Why Charlton’s schools need a car-free day every day

Parking outside the new Our Lady of Grace school
February 2017: Parents’ parking causing problems outside Our Lady of Grace school

Last month, schools in Charlton and across the borough of Greenwich took part in the STARS Car-Free Day, which saw roads closed outside schools. It’s an attempt to highlight the problems caused by parents driving their children to school – and to persuade them that leaving the car at home makes life easier for everyone. Local father Nathan Hughes says this should be more than a one-off token gesture.

“My lungs feel better already,” was my note to Ben Murphy, traffic officer for Greenwich Council. I said the same to local councillors, who were on show, along with our supportive local MP as he passed by.

Of course, you need the reason why. Whilst checking my son’s school bag one evening I found a short note titled ‘STARS project’, which informed my wife and I that Friday was a walking to school day and that the roads surrounding his particular primary school and a number of others in the borough were to be closed for a period of time throughout the day and afternoon.

We set off for school as normal that morning and found an obvious reduction in both traffic and the sometimes overlooked noise.

There were children playing games in the roads which the schools had organised (cycling, rowing machines, hopscotch, and more) and a noticeable excitement in the body language of the children. The headteachers thanked us for walking – a statement which really made me laugh.

As many parents know, the catchment areas of schools these days – and probably always have been – can be summed up as “if you you don’t live within walking distance to the school, you won’t get in”.

With this being the case, why is that so many parents or carers decide to continually drive their young to school on a daily basis?

I would suggest the investment in our public transport these days has become exceptional. It is frequent and reliable – although many would choose to dispute that – and the added benefit of tracking it through smartphone apps mean we are constantly updated.

I put the driving to school down to laziness rather than a necessity.

Possible reasons why:

  • Moving further out as soon as the child has been allocated a school place, taking advantage of maximised property prices
  • “I need to make other drop-offs”
  • “I won’t get to work on time”

On the first point, this means some families are denying children living in close proximity to their closest school a place, thus making them travel further afield and having a detrimental impact on the immediate community. This just isn’t right.

Our borough’s primary education system has an abundance of excellent, enthusiastic, passionate teachers that have turned our schools into arguably some of the best in the country, making the options ever more attractive.

Positive impact and suggestions/ideas:

  • Local retired residents might like to get involved by supporting/marshalling the school roads
  • Local businesses. There’s an opportunity here to grow our community, as some of the local shops might find a way to promote their businesses through pop-up shops before and after school.

We all like to think we have an interest in the environment. But we choose to ignore the easiest thing to do and one that would make a huge difference. School run traffic has been chaotic and at times unsustainable for local residents, some of whom adjust their schedules around the inconvenience of the double parking.

Let’s start making a real difference to those little lungs. It could also help the older ones too. School by school, class by class, year by year, we could make a positive change – just like the one our teachers have made to an increasingly popular borough.

It shouldn’t just be be a one-off poster to stick to the school gates, it needs to be embraced and properly implemented.

What do you think? Could you help make car-free days a regular occurrence? Leave a comment below.


37 new council homes to replace Charlton Village sheltered housing

Fletching Road drawing
The proposed development on Fletching Road, with Charlton Church Lane to the left

Plans for 37 new council homes to replace a 1980s sheltered housing block behind Charlton Village were backed by Greenwich Council’s main planning committee last night.

The council’s Planning Board endorsed the scheme by three votes to one, with two abstentions, after concerns were raised about the way the council had gone about consulting people who live next to Fred Styles House, which faces demolition.

The block will be replaced by three 1-bedroom and five 2-bedroom flats, along with 16 one-bedroom, seven 2-bedroom and six 3-bedroom houses, all for social rent.

While the current block only allows access to Charlton Church Lane through a gate, the new scheme will see two pedestrian walkways linking it with Fletching Road, which runs behind The Village.

Residents of the homes that surround Fred Styles House have voiced concerns that turning their area into a pedestrian thoroughfare will lead to an increase in crime.

Fred Styles House
Fred Styles House as seen from Charlton Church Lane
Fred Styles House
The current building has 42 bedsits and closed in October 2013

One resident, who lives next door to the proposed development, told councillors she only found out last week that the development would come right up against the side of her house – building over a path she uses to access her front garden, particularly when emptying bins.

Another complained that construction of three one-bedroom flats would block out daylight and lead to two homes being “enclosed like caves”, while one objector said residents’ questions had been met with “stock answers, don’t knows or ‘we’ll get back to you'”.

Fred Styles House
Many of the upset neighbours’ homes have this view of the current Fred Styles House

One of the architects behind the new development told the meeting that he wanted the site to feel “much more villagey” with a “traditional approach to housing”. His aim was to create “a little neighbourhood”.

Fletching Road houses
How the new homes will look

Several councillors indicated they were unhappy with the way the residents had been consulted. Council deputy leader Danny Thorpe said there was “potential for an off-line discussion” about giving existing residents communal bins to ease the problems caused by losing space near their homes. Kidbrooke with Hornfair councillor Norman Adams voiced concerns about the homes having flat roofs so close to a conservation area.

Planning chair Mark James said he backed the scheme but wanted the applicant – the council – to “engage further” with residents, adding that open walkways actually reduced the risk of crime.

Fletching Road development
A 3D view of the development

The council was spared the embarrassment of seeing its own housing proposal thrown out, with three councillors – James, Thorpe, and Mark Elliott – backing the scheme to one – Clive Mardner – against. Two – Adams and Geoff Brighty – abstained.

  • Last night’s meeting also approved plans to transform the Woolwich “island site” – the former home of Greenwich University – with 300 new homes.
  • Help discover the history of the UK’s street murals at Charlton House

    Floyd Road mural
    The Floyd Road mural was completed in 1976

    You’re probably familiar with the work of Greenwich Mural Workshop – even if you’ve never heard of it before. It’s responsible for murals and mosaics across London, including the giant mural on Floyd Road, by The Valley, completed in 1976.

    Now it is running a year-long National Lottery-backed project, For Walls With Tongues, to record the history of the artists who created the UK’s mural movement from the 1960s. As part of this, it’s looking for people to interview artists as part of an oral history project. These interviews will be archived by the British Library and on a dedicated website.

    Project leader Carol Kenna says: “Our project aims to develop an art history to intrigue people who have not encountered mural painting before and provide a resource for students, researchers, critics, historians and the general public. For Walls With Tongues will ensure that the mural movement will be recognised as an important aspect of 20th century art history.”

    If you want to develop your interview skills, For Walls With Tongues is hosting a one-day professional interviewing course at Charlton House on Friday 20 October. It’ll be led by Rib Davis, a specialist oral history tutor and author and is aimed at anyone interested in developing interview skills to a standard required by the British Library.

    Participants can then become volunteer interviewers on the For Walls With Tongues project if they want to, although the course is open to all who want to sharpen their interview skills.

    There’ll also be a seminar at Whitechapel Art Gallery on Wednesday 1 November where artists will discuss their work.

    Places are limited, so if you want to take part in the interviewing course or attend the seminar, get in touch with Carol Kenna via Greenwich Mural Workshop.

    Men in Sheds and Seniors Drop-in Cafe at Mycenae House

    Men in Sheds poster

    Not been to Mycenae House recently? You should take a look – Greenwich borough’s most successful community centre has a wide range of events, from concerts to comedy clubs and scientific talks. And if you’re a man over 50, it can help you sharpen your woodworking skills (or gain some).

    Age UK Bromley and Greenwich’s Men In Sheds has been running since 2010, putting the skills of older men to work for community projects in their local areas. If you’re used to working and you’ve ever found yourself not working, you’ll know it can be frustrating and depressing, to say the least. If you’ve retired and find yourself stuck at home all day, when you know you’ve still got lots in you to give, it can’t be good for you – or anyone who might also stuck at home with you.

    Over the next couple of Wednesdays (4 and 11 October), Men In Sheds will have a “mobile shed” at Mycenae House between 12noon and 3pm. You don’t need to be an expert, you just need to have an interest. It’s better than watching Countdown

    Mycenae House is also running a weekly drop-in cafe for seniors each Thursday from 1-4pm – it’s open to all the family, and provides a welcoming and friendly environment to meet new people and get advice. Tea and cake are just £1.

    The River Ale House: Have you been to Charlton’s new local micropub yet?

    The River Ale House

    Okay, it’s actually in Greenwich, but we couldn’t resist giving a mention to The River Ale House, which opened a couple of weeks ago just down the Woolwich Road.

    It’s in the former Under Cover Experience lingerie shop – the bottom fell out of the knickers market, and owner Trevor thought he’d try his hand at beer instead.

    So far, The River Ale House is doing a good trade in the evenings – providing somewhere to go in a stretch of Woolwich Road that’s long lacked a decent pub.

    There’s a rotating range of ales on, plus ciders, wines and spirits. It’s also very dog-friendly.

    The River Ale House

    It’s the eighth micropub to open in south-east London over the past few years, joining The Long Pond in Eltham, Door Hinge in Welling, Hopper’s Hut and Hackney Carriage in Sidcup, Broken Drum in Blacken, Penny Farthing in Crayford and One Inn The Wood in Petts Wood. Another one, The Kentish Belle, is due to open in Bexleyheath later this year.

    If the River Ale House gives you a taste for the smaller boozer, here’s a micropub crawl of south-east London that’s been tried and tested by the Charlton Champion team.

    The River Ale House is at 131 Woolwich Road SE10 0RJ and is open 12noon to 11pm every day. You can find out more on Twitter and Facebook.

    Enjoy an Urban Harvest at Maryon Park Community Garden

    Maryon Park Community Garden

    A message from Maryon Park Community Garden

    Community food growing gardens across the capital will be open throughout Saturday 16 September 2017, to welcome in visitors and volunteers to take part in free garden activities and workshops.

    Get a taste of London’s edible gardens by dropping in to Maryon Park Community Garden in Charlton, one of Capital Growth’s flagship gardens, from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm. Capital Growth is London’s largest food growing network, with over 2,000 gardens throughout the city.

    At the Maryon Park Community Organic Food Growing Garden’s Urban Harvest, activities include:

    • Tours of the Garden and Forest School.
    • Display of photos from the 1966 cult film ‘Blow Up’ that was shot in Maryon Park.
    • Activities for children: Making lavender bags and bird feeders.
    • Pizza Oven fired up from 12 noon, bring your own dough and toppings
    • Refreshments: Organic teas & coffee, cake and herb teas
    • Fundraising activities: Jam and Plant, Craft Sale

    In the Community Garden Forest School area there will be a free Family Magic Show
    by PJ the Magical Clown at 12 noon and Outdoor Art Workshops from 1pm.

    Enter Maryon Park from the main entrance in Maryon Road, follow the path past the park lodge and find the Community Garden at the end of the park perimeter fence. Look out for the bunting.

    New development by Thames Barrier: Public exhibition at The Valley

    Riverside development flyer

    Developers behind plans for up to 500 new homes by the Thames Barrier at Charlton will be showing off their proposals at two public consultation events.

    Komoto Group wants to build “affordable and family housing alongside new business, retail and community space” at Herringham Road, on land which is currently home to the Raceway go-kart track, Bunker 51 laser-tag centre, a church, and other firms. Komoto also promises “significant public realm improvement”.

    Tall Ships, April 2017
    Crowds watching April’s Tall Ships Regatta from in front of the development site

    Earlier this year the firm submitted early proposals for a 25-storey tower and 570 homes – the new Charlton Riverside Masterplan, which was confirmed in the summer, envisages mostly low to medium-rise developments of up to 10 storeys, except where there is “adequate public transport”.

    The consultation events are in the Keith Peacock Suite at The Valley on Thursday 14 September (4pm-8pm) and Saturday 16 September (10am-2pm) – enter through the main reception off Floyd Road.

    For more information, call the project team on 020 3176 4161, or email info[at]herringhamroad.co.uk. A website has now been set up: herringhamroad.co.uk.

    In December 2016, another developer, Rockwell, submitted plans to build towers of up to 28 storeys off Anchor and Hope Lane. No decision has yet been made on this scheme.