Thursday, 25 December 2014

Family and Faith: Ingredients for a Bermondsey Christmas

On this most special of days, we remember a very ordinary family dealt the most extraordinary set of cards: a poor young Jewish woman who conceived her child in exceedingly unconventional circumstances; a loving working-class man who devoted himself to his wife and son; a baby, who from the moment of his birth in a stable was destined to change the world forever.
Last night Bermondsey children from Shad Thames to the Old Kent Road left out mince pies and glasses of sherry for Santa, together with handfuls of carrots for his reindeer.  Today, thousands in Bermondsey will be celebrating Christmas Day remembering the birth of Jesus Christ and his family.  Many will be spending their day alone; some through choice, and others sadly through their own personal difficulties such as homelessness, loneliness or poor mental health.  Thankfully, local charities such as Crisis, the Robes Project and the Manna Centre will be on hand to help out over the Christmas and New Year period.

Christmas at More London (image ©
Strong families are the bedrock of Bermondsey and should be actively promoted and supported by our local institutions regardless of political or religious affiliation.  As we in Bermondsey know, a closely knit family can often be the difference between hope and fear, success or failure, even life and death.  Strong families make strong communities and are the answer to many of our problems today. 
Nine members of the eleven-strong O'Rourke family of St James's Road, Bermondsey, sleep under a blanket in an air raid shelter under the railway arches, probably at Dockley Road, Bermondsey in November 1940. image and text ©
The Holy Family was like the average Bermondsey working-class family in many ways: they didn't have it easy (there were probably more hard days for Joseph and Mary than our Christmas rose-tinted glasses allow us to see); they worked hard for everything that they had and crucially, gained strength from sticking together.  And, guiding them forward was their faith in something greater than themselves.  Pop down The Blue for some choice cuts of beef at Bell and Sons butchers any day of the week and ask Bermondsey women and men what's important to them: faith, family, flag and our future - any Millwall FC fan will confirm it's as simple as that!

The Blue Market, Southwark Park Road (image ©
A very happy Bermondsey Christmas to all of you! 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Are these the worst cycle lanes in Britain?

Much has been done to improve road safety in Rotherhithe and Bermondsey, making life better for all of us.  But the brunt of the responsibility for change has been borne by drivers.  Taking a daily battering from local and national policy makers out to demonise the humble British motorist, you’d think that SE1 and SE16’s drivers were the only problem.  No, we have a new menace on our streets: the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe cycle lane.
Sweeney Crescent SE1
Our cycle lanes, while appearing pretty harmless on first glance, reveal on closer inspection a suspiciously sinister side.  But, while everybody knows that they are poorly designed and created, which are candidates for the worst cycle lane in Britain?
A Rotherhithe pedestrian nightmare
Doubling up as a pavement for pedestrians is a common trait shared by Southwark cycle lanes, but as residents on the corner of Gomm Road and Lower Road realise, it doesn’t make them safe.
The corner of Gomm Road and Lower Road SE16

Although cycling in the direction of oncoming vehicles probably makes perfect sense to the average traffic officer enjoying the taxis and chauffeur driven fleet at Southwark Council Towers, users of Neckinger realise that this puts both cyclists and drivers in real danger.
Cars go one way, bikes the other: common sense in Neckinger SE16
Creating a cycle lane slap-bang outside one of the busiest Underground stations in London and placing in its path bollards, a sign post, pedestrian crossing and a six feet tall Evening Standard vendor’s box hardly demonstrates a serious concern for public safety.
Bermondsey Underground station's no-go cycle lane

The prize for 'most dangerous' must go to the green goddess of cycle lanes running from Druid Street along Gedling Place to Abbey Street.  Make sense of this if you can: a stretch of patchy emerald coloured tarmac taking up an entire pedestrian walkway, cutting across a well-used pavement at a busy junction with an apartment block preventing clear sight around the corner.  Crazy? You bet it is!  As a direct result of planners' incompetence, cyclists and pedestrians are at serious risk of harm from each other.
A health and safety and inclusion catastrophe

Worryingly, across the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe area  (as well as the rest of Southwark) this sorry saga goes on: poorly painted and fading street signs; badly positioned signs; cycle lanes jumping out at you from the most unexpected places.  These are truly some of the worst cycle lanes in Britain.  But surely Southwark Council and Transport for London are aware of this?  If not, they are now.  The question is: will they act to make cycling and walking safer for all residents?  On their previous form it’s unlikely - they'll keep on nagging the white van driver instead.  Perhaps there really is something sinister going on after all…
Old Cycle Lanes, New Danger

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Don't forget, men suffer domestic abuse, too.

When does behaviour become domestic abuse?  Is it when huddled in a corner surrounded by shopping bags, a young couple engage in a heated argument outside a local shopping centre?  Could it be when he begins protesting his innocence, pleading for her understanding and forgiveness, only to be met with taunts of, “I told you! You should have left that f***ing shop when I told you to!”  Perhaps it’s when his desperate apologies are ignored, she runs off in the rain leaving him alone in floods of tears begging her to come back.  Or maybe it’s the moment when his attempts at reconciliation are met with stony-faced silence for the entire train journey home.  After the occasional 'shut up', ordering him against his wishes to ‘get off the train now’, it has to be the moment when she holds him close on the platform telling him that she loves him, whilst at the same time laying down the law on his unacceptable behaviour.
Image courtesy of Ambro at
Southwark Council's recent work in support of women’s safety is very welcome.  In launching a public consultation, the Safer Communities Team is playing its part in a wider national approach to addressing violence against women and girls.  Its remit is to answer two fundamental questions: what is domestic abuse and what can be done to address it?  But what about the men?

Image courtesy of Artur84 at

It’s clear that domestic abuse is not the preserve of any one socio-economic, ethnic or gender group.  According to the National Centre for Domestic Violence, 1 in 6 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, with police receiving a 999 call every three minutes from a male victim.  Flourishing wherever ignorance reigns, domestic violence is one of the silent demons of our age, and we all bear some responsibility for it: passers by refusing to step in; overlooking a friend’s subtle yet threatening behaviour towards their partner; neighbours ignoring thuds, screams and whimpering; authorities failing to intervene and question at the first hint of a problem – domestic violence is society’s problem and needs fixing fast by all of us.  But what can be done?
Image by Sakki/Rex Features (from
  • It’s vital that front line services, including doctors, police, teachers and social services, are well trained so that they can respond to the mere whiff of domestic abuse before it escalates.  Joined up thinking is essential, sharing of records and reporting of signs however slight. 
  • Residents, employers and businesses must be encouraged to report it when they see it, hear it or suspect it - neighbours acting as the eyes and ears on the street.
  • Families must be strengthened by promoting positive family role models and values, together with nurturing communities where individuals are responsible for one another.
  • Tighter controls on the availability of violent and sexually explicit films, programmes, music and games must be put in place.
  • A tougher stance on sentencing must be taken by the justice system with offenders serving a decent spell in prison; short sentences send out the message that a victim’s life is of little value.
  • Rehabilitation of offenders must be a key part of the solution, as perpetrators of domestic violence need help as well as punishment.
  • After the consultation, Southwark council must embark on a multi-platform campaign aimed at men and women across Southwark, with the aim of destroying outdated gender stereotypes around the roles of victim and perpetrator.
Image from

One last thing: both gay and heterosexual men are victims of abuse, so are gay women.  Southwark Council is right in its desire to learn more about other situations where domestic abuse may be happening.  However, it’s a shame that its proposed Women’s Safety Charter fails to address the sexual harassment experienced by everyone, including men.  Don’t agree?  You should do – domestic abuse and harassment are issues that affect us all...

More information:

Domestic Abuse: Southwark Council's Online Consultation (closes Friday 17th October)

Women's Safety Charter: Southwark Council 

Standing Together Against Domestic Violence

National Domestic Violence Helpline