aerial kills, making him a Fighter Ace. He would become a distinguished British and Indian Diplomat, holding appointments as Prime Minister of Patiala, Indian High Commissioner of Canada, Ambassador to France, and as a delegate of the United Nations. He remained fond of Shepherd’s Bush, and died peacefully in October 1985.

Manmohan Singh

Manmohan Singh

Manmohan Singh came to England in 1923, completing a two-year flying course. He became famous whilst competing for the Aga Khan’s Prize several times, suffering two crashed landings, before arriving in Karachi having exceeded the one month time limit by 4 days. He was Commissioned into the IAFVR in 1939, being the senior most member of the first group of Indian Volunteers. He was attached to RAF Costal Command, claiming several kills during the Battle of the Atlantic as he hunted U-Boats. He was subsequently transferred to Australia for operations in the Pacific, but was tragically killed when his Catalina was attacked on the morning of the 3rd of March, 1942, by Japanese Zeros.

Contribution made by the Sikhs and the Punjab in preserving our freedom

Whilst it is true that India raised the largest Volunteer Army in both wars, and India’s contribution is woefully overlooked, the brunt was disproportionately borne in France and Flanders, East Africa, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, Dunkirk, Malaya, Hong Kong, Singapore, North Africa and Burma by Sikh and Punjabi Officers and Men. Approximately 2/3rds of Casualties in both conflicts were Punjabis, be they Sikh, Muslim, Parsee, Christian or Jew. The Battle of Donbaik, Feb. 1943, being a good illustration.

My father’s cousin, Lt Clement Stanley Stankawski, was 2iC D (Sikh) Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Punjab Regiment. He was the son of a Polish immigrant who found himself in Hammersmith when his German Passport was confiscated in 1914 on his way to New York. On the 18th Feb. 1943, the Battalion were at Donbaik, when his Company Commander, Captain Budh Singh, received orders to fix bayonettes and attack the Japanese positions along the Chaung ridge – across open country a mile up hill.

teleg‘B’ Company (under Walker) were on their left, ‘A’ Company (Dhillon) in support of ‘B’. The Inniskillings were to support ‘D’, and ‘C’ Company (Skelton) was to act as Reserve. The attack commenced at 4am, and immediately ‘B’ Company was subject to heavy automatic fire. The Platoon Commanders pushed on, Jemdr Mohd Zarin fell as he took the position, whilst Jemd Mir Afzal occupied the forward trench. ‘A’ Company, pinned down under a murderous fire on the ridge, was unable to join them.

Meanwhile the Inniskillings had failed to reach their start point, and Budh Singh and ‘D’ Company pressed on. They advanced over open and bullet swept country with great gallantry, capturing their objective, but now came under an acute fire on both flanks. Realising that ‘B’ Company and the Inniskillings were pinned down, having lost more than half their strength, Captain Budh Singh had no alternative but to withdraw, collecting as many wounded as possible as they went.

By this time Jemdr Mir Afzal’s platoon was reduced to 6 men, and faced being cut off. They retreated, relieving ‘A’ Company as they did so, and under intense and heavy fire evacuated the bodies of Captain Singh Dhillon and Sherriff. As they reached the Jungle’s edge Captain Walker, and the remnants of their Company joined them, but they were killed by a burst of automatic heavy machine gun fire.

For their gallantry, Mir Afzal was awarded the IOM (posthumous), Gul Rehman the IDSM, Budh Singh the MC (and subsequently bar), and Suran Singh and Karan Singh the IDSM. In two hours, the Battalion’s casualties were 131 Officers and Men; 3 Officers, 2 VCOs, and 7 ORs killed; 2 VCOs and 99 ORs wounded; and 1 Officer and 17 ORs missing. ‘D’ Company suffered the highest casualties, being reduced to 44 men. In all Donbaik cost the 2nd Bn, 1st Punjabis, 297 men from a strength of six hundred.

Clement was reported missing, presumed dead, and neither his body, nor that of Walker, Dhillon, Sheriff, Afzal, and a hundred and eighty men were ever found. Like me, many British Sikhs and Punjabis living in West London, will have relatives or family friends that were killed or wounded that day.

Celebrating the Birth of the Guru and Interfaith Week

To conclude I would like to offer my Sikh friends many happy returns on the anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, and the contribution which the community and Punjabi diaspora (Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Jew), has made not only to West London, but the world. In the spirit of Remembrance Sunday and Interfaith Week, which was observed last week, my thoughts have been upon the loss, sacrifice, and values that we share, and the hope which these offer us for a brighter future.

H&F Council refuses to join legal challenge to Heathrow third runway

In an article in The Times this morning the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says:

“Too many Londoners already have their daily lives plagued by noise pollution; Heathrow exposes more people to unacceptable noise levels than Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Munich and Madrid airports combined. A third runway at Heathrow would mean an extra 200,000 Londoners, including 43,200 schoolchildren, suffering every day.

“And even worse, too many Londoners have to breathe air which is so polluted that it breaches the legal limit for toxic pollutants. A third runway at Heathrow would make London’s air pollution crisis even worse — risking more children growing up with stunted lungs — and it would be incompatible with the government’s legal duty to achieve and sustain legal levels of air quality.”

He’s quite right. The Mayor adds:

“I have directed Transport for London (TfL) to provide expert advice and assistance to support Greenpeace and the local councils worst affected by Heathrow — Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth, Windsor and Maidenhead — as they prepare a legal challenge to stop this irresponsible decision.”

He has also indicated that the Mayor may well join the legal action.

So it is extremely disappointing that Hammersmith and Fulham Council is refusing to join the legal challenge.

Peter Smith, the Council’s Policy Manager,  tells me:

“H&F Council is opposed to the Government’s preference for a third runway at Heathrow and has previously made this position clear in its responses to consultations conducted by the Davies Commission.  The Council is not, however, enjoining in the legal challenge being brought by Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor and Maidenhead.”

Other councils are fighting for the interests of their residents.

Cllr Ray Puddifoot Leader of Hillingdon Council said:

“I was in the High Court in March 2010 at the last JR on Heathrow expansion when the judge referred to the third runway plans as ‘untenable in law and common sense’. Six years on it is unbelievable that the current Government are promoting an expansion that is still untenable in law and common sense and it is simply not acceptable in this country. This is the first round of this legal challenge and whilst we should win by a knockout in the first round we are prepared for a long fight if necessary.”

Leader of Wandsworth Council Ravi Govindia said:

“Heathrow expansion is incompatible with environmental legislation and the process leading up to this decision has been deeply flawed. Ministers have not listened to our warnings so we have no choice but to take legal action. The simple truth is that Heathrow is in the wrong place for a major airport and its location amplifies its damaging impacts to world beating levels. Expansion will make this dire situation much worse. An objective assessment from the High Court is bound to conclude that you can’t mitigate against such a bad location.”

Why doesn’t Hammersmith and Fulham Council have any stomach for the fight?

Bureaucratic delays mean site remains vacant in Lillie Road

lillieroadResidents have been wondering what is happening to this vacant site in Lillie Road next to the Fitness Centre.

Laurence O’Keeffe, the Council’s Team Leader (South Team), Development Management Planning and Development says:

“The site is listed as MacKenzie Trench House, 363 Lillie Road.

Planning committee resolved to grant permission for the demolition of existing buildings on the site and erection of a part 4/5 storey block of 30 flats (Class C3) comprising of 10 x 1 bed, 15 x 2 bed and 5 x 3 bed together with a basement car park for 15 cars in April 2015. This was subject to a legal agreement which was signed in August 2015.

A number of pre commencement conditions need to be discharged prior to the commencement of development.”

He adds:

“I have done a quick search and it appears that two applications to discharge conditions were submitted in January and February of this year. However, they did not contain correct information or fee so were never validated, despite officers contacting them.

“Other than the normal condition that commencement take place within three years of consent I am unable to tell you when it may start.”

What will it look like if it does eventually get built?  The planning application promises “contemporary flats set in an aesthetic suited to the present”. It will be “providing an exciting new element” this will mean “giving relief to the bland” to the neighbouring Victorian shops and terraced houses. Yes, yes – we are familiar with the planners/architect code: It will be hideous. All reflecting Labour’s planning policies which make ugliness a requirement for new development.

Why does Hammersmith and Fulham Council ban vaping?

Research has established that there are no health risks from “passive vaping”. There is no law against vaping in public places. It is a highly effective method for smokers to give up. Yet Hammersmith and Fulham Council bans vaping on its premises – without being able to give any proper justification for doing so.

I wrote to Debbie Morris, the Director of Human Resources as follows:

“I was concerned to see from this FOI response that “staff and visitors are expected to vape outside” from Council premises.

Please note that Public Health England argue that we should make a distinction between smoking and vaping.

I would propose that council staff should be encouraged to give up smoking by being allowed to vape from their desks. Please may I have your comments.”

She replied:

“Thank you for your email dated 7th November. In response to your query ‘that council staff should be encouraged to give up smoking by being allowed to vape from their desks.’

“Vaping is covered under the same restrictions as cigarette smoking under the current workplace policy. All policies are regularly reviewed according to latest evidence. HR and Public Health are committed to a joined up tri-borough approach and policies relating to vaping will be reviewed jointly due to the rapidly emerging evidence base.”

How “independent” is the Council funded advice on ending council housing in the borough?

tpas_1100Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham Council is continuing to press ahead with their flawed plans to abolish council housing in the borough. Most council tenants and council leaseholders I have spoken to have been emphatic in their opposition for the stock transfer to an unaccountable new housing association. Yet the Council continue to squander vast sums on the project. Lawyers, PR men and property consultants get rich while the Council pleads poverty when it comes to clearing a backlog of repairs.

The latest wheeze is to splash out on an “Independent Tenant’s and Leaseholders’ Adviser for the whole “housing stock options appraisal” process.” It turns out that there is not just one adviser but seven. This service is provided by the “Tenant Empowerment Organisation” – which contrary to the impression given by its name is a private company.

So how independent will the advice be?

Kathleen Corbett, Director of Finance & Resources (Housing & Regeneration), reports that to date the Council has paid TPAS £160,291.64p. Any claim that TPAS is impartial while pocketing funds on that scale is absurd.