Wednesday, 8 September 2010

First meeting as a ROWE Committee member

ROWE's brand new kitchen, funded by the ICG-inspired Rainbow
Project in collaboration with Giggles nursery

At its last Committee meeting (its first since its 2010 Annual General Meeting, which I had the honour of chairing), members of Residents Of Worton Estate (ROWE) - a residents' association based, as the name suggests, on Isleworth's Worton estate - did me the honour of co-opting me to their top table.

It was felt that my experience as a ward councillor for twelve years prior to May this year - three of them as Lead Member for Housing and Community Safety - might prove useful to estate residents as they strive to build their association and their community.

Although I am not a resident of the Worton estate I gladly accepted the role. As well as having worked closely with ROWE for the whole of my time as an elected member I have strong connections with this estate in particular. My father was brought up in Octavia Road, directly opposite the site where the Community Centre now sits. As a child I would visit the same house, then occupied by my late uncle John, my aunt Barbara and my cousins Lisa, Anne and Steve (now also sadly departed), every Sunday morning. When we reached our teens Steve and I would often go fishing somewhere nearby.

A few years later I attended a youth club at my Church which, as a result of its location at the junction of Twickenham Road with Worton Road, inevitably became something of a meeting point of the Worton and non-Worton worlds. Ironically, when one considers my later attachment to the estate, the Worton lads and my own little gang were in constant conflict with one another. When walking home from school in those days what would have been a shortcut for me was in fact a definite no-go area. Instead I took the longer, but safer, route along the St. John's Road.

Anyway, I am digressing. At the meeting tonight I was amongst friends, as I always feel I am these days when passing through Worton. It is in the spiritual if not the literal sense my home.

There were seven ROWE members present, including myself. This may seem a modest number, but when one considers the nonsense that this estate has had to put up with in the past from the local authority it is a miracle that the association still exists and that the Community Centre is still standing.

A couple of years back, at a meeting that I also chaired, what had become an almost moribund association relaunched itself with a new Committee of some 14-16 members. However many of the new additions had been lukewarm, had turned up to their first meeting expressly to criticise the work of others rather than to offer their own help, and had promptly either resigned or drifted away.

This time things are clearly different. The seven members present tonight, plus a few more of my acquaintance who weren't in attendance this evening, are clearly determined to make things work for the benefit of the estate community. We were joined by the local Tenant Participation Officer from Hounslow Homes and Councillor Sue Sampson, both of whom made helpful contributions and seemed to be there with good intentions. I was especially pleased to hear Cllr. Sampson tell the meeting: "This is your association, I'm here to listen and not to tell residents what they want".

Encouraging signs, or lulling us into a false sense of security? Time will tell.

The big news on the estate at the moment is the £419,000 in Section 106 money made available as a result of the controversial Worton Green development, which remains unspent. ROWE is keen that residents will not lose control over the fate of this funding. As always the wheels of progress are turning oh so slowly, but they are turning nonetheless.

Speaking personally I see my role on ROWE as being an advisory rather than a leadership one. As a non-estate resident I feel my place is to take a back seat and speak when I think it might be helpful to do so. I will endeavour to avoid controversy, and it will be interesting to see whether or not it avoids me.

Despite a plethora of forthcoming meetings I find myself strangely looking forward to the next ROWE gathering in October.


Anonymous said...

No doubt your experience will prove invaluable to ROWE or indeed any local residents association.
However you are probably mindful of the fact that any such appointment may be viewed unfavourably with the powers that be at council HQ - gamekeeper turned poacher as some might say !

Who knows how they'll react, but you guys should hold your nerve and stand firm.
Too many residents associations are given the runaround because
they lack the insider knowledge of how things REALLY work at Lampton Road.

Phil Andrews said...

Agreed, except to say that I was always a poacher.

How will they react? Let me see, how about a furtive phone call to the association suggesting that the local authority would just LOVE to give them lots of money but they will be unable to do so for as long as I remain on the Committee?

This is the usual M.O. They tried it on the West Mid in '98. They burned their fingers then and we are far stronger now, but a One Trick Pony only knows one trick.

Alternatively they could try working constructively with us? Go on, dare to dream!

Anonymous said...

Phil Andrews and Sue Sampson in the same room at the same time ?
I MUST be dreaming !
Who was more shocked to see the other I wonder ?

On a more serious note, I too can foresee a 'Keenesque' type letter being sent to ROWE threatening to withhold co-operation ect ect.
Whether this comes from the top brass at the civic centre or the new councillors (or both), this will place ROWE in a very awkward situation.
Please tell me you've got a contingency plan.

Phil Andrews said...

I don't have any contigency plans. Residents' associations are run by residents and residents alone have the right to decide who may or may not serve on their committees. The moment they sacrifice their authority and independence to councillors or politically motivated bureaucrats their associations cease to exist in any meaningful sense.

The Worton people co-opted me, it was their decision not mine. I am proud to be a member of ROWE and will do whatever I can to help my Committee colleagues to build the association.

ROWE are aware of the damage this kind of political interference did to Ivybridge for a generation and have no intention of allowing themselves to be pushed or blackmailed into the same situation.