Golden Lane resident Billy Mann explains why a seat on the fence often provides the best view, and why councillors need to be doing more for locals.
I stand accused of timidity. At a social event on the estate last month, one resident said what she thought of this column: “You sit on the fence, you’re too diplomatic”.
I offered a puny response, saying my intention is to write about the richness of life here on Golden Lane and what a great place it is to live, etc. None of it sounded very convincing.
What she wanted to say, I suspect, is that I don’t stick the boot in on the City Corporation: its poor record on repairs, its culture of non-communication, its institutional blindness to residents’ needs over business interests, that sort of thing. It might be true, but there’s another reason I don’t take potshots at the council.
The Golden Lane Estate is in the City of London residential ward of Cripplegate and it has nine, yes nine, elected members on the Common Council. Many of them rarely set foot on the estate.
Only one is seen regularly and works tirelessly for our residents. Two of them I have only ever seen once, at an election hustings, asking for votes.
Add to those nine our member on the London Assembly, Unmesh Desai, and our MP in Westminster, Mark Field, and here is a football team of people tasked to deal with voters’ issues. These are the people who should be kicking the council.
A case in point is the concrete repairs rolling out across the estate. Expert residents (we have a lot) have let fly a barrage of angry emails detailing the works’ shortcomings with regard to listed building guidelines, heritage repair methods and paint colour-matching.
The argument is unlikely to end soon and, meanwhile, scaffolding has gone up at Crescent House for decoration and window replacement work. It’s long overdue and residents have often moaned that their heating bills are sky high, all because routine maintenance and improvements dropped down the City Corporation list of priorities.
I’m glad to see Crescent House being spruced up. I have an irrational fondness for it, even at its scruffiest. Its glorious iconic sweep along Goswell Road is the public face of our estate. I imagine it as a hotbed of radical non-conformism.
It’s residents are not afraid to speak their minds and Crescent House is the only block in which I have seen people dancing naked in their window, in full view of the tennis players outside.
So if I do sit on the fence it is because it’s a good place to watch what’s going on. The event described above was a sun-kissed two days of activities for Open Garden Squares Weekend.
The finale was a performance on Hatfield House lawn by the London Metropolitan Brass Band (with Golden Laner Tom Martin on tuba) and I sat on the fence (concrete) watching residents and visitors revelling in the sheer pleasure of Summer in the City.
I also learned that a Basterfield House resident once refused the offer of a dance from Bruce Springsteen. Open Gardens marked the start of party season. Wimbledon is underway, the World Cup is reaching a climax and today is 4 July, US Independence Day. If you dash, you might just catch hordes of crazy Americans overdosing on mustard at a hotdog-eating competition at the Blues Kitchen in Curtain Road.
The school holidays begin soon, the local children can smell freedom, and on 15 July the Whitecross Street Party guarantees endless fun.
Resident involvement in this year’s event has been a top priority and activities will centre on a number of ‘Rooms’, each co-ordinated by local groups – art, music, children, performance, pottery and virtual reality are among the themes.
The day before, 14 July, is more important though, because after an absurdly long delay, the newly refurbished Golden Lane Community Centre opens, with a whizz-bang party promised. The overlords at the City Corporation are very excited, but I am not so confident.
At a recent meeting to discuss ideas for activities on the day, I gave a pompous lecture on 14 July being Bastille Day, a celebration signalling, in 1789, the start of the French Revolution. London will be throbbing with Gallic euphoria, I said. Paul in Liverpool Street are said to be dishing out free glasses of fizz and macaroons.
To stand any chance of measuring up, I argued, hysterically, the Golden Lane party should include two things: a Wellie Wang on Basterfield lawn and a second outdoor game, in which children decapitate life-size effigies of their parents.
The assembled group looked at me in disbelief then broke into nervous laughter. You see, reader, that’s the problem with these straight-laced council people: they can’t even spot a winning idea when it jumps up and bites them.
Billy Mann has lived in Basterfield House on the Golden Lane Estate for 24 years. He is a City of London Community Builder and blogs about neighbourhood happenings at basterfieldbilly.blogspot.com. Write to him at [email protected]