Refugees at Home

Sara Nathan has been invited to speak at Friday prayers at the mosque in Acton this week. Unusual not only because she’s a woman but because this is a special week, being the last Friday of Ramadan. The fact that she’s been invited to speak is a measure of the respect with which she and the charity she founded, Refugees at Home, are regarded.  She and her brother and sister in law decided four years ago that being empty-nesters, with their own children grown, they should put their spare rooms to better use. They took the bold step of inviting refugees to live with them. Now there are 160 hosts taking in refugee guests all over the country. Sara talked to me about how setting up Refugees at Home with her brother and sister in law has enriched their lives.

Photographs above: Ganim with Jonjo and Malcolm in football gear; Reza, Sara, Malcolm & Murtesa; Areej, refugee, guest, now placement coordinator with the charity

It was around the time that Alan Kurdi made global headlines that she decided she had to do something. The body of three year old Syrian boy washed up on an Italian beach became a symbol of the desperation of refugees trying to escape from war zones and the indifference of Europeans to their plight. Successful, professional, and the owner of a house with a spare room, the logic of taking in refugees seemed obvious to her.

Sara was very aware that anybody could be a refugee, as her brother’s mother-in-law had fled Vienna in 1939 to escape Nazi persecution and her grandparents had hosted a child brought to England by the Kinderstransport. She set up Refugees at Home with brother Timothy and sister in law Nina. They have now hosted 25 people and Sara and her husband Malcolm are up to 18. Their first was Ganim, pictured here in football gear with Sara’s son Jonjo and husband Malcolm, a few days after he’d arrived. He had not a word of English but they had football in common, so three days after he’d arrived they took him to a match. Ganim was from Syria and stayed nine months. He’s still living in Acton and now works for Deliveroo.

There was Reza the tailor from Iran, persecuted there for being Christian, now living happily with his girlfriend in Finchley and working in central London, and Kingsley the Nigerian who claimed asylum because as a gay man his life was under threat, and Khaled, another Syrian with a Masters in Pharmacology who now works in Hammersmith selling dental equipment.

Yes but, people who’ve had to struggle to survive often can become brutalized in the process. What if they’re violent? Mentally unstable?

Those are not the refugees and asylum seekers they place as guests in people’s homes. Everyone they deal with has been vetted and referred by organisations such as the British Red Cross, the Refugee Council, St Mungo’s, the big immigration solicitors. All of these organisations desperately need to place their clients somewhere and give them a start at a life here, so they’ve very careful who they send. You sign up for a month initially and are visited by a home visitor to check that all is well. “They’re mostly very grateful and compliant. Only twice in 1700 placements have we had to go round and ask someone to leave”. They don’t take people with serious mental health issues. They don’t take people with drink and drug problems and they don’t take unaccompanied minors, unless their age is disputed.

Are they here legally?

“What is legally?” Indeed. They’re all in the system. Known to the authorities, going through the various stages of applications and legal proceedings. All are either refugees or asylum seekers.

What is your commitment as a host?

“Just to provide a bed. A safe, warm, dry bed in a room with a door that closes”. Some of the refugees work. Those asylum seekers who are not permitted to work are offered a bursary of £20 per week. Anything else provided by the host is optional.

When you apply to be a host, Refugees at Home sends round a home visitor. They check the accommodation, but also that everyone in the house is ok with the idea. “You’d be surprised how often the woman of the house thinks it’s a good idea but hasn’t mentioned it to her husband, who says ‘No way!'” The charity is always looking for new homes. They have 160 people hosting all over the country, mainly in London and the south east but also in big cities such as Manchester and Birmingham. There are a disproportionate number of Jewish households, Quakers and LGBT hosts. They don’t ask the race, religion or age of the refugees so asking for a Christian refugee for example, would be fruitless.

The charity is also looking for home visitors, particularly in the Chiswick area. They need to be people with a background in safeguarding or home assessment who are prepared to give a couple of hours a fortnight of their time. “Social workers, district nurses, Community Practitioners and doctors are perfect, or any of the above who are now retired”.  Refugees at Home is also looking for a placement officer. Areej (pictured above) came as a refugee, stayed as a guest and now works for the charity as a placement coordinator. They’re looking for someone who is “both compassionate and firm, is sensitive, committed and resilient, with good judgement and outstanding attention to detail”.

The rewards are huge. Sara told me about the friendships she has made and the huge satisfaction you get playing a role in setting someone on a path to independence and a better life. When we met she’d just heard that a woman who is a paediatric anaesthetist and hasn’t been able to work here has just taken her first exam with the General Medical Council and now that she is settled here, has been be reunited with her children who she hadn’t seen for four years. The kick she gets out of helping someone like this is evident from her huge, beaming smile.

refugeesathome.org

A Medical Herbalist’s Guide to Fighting Hayfever

Guest Blog by Zen Maitri

With another beautiful summer on the cards, it’s time to dig out the sun cream, unpack the deck chair and enjoy those blue skies. But the summer months can be challenging for some. The birds are singing and the flowers are in full bloom, but that’s little comfort to those who suffer from Hayfever. If you’re sensitive to pollen, summer – or any time of year for that matter – can be more sneeze than suntan, with excess mucus, a runny nose, itchy eyes and that all too familiar ’bunged up’ feeling.

As Medical Herbalists, we consider a number of things when formulating a prescription for hayfever. The main aims are to reduce inflammation, dampen the excess histamine response – in turn reducing the itchiness and sneezing – and alleviate that discomfort as much as possible. To do that we select medicinal herbs with anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine, anti-allergic and anti-catarrhal properties. The latter refers to herbs that help the body remove excess mucus.

Natural Hayfever relief

There are several herbs with properties that ease Hayfever symptoms. These include Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) and Elderflower (Sambucus nigra), which are anti-inflammatory and anti-catarrhal. Eyebright is very ‘drying’, and is especially useful whenever there are excess secretions in the mucus membranes and upper respiratory tract – something Hayfever sufferers will be used to. Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) is another herb with powerful anti-allergy properties, along with Nettle leaf (Urtica dioca), which is a natural anti-histamine. Our in-store Hayfever tea includes Baikal skullcap, Yarrow, Plantain, Nettle Leaf, Liquorice, Elderflower and Peppermint.

Looking to a Medical Herbalist for help with Hayfever

Before creating a bespoke prescription to help you deal with Hayfever, a herbalist will ask a few questions about any other health concerns you have and any medication you are currently taking. This process ensures we prescribe a herbal medicine that’s tailored to the individual and the circumstances. It embodies our personalised approach to health. We’ll also look to take a wider view. For example, excess mucus production is a common symptom of Hayfever. Our in-house nutritionist would suggest that you cut down or avoid foods that encourage mucus production, such as dairy products, and sugar – which is also inflammatory.

Zen Maitri’s Hayfever Tea is available in store now.

This article was written by the team at Zen Maitri’s Natural Health Apothecary. You can visit Zen Maitri and enjoy a free 15-minute consultation with a Medical Herbalist at 39 Turnham Green Terrace.

Zen Maitri are part of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme. They are offering Club Card holders a 30% discount across a range of products and services.

What’s the story?

Entries are now coming in thick and fast for the Bedford Park Festival Photography Competition. This one (above) is entered in the Portrait category. What’s the story behind the picture? It looks as if these guys are seriously upset with the photographer and about to lamp him.

On the contrary.

“I was searching for the graves of some ancestors a few weeks ago having recently discovered one side of my family come from a long line of ‘Essex Girls’. The big guy was a lovely taxi driver who helped me search the headstones in St Giles Church in Orsett and the chap behind him was the church sexton who was in the middle of mowing the grass but stopped to help as well – it just goes to show how dangerous a camera can be”.

If you would like to submit some photographs for the competition, go here to see the competition rules and where the pictures will be on display. Below are a selection of other photographs submitted so far, one from each of the categories – Animals, Chiswick Life, Landscapes & Seascapes, Portraits & People, The Built Environment, The Natural World. There is also a young persons category (16 and under) but we have yet to receive any entries for it. So a word to the wise, if you are 16 and under and submit a photograph, on present reckoning you will win!

The Chiswick Calendar is organising this year’s competition. All the entries we receive will go up on this website on Friday 7 June, at the same time as the prints are being put up in St Michael & All Angels Parish Hall. You will be able to browse the pictures online, but you have to go in to the exhibition over Green Days weekend (8-9 June) to vote for your favourite photos. The names of the photographers will be added on the website once the competition has been judged, to ensure there is no favouritism in the voting!

What to do about the Box tree caterpillar

This is one of the largest and most carefully tended gardens in Chiswick, yet as you can see from the picture above, the Box hedges have been laid waste by the caterpillar which is causing havoc across England, but particularly in London and the South East. So devastating is its appetite that the advice from the Royal Horticultural Society is to remove the pesky critters by hand or to consider replacing your Buxus with other plants. Tracey and Ian Hall are in the process of doing the latter. Their garden is the second largest in Bedford Park and they usually open it to the public for the Bedford Park Festival. This year they were havering, but decided they would go ahead regardless and that the public would forgive a few dead hedges, considering how widespread a problem this is. I had the pleasure of meeting them, seeing their garden and talking to Tracey about how she is developing it with garden designer Aila Cinar.

Photograph above: Tracey Hall in her garden. 

Designing a garden – children v adults

Tracey and Ian have five boys. When they moved in to their house in Bedford Park just over 20 years ago, Tracey was pregnant with number four. What they needed was not a garden with secluded nooks and pergolas and walkways enclosed by rose covered arches, but a nice open space where the boys could have a good kick about, with interesting features that they could also enjoy. They brought in Simon Fraser to design the space. He lost the wild, naturalistic look the garden had previously had, opening it out so Tracey could see the perimeter from the kitchen and providing a balance which suited both adults and children. The garden is designed in a T shape, with a ping pong table on one side and the children’s ‘fort’ on the other, tucked away out of sight from the patio.

The garden had been very shady. It’s so large that the three grown trees – two purple beech and an oak – don’t inhibit the sense of space, but there had been several more mature trees, casting a deep gloom and preventing the oak from growing properly. When a fungus caused the larger trees to decay, that was the excuse they needed to do a little thinning and now the garden is a sun trap, enabling Tracey to cultivate more of the flowers she loves.

The ‘children’ are now aged between 16 and 26, so the lawn has seen more use recently as a venue for 18th birthday parties, with a marquee centre stage. Aila Cinar has been looking after the garden since 2005, keeping the structure but developing the beds to provide all year round interest and the colour palette Tracey wants. “Aila is a great plantswoman” she says, “great with trees and roses and great at pruning”. Tracey likes lots of flowers in hot colours – dark purple, red and orange, and Alia has chosen irises and red and purple rhododendrons amongst others, to create the look she wants. “She listens to what I want” says Tracey, which you’d think was a basic requirement if you’re providing a service, but is apparently a rarer quality than you might think! She’s also introduced more plants with dark foliage to contrast and show off the flowers. A lot of the garden is quite formal, with sculpted bushes and low hedges She’s kept the bottom of the garden as more of a wilderness, where there has always been a fox set and each year is home to a new troop of cubs.

Replacing the Box hedges

Recently they’ve been grappling with the problem of what to do about the Box hedges, as the caterpillars have laid waste to the formal hedging in both front and back gardens. Aila has come up with two solutions – Taxus baccata (Yew) and Ilex crenata (Japanese Holly). These are two on a list of 15 suggestions she has for replacing low hedging.

Tracey and Ian’s garden is one of a number of gardens which will be open to the public between 2.00 and 6.00pm on Sunday 23 June. Charge £8.00 for entry sticker and map of garden locations. Book here. Aila will be on hand to give advice about how you might replace your dead Box. Her company Ailand Garden Design is a member of The Chiswick Calendar Club Card scheme.

Photographs below – Tracey Hall in her beautiful garden.

New leader of the local Conservative group

I was in Chiswick High Rd on Friday, late morning, when the scenario we’ve all become used to happened. A police motorbike outrider pulls up in the middle of a junction and stops all traffic in any direction. The police car follows, then the posh cars with darkened windows, followed by another police car and more motorbikes, all at a steady pace, passing through in their flawlessly executed manouevre to get a ‘principal’ through the traffic and out to the M4. I realised it was probably Theresa May, on her way to Berkshire to go home and have a good cry in private, having made her resignation statement in Downing St some half an hour before.

Not the only deposed Conservative leader left feeling a little sore hereabouts. A press release dropped in to my inbox last week. ‘The Conservative Group of Chiswick Councillors held their annual general meeting last night … Councillor Joanna Biddolph was elected leader of the Conservative group … ” Wait, what? Jo, who was elected for the first time last year, replaces Sam Hearn, councillor for more than a decade. How? Why? What’s gone on within the local Conservative party for that to come about? I wondered.

Photographs above: Cllr Joanna Biddolph, Cllr Patrick Barr, Cllr Sam Hearn

The press release which posed more questions than it answered continued: Cllr Joanna Biddolph said “I would like to thank Councillor Sam Hearn for all his hard work and commitment to the Conservative Group, particularly over this first year with six new councillors joining the team. I would like to build on his success as we work together as a strong and vibrant opposition team to tackle the many complex issues that the residents of the London Borough of Hounslow face in their daily lives”.

How did Cllr Sam Hearn feel about this? Hurt, sore, pissed off is the sense I’m getting. Had he stepped down voluntarily? No. Did he oppose his deselection? Yes. Had he seen it coming? No … and yes. While the end came suddenly, there had been differences. About what? More about style than substance, he says. Though politically they are aligned, their style is very different. While Sam is not quick to rush to press release his every thought and decision, we can expect a deluge of press releases from Jo, he says. She does after all work in Communications. What brought it to a head? He let slip that he would not be standing in the next local elections, regarding himself as too old by then. That was seized upon as a reason why he should no longer be leader now.

When Joanna Biddolph, Ron Mushiso and Ranjit Gill took over as councillors for Turnham Green ward last year, they did so with the complaint on every side that ‘the last lot’ hadn’t done anything much to speak of. They entered the job determined to be energetic and hard working, and they have been so. Jo took up a staunchly anti CS9 position. arguing it vociferoulsy on Twitter, and launched a ‘Chiswick Shops Task Force’ to try and combat the onslaught of business closures. Sadly her plan to make temporary use of the empty Empire House shopfronts hit the buffers last week when Lendlease announced they’d changed their minds and would allow no such thing. She led the initiative to set up meetings about knife crime and the rise of street assaults, getting the deputy commander for the West section of the Metropolitan police to come and explain what action he was taking. They’ve also set up regular meetings with ward constituents, some of whom have never before had a conversation with a councillor.

So far so good. She is admired and respected by many. “She will learn how difficult it is to be leader” says Sam, who has found out the hard way that being in a minority of nine opposition councillors to Labour’s 51 doesn’t afford you with any power and not much in the way of influence either. “The only way you can get anywhere is by working with them” says Sam, something on which Jo Biddolph is not by her own admission keen to do. While other parts of the borough are forging ahead with plans for Business Improvement Districts to bring money into their town centres, she has told me herself that she has resolutely refused to talk to the council leader about her Task Force. If you want support in some piece of neighbourhood bother however, she’s your woman. Her record of dealing with case work is second only to that of Cllr. John Todd.

Councillor Patrick Barr, also elected councillor for the first time last year, was elected deputy leader by the group and Cllr Ranjit Gill was re-elected group whip. Cllr Gerald McGregor (who challenged Sam for leadership of the group last year) seconded the motion to elect Jo as leader. Cllr Barr said: “I am really excited about this change to our group and very much look forward to supporting Cllr Biddolph as group leader and working together, with my colleagues, to continue to ensure that the residents of the London Borough of Hounslow are at the centre of all that we do”.

Lib Dems win big  in London …

While nationally the EU elections story was one of huge success for the Brexit party – topping the vote with 28 seats (31.6 vote share) from a standing start, setting up a new party only a few months ago – last week’s vote was also an even bigger endorsement for the Remain parties. Overall the unequivocally anti-Brexit parties (Lib Dems, Greens, Change UK, Plaid Cymru & SNP) polled more (40.4%) than the unequivocally pro-Brexit parties (the Brexit party & UKIP), who polled 34.9%. In London the Lib Dems won the most seats – three out of eight, increasing their vote share by 20% over the last EU elections in 2014. The Brexit Party took 18% of the vote.

… and even bigger locally

Large numbers of people in west London voted Lib Dem. Our votes were collated with all the others across London, but the Lib Dems certainly made a good showing in Hammersmith & Fulham, Hounslow and Ealing, helping them go from zero MEPs to three representing the capital. The Lib Dems came top in Hammersmith with 34.3% vote share, (up 27.8% with Labour at 19.6%, dropping 13.6% to come second). In Hounslow they came second to Labour for the first time ever, polling 23.1% (up 19.2% to Labour’s 30.2% – down by 11.1%). In Ealing they also came second to Labour with 26.1% (up 20.3 to Labour’s 32.1% – down by 13.4%). In all three boroughs the Brexit Party came third, Greens fourth, with the Conservatives trailing in fifth place.

Photographs above, left to right: Winning candidates on stage at City Hall; all eight Lib Dem candidates; new Lib Dem MEPs posing for photographs in front of Tower Bridge. (Helen Cross is second from left in the middle photograph).

People in Chiswick had the opportunity to judge three of the winning candidates for themselves, as Ben Habib (Brexit Party), Seb Dance (Labour) and Scott Ainslee (Green) took part in our Hustings at George IV two weeks ago. Helen Cross represented the Lib Dems. She was number six on the Lib Dems list, so she knew from the outset that she didn’t have a chance of winning a seat, but nevertheless she was at City Hall for the count on Sunday night and was ecstatic at the outcome.

“We’d been campaigning across London and I’d had a lot of people telling me they’d always voted Labour or always voted Conservative and that they would be voting for us for the first time, so we knew it was possible, but to get three was a stretch. It was an enormous result. Getting three MEPs was amazing”. The Lib Dems are back to 2010 levels of polling, having been wiped out in 2015 and again in 2017.

“London has sent a very clear message” she told me. “There is no mandate for a hard Brexit” Turnout in Hounslow was only 38% which she puts down to “exhaustion” with Brexit and elections but she says the Lib Dems have received a lot of support locally, so much so that they have recently opened a branch in Chiswick. “We have a fantastic base now in Chiswick. There have been a lot of new members sign up nationally over the weekend and I’d be surprised if that hadn’t been reflected locally. We’ve had really young people joining – one in particular who said he usually campaigned for Labour or the Greens but wanted to support us because of our stance on Brexit”.

General election plans

Helen, who only joined the Lib Dems in 2016, because of Brexit, first stood in last year’s local elections and now plans to throw her hat in the ring for the parliamentary nomination for Brentford & Isleworth, applications for which are coming up in June. Sitting MP Ruth Cadbury won the 2017 General election with a majority over the Conservatives of over 12,000 votes. But her position may not be unassailable if these elections are anything to go by, even though she has consistently voted against Brexit herself. Senior figures in the party have said that Labour paid the price in these elections of not making their position clear. Emily Thornberry said their policy was “not clear enough”. Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: “It’s no use trying to hide from these very disappointing results. We need to reflect hard and listen to our members, supporters and voters. The only way to break the Brexit impasse is to go back to the public with a choice between a credible Leave option and Remain.”

Photographs below: Lib Dems celebrating their victory and campaigning previously in Chsiwick

 

LB Hounslow takes legal action after Travellers party weekend

Hounslow Council is preparing a legal case to prohibit illegal encampments and the dumping of waste across the borough, in line with action successfully taken by Ealing and Hillingdon councils. Cllr Steve Curran, leader of Hounslow Council, says he expects the case to go to court ‘in the next few weeks’. The case has been in preparation for some time, as illegal encampments by Travellers is a growing and costly problem.

The latest example, in Chiswick, was when a group of Travellers made camp in the car park of Hounslow and Barnes Hockey Club in Dukes Meadows over the weekend, having moved on from Chiswick Back Common, where they stayed Thursday night.

The groundsman at Hounslow and Barnes Hockey Club, Ahmed, was tending the club’s pitches at Dukes Meadows when a passerby alerted him to the fact that a group of caravans, cars and motorbikes had just entered the club’s car park at around 11.00am on Friday. He went over to have a look and asked them how they’d got in, as he knew he had left the barrier locked. ‘The gate was open’ he was told, the police had been and it was ‘all fine’.

As there were so many of them and he was on his own, he had no option but to retreat and call the police, even though he knew he’d left the gates locked and he could see that an angle grinder had been used on the padlock. “They were trying to intimidate me by circling around on their bikes and revving their engines” he told me. Ahmed, who has been groundsman at the club for ten years, has had experience of dealing with Travellers before. Last summer, the same thing happened and when they left the site they left behind them mounds of rubbish which took several journeys by truck to shift.

The police responded on Friday, one officer came, who told him that if were was any incident he was to call 999.

When he came back the following day he found the club’s hut smashed, seven or eight kit bags full of stuff stolen, ladders and a new dustbin gone and the place trashed, with tea bags and kitchen supplies strewn around. The security camera he’d put in place, a dummy as it happened, had been smashed; also missing was his spare bike.  He called 999, the police came again after an hour or so and apparently some kind of deal was struck by which the Travellers would be gone within 24 hours.

“Our enforcement officers and our police team work closely together” says Cllr Steve Curran, Leader of Hounslow Council. “Unfortunately they moved from site to site; we have no legal powers to stop that.  We expect to be going to court in the next few weeks so we are in line with Hillingdon and Ealing”.

The Travellers were gone by midday on Sunday, so the police acted quickly and were very effective, as far as they were able within the law. They also recovered most of the stuff which had been taken, including a bike and a golf club stolen from the nearby Dukes Meadows Golf Club. “We have it on CCTV” one of the golf pros told me. “It took all of 30 seconds” for two teenage boys to come in to the club grounds and steal a bike and a club from a golf bag outside the shop.

“It’s a nuisance” said Ahmed, clearing up the mess on Monday and repairing the shed. “They had a big party on Saturday night. They broke in to the control box and set up their generator and had a bonfire going”.

This is the second time Chiswick has seen Travellers set up camp within a few weeks. The first was on the disused car park in Essex Place, next to Sainsburys, which is owned by Lendlease. Ealing Council has had problems with Traveller settlements on Ealing Common for years, coming to head recently with a surge in encampment numbers, with 40 alone arriving since November 2018. ‘This is a significant increase in what is normally the quietest time of the year for these types of encampments’ says Ealing Council. They have recently obtained a High Court injunction that prohibits illegal encampments and depositing of waste on more than 300 sites across the borough. The injunction forbids caravans, mobile homes, vans and lorries from coming onto public land and setting up camps and dumping waste on it. ‘It will mean that neither the council nor the police will have to rely on their respective powers under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which is not always quick and effective at removing incursions and encampments’ say Ealing Council.

Implementing a borough-wide injunction will stop ‘named persons’ and ‘persons unknown’ from camping or dumping waste on any parks, sports fields, leisure areas, agricultural land, woodland areas, opens spaces, housing estates, car parks and leisure facilities in the borough which are owned and managed by the council. The injunction will initially remain in force until a full hearing on 19 July 2019. Providing the injunction is working effectively in practice, the council can ask the court to extend it for a three-year period.

Hounslow Council is looking to follow suit. “We have been asking government for more powers to enforce against this type of antisocial behaviour, which costs the residents and businesses of Hounslow tens of thousands of pounds every year” says Steve Curran.

Ealing councillors also made representations to the Home Office about the problem last year and in February Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced plans to tackle illegal Traveller sites by giving police tough new powers.

“The vast majority of travellers are law-abiding citizens – but illegal sites often give an unfair, negative image of their community and cause distress and misery to those who live nearby” he said. “There is a widespread perception that the law does not apply to Travellers and that is deeply troubling. The result of our initial consultation was clear – people want to see greater protection for local communities and for the police to be given greater power to crack down on trespassers”.

Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP said: “During our consultation, we have heard accounts of needless and unacceptable noise, abusive and threatening behaviour and extensive litter and waste from illegal Traveller sites. Only a small minority of people are causing this distress, but it’s right that police are given extra powers to step in. We are committed to working with councils to help them deal with these challenging cases, while also ensuring Travellers have good access to legal sites”.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has committed to give councils up to £1.5 million of extra funding to help them enforce planning rules and tackle unauthorised sites, with funding also available under the £9 billion Affordable Homes Programme to help pay for legal pitches.

Eat by the river – where can I use my club card?

The sun comes out and everyone heads for the river. Fortunately for you, your Club Card is accepted in lots of places around Strand on the Green.

Annie’s restaurant

The Bell & Crown

The Stable pizza restaurant 

Hammonds butcher & deli

One Over the Ait

LendLease puts stop on temporary use of development site

Developers LendLease, who own the Empire House site at Essex Place next to Sainsburys, have put a stop on all plans for temporary use of the site.

Cllr Joanna Biddolph’s High Rd Task Force had won a promise from the developers that the shops, which have now been empty for many months, could be used for pop up community actitivies and Abundance London has been planning a temporary garden in the disused car park, dubbed the ‘Tarmac Garden’.

Both were intended to mitigate the planning blight caused by the developers buying a huge site in the middle of Chiswick and then doing nothing with it.


A ‘Jardin Joyeux’ – temporary urban garden in Paris

‘Strategy reviewed’

Nash Bond, the agents acting for LendLease have told Abundance London “the strategy for this site has been reviewed and regrettably we are no longer able to move forward with offering occupation of any part of the site or shop units.”

This comes after several months of work negotiating with LendLease, ensuring the correct legal structure was in place to use the site temporariily and clearing up the area, removing broken glass and other debris.

Karen Liebreich for Abundance London said: “It’s a real pity as we had already spent a lot of time and effort on this project, have a good volunteer team in place, and had received support from the London Borough of Hounslow, Gunnersbury Nature Reserve and many other local groups.

“The area has been an eyesore, and we felt we could have made something beautiful and fun that would be good for local biodiversity, and involve local people and schools. We understood that we were about to start, so obviously we’re disappointed at the waste of time and effort.”

Abundance London is a voluntary organisation with charitable aims

The Last Temptation of Boris

Local playwright Jonathan Maitland has an uncanny knack of producing plays which are bang on the money: unswervingly topical and unnervingly accurate in their portrayal of politicians.

He managed to hit the very week in which Boris announced he was running for Tory party leadership for the opening of his new play The Last Temptation of Boris at the Park theatre in Finsbury Park.

The play opens with the historic dinner party at Boris’s house the night before he decided to back Leave. Michael Gove and his wife Sarah Vine were present, as was proprietor of the Evening Standard Evgeny Lebedev.

The second act continues into the future. It’s 2029 and Boris is planning his fourth attempt on Number Ten.

The Last Temptation of Boris has had rave reviews, especially for Will Barton’s uncanny representation of Boris and Steve Nallon’s reprise of Margaret Thatcher (who appears at the dinner as a ghost and whom he played in Maitland’s hit show Dead Sheep).

‘This is politics served not so much red as deliciously pink.’ ★★★★ The Times
‘The characters they are portraying are uncomfortably close’ Finty Williams

The Last Temptation of Boris runs until Saturday 8 June but is already almost sold out.

Lovebox meeting for residents

Gunnersbury CIC, the management company which runs Gunnersbury Park on behalf of Ealing and Hounslow councils, is holding  meetings with residents to discuss this summer’s events.

The Lovebox and Citadel festivals – London’s most popular music festivals –  will be returning to Gunnersbury Park Friday 12 – Sunday 14  July.
Last year’s events brought criticism from local residents over the amount of traffic and the volume of the music.
David Bowler, CEO of Gunnersbury CIC, plans to outline ‘the steps being taken to minimise the impact of the events on local residents’ and the festival organisers will make a presentation.
There will be two consultation sessions on Tuesday 28 May at 6.00pm and 8.00pm. Anyone wanting to go is encouraged to book tickets here as places are limited.

Hounslow and Ealing residents who live close to the park have received a letter from Gunnersbury CIC outlining details of the festivals and the consultation. Those who have received the letter are also eligible to enter a ballot of 800 free tickets. 

St Michael’s Players celebrates 70 years

St Michael’s Players, the amateur dramatic group based at St Michael’s Centre in Elmwood Rd, celebrates 70 years this year.

They’ve chosen to mark the anniversary with an open air performance of Salad Days, written in 1954 as a summer musical for the Old Vic company in Bristol. It became a huge hit when it transferred to the West End.

Recalling the days of youthful innocence, it opens with two graduates meeting in a park to plan their future. A passing tramp offers them £7 a week to look after his mobile piano for a month; they accept and discover that when the piano plays it gives everyone within earshot an irresistible desire to dance.

What could be better for a June production in the gardens of St Paul’s Church, Grove Park?

Tuesday 25 – Saturday 29 June.
Tickets from £10, available here.

Harper Regan at the Tabard theatre

I thoroughly recommend Harper Regan, Contentment Productions’ presentation of the play by Simon Stephens which was first produced at the National Theatre in 2008, to great acclaim.

It’s an unsettling play and Emmy Happisburgh plays the lead character brilliantly. Harper Regan is a good woman, trying to do her best, to do her job well and support her family through a succession of traumatising crises.

One day she walks away, tells no one she is going, and in two days, through a succession of encounters with strange men, by a canal, in a pub and by arrangement in a hotel bedroom, is able to re-evaluate her life from the outside and find the strength to go back and accept it for what it is.

We’ve all been there! Maybe not quite as dramatically at Harper Regan, but life has a way of taking chunks out of you as you get older and this is about the resilience of Everywoman.

Harper Regan at the Tabard theatre runs until Saturday 1 June. Tickets here. NB Holders of The Chiswick Calendar Club Card get a £4 discount on tickets

Apartments on sale at Chiswick Gateway

Apartments in Chiswick Gateway, the building site between the Brentford Leisure Centre and Chiswick roundabout currently swathed in L&Q wrapping, have gone on sale.

The marketing suite is open for business and so far they say, interest has been ‘hyper-local’, with only one person coming in looking to buy an investment property; the rest are all local people, mostly first time buyers. 


Chiswick Gateway – Apartment interior

The show apartment, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, neutrally decked out in oatmeal and teal, is very nice, but costs upwards of £400,000. The brochure shows 68 one and two bedroom apartments on eight floors around a central courtyard, each with a little balcony.

Bedford Park Festival 2019 Photography exhibition

The Bedford Park Festival Photography Competition is a brilliant community event, open to everyone, of all ages. If you take photographs, please submit one or several you’re proud of and have them displayed in the exhibition and on The Chiswick Calendar website.

The pictures will be on show in the Parish Hall of St Michael & All Angels Church over the ‘Green Days’ fete weekend (7-9 June) and judged by members of the public, who will vote for a winner in each category. A professional photographer will choose an overall winner, to be announced in the Parish Hall at 4.30pm on Sunday afternoon.

Don’t let last year’s winner ‘Couple on the Millennium Bridge’ by Anna Kunst put you off. There are eight categories and if you don’t win anything, it’s just fun to have your work shown and raise a bit of money for charity in the process.


Photograph by Hugh Wolton

How to enter

These are the categories:Chiswick Life
Portraits & People
Animals
The Natural World
Landscapes & Seascapes
The Built Environment
Serendipity (quirky / funny or downright bizarre!)
Young people’s (16 and under, all subjects)
All you have to do is email me with your details, get your pictures printed (Snappy Snaps are offering a discount) and deliver them to John Little by Saturday 1 June.

This year The Chiswick Calendar is aiming to show all the entries on our website as well so the pictures can be seen more widely.
For all the details of how to enter, click here.

Peppa Pig makes a splash

Olympic long jump champion and father of two, Greg Rutherford, was joined by 46 children and their families in an attempt to set a world record for the most children and families jumping in a puddle.

The event, at Dukes Meadows, took place over the weekend to raise money for Save the Children and was part of a week of Muddy Puddle events with children’s TV / book character Peppa Pig.

Whether or not a world record was officially made is unclear, but it looks like it was fun.

Kew Gardens opens new Children’s space

Kew Gardens has opened a new Children’s Garden: ‘A fun, interactive space to climb, run, jump and explore everything that a plant needs to grow’.

Designed for children aged two to twelve, the Children’s Garden is the size of 40 tennis courts, with more than 100 mature trees and ‘hidden treasures and adventures around every corner’, leading to a 4m high canopy walk wrapped around a 200-year-old oak.

Volunteers needed to walk over hot coals

The phrase ‘I would walk over hot coals for you’ is definitely losing its potency. It used to be used as an expression of undying love – romantic hyperbole, not something that you would actually do! Unless of course you were an Indian fakir, possessed of miraculous powers.

Now anyone can join in with just half an hour’s training. Wet feet and a swift and purposeful stride is all that’s required apparently.

If you would like to put that to the test, the Chiswick based charity, the International Refugee Trust, would like to hear from you. They’re looking for volunteers to take part in the Great Chiswick Firewalk on Saturday 12 October 2019 at the Hogarth Club in Airedale Avenue.

Jazz at George IV, 6 June

Our next Jazz at George IV session will be the Jazz Mondays on Thursday 6 June.

Chiswick based 13 strong band famous for their eight strong ‘wall of saxes’. Their eclectic repertoire ranges across Jazz to Soul, Ska and Funk, from Dizzy Gillespie to Amy Winehouse.

Book tickets here.

Media Club, 11 June

book Pride: from Stonewall to the Present, documenting the history of the LGBTQ equality movement, at our Media Club event on Tuesday 11 June.

The former editor of Attitude magazine is also the author of ‘Straight Jacket: Overcoming Society’s Legacy of Shame‘, described by Elton John as ‘an essential read for every gay person on the planet’.

Book tickets here.

Man stabbed on Chiswick High Rd

Police are appealing for witnesses to a stabbing which took place in the early hours of Saturday morning (18 May) on the corner of Chiswick High Rd and Devonshire Rd.

The man, who is in his forties, was stabbed in the back. He was taken to a hospital in west London by London Ambulance Service and police say his injuries are not life threatening. The man has not been identified and no arrests have yet been made.

Police were called at 1.24 am on Saturday. If you witnessed the incident or have any information about it, West Area Command ask that you call them on 101 quoting CAD504/18MAY, Tweet @MetCC or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

The Thames Path Manifesto

The Thames Path Manifesto

manifesto – manɪˈfɛstəʊ

A public declaration of policy and aims

Origin – Mid 17th century: from Italian, from manifestare, from Latin, ‘make public’, from manifestus ‘obvious’

An initiative of Car Free Day and Abundance London, the Thames Path Manifesto seeks to celebrate the decades of work that have gone into creating the Path and to revive the Thames Path’s potential as a world-class walking and cycling link and biodiversity corridor for London. The Manifesto will launch publicly as part of the London Architecture Festival on 1 June. Heading into September, we will be asking the GLA, riverside councils and MPs to show political support for a Thames Path Renaissance.

Photographs above by Anna Kunst – annakunstphotography.com

  • We believe that the Thames Path should be a connected landscaped walking and cycling route through London and that it should be accessible to all.
  • We believe that the Thames Path should be the longest connected linear public park in the world, seamlessly connecting Londoners to the River Thames.
  • The Thames Path should be one of the world’s most inspiring public green spaces and a unique biodiversity corridor. Achieving this would benefit all Londoners.
  • We believe that a unified and inspiring vision and political consensus are required to fulfil the Thames Path’s potential as one of London’s greatest public assets.
  • We believe that the Thames Path should serve as a model of world-class landscape design and pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and be celebrated as a unique public asset.
  • We believe the Thames Path should become a major attraction for visitors from both home and abroad and should take its place as one of the world’s finest city river walks.
  • The Thames Path should continue to provide a platform for educational and community activities, enabling greater ecological understanding of the river, as well as providing a springboard for encouraging use of the River for leisure and fun.

Photographs above by Barbara Chandler – @sunnygran

Four Proposals to achieve the Thames Path Manifesto

Currently the Thames Path is an incomplete vision.  The  Path  is managed by a multitude of different organisations, each working to secure different aims. At present there is no single entity or individual dedicated to ensuring the Path achieves its potential as a world-class linear park and walking and cycling connection across London. This means there is a great opportunity to improve the administration of the Path as part of progress towards achieving the Manifesto.

To accomplish the Manifesto we propose a Thames Path that is accessible,  connected and clearly identified from end-to-end. This will require:

Planning rules

Planning rules that prioritise a continuous Thames Path and the completion of gaps. There must be a planning condition to create or restore the Thames Path in all developments and new building projects. Wherever a new development is to be built, a public riverside path must be included with minimum standards relating to path width, accessibility and connectivity. It is not enough to permit a glimpse of the river on request at reception, as has been agreed in some places. There must be authentic continuous riverside access. This must be the sine qua non for planning permission, rather than a condition to be negotiated.

Signage

Signage along the river and towards the Path. Currently the signage presents a confusion of names, fonts and descriptions that perfectly represents the confusion of authorities and identities of the Thames Path. The name Thames Path is clear, descriptive, historic, and the result of decades of work by many groups and individuals. We must use it. We must update the design, then use it from end to end. The name of the borough, corporation or organisation paying for the upkeep can be added, but must remain subordinate.

Getting to the Thames Path from  inland areas across London must be made easier. Many visitors and even local residents do  not realise how close they are to the spectacular vistas and recreational opportunities of the riverside. There is a great opportunity to enhance signage and access routes, with a focus on encouraging active travel opportunities within 200 metres of the riverside, and drawing attention to the Thames Path.

A biodiversity strategy

A biodiversity strategy that runs the length of the Path. An ambitious unified biodiversity strategy could create a wildlife corridor on both sides of the river. The Path’s biodiversity role should be the preeminent factor in decision-making and should guide a more unified planting scheme or pallette of native plants along the length of the Path. As insect and bird populations crash it is incumbent on all of us, especially those of us with the power to improve, such as developers, landscape architects, local councils and other municipal authorities to put the preservation of biodiversity at the forefront of decisions. Every opportunity must be taken to design a landscape for the length of the Thames Path that provides insect habitats, nesting possibilities, hedgehog paths, bat roosts, etc.  Action on a Thames Path biodiversity strategy would demonstrate this commitment.

An ambitious landscape design

An ambitious landscape design. Planting and hardscaping along the length of the Path should reflect London’s role as a global centre of design, horticultural and landscape architecture expertise. The Thames Path could be a celebration of British horticultural history and expertise. While a unified design strategy for benches, lights, bins etc would be impossible and inappropriate along the entire length of the Thames Path, nevertheless, there should be a stylistic coherence. Often there are three different types of bench within a space of 20 metres.  A ‘design idiom’ similar to that deployed by the London Underground would create room for innovation and great design within a  coherent framework that provides for a unified hardscaping and furniture design strategy that could run the entire length of the Thames Path.

Get in touch

If your organisation would like to support the proposals, please get in touch. Please send any comments, suggestions or improvements to:

London Car Free Day: celebrate@carfreeday.org.uk  and/or

Abundance London: karen@abundancelondon.com

Take part in The Chiswick Calendar’s straw poll

If you support the Thames Path Manifesto and think it’s a good idea, click here.

 

Click if you think the Thames Path Manifesto is a good idea

The Chiswick Calendar is conducting a straw poll just to see how many people who have read the Thames Path Manifesto think it’s a good idea.

If you have clicked on to this page, you have indicated that you think it is.

Photograph by Anna Kunst – annakunstphotography.com

A glorious day on the river

It’s a lovely sunny weekend and a friend has rung to say he has a new boat “Body and Soul” and it is cruising down to Richmond and would I like to join him at Isleworth? Fifteen minutes later I am sitting in Norman’s pride and joy as we head off around the islands opposite the Richmond steps, right up close to the overhanging willow trees. I can see a Great crested grebe sitting on its nest, which has been thoughtfully tethered by rope to a post, on closer inspection, the nest is actually sitting on a worn car tyre. (An old name for this grebe was Crested arse-foot, in days of old, arse wasn’t considered a swear word, think of the Wheatear, a corruption of white arse Why arse-foot? Because the legs are so far back on the body, they appear to come out from its back side, unlike ducks or geese which have legs almost in the middle of the body and can waddle along quite easily, being so far back the grebe is unable to walk but slides onto its nest.)

This bird is now very common, but over 100 years ago it was another story, brought to the edge of extinction by the fashion trade due to the stomach feathers being used as muffs in the Victorian era. So densely were the feathers packed that they were known as grebe fur and were used for the beautiful chestnut ear tufts in the millinery trade to adorn fashionable hats. The RSPB was formed in 1889 to stop this trade and the slaughter of birds just for their decorative feathers.

Photographs above: Common tern; Wel’s catfish; Common tern

Alien invaders

A few yards on and the Heronry has pterodactyl looking juveniles balancing on the outer branches forsaking the collection of filthy twigs that had been home for several weeks. Herons are early nesters; in fact, the nests are occupied as early as February and you can easily see the adults sitting on the nest from the towpath as the trees are devoid of leaves.

In recent years, Canada geese have been joined by a lone Bar headed goose and the ever-increasing numbers of Egyptian geese – all of these are introduced birds. Bar headed geese having the distinction of holding the record for the world’s highest-flying bird, they have been recorded at 1200ft flying over the Himalayan mountains, Canada geese were introduced in the 18th century to grand country estates. Our latest arrival, the Egyptian goose, could only been seen thirty years ago in Norfolk, mainly around Sandringham park, now they are to be found in the parks on the river and the Wetland Centre. Surprisingly they nest in large holes, high up in old trees.

Heading up to Teddington I am amazed at the number of Mandarin ducks on the river, far outnumbering our native Mallard. This bird is yet another newcomer and has increased enormously in the last few years. Once again this is a bird considered to be the world’s most beautiful duck, it nests in holes in trees but can be enticed to nest in specially designed boxes. A pair of Grey wagtails flash past us and land on the muddy shore, often identified as yellow wagtails because of the gorgeous yellow under parts, but these birds have grey backs unlike the all-yellow, Yellow Wagtail.

Ahead of us on a rusty buoy are a pair of Common tern and being on a boat they take little notice of us as we drift slowly to within ten feet. A sea bird sometimes called a Sea swallow because of its elegant swooping flight, it is becoming more and more common. WWT in Barnes has positioned several carved wooden decoy terns onto the shingle, this is to attract them to nest on the reserve. We are within five feet now and they continue to display to each other, allowing us to take close- up photos.

We are now passing Eel Pie Island and we all miss Trevor Bayliss the inventor who would always wave and greet us from his garden. Sadly, he passed away last year- a real local character! Seals are becoming a common sight along this stretch of water and yesterday my Captain saw one feeding on a large carp near Ham House. Two male coots are violently fighting, their legs thrashing at each other in an attempt to submerge the opponent; a nearby female rushes in and stabs at the interloper with her bill, which sends it scurrying to the bankside defeated in claiming a partner.

Images below: sketch of Common tern; drawing of fighting Coots; sketch of Zander fish by Les McMullum

To our surprise a huge dead fish floats by at least 5’6 ‘long, we couldn’t identify this species but were advised by the Natural History Museum that it was a Wel’s catfish that had been released into the river and is now causing a problem by eating ducklings and small mammals [ I took a photo as it drifted past a row- boat to give it scale]. Norman tells me he often sees large fish leap out of the water, spin like a Dolphin and drop back into the river, a Zander – a predatory fish that I have never heard of and yet another introduced species which, if caught, is illegal to be returned to the river. Not forgetting the Red signal crayfish, introduced by the government in the 1970s and the Chinese mitten crab that came in among ships ballast, both species causing much damage to the riverbanks.

Osprey, Kittiwake, Goosander and Great auk are spotted – but don’t get too excited- these are only the names of the boats that we pass! One name does catch my eye though, it’s the “Thamesa”, a small brass plate on the side is engraved with the words Dunkirk 1940, a lovely and rather elegant motor yacht built in 1936 with a polished mahogany wooden cabin and a boatload of history behind it. Nearing Teddington studios (or what is left of it) I spot a Heron on a post; seconds later it drops into the river with wings spread wide and grasps a fish. 60 years of birdwatching and I have never seen a Heron plunge dive, spread eagle into deep water – it is an exciting moment for me. With enormous effort the Heron manages to lift itself from the surface with a huge fish struggling in its bill, it is a salmon and surely, it’s far too big to be swallowed. For ten minutes I watched the fish being manoeuvred this way and that, by then I would have bet ten pounds that it was never going to swallow it. Wrong! Twelve minutes have passed, and it has slipped down the Heron’s throat showing a rather large, uncomfortable looking bump, I would imagine that it needn’t feed again for several days after that meal.

The end of a short river trip and what excitement, it’s good to know that the river is in such good shape even with all the new and introduced species that are thriving along this wonderful stretch of the river. Just as I am about to get off the boat, the screech of another now familiar bird, the Ring necked parakeet, yet another introduced species and NO it didn’t escape from the Worton Road, Isleworth studios in 1951when they were filming the African Queen but that’s another story……

One Over the Ait – summer menu

While the Strand on the Green pubs are full to bursting when the sun comes out, a lesser known riverside pub, with lovely views and plenty of space, is One Over the Ait, tucked away in the shadow of Kew Bridge, on the Brentford side. Recently refurbished and offering a fantastic Club Card deal – 15% off Monday to Wednesday and 10% off Thursday to Sunday on all food and drink – it’s a great place to while away a couple of hours. They also have space for large gatherings.

We had lunch there to taste the summer menu. I’m not normally a fan of cold soup, but their Watermelon Gazpacho was delicious – a definite improvement on the standard tomato / cucumber / peppers and garlic variety. My lunch partner enjoyed her Salt and Pepper Squid and Fried Artichokes. They have a good choice of Vegetarian and Vegan dishes. I have enjoyed the Vegan Chilli with Basmati rice and guacamole before, but this time we both chose fish: Cornish Orchards Cider Steamed Mussels with triple cooked chips and Baked Whole Seabass with cockle butter sauce, both light and tasty seasonal specials from a menu which changes every week. Other dishes offered on the Main menu included South Coast Rump of Lamb, Pan Fried Mackerel and a Grilled Veal Chop.

Puddings include all the old crowd pleasers: Bakewell Tart with raspberries and vanilla ice cream, Paul’s Chocolate Brownie with salted caramel ice cream, Banoffee cheesecake with salted caramel ice cream, Eton Mess with fresh strawberrires, Sticky Toffee Pudding with Fuller’s vanilla ice cream and a selection of British cheeses served with quince jelly, celery and apples.

Not up for a full meal at lunch time? They also serve a range of sandwiches with chips, and my lunch partner was very approving of the Bloody Mary (“it’s always disappointing when all you can taste is the tomato juice. This is a good one!”)

One Over the Ait is at 8 Kew Bridge Rd, Brentford TW8 0FJ

oneovertheait.co.uk

From Government, to prison, to God

Former Conservative Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken, who spent six months in Belmarsh Prison in 1999 for perjury, gave a talk at St Paul’s Church, Grove Park on Thursday 16 May. He was introduced by Torin Douglas, (pictured above with him) who had reported on his court case for the BBC all those years ago. Aitken spoke about his time in prison and how it led to him becoming an ordained prison chaplain. During a Q&A with the audience he blamed low morale in prisons on budget cuts that saw officer numbers “cut by a third” but also praised new recruits to the prison service who he said had a fresh approach to rehabilitating inmates.

From Treasury Secretary to Prison Chaplain

Aitken, born in 1942, was elected MP for Thanet East in 1974 and while an MP spent two years on the board of arms manufacturer BMARC from 1988 to 1990. He became Minister of Defence Procurement under John Major. The Guardian newspaper and Granada TV’s World In Action programme both ran stories about his dealings with Saudi businessmen while he was a minister.

In 1993 Jonathan Aitken stayed at the Ritz hotel in Paris. His £1000 bill was paid by Saudi Prince, Mohammed bin Fahd – a breach of ministerial rules. In 1995, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Aitken resigned after the Guardian revealed the Saudi payment. Aitken claimed the visit to Paris was personal, not business related, and that his wife had paid the bill. He sued the Guardian and World in Action but lost because evidence presented in court revealed that his wife had not paid and had been in Switzerland at the time. Aitken was charged with perjury, sentenced to an 18 month prison sentence and served six months in Belmarsh Prison in 1999.

At St Paul’s Church, Jonathan Aitken, now Reverend Aitken, recounted his experiences, revealing his shock at the young age of the prison population, their lack of literacy, and the widespread abuse of drugs by prisoners. He joined a prayer group which included inmates with convictions of pick pocketing, armed robbery, and murder. He helped inmates to read and write letters and as a ‘thank you’ was offered hardcore porn. Aitken told the audience at St Paul’s that he found himself telling his fellow inmate who had offered the porn of his faith journey, to justify not accepting it. Aitken went on to study Theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He was ordained as a deacon last year, and is now a prison chaplain at Pentonville prison.

59 prison officers for 1300 prisoners

During a Q&A with the audience, Aitken cited government cuts to prison budgets as the reason behind low morale in prisons, noting that at HMP Pentonville the ratio of officers to prisoners has been as low as 59 to 1300. A government recruitment drive has now boosted that number to 120 officers, but more than half the prison officers at Pentonville are in their first year on the job.

Aitken praised the attitude of the recent recruits, describing them as “younger, more compassionate and more 21st Century”. He introduced James, a young Prison Officer who is nine months into his tenure. He studied Economics and Management at university, and came into his job through a government-sponsored graduate recruitment programme. He explained his approach to the role, citing an encounter with an inmate who was rude to him. Instead of reprimanding the inmate ‘by the book’, he checked back in on him the following day. The prisoner apologised for the way he’d treated the officer. “Had I challenged him, that interaction would not have happened”, said the officer, who believes reprimanding him would have removed any chance of building a relationship that could allow for longer term rehabilitation.

No magic bullet for prison reform

When asked for a single most important step in reforming prisons, Aitken responded that there was no one magic bullet. He instead suggested a range of small gestures combined could make a big difference. Jonathan Aitken is Honorary President of Tempus Novo, a charity that works with former prisoners to ensure stable employment and access to mental health support once they leave prison. St Paul’s Church held a collection for the charity during the talk.

Both Aitken and James highlighted a lack of support for ex-prisoners as a key challenge to reforming inmates. They noted that prisoners used to close access to doctors and mental health professionals were left with little support on the outside. The prison officer explained how ex-offenders would return the same old friends’ houses for shelter, with links to the same criminal gangs that had led to their prison sentences, which often resulted in them returning to prison, no more than two years after being released.

Changing attitudes

Rev. Aitken suggested that changing attitudes were a positive first step in prison reform. As well as the new generational approach to dealing with inmates, he said he’d noted changes in attitudes to allowing ex-offenders to contribute positively to society – working to support young people caught up in gangs, or teaching current inmates to read and write.

It happens that the talk took place in Mental Health Awareness Week, which was also the week in which the decision was announced that the Probation Service would be re-nationalized. Jonathan Aitken and James’ comments led to interesting and timely discussion.

Closure of Charlotte’s Place in Ealing

I mentioned last week that Charlotte’s Bistro were not renewing their Club Card membership (they had been offering Club Card members a brilliant 20% discount off weekday lunches).

This week I found out why, The Charlotte’s group of three restaurants is undergoing restructuring and the original restaurant Charlotte’s Place in Ealing is closing for good. Last year it suffered a disastrous fire which started in the kitchen.

Chef- Owner of the Group Alex Wrethman said:

“Whilst we have at last managed to settle our insurance claim somewhat successfully, the restaurant would need huge additional investment on top of this to get it back up and running. Believe me we have explored every avenue available and, despite my determination from a sentimental perspective, it is just not feasible to reopen. In conclusion, and with great sadness, we are today formally announcing the permanent closure of Charlotte’s Place”.
Fortunately for us the Bistro in Chiswick remains open.

You can see all the pubs, cafes and restaurants which continue to offer deals and discounts to Club Card holders here.

Brexit acrimony

What brought two MEPs, a former deputy prime minister of Poland and a Japanese film crew to Chiswick last night? The Chiswick Calendar’s EU Elections debate. Proof, if proof were needed, that the Brexit debate has completely polarised Britain and made us an international laughing stock.

In an area which voted 70% Remain I was quite surprised that the audience was split, very loudly and quite aggressively so. People had come from far and wide to see their man, the Brexit party’s top candidate in London, Ben Habib, debate with candidates from five other parties: Scott Ainslee (Green party), Helen Cross (Lib Dem), Seb Dance MEP (Labour), Jan Rostowski (Change UK) and Charles Tannock MEP (Conservative).

Charles Tannock, a committed European who has served as an MEP for 20 years, applied for Irish citizenship in response to Brexit. ‘Traitor’ someone yelled when this was mentioned.

“No Deal was not voted on” said Seb Dance. “It was” yelled the Brexiteers. “Nigel Farage told us we’d have a better deal (than we currently have in Europe) Seb shouted back. “Lies, Lies, Lies”

The bloke sitting next to me in the audience kept up a loud running commentary. When someone mentioned “good Europeans”, “that’s an oxymoron” he said. When Scott Ainslee was trying to make the case for working together in Europe to tackle climate emergencies: “None of them have done a day’s work in their lives, they’re politicians!” he shouted.

The debate was wide-ranging. Each of the candidates managed to articulate their key policies, though Charles Tannock was somewhat hindered in that respect by the lack of a Tory party manifesto in these elections.

People said it was a good event and at least one person said it had helped her make up her mind which way to vote. But it was not an evening for the faint-hearted.

There were a variety of international media covering it: German, Dutch, Spanish and Belgian as well as Japanese. God knows what they made of it.

Thanks to Torin Douglas for chairing.

The Ingratitude of Hedgehogs

Some time ago we applied to be foster carers for a hedgehog. We had to undergo a gruelling telephone interview with the hedgehog rescue lady: how big was our garden, did we have dogs, did we use slug pellets, did we have any water, was there access to other gardens. After a nerve-racking wait we were told we had passed, subject to inspection of our garden. There was one problem; the hedgehog was still underweight and needed feeding up.

A month passed. I rang to check whether we were still in the running. We were, but he was still too tiny. Finally the call came. Were we still keen? (I should say so!) If so, this weekend she would bring him round for a garden inspection. What a way to celebrate Hedgehog Awareness Week (5-11th May). What preparations did we need to make, assuming of course that our garden passed muster? We needed to build a house – a website told us an upturned wine crate with an entrance corridor would be perfect, with a similarly protected feeding station where we could put out cat food. The lady said that the four fox cubs who also use the garden shouldn’t be a problem. With her permission, we invited some children to come round.

They used to be fairly common and my mother’s dog, a Gordon setter of no discernible brain had only one skill – he could find hedgehogs, although he could never understand why sniffing them brought a sharp pain to his nose. But now they are endangered. Over-development, traffic, tidy gardens, pesticides and poisons, plastic lawns – all are fatal to hedgehogs. The last hedgehog I had seen, about five years ago, was dead in my allotment, and I have to admit to moving his body gently to lie next to my neighbour’s heavily slug pelleted veg.

But they retain a special place in our hearts. It’s not just the literature of Mrs Tiggywinkle, it’s the charm of their round shape, pointed noses and shiny eyes that has made them Britain’s favourite animal. A petition to ensure that every new housing development builds a 13cm hole (the size of a CD) at the bottom of the garden fences to allow hedgehogs to move freely between gardens to find food and a mate has attracted over 560,000 signatories in the last couple of weeks. How many of those signatories have plastic grass in their garden, or put down slug pellets, or over-tidy their gardens, or do any of the obvious things that would really support hedgehogs and other wildlife? A petition to stop chemical poisons in our gardens would be more useful – garden centres have shelves and shelves of bug killers, ant killers, fly killers, ultimate insect killers, pest-stop insect killer sprays… Do the 560,000 signatories buy and use them?

The lady arrived, with a small carrier containing “our” hedgehog, who she had named Sage. He was smaller than expected, he was definitely a boy, and he had a purple dot on his back. “That’s so we know which one he is,” she said. To our relief, she approved our garden, which is designed for wildlife with a flower meadow lawn, thick hedging around the outsides and lush bee-friendly planting. No need for CD-sized holes – the foxes have dug six-lane fox motorways between us and our neighbours and I had checked that neither side used pellets (it was the first time in years that I’ve spoken to one of the neighbours, so committed to the hedgehog’s welfare was I).

We all admired Sage, the kids were allowed to stroke his prickles gently, we put his bedding into the upturned crate, and then the lady inserted him into the corridor and we put a brick at the entrance, so that he should get used to his new home. She told us to release him in the evening and wished us luck.

After an hour we had a peep into the corridor; he was still there. We became worried that he was stuck in the corridor as the join between the corridor and the main box was quite tight. We took him out and modified the corridor. This time he ran happily through the corridor and into the main box. We replaced the bricks and waited for evening.

Ceremonially we approached, filled his feeding station and removed the bricks. Some neighbours had come round. There was a breathless hush. Nothing happened. We peered into the corridor, darkness. We peered through the crack into the main crate. No sign of him. We gingerly lifted the crate. Still no sign of him. We gently rustled through the dry leaves we had put into the crate to make him feel at home. Gone!

A neat little tunnel had been dug at the back of the crate and Sage, a prisoner for months, had done a bunk. Although it was an anticlimax and we had hoped to see his first steps into freedom – grass! bushes! fresh air! space to run! – it was good to know that he was fit and agile enough to wriggle his way out and head for freedom.

Later that evening I took my cup of tea out to the garden and sat quietly hoping to hear him rustling through the undergrowth. The bird song was beautiful, and encouraging in these times when all we hear is doom and destruction, but of Sage – no sign nor sound. Maybe he would come back to eat the delicious cat food we prepared for him, and drink from the water bowls placed around the garden.

When I told the lady she didn’t take it as a sign of failure, but rather of Sage’s good health and impatience to get out and on. I’m hoping she will consider us next time for a little girlfriend for him.

Meanwhile, if any of you find a small but nimble hedgehog with a purple dot on his back and a wicked sparkle in his eye, please let us know.

Karen Liebreich
Stop press: The following morning the food plate was licked clean.

Great West Hedge

A National Park City Champion, Abundance London and the Chiswick Oasis are proposing the creation of The Great West Hedge to mark the launch on 22nd July of London National Park City – a protective and attractive hedge along both sides of the A4, the Great West Road, to provide protection against motor vehicle pollution for pedestrians, cyclists, residents and schoolchildren.
Every day more evidence is published that shows the dangers of air pollution to our health, especially for children and the elderly. Increasingly evidence is growing that proves a protective barrier of greenery can help filter and screen out the worst of these pollutants.

Between Chiswick and Hammersmith – part of the area left out of the brand new ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) – are eight schools, five nurseries and six playgrounds/parks within a few metres of the A4. These are amongst the most polluted in London.

Steve Pocock, a Chiswick-based National Park City Champion, along with Abundance London and Chiswick Oasis – groups headed up by local residents who have created effective organisations, are asking Transport for London to support their plea to create a protective screen of living greenery, behind which the schools can breathe, pedestrians can walk, people can cycle, residents can live safely. As the planting thickens out and more people drive electric, the hedges can harbour biodiversity and will provide more protection against noise, dust and pollution. Other advantages include sustainable drainage (SuDS) and carbon capture.

Picture above: How the hedge could look for drivers, fitting with existing trees. Pictures below: how the hedge could look for pedestrians; how the hedge could look, protecting St Mary’s School and  the William Hogarth School

The hedge is proposed as a Living Laboratory, trialling different approaches and measuring the impact providing an experiment in green infrastructure that could be repeated throughout the country. The team offers to partner with TfL for citizen science and any other assistance. They have the whole-hearted support of neighbouring schools, nurseries, residents’ associations, amenity groups and businesses along this stretch of the A4.

The Great West Hedge team propose that the Mayor, the Greater London Assembly and Transport for London support this project as a fitting launch this July for the London National Park City. The hedge should be installed in the winter of 2019/20.

A spokesperson for the National Park City Foundation said: “The National Park City Foundation supports the vision of the Great West Hedge as a great example of action to make London wilder, greener and healthier and an inspiring way to mark London becoming the world’s first National Park City. The hedge will improve air quality for the community including schools, make the area greener and support wildlife. It will be a living demonstration of how greening our city can improve life in London.”

For more information on exact location, type of planting, research into air pollution, evidence on effectiveness of hedges and green infrastructure, supporters of the project, members of the group, please see the website at www.greatwesthedge.org