Wednesday, 25 June 2008

A visit to Wynne Court

This morning I visited the Wynne Court sheltered housing unit in Hartland Road, Isleworth as the guest of three residents who had some repairs and maintenance issues to report.

Sheltered units are difficult to let out these days as people's expectations have changed since the 1970s, when many of them were built. Even at Butlin's hotels, in those days, it was perfectly acceptable to expect guests from different family units to share a bathroom and a WC but in this day and age it is considered one of the least attractive features of these small but tidy housing units. As a consequence of this they are not in as great demand as the rest of our housing stock.

What has always struck me about these places
(we have four such establishments within a stretch of about a mile and a half in Isleworth and Syon wards, from Kirkstone Lodge to Danehurst) is not only the sheer dedication of the staff who manage them, but also the pride which the residents take in the appearance and general ambience of their dwellings.

During today's visit I was directed to a pathway which had become littered with the discarded fruit of a fig tree. "Usually we sweep it up ourselves every morning," one of the residents told me. "We just left it there this morning for you to see."

Bingo and social clubs, coffee mornings and outings are often also features of life in the sheltered unit.

The stigma of these dwellings being homes for "old people" is well wide of the mark. Some of the residents are indeed "old" in every sense, of course, but many others remain socially active and help to inspire a very real sense of community amongst their fellow residents. Until not very long ago our sheltered units were available to applicants over 55 years of age, which would have given me about another eight and a half years before I became eligible for one!

There is a lot the rest of us could learn from Wynne Court and other, similar establishments when it comes to maintaining a sense of community.

The long, hot Tuesday

Last night's Borough Council meeting was a marathon by anybody's standards, but after a long day of briefings and meetings it promised to be something of an ordeal.

In the morning I had met with a senior housing officer to touch base on various matters concerning the Housing half of my portfolio, and later on in the afternoon it had been over to St. Catherine's House in Feltham for the regular Partnership Meeting between the London Borough of Hounslow and Hounslow Homes. Then, after having returned to Isleworth to pick up Caroline, the two of us had a scheduled meeting with housing and legal officers in connection with an ongoing matter of local importance. In between all this I had the task of compiling about half a dozen short speeches for the big event in the evening.

One recent feature of Borough Council meetings has been the tendency to take advantage of the Announcements slot to impart news of good things happening in the wards and around the borough. Last year's Mayor Councillor Andy Morgan-Watts used this opportunity to pay a warm tribute to Caroline, who had served with great diligence as his Deputy.

Another announcement which I had a particular interest in was made by my colleague Councillor Paul Fisher, who had organised a presentation by the new Mayor Councillor Dr. Genevieve Hibbs to the young people on Isleworth's Worton estate who had won the Bronze certificate for their work under the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. I intend to post a stand-alone feature on this wonderful achievement shortly, so I'll not dwell upon it here.

During the Questions from Members slot I was required to field a question from Labour's Councillor Matt Harmer on the subject of Disability Adaptations for local authority tenants, for which there is currently a backlog. Whilst I had had ample notice of the question itself and had therefore been able to provide him with a full and accurate response, the sting in the tail during this session is usually the Supplementary Question, which follows on from the response given but of which the Lead Member being questioned has had no forewarning. I had, incorrectly as it turned out, guessed that Councillor Harmer's piece de resistance would be a reference to the £1.5m which I have committed to the Rainbow Project to empower tenants on our estates, and I had prepared my riposte accordingly. In the event however he wrong-footed me by asking a somewhat benign question relating to the particular hardships being faced by two individual residents of his ward, and could I promise that I would do my best to help them, which of course I was more than happy to do.

A motion from Councillor Paul Fisher expressing our gratitude to our servicemen, carefully worded so as to accommodate the sensitivities of those, like myself, who oppose the military adventures of the present government (and at least one Labour councillor admitted to me after the meeting that he also did), was unanimously supported. Making one of the best contributions of the evening, Labour councillor Elizabeth Hughes told of how her own grandfather had died later in life as a result of having contacted malaria during World War Two, which struck a particular chord with me because, by a curious coincidence, my maternal grandfather died under exactly the same circumstances following his service in Burma. Perhaps rather cruelly, I found myself reflecting upon how such an apparently sensible person could have found enough in common with David Hughes, the former member for Bedfont ward who on many an occasion has invaded the Brentford TW8 forum and assailed it with an unrelenting salvo of his demented ramblings, to have wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. Whatever do they find to talk about?

But the big debate was always going to be the one surrounding the recent comments by Labour Leader Councillor Jagdish Sharma at a recent meeting of the Central Hounslow Area Committee, where he had suggested that the actions of Hounslow's planning enforcement officers in clamping down on illegal development in the borough were inspired by institutional racism. A brave but doomed attempt by Councillor Hughes to amend the motion condemning his remarks out of existence by trying to rewrite what he had actually said was defeated by the votes of all the other councillors present, but not before she had delivered a rather peculiar speech which at one stage drifted almost seamlessly onto the completely unrelated subject of housing allocations under LOCATA, at which point she made reference to a pre-election pledge which I am supposed to have made and not kept which left me baffled as it was entirely unfamiliar. Hopefully she will furnish me with the necessary details to allow me to comment.

The epic meeting concluded with some fitting and much deserved tributes to departing Assistant Chief Executive Howard Simmons, who has been very helpful indeed to me in my Community Safety work, and to veteran Osterley & Spring Grove member Councillor Peter Carey*, who was quite deservedly made an Honorary Freeman of the Borough of Hounslow, joining Councillors John Connelly, Barbara Reid and Jagdish Sharma who have already been similarly honoured as a result of having served as elected members for more than 25 years apiece.

All in all this whole event was a fiery baptism for the new Mayor, but she handled it well and will no doubt benefit from the experience.

* For more on Councillor Carey and his award see Bowen's Blog.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Much more than just a chip off the old block

While many of my fellow Hounslow councillors were attending the Sports Jam in Gunnersbury Park, organised by the Brentford Football Club Community Sports Trust, I was in Yeading cheering on my son Joe at the 20th Annual Summer Tournament organised by Yeading Wanderers FC.

Hundreds of players between the ages of 6 and 15 years of age competed for medals and trophies in this well-supported two-day 6-a-side tournament.

Joe plays in the Harrow Youth Football League as a defender for the Brentford-based Spartans Under-11 B team. Most of the other teams in the league play out of Harrow, Wembley, Greenford or Ruislip so taking him to away fixtures requires much travelling.

Last season the side won promotion from Division Three with an impressive 39 points from 14 matches, their 100% record only being marred by a slightly complacent 1-0 reverse in the final game of the season.

Unlike his father, who was always hopeless at football (the highlight of my career having been being picked as an unused substitute for one match from amongst a pool of about fifteen possible players for my primary school team at Worple Road), Joe is an intelligent player who reads the game extremely well for a lad of his age. More Tony Adams than Cristiano Ronaldo, his party piece involves upending forwards who have the temerity to cross the half-way line.

Spartans B were one of twenty Under-11 sides competing for The Brian Cox Cup (no less). Drawn in his group were Isledon Wolves, Heathrow Club B, Yeading B and Hillingdon Youth.

After a disappointing 0-0 draw against Isleton in a match which they had completely dominated, their next fixture against Hillingdon saw them emerge as 2-0 victors. A second one-sided goalless draw with Yeading followed, before they finally found their scoring boots and thumped Heathrow 5-0 to finish the first round as group winners.

In the Quarter Finals they were drawn against Bedfont Green B, and Joe was inconsolable after conceding the penalty which allowed Bedfont to cancel Spartans' 1-0 lead and eventually to force the match into penalties. I hope I don't sound too biased when I say that most of the neutrals watching felt the forward had dived, but at a good twelve inches shorter than Joe he was always going to have the ref's sympathy.

Fortunately for Spartans B, and for Joe, they won the penalty shoot-out 3-1 and went into the Semi Finals ... against Spartans A!

Well the dream stopped there, and The Brian Cox Cup was not to be. Joe was rested for the first half, the coach fearing that he and the other "big 'un" who normally lines up in defence with him could be wrong-footed by the nippy 'A' team strikers. Unfortunately as it turned out the fast kid who was put in in his place was not a natural defender, and when he was brushed aside twice within a minute or so the 'B' team were never going to catch up in a twelve minute game. Once the 'A' team had scored a third just before half-time Joe's team were playing for pride.

Joe came on in the second half and a much better display by the whole team ensured that their opponents did not add to their tally, but the fixture finished 3-0 and, after watching Spartans A win the Final, Joe and his team-mates went to the organisers' tent to collect their bronze medals.

As a parent it is sometimes difficult to juggle political and family priorities. As the Lead Member working with Brentford Football Club I would also have liked to have attended the Sports Jam, but my children didn't choose my vocation and I believe it is right that I should support them and encourage their development in their various interests and pursuits.

After all, if I don't they could end up becoming councillors!

Making Community Cohesion work - Part two

Yesterday Councillor Paul Fisher and I were the honoured guests at an event staged by the Tamil Community Centre (TCC) in School Road, Hounslow to mark Refugee Week.

Having enjoyed a wonderful meal and an exquisite display of cultural dancing (above left), the forty or so people present could have been forgiven for dozing off, or heading off, when the time arrived for the anti-climax which my speech must surely have been, but instead both I and Councillor Fisher, who had joined me in his capacity as Lead Member for Community Engagement, were very well received.

Like RETI, the TCC is a superbly organised group seeking to achieve Community Cohesion through tackling areas of disadvantage, in the TCC's case those experienced by members of the small Tamil community in Hounslow. It provides access to health, education and a positive social environment, and has done so thus far without even asking the local authority to financial assistance in any form.

It is groups like TCC and RETI which I envisage forming the backbone of our proposed cohesion forum, which will enable organisations to work together, and with the local authority and other strategic partners, with a view to creating conditions that will assist in the building of Community Cohesion in our borough.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Unused contribution to the big expenses debate

The Hounslow and Brentford Times couldn't find space for my latest letter to the Editor this week, which is a tad irritating considering the title of the newspaper implies that its areas of operation are Hounslow and Brentford, and the letters' pages were filled with contributions from Twickenham, Barnes and Kingston and for the most part on subjects which are of no relevance whatsoever to people in our borough.

Having only managed to have half a letter published from my last two attempts I am inclined to give it up as a bad job, for a while at least, rather than spending valuable time composing 300-word missives in the faint hope that news of a hedgehog being run over in Sheen doesn't knock it out of the headlines.

Anyway, for the benefit of those who are following the progress of Mr. & Mrs. Expenses I reproduce my rejected letter below:

Dear Editor

"Whilst I am naturally pleased that the Phil Andrews Predict-athon seems to be working to its full potential, it might reasonably be argued that I enjoyed an unfair advantage over Robin Taylor and Vanessa Smith ('Allowances can be made for Keens but not rivals' - Times, 13th June 2008) in that they had not seen the full text of the letter to which they were replying, due to it having been edited.

"The letter in full can be viewed on my blog, which is at

"In that letter I predicted that there would be a flurry of responses protesting that the Keens had not actually broken any rules by claiming their current level of allowances, with the implied suggestion that if a perk is there to be had then they are entitled to grab it with both hands.

"I also predicted that some effort would be made to muddy the waters by drawing a silly comparison between the Keens' claims and councillors' allowances (which as a reader of the ICG website Mr. Taylor will be aware that I didn't vote for, even though he pretends that I did).

"Whilst I would like to believe that the accuracy of my prophesies demonstrates extraordinary powers on my part, in truth all they really demonstrate is the dull repetitiveness of the Ann and Alan spin machine.

"However I have to report that the machine developed a fault last week when another local newspaper published a letter, ostensibly from a named 'ordinary resident' of Brentford, making just the same arguments in defence of Mrs. Keen's conduct.

"What readers of that paper may not have known is that the exact same letter, absolutely word for word, had been published two weeks previously in your own newspaper - under the name of a completely different person, in this case the former Isleworth New Labour candidate Sue Sampson!

"I am advised that the use of activists and apologists to provide false grassroots feedback is known as 'astroturfing'.

"How appropriate is it that a discredited synthetic football pitch should lend its name to the underhand practices of such a thoroughly discredited and synthetic MP as the one who purports to represent the people of Brentford & Isleworth?

"Councillor Phil Andrews -
Community, Isleworth ward."

Friday, 20 June 2008

We meet at last?

I'm back from Harrogate and eager to take up where I left off but my first offering is more on the antics of my friends in the New Labour Party, I'm afraid.

When it was first announced, in May 2006, that the Conservative and Community Groups would be going into coalition to form an administration at the London Borough of Hounslow, the response from the surviving remnants of the previous administration was both predictable and entirely in character.

Having themselves walked voluntarily into opposition in preference to having to work with councillors from any Group other than their own, New Labour embarked immediately upon a clumsy but flatteringly high-profile campaign to bring the new administration down. Their instrument of choice was myself, or rather my much-publicised, well-known and unambiguously renounced former membership of the far-Right National Front back in the 1970s and 1980s.

The campaign began in the usual way, with letters to the local newspapers and postings on internet forums announcing their "new discovery" about my political history. However it soon became clear that the local Conservative Group were made of sterner stuff than Labour had previously realised and would not take fright and buckle under the strain of the resultant local publicity - which in itself was underwhelming due to the fact that it had already been done to death and was no longer considered newsworthy - and the dirty tricks machine was forced to raise its game in an effort to persuade Conservative Central Office to intervene.

And so the big guns were called in. Embarrassed and angered by the incompetent blundering of the Labour Group in Hounslow, which had voted unanimously to approve a new Executive which included two members of the Community Group (as it did again this year, having abstained in 2007), Hounslow's two alleged Members of Parliament Ann and Alan Keen wrote to the Council Leader announcing effectively that they would not co-operate with the new administration for as long as I remained a member of the Executive. When this absurd and frankly irrelevant threat was laughed off with the contempt it deserved (we had never expected the Keens to work with us anyway - let's face it, they didn't do a great deal to help their own administration!), Ann Keen made a rare parliamentary intervention to ask the then Prime Minister Tony Blair to condemn the Conservative Group on Hounslow Council for going into coalition with us, a request which he quite deftly side-stepped.

Armed with the news of her question to the Prime Minister Mrs. Keen continued to pursue her campaign with a zeal which her long-suffering constituents, many of whom have to go to extraordinary lengths just to get her or a member of her staff to even acknowledge a letter or an e-mail, can only have looked upon with envy. Next stop was the regional and national press.

Understandably the Labour's Party's own Tribune newspaper was first into the fray, the bolshie reporter interrupting my holiday with a message on my voicemail demanding that I furnish him with an explanation for my membership of the new Executive. I didn't return his call - it's not as though I didn't know where he was likely to be coming from, and he didn't disappoint.

The piece in the Tribune then in turn provided the hook for stories in other, wider-circulation rags. It was perhaps inevitable that the first to report for duty would be the completely unscrupulous guttersnipe Andrew Gilligan at the London Evening Standard.

Despite the fact that the Standard is essentially pro-Conservative Gilligan had already, in the run-up to the local elections, acquired a reputation with the ICG as a man with a suspiciously close (and one-sided) relationship with the Keens and who was pretty much indifferent to the truth or otherwise of what he wrote in his political columns, at least where we were concerned.

As well as covering the ludicrous "Reichstag Fire"* (as the alleged "firebomb attack" on a rubbish sack belonging to an Isleworth Labour Party candidate just before the publishing deadline of the election-day issue of the local newspaper has affectionately come to be known) as though it were without question the work of the ICG, during that campaign
Gilligan had also wilfully repeated the New Labour lie that I had a criminal conviction for a racially-motivated assualt on a black police officer. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I wrote at the time to both Gilligan and his editor to point out that this allegation was untrue.

This didn't prevent him from repeating the accusation, which he now knew to be false, as part of Mrs. Keen's campaign against the new Executive (when, having done so, this low-grade piece of human manure had the effrontery to call me last June to request a quote for a third hatchet-job on the ICG which he was planning to write at Mrs. Keen's behest, he was offered a short piece of advice pertaining to sex and travel along with an assurance that any factual inaccuracies contained in his article would meet with a legal response. The article never appeared).

If the reason for Gilligan's apparent subservience to the Keens remains a mystery, there was nothing mysterious about the willingness of the Daily Mirror to lend their campaign a helping hand. The Mirror is an openly pro-New Labour paper which seems to have readily forgiven its political masters for their fraudulent war in Iraq, a war which has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and which to its great credit the newspaper opposed at the time). Giving pride of place in his full-page column to Labour's problems in Hounslow, Assistant Political Editor Kevin Maguire announced to the tabloid's readership that I was "a former member of the National Front and a Holocaust denier".

The word which stood out for me was the second "a", which seemed to suggest that whilst Maguire acknowledged that my membership of the National Front was something which belonged to the past, my denial of the Holocaust (which comes as part of the deal with senior membership of a fascist party such as the NF) belonged to the present, which it most certainly doesn't.

Why mention all this more than two years on? Well, while in Conference mode I decided yesterday morning to peruse the agenda for the forthcoming LGA Annual Conference in Bournemouth and discovered that on the afternoon of the second day there will be a plenary session on the topic of "Homes fit for local people". What caught my eye first of all was that the session will be chaired by Sir Bob Kerslake (to whom I was introduced in Harrogate), who is currently the Chief Executive for the Homes and Communities Agency but who also, slightly before my time in office, was once the Chief Executive of the London Borough of Hounslow.

Reading on through the list of participants involved in this session I was even more interested to see the name of one Kevin Maguire, yes he of the Daily Mirror. These kind of sessions seem to attract a modest attendance, and there is every chance that somebody in the audience with his hand raised will get the opportunity to ask a question once the speeches are done.

As we have seen above, that Gilligan is a conscious liar is a matter of demonstrable fact. But did Maguire really mean to misrepresent me in the way he did or was his just a completely innocent act of typographical clumsiness?

Seems I may get the opportunity to ask him!

* In February 1933 the German parliament building, the Reichstag, was subject to a serious arson attack. Adolf Hitler, who had only shortly before been elected Chancellor of Germany, blamed his Communist opponents and used the fire as the justification for a policy of repression against the Communists. Most historians today believe the Nazis themselves to have been responsible for the fire.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Musings from a faraway place

As I write I am enjoying a short break between sessions at the 2008 CIH Housing Conference in Harrogate.

Until very recently I was only half a Lead Member for Housing, sharing the portfolio with Councillor Mark Bowen. My responsibility involved liaising with Hounslow Homes, the Council's ALMO (Arm's Length Management Organisation), whilst Councillor Bowen dealt with the client side of the operation. Following the slight reshuffle which took place following the election of the new Executive by Borough Council in May, it was agreed that I would take on the whole Housing portfolio from the end of this month.

Against all odds I arrived in Harrogate yesterday morning in time for the opening speech from the Rt. Hon. Caroline Flint MP, the Minister for Housing and Planning. This was immediately followed by a familar political double-act from the Rt. Hon. Michael Portillo (I hadn't previously realised that Right Honourability remained after one ceased to be a political bigwig) and Diane Abbott MP, giving slightly different but equally helpful perspectives on the main challenges facing local and national politicians in trying to deliver what people want whilst helping to build diverse but cohesive communities.

But it was a session involving such B-list celebrities as the Deputy Leader of Islington Council and the Deputy Chief Executive of the Housing Corporation on the theme "Power to the People - will the Tenant Services Authority deliver?" which I have found the most helpful so far.

I would like to digress just for a moment and offer some background as to how I came to be here in the first place. The ICG, which is a partner in the coalition that took control of the London Borough of Hounslow back in 2006, has its roots in the tenants' movement. It emerged from within the heart of the Isleworth community as a response to the inequities and unfairness of a régime which possessed a strictly limited view of the tenants' movement as simply one of many vehicles through which to pursue a political agenda. An ipso facto consequence of this narrow view was that our tenants' associations became political playthings, with positions of office being achieved through service to the political cause rather than through a democratic process driven by residents. Associations thus constituted were never going offer a meaningful challenge to the policies or actions of a régime of which they were, after all, an integral part.

The justification which the practitioners of this chicanery attached to their actions was that they, as a "socialist" party, had the tenants' interests at heart. Historically there is little doubt that there is some truth in this, although the existence of checks and balances on political power is healthy under any system.

More recently, however, the Labour Party has of course abandoned its traditional values in its pursuit of electability (which must rather grate with people of principle who remain in the party now that it is neither socialist nor
electable). As New Labour, the party has become an organisation whose raison d'etre would appear to be no more than the acquisition of power, for the purpose of being in power.

So we have (or had until very recently), on our estates, a policy which sought to influence our tenants' movement, not for the furtherence of an ideological agenda from which it might expect to derive some benefit, but simply for the purposes of pursuing the power objectives of an organisation which desires to exercise control over others.

The ICG has an entirely different philosophy, one which our opponents almost universally fail to understand, and one which they sometimes go to extraordinary lengths not to understand. In our way of doing things, criticism and complaint is encouraged. We believe in structures which are by their nature self-critical, always holding themselves up to scrutiny. In order to achieve this we welcome and encourage the greatest possible level of involvement from everybody, including those who oppose us as a Group. Our opponents mock us for what they perceive as our lack of political savvy in taking such a position (although it is worth noting that they do so now from a position of opposition), but for us this is, quite simply, morally the right thing to do.

It is also our belief that tenants' and residents' associations are among the best means of promoting community cohesion. Residents from diverse backgrounds who find that they have concerns and issues in common soon learn to put any differences to one side. In the current climate, to do anything with might jeopardise the growth of associations and interest groups across the community in pursuit of a political agenda would be an act of unforgivable selfishness and irresponsibility.

It is because of Labour's track record and instinct for organisational self-advancement at any price that I harbour a natural suspicion of any member of that party who seeks to be involved in any way in the process of tenant participation. My default position when any new initiative issues forth from this government with the stated objective of empowering residents is always to look for the catch. So it was when Phil Morgan, the Chief Executive of the Tenant Participation Advisory Service, declared to the Conference that he had always been "a bit of a lefty". Not because there is anything at all wrong with being a "lefty", but simply because the majority who would describe themselves thus still seem to retain an irrational organisational affinity to the Labour Party in spite of its rejection of its their core beliefs, which in more cases than not leads them to a position of party before principle.

But as I waited for the catch it occurred to me that maybe that I would be left waiting for some time. The language which brings news of the powers which the Tenant Services Authority will have is uncharacteristically that of giving communities more power and more independence. Proposals, for instance, to give tenants powers to reward good practice and to take action against poor landlords have to be encouraging. There is a worryingly frequent use of the word "regulation", but only time will tell how this fits in within the wider context of the initiative.

As Lead Member for the whole Housing portfolio I will be taking a keen interest in all these developments, and in particular will want to analyse their implications for Hounslow. More on this anon.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Please don't forget...

...the £100,000 Macmillan Cancer Support appeal. The first fund-raising event will be held this Friday evening. Dozens of prizes to be won, including an all-inclusive Cyprus holiday. See the website below for all the information:

Saturday, 14 June 2008

A shortt letter from Ann Keen MP?

An interesting letter in the Hounslow Chronicle from one Gloria Shortt of Brentford caught my eye on Thursday. It read as follows:

"I write to you in regard to several newspaper articles published in the national press recently.

"These stories are about our MP, Ann Keen's, expenses. At first glance the stories appear to be saying that Ann Keen has been cheating, and claiming things which are not entitled to her.

"However, if you read the entire article and dig around you can finally see that she has broken no rules and has done nothing wrong.

"I see it as shameful that an MP's good name can be dragged through the mud when they have actually broken no rules.

"I know for a fact that her office deals with a huge amount of casework throughout the entire year and I can't imagine an MP being able to work harder for her constituents.

"Gloria Shortt
Ealing Road

This letter had a familiar ring to it, so I dug out a copy of the Hounslow & Brentford Times from May 30th, which included the following letter from Sue Sampson, herself an active Labour Party member from Isleworth:

"I write to you in regard to several newspaper articles published in the national press recently.

"These stories are about our MP, Ann Keen's, expenses. At first glance the stories appear to be saying that Ann Keen has been cheating, and claiming things which are not entitled to her.

"However, if you read the entire article and dig around you can finally see that she has broken no rules and has done nothing wrong.

"I see it as shameful that an MP's good name can be dragged through the mud when they have actually broken no rules.

"I know for a fact that her office deals with a huge amount of casework throughout the entire year and I can't imagine an MP being able to work harder for her constituents.

"Sue Sampson
Woodstock Avenue

Apparently the use of activists to provide false grassroots feedback is known as "astroturfing". How appropriate is it that a discredited synthetic football pitch should lend its name to the underhand practices of such a thoroughly discredited and synthetic MP as the one who purports to represent the people of Brentford & Isleworth?

Friday, 13 June 2008

Mainstreaming Community Power

It would be interesting, from a purely academic perspective of course, to know whether anyone has yet appreciated the significance of the little reshuffle involving Community Group members on the top table at the London Borough of Hounslow.

Councillor Dr. Genevieve Hibbs thoroughly deserves her elevation to Mayor, and all the indications are that she is already doing a fine job. I encountered her on duty today at the Junior Citizens Initiative which has been held throughout the week at Hounslow Barracks. A local police sergeant who shall be nameless (not that he seemed that embarrassed) approached me whilst I was chatting with her and looked at me in a "who the hell are you?" kind of way. When Genevieve made the decent but unnecessary observation that "I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for Phil", all the confusion which had hitherto overcome P.S. Plod seemed to disappear of an instant. "Oh, you're the chauffeur!", he exclaimed knowingly.

One councillor who finds himself recognised with increasing regularity these days is my and Genevieve's fellow Isleworth ward member Paul Fisher (above right). Paul joined the Executive for the first time in May and his portfolio will be Lead Member for Service Improvement and Community Engagement, the latter being additional to that formerly held by Genevieve. The new title should be treated as a statement of intent from this part of the administration that the Community Power agenda is about to loom large in Hounslow.

Working with myself in my Community Safety portfolio, and with Council Leader Peter Thompson who leads, with me, on Community Cohesion as well as generally steering the whole ship in a forwards direction, Paul's appointment to this role shows the new administration really getting its hands into the meat of the empowerment agenda which was heralded by the Community Group motion to Borough Council in March.

Yesterday Paul and I held an interesting and fruitful discussion - the first of many - with a very capable officer of the Council who will be working closely with us on an ambitious project which will embrace and involve our residents' associations and community organisations around the borough. What the ICG has worked for many years to do in our own part of the world, often in the face of fierce opposition from the old establishment, the new establishment will itself be doing across the whole borough as official Council policy, with all the resources of the local authority at our disposal.

As I once implored our opponents on a local internet forum - stand back, watch and be amazed.

And keep an eye on this blog for an important announcement from the west of the borough sometime very soon.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Sorting out New Labour's mess

Like everyone involved with the current administration I entirely approve of its policy of enforcing against unlawful development.

However, as I argued here last month an unwritten policy recently revealed by the alleged MP for Feltham & Heston, Mr. Alan Keen, may have misled some residents within certain sections of the community into believing that they did not require the benefit of planning permission for their extensions and conversions as the then New Labour administration would turn a blind eye to their activities in exchange for their votes.

As a result of this, so I argued, there may sometimes be a case for taking a sympathetic view on an individual basis.

I have just successfully prevented an enforcement in one such case, where the individual concerned - himself formerly an influential Labour Party supporter in the Cranford area - had constructed an extension under the old régime without following the conventional procedures which involve applying for permission. After intensive representations from the applicant, myself and leading Cranford community activists, officers confirmed that "on the balance of probabilities the extention is likely to be immune from enforcement action".

No doubt there will be more instances of councillors and community leaders having to sort out the mess which is New Labour's legacy in the west of the borough.

Monday, 9 June 2008

On Community Cohesion - the Conference speech in summary

I have been requested by a visitor to this blog, a fellow councillor, to post the contents of my speech to the A Window On Extremism conference, which was hosted by the London Borough of Hounslow in November 2007 and which I addressed alongside Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action in the House of Lords. Whilst to my knowledge the event was not recorded on video, I retain my notes and am happy to summarise them below.

The Cantle Report, commissioned by the new administration at the London Borough of Hounslow and on which the Conference is based, deals both with religious fundamentalism and with the potential threat from the far-Right. It is important however that we recognise that the two are not mirror images of one another. All the same they do have two important factors in common. The first is they each are the product of disengagement and a feeling that those for whom they speak are disadvantaged or disciminated against. The second is that they result in misery for the wider community.

My own specialist interest is in the activities of the far-Right (I need to point out at this juncture that the term "far-Right" is not one which all my colleagues within the coalition feel comfortable with. Being Right-wing in a political sense and being racist are not in any way the same thing. Nevertheless it is a term with which people are familiar and I use it here out of that familiarity, and out of laziness). This is for two very good reasons. The first is that whilst religious fundamentalism is perhaps more evident, its profile especially high whenever a bombing or such atrocity is committed in its name, it is the far-Right which has the potential to present the bigger threat to good community relations in our society in the long term.

The second is that I personally have a history of far-Right involvement, having been a member of the National Front for twelve years between 1977 and 1989, and of a locally-based grouplet affiliated to the International Third Position for two years after that. Whilst I regret my past associations and assert that my views today are as far removed from those I held two decades ago as they could possibly be, I draw upon them and the unique understanding which they give me in my work today.

The young people in our survey who felt that the far-Right was potentially a bigger threat to our community than religious fundamentalism were in my opinion correct. However at this moment in time the actual membership of far-Right parties is tiny and fragmented. The current membership of the BNP, as declared to the Electoral Commission, is around a third of that which the National Front had in its heyday. And yet the BNP has a number of elected councillors, something the NF never managed to achieve, and can call upon the votes of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, in the large majority of cases people who wouldn't contemplate for a moment actually joining a racist organisation. It is clear that these votes are a cry for help. If we are not prepared to talk to these everyday people and listen to their concerns then we should not be surprised if they turn to those who are.

So we need to be engaging the frustrated, sometimes misled, sometimes excluded white working-class community. We need to be pragmatic. We need to recognise that there are times to talk, and times not to talk. We should not mainstream racism, but at the same time we must be prepared to listen to and engage those genuine concerns which it exploits.

It is this pragmatism which should inform our dealings with the far-Right. Being pragmatic does not mean that we abandon fundamental principles. But where we take a position we should do so for a reason, and not at the behest of some mantra chanted idiot-style but the logic behind it only half understood.

One of the slogans which anti-racists were very fond of during my time as a far-Right activist was "No Platform". It meant that under no circumstances would we legitimise racism by engaging its proponents in debate of any kind.

"No Platform" undoubtedly has its merits. I would not have been happy to have had representatives of the BNP or NF sitting at the Conference, far less sitting at the platform and making a speech. That would have been quite absurd. But I would like us to consider the case of Maureen Stowe, a former BNP councillor for Burnley in the North West of England.

Maureen Stowe was elected to the Council in Burnley on a BNP ticket. But not long after being elected she discovered to her horror that the BNP was a racist party, and severed all links with it. She went on to serve with distinction as an independent councillor working for the benefit of the whole community. It may seem difficult to believe that somebody could be so naive as to stand, and be elected, on a BNP ticket without realising that it was a party with racist views, but the fact is the party is small and it is clearly so desperate to find candidates that it will put up people from the fringes, people who don't know what is going on, people whose understanding of politics is limited. Maureen Stowe, it would seem (I have never met her so my information is second hand), is a basically decent person who was misled and has now seen the error of her ways and has gone on to do good things. To give credit where it is due I believe it was the Labour Party in Burnley who helped her in this process. Clearly a policy of "No Platform" directed at somebody like Ms. Stowe would have been counter-productive. With nowhere to turn and no way out, she may well have just become progressively more deeply involved with the BNP and with its ideology. By being pragmatic, anti-racists in Burnley had a result. So it is important that we tailor our strategy according to the nature of the problem. One size doesn't necessarily fit all.

Another area which calls for clarity is where equalities and diversities fit into the Community Cohesion agenda. It is often suggested that the practice of celebrating differences undermines the objective of trying to build a more united, cohesive community. And in some cases it clearly does.

In my experience there are broadly speaking two schools of thought. At their most polarised, what they amount to is this. One school of thought has it that if ethnicity and culture are simply not mentioned, any divisions or problems associated with them just cease to exist. If we just pretend that everybody is the same, with the same life opportunities, then that state of perfection will axiomatically come instantly into being.

The other, conversely, is the victim mentality. As a member of a minority I will always be discriminated against, I will never be accepted by others, and only by legislating to protect my rights can the extent of my misery and hardship be minimised.

Both of these schools of thought, in my view, run contrary to the spirit of Community Cohesion.

Diversity is a fact of life. People look different, dress differently, eat different foods, pray to different gods, or pray to the same god in different ways. This is not to be despised or resisted. It would be a boring world indeed if everybody looked the same, acted the same and thought in the same way. The key to Community Cohesion is in accepting and respecting diversity, whilst subordinating it in the larger scheme of things to the much more important qualities which we have in common, to our common humanity against which all our differences are inconsequential.

On the other side of the coin if we want people to be the same then we must ensure that people are treated the same. It is a necessary prerequisite of Community Cohesion that everybody has the same life opportunities. We cannot say to people that they must be like us, and then deny them the opportunities which we have. We cannot expect people to buy into a concept of "Britishness" while there are people, and institutions, that refuse to accept them as British with all the rights and duties which that entails.

I have long had grave concerns about how we monitor opportunity. We frequently hear the term "BME" - Black and Minority Ethnic. I handle reports which tell me that we have some percentage or another of "BMEs" working in a particular department or using a particular service. What the hell does that mean? Where, on this planet, is BME land?

We have scores of different ethnic groups, speaking over a hundred languages, in this borough. Some of them have different problems to others. More recent arrivals quite often have difficulties in employment, in education and so forth. Some of the more established minority groups, though they may once have experienced the same difficulties, maybe don't experience them today. By lumping all these people together as "BMEs" there is a danger that we just mask a problem.

In order that we can create the conditions for Community Cohesion we need to tackle discrimination and inequality where it truly exists. We need to tackle hate-crime head-on. In Hounslow we are now doing this proactively through Hounslow Against Racial Harassment, a multi-agency partnership driven by a truly excellent team of officers who it is my absolute pleasure and good fortune to work alongside. There must be no tolerance of hate-crime whatsoever. Our watchword must be: "Where there is ignorance we educate, where there is hatred we legislate".

It is also vitally important that we take race out of party politics. Sadly it is our experience that it is not only the far-Right parties who are prepared to fan the flames of racism for political advantage. There should be an agreement between the democratic political parties and groups not to do this. We should not be talking up racism, smearing people and frightening people in the quest for their votes. The well-being of our community is too important to be placed at risk in this way. If you are responsible for doing this and you have any decency in you, please stop it now.

These are some initial thoughts. They are not exhaustive, they may not even be right. But we need to have the debate, and if this serves as a launchpad for that debate then it will have achieved its objective.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Man, it was mean

When the Millennium Dome was opened I was not one of those who flocked to Greenwich to join the celebrations. I hated the whole pretentious Blair thing which the Dome so perfectly symbolised, with its ethos of theatre and presentation over substance. The sterile, plastic, squeaky clean yet characterless atmosphere of this hideous monument to the confidence trick that is New Labour held all the appeal to me of a soggy pizza. When it went broke after just a few years it rather said it all.

Nevertheless it is not often that I get an evening off from council work and the O2, as it is now known, was where Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel were playing and I had a ticket. So along with my wife Caroline, three old mates from school and the 18-year-old son of one of them I made the journey across London to this curious building.

Steve Harley was one of my boyhood musical heroes. A lyrical genius who had overcome illness and hardship in his earlier life, his songs were and still are thought-provoking and intelligent. Whilst he certainly experienced his own period of fame during the early to mid 1970s (his Number One single Come Up And See Me remains one of the most played songs of all time), his whole demeanour and constant banter with his audience suggest that he does only what he enjoys, and enjoys what he does. Whilst there were over 1,000 watching him at the O2 yesterday, I've seen him equally content playing to a half-full Beck Theatre at Hayes before 200 people (one of whom, sitting a few row behind us, was his old pal Rod Stewart). His audiences cut across the age divide, but with something of a bias towards my own generation. I was cruelly reminded of just how ancient I had become when the lad in our midst casually admitted in conversation that he had never actually heard of Steve Harley.

We arrived at the O2 in good time and, not endeared to the prospect of standing in a line waiting for the doors of the absurdly-named "Indigo 2" to open, we opted instead to prepare for the event with a couple of pints from one of the bars in the public area. I say bar as it wasn't really a pub. Pubs were never part of the New Labour experience. The decor was plastic, the staff were attired in uniform and much wine was being quaffed. "Poncy" was how one of my friends, himself a former Labour Party member, described it.

As a result of our diversion we missed the support act, but also the queue, and the suited but surprisingly demure door staff seemed almost grateful for something to do when we presented them with our tickets. Inside the ample hall, dark but with strategic lighting something akin to a discotheque, the majority of the crowd who like us had opted to stand were squeezed up towards the front with the obvious objective of getting as close as possible to the stage. This left a very generous amount of space at the rear of the hall which, conveniently, was also where the bars were located. For a claustrophobic social drinker like myself, this was handy on all counts.

The "interval" during which we had arrived at the hall seemed to last forever, and it was when it was my turn to buy a round that it became evident to me why the bulk of the audience seemed to be standing as far away from the bar as it could get. At a mere £4 per pint, the lager was served in plastic pint glasses with an inch of empty space at the top, on an apparent "eight for you, one for us" basis. I needed a few drinks, and quickly, to numb my sense of displeasure over the fact that I was being so blatantly ripped off.

But when he came on, Steve Harley did not disappoint. Musicians like him who go back some years usually like to play their newer material, whilst their nostalgic audiences tend to feel more reassured by the old stuff. I recall once seeing The Stranglers playing on the undercard to The Who at Wembley Stadium, where they were booed off stage because none of the punters - few if any of whom had come to watch them anyway - recognised any of the songs. Although at four quid a pint it was never likely that much beer would be thrown in his direction no matter what he did, Harley played it safe and quite cleverly mixed it up.

As always he put his heart and soul into every number, his ever-reliable band giving a typically polished performance. His rendition of the classic Sebastian was especially brilliant. The sense of satisfaction at having attended a really excellent show was only slightly negated by the experience of being held prisoner for several minutes at the entrance to North Greenwich tube station after the event, before being herded like a naughty football firm onto the underground. But a good time was had by all.

Now, back to that casework...

Friday, 6 June 2008

Cut down to size?

Returning to the subject of the Hounslow & Brentford Times, today's issue published most of the letter I sent them concerning the obscene expense claims which continue to be made by our borough's two alleged Members of Parliament, the appallingly mercenary Alan and Ann Keen, who have purchased a luxury second home at the expense of the taxpayer which spares them the trauma of having to travel nine miles to work each day from their Brentford residence.

An Osterley correspondent has written to complain about the lack of service which she has allegedly received from Mrs. Keen, whilst somebody from Chiswick defends the pair, arguing that they have done nothing that is against the rules. I have to say the letters which local newspapers receive in the Keens' defence have a remarkably similar tone to them, implying some degree of central co-ordination - a tactic which New Labour frequently uses both with letters to the local newspapers and with postings on internet forums.

Unfortunately the Editor decided to chop my letter down to about 75% of its original size, either because it was too long or because she didn't like the comments which I made about certain members of the Keens' propaganda team (the worryingly obsessive Robin Taylor and P. Haling of Southall, who may or may not be one and the same person), which I feel upsets the flow of the letter somewhat. I reproduce the original in its entirety below:

Dear Editor

"With reference to your open letter to our Members of Parliament Ann and Alan Keen ('Wish you were here' - Times, 30th May 2008).

"If Mr.and Mrs. Keen are away on holiday then they are entitled to that. I hope they have an enjoyable and a relaxing time away from the undoubtedly demanding pressures of their work.

"When they return, I hope they will furnish you, and us, with the full and frank explanation which we were promised at the election count in 2005 for their seemingly extravagent and cavalier approach to members' expense claims.

"Of course, this is not just about Mr. and Mrs. Keen. In order to serve as our Members of Parliament they need first to be selected by their party to represent them at the polls. At the last time of asking nine out of ten Labour ward parties selected Mrs. Keen to be the Labour candidate at the 2005 general election. Nine out of ten Labour ward parties believe her mercenary approach, and that of her husband, to using their constituents' money to maximum advantage in order to fund an unnecessarily extravagent lifestyle to be perfectly acceptable conduct.

"Beyond this, the Keens would seem to be able to call upon the services of a veritable army of acolytes, apologists and general hangers-on who invariably spring into action whenever a local newspaper has the temerity to call their heroes' deeds into question.

"The first line of defence is always that 'they are not breaking any rules' ('In defence of Ann Keen' - Sue Sampson, 30.5.08). Our MPs are so super that they deserve anything they can get their hands on and the hoi polloi should be grateful that they deign to represent us at all. If it isn't actually against the law to claim it, then they should claim it.

"The second old chestnut is that other Members of Parliament, from other political parties, are making similarly unjustifiable claims and that this in some way mitigates or even justifies their actions. Of course other MPs from across the political divide are indeed exploiting the rules in a similar way, but that is for their own constituents to deal with. The Keens are our constituency MPs.

"Thirdly comes the frankly obscene comparison between the £34k p.a. salary received by the Leader of Hounslow Council and the £16k p.a. paid to members of the Executive, some of whom work full-time for said amount, and the hitherto undisclosed concierge-and-swimming-pool life of luxury enjoyed by our MPs.

"But additional to all this the Keens are uniquely blessed with the unrelenting devotion of the scribe(s) of Southall ('Last of the big spenders' - K. Booth, 30.5.08), whose sole purpose in life would appear to be serve with undying and unquestioning loyalty another borough's two Members of Parliament. Where Hounslow's finest are either not prepared or not trusted to fight the cause of the royal household, the scribe(s) of Southall step nobly into the breach.

"Opinion varies amongst those few of us who bother to give it a second thought as to whether your newspaper's two perennial Southall correspondents are in fact the same person, or whether they somehow synthesise their ideas, weird obsessions and writing styles through some kind of telepathic process. Nevertheless for the purposes of this letter I assume them to be two different people.

"The mission of defending their liege requires the scribes of Southall to engage in all manner of intellectual contortions in order to sustain the unsustainable claim that the Keens are the victims of a policy of non co-operation by the London Borough of Hounslow when history, and - rather inconveniently - all the evidence, reveals the 'victims' to in fact be the instigators of the state of affairs of which they complain.

"Verbatim quotes from letters published in the Times twenty, sometimes thirty years ago are cited in support of their masters' plea of victimhood. One has disturbing visions of yellowing pieces of parchment being painstakingly recovered from within a large cardboard box under a Southall bed, retrieved from behind the Scalectrix set under the watchful gaze of their Donny Osmond poster.

"Armed with such damning information as to what this or that Hounslow Executive member wrote in his/her pre-adolescence, the Timewarp Twins move in to deliver the killer blow.

"All joking aside, the fact that there are those prepared to defend the actions of the Keens does not detract one iota from their essential indefensibility. To hide for three years, avoiding public situations in which questions might be put to them, only then to protest that they had sought disclosure all along adds sheer dishonesty to the charge of profligacy.

"The selection process for the Labour candidacies at the next general election will take place shortly. Those participating would do well to remember that it is not only the ethics of the Keens which is under the microscope here.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Phil Andrews -
Community, Isleworth ward"

Thursday, 5 June 2008

On rosebuds and other thorny issues

The letters' page in the local Times, once notoriously suggestive of the view that nothing worth writing about ever happened north of the Thames, has enjoyed something of a renaissance since the newspaper finally succumbed to the logic of the tabloid format.

In opposition I was an avid correspondent, never slow to put digit to keyboard in the cause of exposing some wrongdoing on the part of our local elected representatives. So perhaps
it was only to be expected that one of those former elected members, dumped so unceremoniously by the electors of Isleworth in 2002 in favour of three candidates from the community, would find the urge to offer some mealy-mouthed invective in response to Councillor Dr. Genevieve Hibbs' elevation to the role of Mayor too powerful to resist.

The prompt for this thankfully concise outpouring of bile and bitterness ("Gather ye rosebuds!" - Times, 30th May 2008) was the fact that, shortly following her election in 2002, Councillor Hibbs - an Isleworth resident for 22 years - moved a few miles down the road to Hayes in order to be closer to her Church community. Naturally absent was any reference to the fact that in spite of her new residential status Councillor Hibbs has consistently managed, year after year, to attend more council meetings than any of New Labour's Hounslow-based councillors. Also missing, perhaps unsurprisingly, was any suggestion that we might wish to minimise Councillor Hibbs' inconvenience by buying her, at the taxpayer's expense, a second home within easier reach of her place of work - a facility which our hard-working New Labour MPs Alan and Ann Keen (a.k.a. Mr. & Mrs. Expenses) have had no hesitation availing themselves of.

Genevieve thoroughly deserves to be the Mayor of the London Borough of Hounslow. Since the day she was first elected to the council her workrate has been simply astounding. Councillor Andrew Morgan-Watts will, of course, be a very hard act to follow. But Genevieve will not let the people of Hounslow down.

However the meat of the letter consisted not of an attack on Genevieve, but of an insinuation that the decision of the Community Group to enter into coalition with the Conservative Group was motivated by nothing more than a desire to share the trimmings and trappings of office.

Leaving aside for one moment the inconvenient fact that the present coalition was the only option available to us (New Labour having found our sole objective of wanting to empower the community so difficult to bear that the prospect of opposition was considered a more attractive one), is it really the view of our opponents that members of the Community Group are this shallow?

This organisation, which New Labour has gone to such extraordinary lengths to demonise, portraying us in leaflets (of which they have denied, then later admitted authorship) and on the doorsteps (which they now deny and possibly, in at least one case, can't remember) as a band of marauding thugs prepared to beat and burn our way to transforming Isleworth into something resembling the Fourth Reich?

Don't get me wrong, it is insulting
indeed to be depicted as somebody who has tricked his way into public office with a view to unveiling a political agenda directly at odds with that which inspired the electorate to place their trust in me. But the suggestion that I would give up fourteen years of my life, and almost certainly a six-figure sum in terms of sacrificed income, just so that a good friend could don a red gown and open jumble sales for a year is bizarre (or should I say bazaar?) beyond comprehension, and gives a much better insight into the kind of things which impress the author of the letter than into what drives me.

But it was the parting shot that was the most interesting of all. A former New Labour councillor salivating joyously - almost deleriously - at the prospect of the Conservatives sweeping the board at the next local elections in 2010 and by implication the Community Group finding itself either back in opposition, or in electoral terms wiped out completely.

Of course neither the author of the letter nor I can predict what will happen two years from now, but if the best that the leadership of the local New Labour Party past and present can hope for is an outright Conservative victory in 2010, in a borough which prior to 2006 they had controlled uninterrupted for 35 years, then that is a party in big trouble.

And let me reassure the good lady scribe that by the time we come to face the electorate again in 2010 - if indeed we do - then a large part of our work will already have been done. The self-serving structures which we pledged to dismantle will be all but gone, not only within the infrastructure of the local authority but also within our community organisations and residents' groups. If we are involved in that election, winning another four years in office will be mere icing on the cake.

Your resentment is entirely justified
, my dear, because for you the battle is already lost.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Support needed for Macmillan Cancer Support events

In December last year I lost my cousin Sheryl to breast cancer at the young age of 49.

During her illness she received a great deal of help from Macmillan Cancer Support and my aunt Janet and other friends and relatives have embarked on an ambitious programme of events to raise funds for this most worthy cause.

I reproduce below the Press Statement sent out recently to promote these events. Any help or support which readers of the forum would like to give would be hugely appreciated.

Please note that raffle tickets can be obtained directly from me at as well as through the details given below. I can receive payment through Paypal if preferred.

Many thanks.


"On 20th June 2008 we are holding a summer charity evening to raise money and awareness for Macmillan Cancer Support which will be held at Royal Windsor Racecourse, the evening will run from 7.30pm to 1.00am.

"During the evening there will be an auction which will include items such as a signed Joe Calzaghe Boxing Glove, England cricket bat signed by the whole team, Meal for 2 at the Dorchester and VIP Tickets for 5 of the top London nightclubs.

"There will also be a raffle which includes a Cyprus Holiday 1st prize, Sony Bravia 37” LCD TV 2nd prize and £250 Holiday Vouchers from Eton Travel 3rd prize as well as many many more.

"Making appearances on the evening will be Stars from ITV’s The Bill including DI Samantha Nixon (Lisa Maxwell), Inspector Gina Gold (Roberta Taylor), Peter Guiness who also starred in The Bill and whose film credits include: Hostile Waters, The Saint, Christopher Columbus The Discovery, Alien III, An Old Country, Shiftwork, The Woman in Black, American Roulette and The Keep. The Auction will be run by Cash in the Attic auctioneer Tom Keane, also making an appearance from Loose Women Zoe Tyler. If you would like to join us on the night, everybody welcome, tickets are now available. We can guarantee you a wonderful evening filled with fun.

"The evening will be followed on 25th July 2008 when 4 officers from the Met Police and 2 Support will set off on a Sponsored Cycle ride from Lands End to John O Groats, if you would like to pledge support please visit

"This will be a fun evening which we hope will raise huge amounts of money for this superb charity who make such a difference to the lives of cancer sufferers and their families on a daily basis, who often don’t know where to turn for help and support when things get too hard to bear.

"Tickets are £35 and are available by visiting our website at or phoning Janet on 07961 470117, or Simon on 07916 161586 or email

"Raffle tickets will be available on the night or again through contacting us. Thank you for your support.