Saturday, 26 February 2011

Despite All, Our Community Is Stronger Than Ever

Despite having returned to rainy England some fourteen days ago, this is my first new post on this blog.

There have been two reasons for this.  The first was the simple imperative to prioritise the need to make a living.  Work that earns me money and enables the family to keep afloat must at most times take priority over what is in effect a labour of love.

The second is that what has been by far the most significant event since I returned was the hugely successful residents' march to Save Our Libraries and Public Hall which took place last Saturday.

 Christine Diwell of The Isleworth Society and ICG Chair Ian Speed celebrate the opening
of the new leisure centre and library with a symbolic cutting of a green ribbon.
  Despite millions having been spent on the refurbishment of the facility, Hounslow
Council was considering it for closure just a few weeks after its official opening.

In the build-up to the march I have to say that I wanted to post, but didn't have the courage.  Despite past experience teaching me that Isleworth people come out with a vengeance when called out onto the streets in support of a good local cause there was always a nagging fear that something would go wrong.  Inclement weather, a whispering campaign by the local Labour Old Guard spreading the false news that the libraries were safe, combined with some uncertainty as to whether the spirit of the active local community had been broken following last year's election to leave me wondering whether the whole thing would be a washout.  There is only so much humble pie that one can eat without being sick, and cowardice got the better of valour.  So I kept away from the blog.

In the event it seems I had nothing to fear.  The weather was lousy, absolutely rotten, and yet over 300 people (some suggested as many as 500) came out to demonstrate their opposition to the cuts.  Brentford and Isleworth MP Mary Macleod joined our demonstration, as did Isleworth ward councillors Mindu Bains, Ed Mayne and Sue Sampson.  The event received an excellent write-up in the Hounslow Chronicle as well as a mention in the London Evening Standard.  Nobody was left in any doubt whatsoever as to the opposition that will come from Isleworth should any suggestion of closing or curtailing our community facilities in Isleworth be revisited by this council administration or by any other.

ICG leader Ian Speed with Mary Macleod MP and the three Isleworth
ward councillors at the head of the column ______________________________________________________________

As I've said before I sympathise with the local authority in its current predicament.  I know from personal experience that its task of having to find £18 million in savings this year and next year, and £12 million in each of the subsequent two years, will be nigh on impossible without having to make some cuts to frontline services.  Especially in the light of the fact that the previous administration, of which I was a part, took out much of the fat from the bureaucracy which the current administration could have done itself as part of its savings programme had it still been there.

Nonetheless I believe that whatever pain we must take we must never, ever be prepared to attack the core of our community life.  Once libraries, public halls and community buildings close they will be closed forever. 

I also reiterate my belief that Labour administrations tend by nature to be less well disposed towards organised communities than to dependent communities.  All else being equal they would prefer to spend what little resources they have on those whom they believe need them rather than those whose aspirations for our community may diverge a little from their own.

But at least they are listening.  I was massively inspired and reassured by the fact that the councillors came along and spoke to concerned locals, and I believe they quite rightly earned a lot of respect for doing so.  The idea of the previous Labour councillors back in the 1990s and prior to 2002 attending any activity organised by the community, let alone one organised by the ICG itself, would have been simply unthinkable.

Things have changed.  And just possibly we have achieved at least some of our objectives in spite of our reverse last May.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree, the local whispering campaign designed to derail the event was quite despicable.

As your old mate G.K Chesterton once said:
"The Bible tells us to love our neighbours and also to love our enemies, probably because they are generally the same people".

Anonymous said...

So, the great & mighty of our borough decided on Tuesday night that the library and community hall savings should be 'postponed'.

'Postponed' until when exactly ?

Am I right in thinking that this issue cannot be re-visited until next March ?

Phil Andrews said...

In terms of a budget reduction, yes.

But if we are not vigilant they will run the facility down between now and next March to a point where nobody wants to use it any more. They probably won't even tell the ward councillors.

Anonymous said...


Has anybody else noticed that the newly refurbished library no longer has a letterbox!

If the library is open when the mailman calls, no problem - he can simply walk straight in and deposit his load at the desk.

If they're closed however (all day Wednesday & Friday for example), he presumably has to leave it next door with the Leisure Centre.

The Library is run by John Laing and the Leisure Centre by Fusion - should they be handling their mail ?

£1.8million for a refurbishment and they don't even get a letterbox - HMMM !