My first Walthamstow West Community Council meeting

 by Martin Belam, 15 June 2004

This evening I attended the Walthamstow West Community Council at Greenleaf Primary School. Turn out was low - the council covers four wards, and out of total of 21, my wife & I were 2 of only four people from our Chapel End ward.

Everyone attending the meeting was issued with an IML hand-set, which doubled up as both a microphone and an electronic voting device. This naturally appealed to the democratic geek within, but it was noticeable that the majority of the speakers had considerable difficulty in operating the microphone.

The Community Chair, Philip Herlihy, was very firm in setting out the standards of behaviour required at the meeting - Respect everybody. No shouting. Raise your copy of the agenda papers if you think the person talking has been going on too long.

The main item on tonight's agenda was how to spend our budget. Each of Waltham Forest's Community Councils has two financial years worth of £10,000 to allocate - with the possibly of co-opting more money from the council for larger projects as a virement. Tonight the Chair felt that with such a low turn out (only around a third of the number who had attended the last one) we might want to defer the budget decision until the next meeting, which we voted to do.

The real loser from this decision was the Walthamstow Festival. Their aim is to create one of the largest community events in East London, and currently they receive little help from the council. However, by the next meeting on September 6th, this year's main event will have already been held.

There was a presentation from Alan Campbell, Senior Project Engineer of the Council's Environmental Services about the recent experimental closure of Essex Road Bridge. Traffic studies suggest it has had the desired effect of driving cars out of residential roads and onto the main streets. I couldn't help but feel sorry for Mr Campbell - he may be a fine Senior Project Engineer, but he was also the most visibly terrified public speaker I have seen for some time.

Once the floor was opened to the community we had a mix of issues discussed. There was a thank you to the attending councillors for the placement of a barrier. There was a discussion about introducing an alcohol free zone in the centre of town, but it was pointed out that this was very expensive and would take up a lot of police resource.

One of the most heated discussions was around the issue of kids playing football in streets. Several residents expressed disquiet at young loutish behaviour and damage to cars. Why can't these children go and play in the park? In the opposite camp were a group of people who wanted to know what sort of community it was that would tell parents that their children couldn't play outside their house. I imagine with a larger audience we would see an even more diverse set of views, all good healthy democratic fun.

The aim of these mini-councils is I guess to reconnect the community with its local representatives. Unfortunately it does seem to have the effect of attracting a particular type of committee and meeting enthusiast. Walthamstow West is blessed with the presence of Mr K Lord. He seemed quite obsessed with the minutiae of the process of running the meetings, which the chair tried to patiently explain was making it rather dull to ordinary people with ordinary issues, which is the intended audience.

Mr Lord was chiefly unhappy as he has had one of his bids for funding removed from the shortlist - a proposal for an environmental project or competition for schools. The Chair and the council officers removed it because they felt it duplicated funding opportunities for schools available elsewhere, namely via the London School Environment Award, the Eco Schools award and the Waste Watch Action Club. In the end it was voted back onto the agenda for the next meeting. I doubt very much that we have heard the last of this...

The subject, dear to my heart, of the evening closure of Walthamstow Central came up. Some months ago WAGN decided the best way to deal with the anti-social behaviour at Walthamstow Central during the evenings was to shut it up at night and shift the behaviour to a now unlit side alley. Understandably some people were less than enamoured of this solution. Our local police inspector was on hand to outline the plans they have for dealing with the situation, and the Chair will be attempting to get someone from either WAGN of TfL to attend the next meeting. I shall look forward to that.

All in all I enjoyed it, and would definitely go again. Allocating £10,000 is not a huge budget, but channelled correctly we should be able to get something done that improves our little corner of E17, which is no bad thing.


The subject of footballs and cars will never go away. My old flat was positioned in just such a way that my car was always parked behind the 'goal'. So I agree, why can't they go to the park, which is only ten minutes walk away. I'm a parent myself, and I'd never allow my son to do something that would in effect teach him a disregard of other people's property.

If they can't be considerate, they should bugger off. I hate council estates.

Well for one thing I don't think the publicity for this particular meeting had been good - I only remembered it was on because I was nagged into going by my father - he is on holiday at the minute and wanted me to go along to influence the budget.

However I do also think that the great weather may have been deterent to spending two hours in a school hall for a lot of people.

My concern would be that a large number of the people who went last time had been put off by the procedural droners. One guy in particular was really obnoxious, refusing to use the microphone and being very antagonistic towards the chair, the council officers and the councillors. I can see that really making people give it a miss.

I think I saw this project mentioned in an industry magazine for people working in the 'regeneration sector', where there was an article outlining alternative ways of making decisions about which projects to fund. One of those was to use gameshow-style voting, which sounded similar to what you've described. Unfortunately, I didn't own the magazine, I was just reading over someone's sholder on the tube...

It sounds like an interesting way of getting local people interested, and is certainly better than closed meetings attended only be local civil servant quangos. However, you said that there was still a low turnout - why do you think this is and how can it be improved?

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