Monday, June 29, 2015

Dear Mark Agnew, Head of Property, Lewisham Homes...

Dear Mark,

You are presently proposing to resurface the painted staircases at Holden, Wilshaw, Castell and Browne Houses as part of your Decent Homes programme of Major Works. The stairs were never part of the original Schedule of Works, and are only now included at our request. The problem is that they are discoloured and unhygenic due to several years' build up of dirt and detergent as a result of the one-size-fits-all cleaning methods employed across of the borough (a mop and bucket of water) which is unsuitable for this gritty (non-slip) painted surface installed by the Council in 1996.

We asked that they be thoroughly cleaned and repainted, but instead you want to spend a lot of free money (the Decent Homes grant, courtesy of the tax-payer) on resurfacing them with the same product – Polyurea – that you have recently applied to our walkways. As you may or may not have been told by your Project Manager, there have already been considerable problems with that resurfacing.

Since your Project Manager was determined to proceed, your "partners", MITIE, did a 'test patch' on Castell House earlier in the week, and everyone has been horrified at the result. It looks like a tart's boudoir! As one resident has complained, "We were told that 'aesthetics' would be one of the criteria by which the test would be judged, but unless you consider Barbie's dollhouse the apex of western beauty I'm sure you'll agree this fails the test comprehensively".

The product is supposed to be applied after the older painted surface has been removed. A previous sub-contractor had specified that all the paint must be removed in order for the primer to adhere effectively. Your present subcontractor says only "most of it" need be removed.

Indeed, last Friday, the old paint was removed from one of the treads (and a bit of the next one down) with hi-pressure 3000psi jet washing. On the following Monday, the lurid red surface was applied to the three steps below that were not jetwashed. A resident witnessed this jet washing take 30 minutes to complete. If you count the risers that would be an hour per step. There are on average 65 steps. So it would take 65 hours – or two weeks in building terms – to get rid of the old paint using this method on just one staircase. There are nine.

Since the product was applied to the three steps below that had not been jetwashed, this test is obviously not to find out how well the Polyurea adheres. No doubt a better colour match can be achieved, and the shininess reduced, after several further test patches – so perhaps this particular test patch will be ripped up and a new one applied. But what would be the point? It's easy to see that most of the costs of this procedure will be in the time it takes to remove the original paint.

However, adherence needs to be tested, since the grey Polyurea applied to our balcony walkways is already lifting. There have been numerous examples of it coming away from the walls and the landings and having to be redone several times in one or two instances.

In addition the walkways are now extremely difficult to clean. Both rain and tap water no longer drain effectively down the gulleys and instead evaporate after a few days leaving a stain. Lewisham Homes has still to explain how this product can be cleaned. The Lewisham Homes Project Manager claims that "Estate Services have approved this surface", but the Caretakers do not have to actually clean them, they are just required to sweep them.

However, they do have to clean the stairs – with a mop and a bucket. The stairs endure significantly more traffic than the walkways. By Monday night, the new red test patch was stained. However, it was re-sprayed in the morning for the benefit of senior managers who came to view it.  There was also a cleaning demonstration. The result was that the gritty surface tore at the mop, leaving bits of mop behind on the stairs. The caretakers are not at all happy with the test patch, but the Lewisham Homes Project Manager declared that "Everyone likes it".

Leaseholders are particularly frustrated by this attitude since the cost of the application will be added to the already large costs they are required to pay, as their share of all the Major Works. Lewisham Homes is attracted to using Polyurea because it dries quite quickly and is apparently "guaranteed" for 20-30 years. They believe it will last longer than a painted surface, despite the present surface having lasted for 18 years. In fact there is no actual guarantee available because the work has three parts to it that could all cause the surface to fail: MITIE have to guarantee the jet washing preparation, the manufacturer guarantees the product, and the subcontractor the application. All three could blame the other for any failures (which are already apparent) and no one would be responsible.

Lots of complaints have gone to the Project Manager, and residents have enlisted the help of the Conservation Officer. When appraising the estate to apply Conservation status to the Creekside area (ratified by the Council in 2012 but of which Lewisham Homes had no idea), she identified Crossfields for its special architectural and historic interest. But as one resident has recently commented, "Crossfields is a beautiful estate that was ageing gracefully until you lot stepped in. The stairs proposal is the equivalent of me forcing my 100 year old granny into a red tracksuit and kinky boots".

Residents requested the Conservation Officer's input last year when you proposed to jetwash our buildings, using the same aggressive methods as you used to remove the skin of the brickwork at Tanner's Hill estate in their Major Works. The aim of Decent Homes funding is to make our homes "dry, safe and warm", but when challenged how jetwashing masonry fitted this remit, your surveyors Baily Garner finally admitted that it was for purely cosmetic reasons, to achieve "a Wow factor".

The Conservation Officer's advice not to go ahead with jetwashing, or otherwise to use the least aggressive method, was roundly ignored – in fact, in the absence of her being required (or indeed having the time and resources) to write a report, both your "partners" tried to misrepresent which method she had advised – by changing its name, and effectively lying at meetings and on paper. You went ahead anyway with a method which we warned you would make no visible difference because the only areas that were noticeably dirty were due to atmospheric soiling which is not water soluable. A waste of time and money, though no doubt your "partners" MITIE will have made a tidy profit on the subcontracting.

So will you make the same mistakes again?

Your "partners" continue to mismanage the work on our buildings with no monitoring from you and total deference to them from your freelance Project Manager. Like the non-existent guarantees, no one is responsible and the other "partner" is always blamed, so residents have no recourse. Because you have a "partnership" with them rather than a straightforward contractual arrangement, all the mistakes they make – too numerous to mention and endlessly pointed out to you – are brushed off. "Shit happens" shrugs the incompetent and arrogant MITIE contracts manager when challenged.

Although emailed complaints go unanswered, we note that a notice has just gone up on our outdoor noticeboards which, among other things, says the decision on what type of coating to be used on the stairs has yet to be made. Let's hope you make the RIGHT decision – one that residents can actually live with.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dear Nigel Tyrrell, Director of Environment, Lewisham...

Dear Nigel,

What is going on with your Recycling Team? They have not collected 9 of our 11 recycling bins on Crossfields Estate SE8 for two weeks.

We asked the Head of Estate Services at Lewisham Homes to find out. He had already been contacted by our caretakers but had not been informed by Recycling themselves.

He told us yesterday that "Lewisham have reported that the delay was apparently due to the bins being contaminated with non-recyclable waste and the volume of other recycling points across the Borough with the same issue". He was assured that the bins would be emptied first thing today. At close of play today, nine bins remain full to overflowing.

This begs the questions:

1. Why would Recycling promise to empty bins that they have previously refused to empty?
2. If the bins contain foodstuff, why has the issue not been referred to Refuse for collection?
3. Why did Recycling not inform Lewisham Homes (when they share the same depot)?
4. How did 9 out of 11 bins manage to become contaminated all at the same time?
5. How come people across the borough contaminated their bins all at the same time?

We have requested that Lewisham Homes work with Recycling to re-flyer our estate to remind residents of their responsibilities, with the focus on NOT including food in their recycling materials, rather than what they CAN put in.

However, it looks to us as if 'contamination' has been offered as an excuse for bad management. It may be no co-incidence that the same thing occurred last year at roughly the same time – does the whole department just go on holiday at this time?

We hope you will able to get to the bottom of the problem as a matter of urgency, as all calls by residents and now other senior managers have met with no success. We know the Council are having to make some severe cuts, but this is one area that should not be allowed to fail.


Gareth Malone is apparently on the hunt in Deptford for the country’s most impressive a cappella groups for a new BBC2 series. You can see some of most gifted, unsigned vocal groups from across the U.K. battle it out to stay in the contest, all overseen by the man himself, at The Laban Centre, Deptford, London at 4.45pm on Saturday 20th June.  Booking is open via

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Deptford Jack in the Green May Day, Friday 1st May

Deptford's Fowlers Troop take to the streets as always this May Day with their Jack in the Green procession. They'll be assembling at the Dog and Bell at 11am on Friday morning and setting off to Greenwich to end up at the Ashburnham Arms (25 Ashburnham Grove) by 4.30pm (via the Lord Hood, Plume of Feathers and Richard 1st pubs along the way).

The picture above was taken in 2006 to commemorate the 1906 photo (below) taken by Thankfull Sturdee. The Jack is the tall chap in the middle, dressed in garlands of leaves and flowers.

Perhaps because of their affiliation with the City of London Jack in the Green (whose troop like to cause mischief on a working day), the Deptford Fowlers Troop stick solidly to May Day itself rather than moving the parade to the bank holiday like other revivals of the tradition in Hastings, Rochester and Whitstable. Those weekend-long celebrations draw large crowds and include a lot more local residents dressing up and painting themselves green. However, the Deptford Jack is purportedly the tallest and heaviest of all the modern Jacks!

Catch 'em (or join them) 'dressing the Jack' on Thursday 30th at the Dog and Bell from 8pm. And if you're about on Friday, follow or join in the parade. Check the route here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Deptford events coming up...

The big event this weekend is the London Marathon on Sunday which Crossfielders can watch from the end of the road – unless they're running of course. Get down to Creek Road at around 9.15am to see the elite runners or catch the charity runners from 11ish. But before that, there's...

New Cross & Deptford Free Film Festival 
Friday 24th April – Sunday 3rd May 
37 free films in 17 different venues over 10 days, run by volunteers with more than 40 people curating events. Most of the larger venues or most popular films are already booked up (the first night in particular), but check to see what's left at the website – some events can't be booked so it's first come, first served. One such film we would recommend for loyal Deptfordians is Hide and Seek, a children's film shot in Deptford in 1972, showing on Wednesday 29th at the Big Red Pizzeria (but don't be fooled, it'll be in the container in their back yard, not in the pizzeria itself). Otherwise see you in the queue at the Job Centre on 3rd May...

Deptford Food Festival
Saturday 25th April, 9am–5.30pm, Giffin Square 
The first of what is now to be a weekly street food market. The Deptford Dame points out this is the third time it's been tried and fears there may still be not enough demand to make it worthwhile for the traders themselves. Not being an evening event, it's certainly not as trendy an event as Lewisham Model Market which returned to Lewisham High Street last week, but as a food-orientated attraction it's not as poncey as the Deptford Brunch Club and you can do a bit of shopping as well.

Co-incidentally, The Secret History of Our Streets – featuring Deptford High Street in the first episode – is being repeated on BBC4 (catch it on i-Player). The documentary uses film footage from Hide and Seek (see the Film Festival above), funnily enough. When Secret History was first broadcast in 2012 it caused controversy locally. We had our own critical opinion of the episode's inaccuracies (here, here and here) having originally helped contribute to its making in 2011. Also see Deptford Misc's take on it. But it's worth watching to hear how Deptford High Street was once the "Oxford Street of south London".

That reminds us of the meeting held back in early February at The Albany for shopkeepers and market traders, convened by local councillors (who all happen to be Lewisham Labour) to discuss how to increase trade in the high street (or rather, combat the decrease). Traders think business is lost because of parking charges – it's free to park on a Saturday after 1pm but they'd like free all day parking ("like what you get at supermarkets"). Maybe the new Asda can pay for the free parking...

Another demand was for public toilets–  the Lounge was built on the site of the previous public loos and doesn't open until 10am. Most demands were led by People Before Profit (in an open attack on the Labour councillors); PB4P touched on a subject that was of no interest to legitimate businesses when they called for an end to frequent harassment from the UK Border Police.

Everyone present thought better signage was needed and one lady shopkeeper bravely suggested that the 47 bus takes a detour (presumably up Frankham Street and down Giffin Street) which is a brilliant but probably impractical idea. The Chair of the High Street Traders Association – who got the anchor removed and to which most traders do not belong – suggested French foods or farmer's markets in Giffin Square. So here you are! Not French cheeses, but lovely street food! Make the most of it! Naturally, you'll be walking or catching the bus to our famous high street, since there's still no all-day free parking. That's probably just as well since Deptford Church Street is usually gridlocked on Saturdays with people trying to get to Surrey Quays and Lewisham shopping centres – or Millwall FC at home...