Neighbourhood champions: Helping your local community through the pandemic

Evie Hoyte
The estate ball court is one of Evie’s proudest achievements

Evie Hoyte has been looking out for the people of Woodville Estate, next to the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout, for 50 years. She spoke to SAM DAVIES about the unique challenges she’s faced in the past 12 months.

“Twenty-seven people live along here, but you wouldn’t think so.” Evie Hoyte is showing me round the Woodville Estate at a social distance. “I’ve been doing it for a long long time, just keeping an eye on the community. It’s a little, closed-in place. But it’s not closed in.”

It’s a grey, locked-down Saturday and there aren’t many people about, but Evie seems happy right where she is. She gestures proudly towards her neighbours’ flats and a sports area with a goal and a basketball hoop. It’s clear she welcomes visitors.

Sitting just off the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout in Blackheath, the Woodville Estate has been included as part of Greenwich Council’s neighbourhood champions scheme, which is targeting communities in and around Charlton as well as a Plumstead, Woolwich and Thamesmead.

Launched in November, the programme links volunteers with community leaders and organises regular check-in sessions with the aim of making sure everyone is alright. As someone who has been active in her community for over half a century, Evie was a natural fit.

Evie’s taken an interest in her community ever since moving to London from Trinidad aged 21. She worked as a nurse for most of her adult life and brought her children up on the Woodville Estate, watching them grow up and eventually move away to have kids of their own. When she retired from nursing in 2003, she started working in social services, then finally settled into full retirement in 2011.

Woodville Estate
The secluded estate lies just off the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout

But she’s never been one to put her feet up. “I thought what am I going to do now?” she says. “I can’t be just squiggling my fingers and doing nothing. And this is when I started getting absolutely involved with the community.”

She helped install an allotment, allowing Woodville residents to grow their own fruit and veg, as well as a garden, which Evie looks after along with some of her neighbours. Her proudest achievement is the Woodville sports court. A decade ago the estate had a five-a-side football pitch around the corner from where it is now. But it wasn’t visible from the balconies of overlooking flats, meaning kids often felt more inclined to cause trouble there. Evie was instrumental in securing council funding to get a new court built in the middle of the estate.

“We deliberately made it open,” she says. “So that the teenagers don’t sit in a little cubbyhole and make mischief.” Because it is so secluded, Woodville was once an appealing spot for drug dealers. “But we were keeping an eye on things,” says Evie. “And if there was any anti-social behaviour, we would report it to the council.”

The sports court has been popular with people from all over, and Evie talks glowingly about visitors. “I am really really proud of the outside world coming in,” she says. “The other day I saw a gentleman with four kids and they were having such fun. I thought, that’s brilliant, because he was a complete stranger and he didn’t know this was here.” Charlton Athletic have even sent football coaches to Woodville to host games for kids.

Behind the sports court is a cluster of noticeably more modern buildings. This is a gated accommodation project, built recently, with houses available at prices considerably higher than those of the rest of the estate. The council consulted Woodville residents like Evie before granting planning permission to the project. While they got the green light, Evie says she’s had next to no contact with her new neighbours.

During the pandemic, Evie has tried to maintain a close relationship with the council. But at 77, she’s not especially keen on Zoom — where most of the neighbourhood champions’ meetings take place. “When we used to have participation meetings, we used to meet 10, 15 people, and everybody brings something to the table from where they live,” she says. “But now people depend on Skypeing and doing Zoom and all of that. So we don’t get involved as much as we used to.”

Instead she focuses on her immediate community, regularly knocking on doors and catching up with her neighbours from a safe distance. “All my neighbours know me,” she says. “If they need anything, if they want me to help, I put myself forward.” If anyone has a serious problem, Evie conveys it to the council through a younger, more technically-minded neighbour, who takes part in the Charlton neighbourhood champions’ meetings.

Evie Hoyte
Evie Hoyte, left, is looking forward to seeing more of neighbours on the Woodville Estate like Val in the future

She admits that her social network has shrunk in the past year, making it hard to keep track of people she used to be in regular contact with. “Probably some people not well,” she says. “Probably some of them died, I don’t know.” Of Woodville’s 27 residents, so far nobody has had the virus. Evie has managed to stay safe, mostly keeping to herself except for trips to the supermarket with her daughter.

She has had her first dose of the vaccine already and is expecting her second soon. She says everyone on the estate has been sensible in adhering to the government’s lockdown measures. “You feel proud of people following the rules without you telling them to do it.”

Evie’s now looking forward to a post-pandemic world. “In the summertime, it really is buzzing,” she says, remembering barbecues from previous years. For now she remains positive. “Yes I am. Because I wanted to get back on my feet and get back out and do my work and do my allotment and do my exercises — all of these things that you cannot be doing, but we’re all thinking positive. And there’s always light at the end of the tunnel and I think the light is nearly on our doorstep.”

If you are in Charlton and want to become a neighbourhood champion, email kelly-ann.ibrahim[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk.

There is also a broader Community Champions programme operating across the whole borough – visit the Greenwich Council website for more details.

SAM DAVIES is a journalist who has written for Dazed, DJ Mag, the Guardian, the i, Mixmag, Pitchfork, Readers Digest and Vice. He co-hosts the podcast Exit The 36 Chambers.


This is the last of a series of stories published here and on our sister site 853 about how SE London’s communities have reacted to the coronavirus pandemic. See all the stories published over the past year.


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Green Goddess pop-up beer garden coming to Charlton House from 12 April

Charlton House in the evening
All being well, Charlton House will be open for drinks from the 12th

The team behind plans to turn the Barclays Bank at Blackheath Standard into a bar are hoping to give locals a taste of what they can offer in a pop-up beer garden at Charlton House.

The Green Goddess visits Charlton House will open for business from 12 April when, all being well, coronavirus restrictions are loosened and pub beer gardens can welcome customers.

It’ll offer table service only on the patio with two-hour bookable slots between 2pm and 8pm, with last orders at 7.30pm. For the first week, it will open every day through to Sunday 18 April; then open Thursday to Sunday for the rest of April – opening times for May and beyond are yet to be decided.

“It’s very much a pop-up pub so the times maybe subject to change along the way,” Stephen O’Connor of Common Rioters Brewery told The Charlton Champion.

“We will be serving up cask and keg beer, cider, selected spirits, wine, and low and no-alcohol drinks. In addition we hope to have some pop up food stalls at certain times.”

For more details and booking, visit www.thegreengoddess.pub.


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Take a step into Charlton’s future: Support proposals for a Thames Barrier Bridge

Thames Barrier Bridge
A Thames Barrier Bridge could be a tourist attraction in its own right

Two years ago, we reported on early ideas for a pedestrian and cycling bridge at the Thames Barrier, connecting Charlton with Silvertown on the north side of river. Now the team behind the proposals are looking for your support to make this a reality. ALEX LIFSCHUTZ, of the architecture firm Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, explains more and how you can get involved.

The Thames Barrier Bridge, conceived by the London architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, with the marine, civil and structural engineers Beckett Rankine, is a low-cost, low-impact pedestrian and cycle bridge that would link the communities of Charlton and Woolwich with the Royal Docks. The transport consultants Steer reckon that five million pedestrians and one million cyclists would use the bridge every year, based on journeys to work alone. These figures don’t include leisure or other trips.

The grim statistics of the pandemic have alerted us to so many issues of health and social inequality. Likewise the return of birdsong to our cities has reminded us that, as we emerge from lockdown, we really do have to replace motor vehicles with sustainable transport. Walking and cycling are part of the solution to all of these problems – promoting health, social and economic progress, and reducing pollution. A hopeful sign is the massive increase of bike sales – according to The Guardian, up 40% on last year.

Thames Barrier Bridge
A bridge at the Thames Barrier would not stop shipping

But the river creates an enormous barrier to walking and cycling in east and southeast London. For instance, a journey from Charlton to the new City Hall at The Crystal, or the 70,000 new jobs in and around the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone, currently takes about 40 minutes, cycling and walking though the Woolwich foot tunnel (assuming the lifts are working or you don’t mind carrying your bike down and up the stairs), 40 minutes by the Docklands Light Railway, or over 70 minutes walking.

A bridge across the river close to the Thames Barrier would allow you to reach the same destination in 20 minutes, walking or you could cycle there in half that time. It would be the only bridge east of Tower Bridge (other than the Dartford Crossing), where half of London’s population now lives, compared to over 20 bridges in west London.

Thames Barrier Bridge
The bridge would create opportunities for communities on both sides of the Thames

In the late 1990’s, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands came up with the idea of a bridge connecting the South Bank to Charing Cross station and slung off the existing Hungerford Railway Bridge, creating minimal obstructions to river traffic. Completed in 2002, the Golden Jubilee Footbridges have become the Thames’s most popular crossing with about 8.4 million pedestrian journeys each year.

Our idea for the new bridge at the Thames Barrier is similarly opportunistic. Like the Golden Jubilee Bridges, its supports would shadow the piers of the existing structure and hence create only a small additional impact on navigation and the flow of the river. In fact, like our bridges further upstream, it would also provide the barrier with protection from impact on whichever side it is placed. Its low height (about 15 metres above Mean Water High Springs) makes it easier to access by cycle, foot or wheelchair, with minimal shore taken up by its relatively short ramps rising from the parks at either side. It would be around nine metres wide with separate lanes for walking and bikes.

Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands came up with the idea for the Golden Jubilee Bridge, linking the South Bank with the West End (image: Mary and Andrew via CC BY 2.0)

It would totally transform the accessibility of the Charlton and Woolwich waterfronts including existing occupants such as the Thames-Side Studios and the many new homes and businesses planned for Charlton Riverside. Looking further afield, it would link the Green Chain, including Maryon Park and Charlton Park on the south side, to the Lee Valley and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Parks to the north.

Like Tower Bridge, the Thames Barrier Bridge is an opening bascule bridge, so allows passage for boats and barges by raising its deck. The elegant structure is a series of small spans that use a minimal amount of material (especially steel), making it both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. With shorter, multiple openings, the bridge is less prone to the risk of malfunction compared to a single point of opening, and can be raised at the last minute for ships to pass, minimising disruption to cycles and pedestrians. The bridge would serve journeys to and from work but also attract visitors and tourists, bringing economic benefits north and south of the river.

Thames Barrier
A bridge would connect new developments, transport links and green spaces on. both sides of the Thames

The idea is receiving support from local MPs and councillors, residents’ groups, cycle organisations, developers, environmentalists and transport experts. What we need are local political champions, including the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the London Borough of Newham, the Greater London Authority and statutory agencies like the Environment Agency to pick up the idea and help us run with it.

Of course, we are only at the concept stage and much testing needs to be done. Curiously, once it has political support, funding the design work – and ultimately the £300 million structure – is less difficult than you’d expect as there is a large amount of green finance available at the moment, given government and corporate climate initiatives.

So what can you do to help? Click on the website – www.thamesbarrierbridge.com – to find out more and send us your comments, or write to your local council.

The pandemic has shown us that we can rapidly change our behaviour to counter a virus; we can use the same energy and enterprise to counter the even more dangerous threat of climate change and, in doing so, make better lives for ourselves.

ALEX LIFSCHUTZ is the founder and principal of Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

This comment piece is also appearing on our sister website 853.


PLEASE SUPPORT THE CHARLTON CHAMPION

We tell the SE7 stories you won’t read elsewhere. We can’t do it without your help.
– Please tell us about your news and events
– Become a monthly supporter at presspatron.com/charltonchampion
– Donate to our running costs at paypal.me/charltonchampion