Monday 31 October 2011

How I Saved Our Local Nursery

This is a guest post on UK Uncut by Lucy Reese, mother of Angus (6), Stanley (2) and Max (6 months)
A few years ago, like all good New Labour voters, I was obviously all for public services, but other than the bins and the NHS had very little need for them. Then I had kids. And everything changed. I’d always worked and was determined to do so after I had kids. My job as a TV producer paid quite well, but even so forking out nearly £400 a week in childcare – for a fairly bog standard private nursery – was pretty eye-watering. It was much more than my mortgage. By the time my lovely son was two and a half I knew I couldn’t carry on working the hours I did without going completely bat-shit mental. A ghastly programme about The Spice Girls was the tipping point. I had no work life balance and had to change the way I worked.

Fortunately, by this time my son had moved to a brilliant council run nursery called Caversham Children’s Centre, in Kentish Town, North London. I loved everything about it and it was affordable – the fees were about half what we’d been paying before. It gave me the breathing space to work out how I could change direction. I found I could do some TV stuff from home and also began to pick up work in F.E colleges, which I loved. I had another baby, started a PGCE and got more hours in the college. Throughout all these changes the nursery was a constant – our second boy went there too.

Since both my husband and I are self employed – he makes websites – we can’t afford to turn down work just because it doesn’t fit in with school holidays. I got work teaching summer schools so we started using the brilliant holiday play schemes run out of Camden Square Playcentre. It may sound cheesy, but these services are like extended family for millions of people like us. We can’t plead abject poverty, but to keep working, we need good quality affordable childcare. We want to spend some time with our kids and provide them with emotional security – we just couldn’t do this and pay private sector childcare fees.

Fast forward to the 2010 election. THEY got in and I remember saying to my husband that I reckoned the nursery and the playcentre would be for the chop. People like Cameron have never needed public services and think only lazy scroungers use them. By the end of 2010, it was announced that the playcentre would close in 2012 – then we found out in January of this year that the nursery would be closing in August.

When I got the letter about the nursery closing I burst into tears. Pregnant and hormonal, I just couldn’t handle the news. But I refused to go down without a fight. Fortunately all the other parents felt the same and to cut a long story short we worked together and although the nursery did close in August, it has recently reopened as the Caversham Community Nursery after we convinced the council to transfer management to a local community association.

The campaign was draining and involved dozens of meetings, hassling local councillors, standing in the street outside the Co-op and making a series of deputations to Camden Council. I gave birth in the middle of the campaign – baby Max has been to more council meetings than you could care to mention, both in and out of the womb.

So why did the campaign work? First off, we decided to work with our local Labour councillors, rather than harangue them for closing the nursery. We also pooled our skills. One of our group was a management consultant and produced an amazing business plan. Another mother is a PA and a brilliant organizer – with access to free printing facilities for leaflets! I used my contacts in local politics and media and gave the campaign focus with a Facebook group. The group’s leader, another TV producer, created amazingly convincing documents and sat up till the early hours refining our deputations to the council. It was bloody hard work but it paid off and though the process was at times frustrating, it was also incredibly empowering and shows what can be done if you work collectively. It made me understand the importance of local government and the experience has made me keen to stand as a local councillor – something that previously would have had about as much appeal as drinking a bucket of cold sick.

I’m now back on the campaign trail again and have started an action group to save Camden Square Playcentre – yes, it is just down the road from the Amy shrine. This is a truly amazing place that provides holiday play schemes, after school clubs, breakfast clubs and under 5s drop ins. Black kids play with white kids, posh kids play with poor kids and disabled kids play with able bodied kids. The brilliant staff are trained in everything from child protection to child psychology – the idea that they could be replaced by some “Big Society” volunteers is frankly insulting. The playcentre keeps single parents off benefits and keeps stay at home mums with toddlers sane. It gives boisterous six year old boys somewhere to let off steam after school and kids in wheelchairs the chance to make friends with kids from mainstream schools. If this sounds like utopian bullshit, sorry, but it’s the kind of service that actually makes the world a better place.

We’ve had our first meeting and are hopeful that there is a chance that we can do what we did with the nursery and get a voluntary sector provider to take over the running of the service.

Please sign our petition - - we still need all the help we can get. Thank you for reading.

This post represents the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect my views or those of Brent Green Party. It is posted as clearly of great interest in light of the closure plans for Treetops and Harmony nurseries.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Weighty message delivered to Jeremy Hunt

From Save Preston Library Campaign:

At 10 am, on October 26th,  we went to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in central London to present 12,000 signatures and hundreds of letters to the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt.  400 were by kids alone. We demand he fulfil his responsibility to.investigate whether Brent’s new library service is “comprehensive and efficient” (as it should be under Museums.and Libraries Act 1964).

He met the council in June, but has he heard our side? Nope. The sheer volume of complaints to him should persuade him to do so.

Empower the Youth: Power the Change

Brent Youth Parliament have launched a campaign to get young people to register to vote:

Since deciding on our main campaign which is to ‘Empower the Youth, Power the Change’. BYP members are planning and hosting a youth conference on November 23rd 2011.

The aim of the conference is for BYP to raise awareness of our campaign ‘Empower the youth, Power the Change’, which is about increasing political knowledge amongst young people.

The conference will also showcase the wide range of positive activities offered in Brent.

BYP members have developed a survey finding out young people’s views on voting, the recent riots and national cuts to youth services.

 What can I do?

If you are a young person aged between ten and 24, please complete the survey and if you answer the question at the end correctly you can choose to be entered in a draw to win £30 Brent Cross vouchers.
Brent Youth Parliament website is HERE

    Now Brent nurseries face closure

    The Council is currently consulting on closing Treetops Children's Centre nursery in Doyle Gardens, Willesden and Harmony Children's Centre nursery in Bridge Road, Neasden. In addition they propose to restructure the recently built and state of the art Willow Children's Centre in Chalkhill to make it mainly a nursery for children with special needs and disabilities.The closures would take place in March 2012.

    Councillor Mary Arnold, Brent's lead member for children and families, told the Brent and Kilburn Times that this was a 'genuine consultation..we have to consider making difficult decisions and ways to prioritise funds for vulnerable children'. However the consultation paper (see below) seems to indicate that there are no viable alternatives to the proposals.

    The definition of 'vulnerable' appears to be changing as the council faces cutting more and more services. Early intervention would indicate provision for economically deprived, ethic minority and refugee children. The proposals narrow this down to children with special educational needs and disability. Of course they need to be catered but so do other children in our deprived areas. Making the Willows mainly for such children raises issues about integration of such  children into mainstream provision. (click on image to enlarge)

    The full Council briefing for parents and carers is available HERE
    The consultation is at
    A Save Treetops and Harmony Nurseries Facebook page is HERE

    Parents have set up a petition HERE

    I welcome these restrictions on professional dog walkers

    Dog walker van parked at Fryent Country Park*

    The November 14th Executive will be asked to agree the introduction of the Dog Control Orders in parks. The Orders would limit to six the maximum number of dogs that may be taken onto land by one person; exclude dogs from playgrounds, multi-use games areas, tennis and netball courts and bowling greens; and specify certain areas where dogs are to be kept on leads.

    I welcome the limitation on dog numbers being walked by one person. Professional dog walkers have increasingly been using Fryent Country Park as other boroughs have introduced limits in their parks. The walkers, who charge up to £10 an hour for each dog, sometime have very large numbers of dogs off their leads in the park. I have counted 15 with one walker.  The dogs act as an excitable pack, often rampaging well ahead of the walker, and clearly not under immediate control. It appears to be impossible for that person to be able to pick up all the excrement deposited. In the summer I saw several dogs from a large group rushing around the pony paddock at Bush Farm with the walker nowhere in sight.

    I take classes of primary school children to Fryent Country Park for nature walks with Brent School Without Walls. Generally dog walkers are sensitive and put their dogs on a lead when approaching their children, or take a route to avoid them. However, I have had encounters with the large groups of dogs when the  front-runners, off their leads, see the children, or smell their picnic lunches, and rampage around them, often frightening those children not used to dogs. Again the dog walker is well behind the leading dogs and thus not available to intervene. The mix of excited dogs and scared children is potentially dangerous.

    From my chats with local people walking their companion dogs I think the Orders will be generally welcomed.  One issue on which the orders are silent is more than one person walking with a large group of dogs. Two people could have 12 dogs between them

    * The criticism of professional dog walkers in this posting are not aimed specifically at the owners of this van.

    Saturday 29 October 2011

    Fly-tipping on increase

    There appears to have been an increase in incidents of fly-tipping recently. It is unclear why this is although there have been suggestions that it is linked to fortnightly collections of residual waste and bins being full. This may account for some of them but much of it seems to be linked to builder's rubbish and house clearances. Two huge dumps near Willesden New Cemetery were left by two large lorries in the early hours.

    This is what I saw today while walking from my home near Barn Hill to Birchen Grove and back

    Barn Hill, HA9

    Deanscroft Avenue, NW9

    Old Church Lane, NW9

    Birchen Grove, NW9

    Footpath behind St Andrew's Church, NW9

       Dunster Drive, NW9                       

    Co-mingling muddle

    When Brent's new waste strategy was first mooted, Brent Friends of the Earth made powerful submissions to Council committees, LINK raising questions about 'co-mingling', the mixing of all recyclables in one container rather than separation at the kerbside. They suggested that because of the resulting contamination the recyclables would be of less value to waste processing firms. Unsaleable recyclables would end up in landfill or be exported to third world countries, perhaps for sorting by child labour.  FoE raised concerns about the end destination of the waste but the council responded that this was not their concern - their responsibility ended once the waste had been collected by Veolia.

    Recently Channel 4's Dispatches raised some of the same issues in their recent programme 'Britain's Waste'. It can be seen HERE

    Meanwhile Lorraine Skinner has uploaded a new video about the blue bins:

    This has produced a pithy comment from Ian Saville:
    In my street, neighbours are still quite confused about what needs to go where, and some people are clearly just using the blue bin for everything. It seems therefore that the level of contamination is going to be considerably higher than it was before, especially since those collecting the waste now have much less opportunity to check that the bins are being used correctly. Before we are told that this has enormously increased the rate of recycling, we need some way of estimating the extra cost of sorting, the contamination from material that should go into residual, and the difficulties caused by broken glass in the paper. Does anybody know how this is being monitored?

    'Living Doll Cliff ' to be immortalised in Wembley

    Some people think he is in immortal anyway but a statue of Sir Cliff Richard is due to be erected at Wembley's Arena Square. The 2 metre high bronze statue has been commissioned by Thank You For The Music of Oppland, Norway.

    A Council insider said, 'Moscow has Lenin's tomb and soon Wembley will have Cliff's statue.  We expect this to become a major tourist attraction, if not a shrine. Its positioning close to the new Civic Centre will answer critics who have called the Council philistines because we have closed half the borough's libraries. This statue will restore our cultural credentials.'

    Okay, I made the Council's comment up but if YOU want to comment on the planning application follow this LINK. The decision will be made by November 24th.

    Wednesday 26 October 2011

    Stop letting the Big Six energy companies rip us off

    Friends of the Earth have launched a petition addressed to David Cameron on the six big energy companies. It reads:
    To David Cameron,
    I want the Big Six energy companies to stop ripping us off. The energy companies stand to make billions by keeping us hooked on expensive, imported, dirty fuel. And your Government is letting them get away with it.
    I urge you:
    • To launch an independent public inquiry into the Big Six's power over consumers and influence over politicians.
    • Not to axe support for clean British energy produced by communities, councils, business and householders.
    Sign the petition HERE

    Friends of the Earth Report - The Dirty Half Dozen HERE

    Tuesday 25 October 2011

    Brent Labour poll disaster predicted after library closures

    A child puts the finishing touches to her poster at Kensal Rise library

    The Wembley and Willesden Observer is running an on-line poll asking:

    Will the closure of six libraries spell electoral disaster for Brent's Labour councillors? "Will the closure of six libraries mean electoral disaster for Brent's Labour councillors?" The results at present are:


    Vote at

    London Fire Brigade services should be under public ownership - Darren Johnson

    Responding to the FBU, UNISON, GMB joint report ‘Privatisation of London’s fire service training and control centre report published on October 24th, London Assembly Member Darren Johnson said:

    “I don’t believe that Londoners agree with privatisation of the fire service, and the uncertainties that come with it. I don't want to see pivotal London Fire Brigade services privatised as we have seen far too many privatisations that have been costly and ineffective. That is why I welcome these proposals by the unions for the Fire Brigade to work with staff and unions in designing improved in-house provision for training and fire control."

    On the privatisation of fire engines, Darren said:

    “The financial fiasco of the privatisation of London Fire Brigade fire engines has raised fundamental questions about the financial viability and safety of handing key frontline emergency services assets such as Fire engines over to the private sector. I have urged the Mayor of London to bring it back under public ownership”

    Brent's library statement a 'masterpiece of political bullshit' - Pullman

    From the GUARDIAN

    Philip Pullman has lambasted Brent council for its comment that closing half of its libraries would help it fulfil "exciting plans to improve libraries", describing the statement as a "masterpiece" which "ought to be quoted in every anthology of political bullshit from here to eternity". "All the time, you see, the council had been longing to improve the library service, and the only thing standing in the way was – the libraries,” said the His Dark Materials author, speaking at the national conference of library campaigners on Saturday, where over 80 people from around the country gathered to share tactics on how to save the UK's beleaguered libraries.

    With 600 of England’s libraries threatened with closure, Pullman called the campaigners’ battle a "war against stupidity". Citing campaigns to save libraries in Oxfordshire as well as in Brent, Pullman said "the war we're fighting is not against this party or that one, this flag or another flag, our parents or our MP or anyone else in particular: it’s against stupidity. And stupidity is not to be underestimated. The poet Schiller, whose great words on the subject of Joy were set in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, knew what a huge part stupidity plays in human affairs: 'Against stupidity,' he said, 'the gods themselves struggle in vain.'

    Having worked himself as a library assistant in Charing Cross Road library in the early 70s, Pullman said "if you really want complete freedom of choice, complete openness of information, where nobody is spying on you, no one is selling your presence to advertisers, the only place to find it is a library, where they keep books."

    He highlighted the Summer Reading Challenge, run by the Reading Agency, which encourages children to read six books over the summer holidays. This year a record 780,000 children took part. "Only the libraries could provide the materials and the staff to make this possible. And nothing could be more important, if we have the well-being of our children at heart," said Pullman.

    After listening in on sessions at the conference – which covered everything from legal challenges to library closures to using volunteers to keep libraries open – Pullman said he "saluted everyone who's come here today, everyone who's protesting and demonstrating to save this library or that one, everyone who's devising a way of preserving one of the greatest and the best gifts any society has ever given its seekers after truth, its children, its old people, everyone who is looking for help better to enjoy life or better to endure it".

    "There's nothing more valuable in the war against stupidity than the public library. These are hard times, but you are each guarding a beacon," said the author. "The book is second only to the wheel as the best piece of technology human beings have ever invented. A book symbolises the whole intellectual history of mankind; it's the greatest weapon ever devised in the war against stupidity. Beware of anyone who tries to make books harder to get at. And that is exactly what these closures are going to do – oh, not intentionally, except in a few cases; very few people are stupid intentionally; but that will be the effect. Books will be harder to get at. Stupidity will gain a little ground."

    The conference’s organisers, The Library Campaign and Voices for the Library, said that one demand from the day was to take the fight to save libraries to a national level, with suggestions including a march on Downing Street. Pullman said that "if it was at all possible", he would join them.

    "We already share the same determination," said The Library Campaign chair Laura Swaffield. "If councils insist on fighting us instead of working with us, we will fight back. If central government goes on shirking its duty to support libraries, we will keep on at them. We won't give up. We can’t."

    Monday 24 October 2011

    Localised business rates a potentially damaging gimmick

    The Green Party has dismissed the Coalition government’s plan to “localise business rates” as a superficial gimmick – with potentially damaging effects for local government, small business and the environment.
    The new plans are an example of false localisation, designed instead as a mechanism to further squeeze council budgets and services. While the proposals are portrayed as localism, both business rates and the valuations on which rates are based will be set by central government.

    The proposals go further to state that any business rate growth achieved by local authorities below a centrally set growth target – adjusting for inflation – will be kept centrally. Local authorities are actually set to lose out to the treasury – if the treasury’s own targets are not met – placing further strain on the provision of already slashed services.

    Jason Kitcat, Green Party Councillor and cabinet member on Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “It's absurd to even call the proposals ‘localisation’ when the key variable – the level of tax – will remain out of council control and the growth target will be set nationally for all of England.

    “Small innovative businesses, such as new media and sustainability, attract little or no business rates because they are run from home or modest offices. To benefit most under the new scheme, local authorities need to favour large projects like new airports or large shopping centres. This makes a mockery of the Coalition’s pledge to support small business and will further choke an already stalling recovery.

    “Business rates need to be set locally so regional authorities can adjust strategies to optimise local talent. Without this, both the local economy and the environment will suffer from corporate cherry picking”

    Do these Guys know what they are doing?

    In the light of my previous posts on Brent's decision to end grants for festivals it does not deem 'inclusive' I was interested to see a comment from Venilal Vaghela, Chair of Brent Diwali Advisory Board.  Brent Council has said that it wants to combine various festivals together in one big  'Brent Celebrates' event. It has already lumped together  Black History Month, Diwali and Halloween in the Word Up! event. LINK Its claim that  Brent's Bonfire Night combines Diwali and Guy Fawkes is challenged by Mr Vaghela who says:
    Our fireworks celebrate the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. The bonfire night fireworks stand for something completely different and the dates do not match. It would be like celebrating Christmas in January.
    Diwali is on October 26th this year and will be celebrated at the weekend. Bonfire Night at Barham Park is on November 5th.  Perhaps Brent's insensitivity to the cultural meaning of events will mean that they combine Easter and St Patrick's Day in the Spring! They may even call it the 'Easter Uprising'...

    Children miss out on half-term library activities

    Half-term holiday and time for children to take part in the much publicised 'Word Up!' events at their local library. Except of course for those who use one of the six libraries closed by the Council.  These are the events that should have happened this week:
    • Monday 24 October: Create your own heritage collage – Tokyngton Library
    • Monday 24 October: Create your own rangoli patterns – Barham Park Library
    • Tuesday 25 October: Handa’s surprise: create your own basket – Kensal Rise Library
    • Tuesday 25 October: Create your own Diwali diya lamp – Neasden Library
    • Thursday 27 October: Create your own Diwali diya lamp – Tokyngton Library
    • Friday 28 October: Create a 3D firework picture – Preston Library
    • Saturday 29 October: Create your own scary Halloween mask – Tokyngton Library

    SOS Libraries Pub Quiz Tonight

    Sunday 23 October 2011

    The limitations of being 'nice'

    Direct actions, from the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest at St Paul's and anti-war protests outside Parliament to the vigils at Kensal Green and Preston libraries, are sometimes criticised as not being very 'nice' because they  look untidy, embarrass passers-by and may involve inconvenience or even confrontation.

    Malvina Reynolds, an activist in the US who wrote many well-known children's songs such as 'Magic Penny' and 'Morning Town Ride', looked like a sweet old lady but defied stereotypes with her powerful political songs.  This song of hers, about direct action during the civil rights struggle seems particularly appropriate and has been sung at some of the American anti-capitalist demonstrations:

    The theme of 'niceness' was taken up by anti-nuclear activist and paediatrician Dr Helen Caldicott at a recent demonstration in New York when she accused people of being "too damn polite" about the nuclear industry. The following video starts with her passionate speech and includes footage of other demonstrations often accompanied by protest songs, including at 12 minutes a children's choir singing "It isn't nice".

    It takes courage to go out on the streets and expose yourself to derogatory comments and ridicule, but if the alternative is acquiescing to injustice, then I know where I stand. Thankfully, on the ground, whether at St Paul's or Preston library there is plenty of support.

    Keep on keeping on!

    Saturday 22 October 2011

    Park Royal Plans Under Scrutiny on New Blog

    The boroughs of Brent, Ealing and Hammersmith and Fulham meet at the key location of Park Royal, one of the largest business parks in Europe. The area is a possible location for waste management facilities, including possible incinerators, under the forthcoming West London waste Management Plan. If located here there will be an impact on the amount of heavy lorry traffic going through the three boroughs. Possible waste management facilities can be seen on the map below: (click on image to enlarge)

    In addition the area will be affected by High Speed Rail 2 and Crossrail. Hammersmith and Fulham Council is proposing a new station linking the two and other lines as part of the development of the run-down Old Oak area. The council's video designates it 'Park Royal City':

    A new  independent website has been set up to monitor developments in the Park Royal-Old Oak Common-Kensal area. It can be found at:

    Poet Laureate Supports Libraries Campaign

    The Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has indicated her support for the Libraries Campaign by signing a copy of her children's poetry book with the slogan 'Save Our Libraries!'.  Support continues to build as the community begins to realise just what they have lost.

    A quote from J.F. Kennedy seems appropriate for Brent Council to ponder:
    When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When poetry narrows the areas of man's concerns, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.

    Friday 21 October 2011

    Prestonians devastated by library closure

    I did a three hour stint outside Preston Library yesterday and had many chats with local people who were aghast at what had happened to their local library.  I met pupils from Preston Manor and Claremont high school and from Preston Park, St Joseph's and Mount Stewart primary schools.

    The secondary school students were very concerned about the loss of their local library as a place for studying during the forth-coming half-term holiday. With six libraries now closed they expect the Town Hall and Willesden Green libraries to be over-crowded with queues of students wanting to use the computers for research. Last summer the students spilled into the Town Hall itself due to the shortage of space when the libraries were all open. If Willesden Green closes for rebuilding the situation will be even worse.

    Some of the students also mentioned that the libraries were places where they could meet up with their friends to study but also to socialise. Congregating elsewhere, in cafes etc, would cost money, and in addition was often seen as threatening by older people. The library was a place where different generations could feel comfortable with one another.

    Preston Manor students have organised a petition and Claremont students expressed an interest in doing the same. One student expressed concern that it was older people who were standing out in the cold and asked, "Aren't the youth helping" and of course we said their support would be more than welcome and we may see more joining the vigil over half-term next week.

    The conversations with younger people were often heart-rending as they struggled to understand why anyone would want to take away their library. Even after long patient explanations they would turn to me hopefully and ask, "But when will it open again?"

    A pensioner echoed the youth in arguing that the library was a warm, welcoming place that encouraged him to get out of the house and meet in a congenial place where he knew the staff and some of the other users. It kept him walking as it was a manageable distance from his house aided by his walking stick.  "Where can I go now?" he asked plaintively.   Other older people were worried about books and DVDs they had borrowed and could not return and the possibility of large fines which they could not afford.

    I won't go into a big diatribe against the Council but do wonder if they really realise how much pain and worry they have caused to people they promised to protect from Coalition cuts.

    Thursday 20 October 2011

    Update from Save Preston Library Campaign

    Brent Council have given an undertaking NOT TO  take any steps to dispose of any of the library buildings, and that the stock at Preston will not be disposed of now - nor will any steps be taken to that end. We expect the Council also to agree not to do anything that will prevent the reopening of any library should the appeal succeed. However, we are not yet clear whether this is also an agreement not to remove stock from libraries which are still intact - Preston and Kensal Rise. We will pass on more news when it is available. The Appeal is likely to be heard around November 10-11.
     In the meantime, we are maintaining our presence outside Preston Library. Although it is a breezy corner, it is becoming quite cosy - with lots of support, tea and cake from neighbours. If you can spare some time tomorrow to join in - that would be great. Today there was a children's reading circle after school. Please bring candles if you come after dusk.

    Take a look at the Preston Library Democracy Wall on YouTube - courtesy of Brent Greens:
    . Lots more photos of Brent's Wall of Shame and up to date news at

    Wednesday 19 October 2011

    Green MEP Supports Occupy London Stock Exchange

    Green MEP for London, Jean Lambert, has issued the following statement on the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest currently taking place in the City of London:
    The vast majority of people demonstrating over the last few days want to take part in a peaceful protest to voice their concerns about corporate greed and growing inequality, both at home and around the world.  I wholeheartedly support their calls for an end to global tax injustice, independent regulation of the banking industry and concrete action to repair and protect crucial public services.  Indeed, these are principles that many would support.

    With unemployment now at its highest level for almost twenty years and the financial system in crisis, it is no wonder that so many people feel betrayed and let down by the governments and the financial sector.  The system has, for far too long, been unaccountable and irresponsible and now we are all paying a heavy price.  I hope that the UK Government listens to the messages of discontent being aired and realise that the public demand positive change.

    Over the coming days, it is crucial that those participating in the Occupy London demonstration are able to exercise their right to peaceful protest, unhindered by inappropriate policing.  I urge police and authorities to show restraint and maintain a low profile presence in the absence of any significant disorder.

    Libraries appeal fast-tracked. Council to take no 'irrevocable' steps that would prevent the libraries being re-opened

    The Council has agreed to take no irrevocable steps to prevent the six threatened libraries being reopened in the event of a appeal against the High Court's ruling succeeding. It is unclear whether that covers removal of stock and equipment and clarification is being sought. Meanwhile vigils at Preston and Kensal Rise libraries continue.

    The appeal is likely to be heard early next month.

    From  the Guardian:
    A judge has fast-tracked an urgent hearing of an appeal against Brent council’s closure of six libraries.
    Lord Justice Elias granted an appeal against a ruling made last week in the high court that Brent council’s decision was lawful. He ordered that attempts should be made for it to be heard before the court of appeal on two days early next month.
    Brent council has agreed, in the meantime, to take no irrevocable steps to prevent the libraries reopening in the event of the appeal being won.
    Campaigners have mounted vigils outside two of the threatened libraries, Preston Road, which has already been boarded up by the council, and Kensal Rise, to ensure they are not emptied of books or computers while the legal dispute continues.

    "Whenever I hear the word culture I call in security guards"

    Susan MacKenzie, Brent's head of the library service, yesterday supervised four security men to strip Cricklewood Library of books and IT equipment. The action happened on the eve of  legal attempts to limit such moves by Brent Council pending an appeal against the High Court decision in favour of the Council. There was a hasty attempt by local people to stop the action but the doors were blocked by the security guards.

    Meanwhile the 24 hour vigil outside Kensal Rise Library continues and Preston Library supporters are calling for local people to join them outside the library to prevent the Council seizing books and equipment.

    Tuesday 18 October 2011

    Library Campaign gets permission to appeal

    Brent SOS Library Campaign's solicitors have been granted leave to appeal. They will be at court tomorrow at 10am to tell the Court what needs to be done to prevent the libraries being destroyed by Brent Council prior to the hearing.

    Preston Library Campaign is calling for some people to go to the Court but emphasisies that they still need people outside the library to prevent books and equipment being taken away.

    Monday 17 October 2011

    Council workers stopped from moving books and equipment from Preston Library

    Campaigners defending Preston Library have been successful in stopping council workers from removing books and equipment.

    Preston  Library is one of those the Council has been seeking to sell off.

    LINK to slideshow on Save Preston Library website

    Sunday 16 October 2011

    Monday: Council Executive Meeting, Library Fundraiser, and Climate Change Talk

    There is an interesting choice for activists tomorrow, Monday October 17th. The first choice is between two sets of comedians...

    At 7pm the Council Executive meets. Among the items on the agenda are the petition to reverse street cleaning cuts and the new Green Charter. Despite some revisions after consultation, the latter has been criticised for still having no targets, no extra staff or resources, and no measurable outcomes. Cllr Powney's foreword has been declared insipid. There is also an item on the procurement of a decentralised energy system on the South Kilburn estate. AGENDA

    The Executive whizzes through the agenda so there should still be time to go on to:

    STAND UP FOR LIBRARIES (Phil Jupitus, Robin Ince,  the legendary Robyn Hitchcock and others) - Queens Park Community School - Doors 6.30pm - show 7.30pm. I understand that Alexi Sayle may also be appearing.


    China Miéville, award-winning fantasy fiction writer and author of the young adults' novel, “Un Lun Dun” will be appearing at the Willesden Green Library Centre on Monday 17th October at 7.30pm to talk about creative fiction writing and the challenge of climate change.

    BBC London News on Kensal Rise Library Vigil

    BBC London News reports today on the Kensal Rise Library Vigil LINK

    Chalkhill Park delayed but on its way, with other play facilities possible

    I think my readers deserve some (fairly) good news in the midst of the recession gloom and the closure of half our libraries.

    I attended a meeting last week in my role as a school governor regarding the proposed new Chalkhill Park. The Chalkhill Residents' Association have been concerned about the park and a proposed Multi Use Games Area (MUGA) in St David's Close on the estate. The Chalkhill Pupil School Council had written to ward councillors to expression concern about the lack of progress on the park and had been told work would commence this month. In fact nothing seemed to have happened and the weeds were getting taller and taller.

    We were told that work was behind schedule by 4-6 weeks and may fall further behind if soft planting is delayed by poor weather. However we were assured  that the park should open in May 2012. Bids are still awaited from contractors who will construct the park.

    The residents' concerns about the budget for the project were not fully answered. It appears to have reduced from £1.3m to something over £0.8m and there was some confusion over whether the money was from planning gain following the building of Wembley ASDA on a section of the estate, and whether the money had originally been held by Metropolitan Housing Association, the managers of the estate, and late handed over to the Council.  If the latter is the case there may be an issue over the reduction in the amount.

    Putting that aside, we were assured that the promised children's playgrounds (one for older children and one for younger) and an exercise area for adults would be built. There would also be a 'kick-about' area rather than a formal football pitch and a wildlife nature garden.

    Plan of the new park (this may have been revised)
    Residents asked questions about the 'water feature' that had incorporated into the plans. They had never asked for one and it appeared to be an expensive item. They said that if anything had to go because of budget constraints the water feature should be abandoned. It appears to have been added as a landscape features that would extend the vista from Brent Town Hall steps, down the avenue of trees, and into the park. It was unclear whether it was purely ornamental or something the children might play in: echoes of the fiasco over Lady Di's Memorial Water Feature! 

    As by 2013 the Town Hall will have been replaced by the new Civic Centre, and may have been converted into a hotel, it does appear to be redundant. It would also use electricity to generate the pumps which would involve an ongoing cost. We were told that solar panel electricity generation for the pump wouldn't be suitable. Not very green...

    When the MUGA came under discussion we were told that existing installations at Poplar Close Youth Centre and Chalkhill School's play area which was shared with the community, made a new one unnecessary. However Gerry Kiefer, the new head of parks and sports services, said that she would like to 'start a conversation' about St David's Close open space. Previously that had not been developed because it was not overlooked by housing and therefore deemed unsafe for unsupervised play. However, the newly built flats in the close were now occupied and this objection no longer stood.

    Ms Kiefer offered to look at the possibility of:

    1. Erecting goal posts for a football pitch (size to be decided after a survey), levelling the surface and marking out the pitch. Future mowing and marking out would have to be borne by the users who were expected to be the Chalkhill Wanderers football team.
    2. Restoring the overgrown BMX cycling course with help from local youth.
    3. Looking at the possibility of building a skateboarding facility in St David's Close.
    4. She also undertook to look at the Poplar Close MUGA, in particular the state of the pitches and whether the floodlights were working.

    The meeting was facilitated by Councillor Shafique Choudhary (Barnhill ward councillor) at the request of Kathleen Jackson, Chair of Chalkhill Residents' Association.

    Campaign redoubles its efforts against Brent Council's 'senseless' library closures

    Brent SOS Libraries, which represents campaigners at all six libraries closed by Brent Council issues the following statement after the High Court ruling that found against them:

    We are obviously disappointed with the decision given by the judge today. We will be consulting with our lawyers on our legal options. We are determined to appeal if allowed to do so.

    We believe that there are important points of principle at stake which an appeal court will decide differently.

    Our campaign will redouble its efforts to expose the senselessness of Brent Council’s decision to close half of its libraries.

    Although this seems an unequal struggle between Brent Council, with its extensive resources, and the people of Brent, who have waged the largest campaign ever seen in the 45 year history of the borough, we will be redoubling our efforts to prevent six libraries being closed for ever. If the council proceeds with these closures they will deny the people of Brent, a significantly deprived borough, the opportunity to study and read in a quiet accessible library. We are very concerned about the impact on the vulnerable and disadvantaged, including children and young people, now and for generations to come.

    We strongly believe and continue to believe that Brent’s decision is wrong, and that the manner in which Brent arrived at that decision was unreasonable and unfair.

    Our campaign to save the libraries in Brent continues because we challenge the idea that Brent can provide a comprehensive library service by closing half the number of libraries in the borough.
    In the meantime, we demand that, in light of the serious concerns raised by local residents, Brent will take the time, before closing the doors of any library, to properly consider the options proposed by local groups to preserve local library services, and open a dialogue with those groups to find constructive solutions for our communities.

    Brent Council has already spent over £70,000 of residents’ money on this legal case and they should not waste any more money in pursuing a library closure policy that the vast majority of Brent residents oppose.
    We also call upon Jeremy Hunt Secretary of State for Culture, and Ed Vaizey the Minister responsible for libraries, to do their duty and decide on whether Brent can live up to its obligations to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service by closing half of the borough’s libraries. They should now intervene to investigate this matter. A great many letters and signatures on petitions have gone to Jeremy Hunt – hundreds if not thousands, and so far we have been very disappointed that he and his department have not been willing to meet with local groups.

    We also publicly ask that our constituency MPs, including Minister of State for Children and Families Sarah Teather, Glenda Jackson, and Barry Gardiner demand that they do so.

    Despite the disappointing result , we must not fail to recognise the excellent legal work done by our tireless team of solicitors led by John Halford, and barristers led by Helen Mountfield QC, who did an outstanding job in an extraordinarily short time frame. And most of all, we must thank all of our supporters and volunteers, our friends and neighbours, who have worked day and night to organise and staff fundraising events, canvass for donations, hand out flyers, write proposals and open up their hearts and lives to offer witness statements; and in a demonstration of concrete support in one of the poorest boroughs in London have raised nearly £30,000 to ensure our case was heard. This campaign has galvanised our communities in a way that none of us could have expected, and Brent Council would do well to call on that energy to preserve and strengthen our local resources, rather than weaken them.

    Oppose the Work Capability Assessment - meeting next week

    People who used to receive disability benefits are reassessed by the infamous multinational company ATOS Health to see whether they can continues to receive these benefits or whether they are deemed 'fit to work'. The assessments are carried out by 'Health professionals' who may or may not be doctors but who are not required to have any specialised knowledge about the claimant's condition or disability. They ignore letters or other evidence from the claimant's GP, Hospital Consultant or other specialist. They use computer generated checklists and their aim appears to be to get as many claimants as possible off Employment Support Allowance and on to the lower Job Seekers Allowance, which can in turn be taken away from people who are not considered to be trying hard enough to find a job.

    Understandably there is a high level of anxiety about these assessments. Ellenor Hutson is a specialist benefits adviser and will be running a workshop next week to provide people with an opportunity to meet others  in a similar situation to themselves, gain advice and support and feel empowered. 
    The workshop is on Thursrday October 20th at  Foresters Hall (adjoining Tricycle Theatre)
    269 Kilburn High Rd NW6 7JH
    More information from ; Telephone 07709 932 267; web ; Facebook: Kilburn Unemployed Workers

    Saturday 15 October 2011

    Children stand up for the library they love

    Warm welcome at Kensal Rise vigil

    The 'Community Library' outside our closed down library
     I've just been down to Kensal Rise Library where people are keeping vigil in the warm sunshine to stop Brent Council boarding up the building. The atmosphere was friendly with passers-by stopping to have a chat and telling us how they value the library and appreciate the campaigners' efforts. Passing cars tooted in support.

    Children finished off some of their home made posters and paraded up and down with placards. Adults brought books to add to the outdoor community library that has sprung up and others browsed to borrow books.

    As I talked to campaigners  it became clear that beneath the friendliness and spontaneous laughter, there was a steely determination.

    Support is still needed with the next danger point at 5.45am on Monday morning, although everyone is prepared for sneaky action by Brent Council at another time. The Council has employed security guards around the clock to be positioned at the library, ostensibly to prevent any damage, but really to call the police if there is any sign of an attempt to occupy the building.

    If you can offer any support at all go down to Kensal Rise and you'll be sure of a warm welcome - particularly if you can join the overnight shift.

    "Burly contractors" seen off at Kensal Rise

    From the Spectator:

    A thoroughly English affair
    15 October 2011
    An air of calm pervaded outside Kensal Rise Library yesterday afternoon, following the dramas of the early morning. Contractors arrived at 6am to board up the building after a court yesterday decided that Labour controlled Brent Council could close six libraries as part of its austerity agenda. They discovered two people standing guard outside the front door, who immediately stood-to and stopped the contractors from carrying out their task. The same scene was repeated at 8am, when a posse of locals descended to defy council workers. They were bolstered by a phalanx of 140 or so primary school children from the nearby Princess Frederica CofE school, dragooned into action by their parents. The burly contractors slunk off with their chip-board and haven’t been seen since.

    The mood was quietly upbeat when I arrived just after midday. The sun was shining, the streets were sleepy and there was fruitcake to eat. The few vehicles that passed through this residential road sounded their horns in solidarity. Local types stopped for a natter. All in all, Nora Batty wouldn’t have looked out of place, so delightfully English was the setting.

    Rachel and Pam were on guard duty, and they were being unofficially chaperoned by Paul Lorber, a Lib Dem councillor in Brent who is involved with Save Kensal Rise Library! He told me that 60 local people have volunteered to protect the building 24 hours a day until such time as the council relents. Those same people have also pledged to help run the library in future.

    The group striving to save Kensal Rise Library has captured public imagination over the last year; they have been the subject of newspaper columns and television programmes. Next week, a troupe of comics, including Rob Ince, Alexei Sayle and Phil Jupitus, will perform a cabaret to raise money for the possible appeal against yesterday’s court judgment.

    With such support, the Save Kensal Rise Library! remains fairly confident of ultimate victory. Rachel and Pam both said that they would remain vigilant, but expected the council to stay away this weekend because apparently Brent's estates officer, Richard Barrett, has said that the council will negotiate a settlement with the campaigners. Barrett was unavailable for comment this afternoon.

    There will be changes to the elegant red brick building if the group succeeds. Currently, the library only occupies the ground floor. The first floor is used a reading room, but campaigners intend to invite Into University — a charity that encourages wider access to higher education, which operates out of a local church at present — to take over the floor in order to share the burden of costs.

    There is, however, one complication. The site is owned by All Souls College Oxford, who leased the building out in 1899 on condition that it is always used as a library. It is not clear how Brent Council’s policies, the recent court judgments and the campaigners’ plans will be affected by All Souls' rights to the building. The college’s Estates Bursar has been in London today and is believed to have met or spoken to representatives from Brent Council and Margaret Bailey, the leader of Save Kensal Rise Library! All Souls has refused to comment on the case.

    Latest news from Kensal Rise campaigners - Camp out vigil continues - help needed

    Outside Kensal Rise Library last night

    Hi all,

    Firstly thanks to everyone who has supported the vigil outside the library (especially all the brilliant kids).
    This support has sent out a very important message about how much we care about what happens to our library and community and its significance has gone beyond our own neighbourhood.‬

    ‪Lots of library campaigners throughout England have been heartened by our actions and we have received loads of messages of support.‬

    Great stuff Kensal Green and Kensal Rise.‬
    As you may know our legal team are in the process of lodging an application to  appeal the decision handed down by Justice Ousley on Thursday. We should know the result of this application by next week (possibly Tuesday). We would like to maintain a presence outside the library until then, not only to prevent Brent boarding up the library but also because our presence is sending out a powerful message.‬
    ‪ ‬
    ‪We really do care about our library and how much it means to this community.‬
    ‪ ‬
    ‪So, we need your support. For the next few days we need your help in maintaining a presence at the library. We need you there during the day for whatever time you can spare.‬
    ‪ ‬
    ‪If you can be at the library from midnight to 5am that would be fantastic.  We have people taking over at 5am.‬
    Of course you are welcome to come at any time but midnight to dawn is when we really need help. I know this is a big, big ask but it is only for a few days.‬

    If you do intend to come make sure you wrap up warm. IT IS COLD. We have a tent. There will be company. You could bring your car.‬

    Kind souls have been supplying us with coffee and biscuits and chocolate.‬
    If you find that request irresistible see you at the library maybe?‬

    Regards and thanks,‬
    ‪ ‬
    ‪Margaret Bailey

    Great write-up of the events on the I spy in Queens Park blog.

    Friday 14 October 2011

    Sorry for any inconvenience caused by us reducing your life chances....

    I was taking a photograph of the sad sight of  the closed down Neasden Library this evening, usually a hive of activity on a Friday evening with a homework club in  session, students busy on computers and others borrowing books.

    As I was taking the photographs a woman and her 15 year old daughter approached me.  They were coming to use the library and looked bewildered at finding it closed: "What has happened? Why is it closed?"

    I explained Brent Council's decision to close half the borough's libraries. "But libraries are important. We need our libraries!"

    I told them about the campaigns and the High Court decision.

    "Are they mad? My daughter needs the library. I am on Income Support and we cannot afford the internet. Her homework says 'Use the internet to find out...'. We always come to this library. She needs it for books and her homework."

    They examined the Council's notice.

    "I can't send my daughter down to Willesden Green in the evening on her own. If I go with her I won't be able to pay the bus fare every night. I am on Income Support. She will get behind the other children who have internet at home."

    I explained that previously the Council had understood these issues and that was why they had only recently invested money in refurbishing Neasden library and providing IT equipment and a homework club.

    I told her that I had been one of the people campaigning and wrote this blog.

    "You write down what I said. You tell them about me and my daughter."

    So that is what I have done. I hope Brent Labour Party members think about about what she said at their Conference at Capital City Academy on Sunday afternoon. How many more people who don;'t read the local papers, or blogs such as this, will be standing bewildered in front of closed down libraries over the next few weeks?

    Kensal Rise Defence Video

    Maggie Gee- people will not be fooled by Ann John

    From Guardian Books
      Kensal Rise library
      Kensal Rise library in north London. Photograph: Martin Godwin
      Brent council has been trying to shut Kensal Rise library down since the 1980s – and now a depressing piece of legalese is trying to help them on their way. The judgment delivered at the narrow, cold high court showed only the huge gap between the arcana of the judicial, bureaucratic mindset and the facts as seen by ordinary people: the library that generations of people in Brent have used, loved and paid their rates for is being stolen from us by a combination of our own Labour council and a coalition government that sits on its hands. Mark Twain, the great American writer who opened the library over a century ago, must be turning in his grave at Councillor Ann John's laughable statement that she is "pleased" because now Brent can "push ahead with our exciting plans to improve Brent's library service and offer a 21st-century service for the benefit of all our residents". Why is she excited by the thought of closing down half the libraries in a poor borough at a time when London's unemployment has hit a new high? Ordinary people all over the country will not be fooled. They know that closing libraries means that overstretched parents and childminders will no longer have a safe, warm place where they can take their small children after school. They know that teenagers with nowhere to study at home because the television is always on, or there are too many people in too few rooms, will no longer be able to sit down in quiet corners of a book-lined room and do their homework. They know that people who have lost their jobs, or never had a job, will no longer be able to come to a place where they need feel no shame and look up courses where they can learn or clubs they can join. They know that newcomers to the country will no longer be able to come in off our cold streets and read newspapers and magazines to learn the language, or find the whereabouts of colleges, clinics and schools. If libraries are allowed to close without a fight, how long will that other service that was once the envy of the world, the NHS, still survive? Oh, and the books. The stories that help us understand each other, the non-fiction that gives us the tools to survive in the world, the picture books that help toddlers make sense of themselves – are they to be only for rich people now? Brent's Labour council should hang their heads in shame.

    Residents, including children, defend Kensal Rise library

    Children outside Kensal Rise Library
    Latest news on Kensal Rise library from the Harrow Observer:

    KENSAL Rise Library is being protected by a crowd of passionate residents, some of whom stayed over night so that council workers could not board it up.

    Around 100 people headed to the cherished Bathhurst Gardens building last night in a last ditch attempt to save it after a High Court ruling yesterday allowed the council to permanently close it, along with five others.
    Residents started the peaceful protest at around 5pm, and soon found there was plenty of support from passers-by.

    According to campaigners, council workers attempted to board up the building twice without success. Five protesters slept by the building all night to protect it, with council workers sleeping in a van nearby.
    But the effort did not stop this morning. Residents are still protecting the library and intend to continue their efforts.

    Protesters brought down boxes of books from their homes, saying that they were willing to 'continue the service' from outside.

    Paula Gomez, the treasurer of the Brent SOS campaign, said: "It was all friendly, we were just trying to stop them from boarding up the library and that was very successful, there was a great atmosphere and everyone was cheering. They tried to board it up twice but we turned them away.

    "We are bringing our own books to make sure the service continues outside, people have even been bringing back their books to return to the library. We are all very disappointed (about yesterday's High Court ruling) but this has really brought the community together, there are some pretty exceptional people here. We are just putting out the message that we want out services back."

    Mrs Gomez said a lot of the protesters in the early evening were children, with many people walking past the powerful scene on their way back from work.

    The six Brent libraries at the heart of the High Court ruling have already closed and will not re-open.
    The Labour-run authority had shut the half a dozen branches - Barham Park, Cricklewood, Kensal Rise, Neasden, Preston and Tokyngton - in anticipation of the judgment being handed down in the case launched by Brent SOS Libraries.

    Staff were briefed about the judgement and the council has now taken the decision to keep the doors locked permanently as they implement their delayed £1million saving plans with immediate effect.
    Campaigners were denied the opportunity to appeal the judgement but are considering going to the Court of Appeal.

    I Spy Queen's Park on libraries case

    Excellent piece on library campaign and the High Court case on I Spy Queen's Park blog HERE

    Updates from Library Campaigns

    A picture that shames Brent Council
    From Save Preston Libraries Campaign:
    Dear All,

    As you will probably have heard on the TV and radio news, our judicial review of Brent's library closure plan was dismissed in the High Court today. Below you can see the mailing sent out by the Cricklewood Library campaign which gives a report on the judgement. The judgement itself is attached. The Council has taken immediate action and closed the six libraries. 

    An application for appeal against Mr Justice Ouseley's decision will be lodged with the Court of Appeal on behalf of the SOS Libraries claimants next week . To read a statement by the Campaign solicitors, Bindmans, and the press release issued by the Brent Save Our Six Libraries Campaign, go to our website at .
    The fund-raising activities planned to support the legal challenge and now the appeal will continue:
    • MONDAY 17 Oct 2011 - STAND UP FOR LIBRARIES (Phil Jupitus, Robin Ince,  the legendary Robyn Hitchcock and others)
              Queens Park Community School Doors 6.30pm – show 7.30pm
    • MONDAY 24 OCTOBER -Preston Pub Quiz - 7.30 for 8pm - Flyer will be circulated soon
    • SATURDAY 19 NOVEMBER  - Disco at Mall Community Centre - more information soon

    The judicial review was only one part of our campaign and, while we hope that an Appeal Judge will respond more positively, we also want the Government to fulfil their responsibility to ensure that Brent provides an adequate library service.

    It is now more vital than ever to persuade the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt , to intervene in the Brent situation. It is absolutely vital you ALL write to Jeremy Hunt (at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) and demand an enquiry. This could save our library, but it needs hundreds of letters and emails to be sent as soon as possible – they said they would make a decision by September, this hasn’t happened, so we still have time. Go to for Jeremy Hunt's email address and some ideas on what to put in your letter.
    Dear  Cricklewood Library Supporter

    1 High Court Judgement
    Mr Justice Ouseley (fresh from his support of Basildon Council against the Dale Farm travellers yesterday ) handed down a pretty damning judgement dismissing the Brent SOS Libraries judicial review today. I suggest those who are going to read the attached judgement may consider having a glass of their favourite tipple nearby!

    One of our legal team described it as the worst judgement they had experienced .As is usual the judge refused leave to appeal against his judgement stating that he did not believe there were significant points of law or national issues arising from the case.

    He also refused any stay on Brent Council action - except that as he believed there  would not be time before any appeal, if allowed, for the Council to sell the library buildings, then libraries could be reinstated were SOS to be successful.

    2 Application to the Court of Appeal

    An application for appeal against Mr Justice Ouseley's decision will be lodged with the Court of Appeal on behalf of the SOS LIbraries claimants next week .

    If agreed an appeal could take up to six months to be heard

    3 Libraries
    Immediately after the judgement all six libraries were closed by Brent Council - at Neasden shutters were pulled down and locked, Preston library is being boarded up by the Council and a similar boarding exercise was prevented at Kensal Rise by a crowd of children and their parents.Contractors threaten to return tomorrow to complete the boarding up

    Cricklewood was also closed early and the standard notice posted on the door stating that the library would be closed until further notice - and directing callers to Harlesden or Willesden Green.

    4 Next action

    Discussions are ongoing with all Brent SOS Libraries campaigns - further information to follow

    5 Monday 17 October - Queens Park Community School - 7pm

    Stand Up For Libraries - Phil Jupitus,Alexei Sayle and others support the libraries campaign