It is no coincidence that so many local people have been on various campaign trails in recent months (or in one case, years). It is the result of a rising frustration that events are moving very fast,the familiar isd disappearing or is under threat and the sense of stability is shaken. People are feeling themselves increasingly powerless against forces over which they have little or no control. Yet, there is a large percentage of society who feel equally powerless and frustrated for another reason.
The oldest campaign, which only reached a conclusion in April, was, very belatedly, a success story. This was final agreement by the Dulwich Estate to lease the site of Beechgrove and its grounds, which formerly stood on Sydenham Hill, to the London Wildlife Trust. This will enable the Trust to incorporate the site (which has reverted to woodland) into Sydenham Hill Wood which it already operates. The campaign to prevent the site from being covered with housing (the plan was to build somewhere in the region of 30 houses) was orchestrated by the Dulwich Society’s Trees Committee under the leadership of the late Stella Benwell, who successfully argued that building permission should be refused and it should remain as woodland. The planning inspector agreed with her. Now, twenty years later, this has, at last, been guaranteed.
Elsewhere you will read in this issue that other groups of concerned residents have banded together to preserve well loved amenities such as the Carnegie Library, the Herne Hill Velodrome and Metropolitan Open Land in Greendale. In former times, the local council might have been expected to intervene on their behalf, now it seems, the local authority is often part of the problem.
The involvement of local authorities in matters like libraries and open space was, of course, as a result of Victorian pressure groups, similar to those springing up today. While philanthropists like Alexander Carnegie or John Passmore Edwards provided new buildings to house libraries in many towns, the books themselves were usually gathered long before by concerned groups or individuals. At the Herne Hill Velodrome, run for many years by the London County Council and later by Southwark Council, there is a similar story, the velodrome was started by individual effort and later taken over by the local authority. In the case of Greendale, the council are actually the owners of the land.
The organizers of these recent campaigns, as well as the demonstration against the closure of local shops in Herne Hill, reported in a previous issue, have successfully used social media to get their messages across and to raise support. On the other hand a large percentage of the population, generally the elderly find themselves increasingly excluded from much of daily life because of a reluctance to embrace the new technology.
As we have previously observed, the internet is affecting the pattern of retail trade to such an extent that only service businesses not affected by online shopping such as hairdressers, cleaners, restaurants and take-aways are able to pay the rents being demanded by landlords and now make up most local shopping parades. This has been the example at Herne Hill which led to that local protest being staged.
It should be no surprise that 40% of the Dulwich Society’s membership has not signed up to receive an online news bulletin. This same number is almost certainly reflected nationally. Many older people now feel excluded from events because either they do not trust or cannot grasp the internet’s use. They decline to operate online banking for fear of fraud, preferring instead a friendly and trusted face at their local bank. Now that local banks are closing down even this comfort is removed. The deniers of online blame the internet for destroying their personal freedom. Although the Grim Reaper will eventually remove such objections, they may indeed be valid.
It is therefore not surprising that protests and campaigns are breaking out as all this frustration seeks an outlet. In his Chairman’s Comment, Ian McInnes outlines the arguments in yet another campaign, one which would make an excellent model as a question at a Civil Service exam. Interestingly it also pits the young against the elderly. Should the grounds attached to the new Judith Kerr School in Half Moon Lane be used as a playspace for the children or the site of a replacement almshouse to Edward Alleyn House which is considered by its trustees as failing to meet current standards?