Where do we stand, ask residents amid the blurred boundaries on the City’s famous modernist estate
Back in April the Golden Lane Estate‘s residents’ association, GLERA, hosted a ‘Community Conversation’ on crime and anti-social behaviour. A number of residents present engaged in dialogue with a City of London Police officer about the smelly old unused public telephone box at the junction of Golden Lane and Fann Street, which, they report, has been repurposed as a drop-off/pick-up point for drug dealers.
The meeting proved the value of the Community Conversation, and the initiative took another step forward recently with a discussion, in partnership with the estate manager’s office, on the use of the public and private spaces on the estate.
Golden Lane is theoretically a private estate, but is used heavily by the public, and residents want to know where the boundaries lie, especially, as one of our councillors, Mark Bostock, noted that public use is planned to rise when the delayed Crossrail development is finished, and with the arrival of an ever-growing number of Culture Mile attractions. Residents also want to know who pays for the impact of this new footfall. Should that be themselves through their rents and services charges? Or our local authority, the City of London Corporation? Other issues emerged around security, crime and anti-social behaviour.
The Community Conversation was again a success, conducted in good spirit. Another hot topic was the use of the estate by film and TV crews to make hits such as Line of Duty and Luther. This is a facility marketed by the City Corporation. Residents do not share in the receipts but suffer the inconvenience, so for this reason, estate manager Michelle Warman is actively discouraging applicants.
Only three of our eight councillors joined the meeting, which inevitably spawned a discussion about how to get more Golden Lane residents to stand for election to council. There isn’t a queue because the role is not seen as an attractive one. That belief was fuelled not long ago when the one councillor who lives on the estate, Sue Pearson, was threatened with police action for raising concerns about a nearby building development. Speaking on such local matters apparently requires prior permission from City officers. That in itself is enough to switch residents off to any thought of becoming a councillor. There are other obstacles: there is no pay, the various council committees meet during a normal working day, and finally there is the strange matter of the business vote.
This is an old tradition which entitles businesses to cast votes in council elections alongside residents. The custom is meant to strike a balance between the small number of the City’s residents (about 8,000) compared with workers (close to 500,000 daily), but many residents are suspicious of what they see as divisive system privileging businesses over residents, especially in those of the City’s 25 wards that are dominated by residents, as is ours, Cripplegate.
Saturday 6 July is national Demand Democracy Day, with lots of mass-action events planned to promote the cause of fairer voting systems (visit makevotesmatter.org.uk), so there’s probably no better time for residents to consider stepping up to the electoral plate. One of our current councillors, William Pimlott, says council committee work for those in full-time jobs might prove to be difficult, but not so for part-timers, flexible workers and students. He offers to advise anyone thinking of giving it a go (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org). “We need more representation from Golden Lane,” he says.
While getting residents to engage in local politics might be hard work, when it comes to having fun there’s no stopping them. Open Garden Squares Weekend was again a great success. The community cafe got so busy it ran out of milk, but thankfully not cake. And more than 350 visitors trooped through our award-winning allotment, the Golden Baggers, to inspect our fertility. The prize for the most fascinating plant went to a low-growing “daylight neutral” flowering strawberry in Bag 33.
There was also some healthy rivalry and a lot of cheeky banter at a new GLERA quiz night in the community centre. A scary invigilator called Nicholas patrolled the room looking for anyone using their cellphone to cheat, but what was scarier was the vast number of contestants who didn’t know that John Lennon’s middle name was Winston. Our team, The Jo Brand Milkshakes, came third.
The mini masterpieces by year six Prior Weston School pupils I mentioned in last month’s column are to get their own exhibition here on the estate. The Golden Baggers have kindly agreed to host a showing in the Sir Ralph Perring Centre during their next Social Sunday on 7 July (11am-4pm). Expect to be dazzled.
Billy Mann lives in Basterfield House on the Golden Lane Estate. He is a teaching assistant, a City of London Community Builder and a blogger.
An edited version of this column appeared in the City Matters newspaper, issue 101.