The day they abolished the old Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey was the day that Bermondsey died! Long live the 'royal borough'!"
So stated with great passion a lifelong resident and lover of all things Bermondsey. Danny lives and breathes Bermondsey; it runs through his veins and stretches into every sinew of his body. He was born Bermondsey and will die Bermondsey; his family has a pedigree that is as true Bermondsey as any family in the 'royal' borough could have. For Danny, and for many hundreds in the area, Bermondsey spirit and pride is alive and well on local streets, in thriving markets, within tenants and residents associations and at the heart of ordinary families. The problem is that local views and passions, such as those held by Danny, are not fostered and encouraged by the successor London Borough of Southwark, which Bermondsey was forced to join in 1965, to much local opposition. For many, Bermondsey seems to have lost its voice.
Bermondsey was allowed to speak again when Southwark set up the well-loved Bermondsey Community Council (BCC), only to be silenced once more when the council was merged with its Rotherhithe cousin. The new Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Community Council is too big and unwieldy; meetings are too long with issues discussed that are of little relevance to Bermondsey folk. These and many more criticisms were predicted by residents in the final BCC meeting, when an overwhelming majority of them voted against the merger proposal (or dictat) back in spring 2012. Anyone with an ounce of Bermondsey common sense could have told Southwark Council that twice the people, double the issues and a two-fold increase in the number of paid councillors equals half the time to thrash out and share issues of real local importance. But did Southwark Labour group listen? They blocked their ears with dogma and turned their heads away from principles.
However, good news seems to be a-coming! A ground swell of civic pride is bubbling up in neighbouring Rotherhithe, where the Time and Talents organisation has been asked by the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Community Council to investigate the interest in setting up a civic society or urban parish council for Rotherhithe. At least 20 proud local people committed to a new way of defending and changing their area, attended the forum. And the question: Rotherhithe Society or urban town/parish council? Although the point of the meeting was not to answer directly the question, there was a friendly exchange of views about how best to put right Southwark’s foolhardy decision to trample on local democracy. Power to the people of Rotherhithe! Long love democracy on the SE16 peninsula! Know that Bermondsey is right behind you!
But, how is this new initiative of interest to Danny, the self-proclaimed prince of a Bermondsey 'royal family', as well as the Bermondsey community in general? Well, it is in the interests of all of us who love Bermondsey to support this burgeoning local democracy – where Rotherhithe leads, Bermondsey will surely follow. How can Danny show his support? By attending the next joint community council meeting on 26th June to say what is on his heart, and by putting in an appearance at the next exploratory meeting at Time and Talents on 4th July to have his say. Decent local people have been disenfranchised by Southwark Council. Indeed, councillors responded to local opposition with sneers, laughter and by labelling opponents as ‘Lib Dems’ - (Ouch! That hurt!)
Devolving decision making to local people empowers them to change things for the better. Planning decisions taken locally by those who know their area, are better decisions. Allowing the good people of Bermondsey the time and space to air their views creates a better Bermondsey. Remember that it was the dockers and wharf workers, together with lawyers and business people, who helped shape the new Rotherhithe that rose from the ashes of the decline of the docks that set in after the second World War – and thank God for them!
So, should Bermondsey jump on the democracy bandwagon? Well, we never jumped off it: we were pushed off by the big people @lbSouthwark. ‘Little’ people of all political persuasions and none must seize the opportunity to establish a new community discussion forum: community council, Bermondsey Society, Bermondsey Parish Council or something different from the above. The politicians have their voice and expel plenty of hot air in the process. Bruised but not battered, Bermondsey too will rediscover its collective voice as it clambers back onto the democratic wagon.
How will you help the fight?
1. Time and Talents, The Old Mortuary, St Marychurch Street, London SE16 4JE
Telephone 020 7231 7845
2. Southwark Council (Community Councils)
#betterbermondsey #bermondsey #rotherhithe