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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Sign up for Charlton’s Community Voting Day: Help decide who gets grants to help the neighbourhood

SE7 street sign
You can help the area bounce back from the pandemic

Want to have your say in who gets grants for projects to help people in Charlton? Sign up for Community Voting Day and you can do just that.

Last month, we reported how community groups and individuals could apply for grants of up to £2,000 each for projects to help Charlton bounce back from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now you can sign up to help decide who gets the money in a 90-minute online meeting to be held at 10.45am on Saturday 27 March.

The details of the groups and people involved are a tightly-guarded secret – you’ll have to sign up to find out who they are – but they’ll all relate in some way to health and wellbeing. The scheme is being run for Greenwich Council’s public health team.

You’ll be able to watch the groups pitch for your vote – think of it as like Dragon’s Den, only it’ll be full of your neighbours rather than irritating bigheads. In fact, if you can spare a chunk of your Saturday morning, you’ll be guaranteed to find out a lot more about your local area and the people who live in it. You might even find a project you want to help yourself.

Voting is open to people who live in Charlton ward. (Check which ward you live in.) You can register here: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/142367014573

Good luck to all those taking part – we’ll bring you news of the winners after the event.

(Declaration of interest: We’re not affiliated with anyone taking part in the event, but we have had a small hand in discussions about making it happen.)


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Got an idea to promote health and wellbeing in Charlton? Apply for up to £2,000 in funding

Maryon Wilson Park
Funding could be used to help people in Charlton get out and about

Community Voting Day is coming to Charlton on Saturday March 27. Greenwich Council has a pot of government money to spend on community health and wellbeing schemes in SE7 as part of its response to the pandemic. GAYLE WALLACE, who is running the scheme, explains…

Individuals and organisations are encouraged to apply for ‘small grant’ funding of up to £500 or ‘larger grant’ funding of up to £2,000, to provide projects that will improve health and wellbeing in the local area.

The criteria for funding applications have been set by local residents from the Charlton Neighbourhood Delivery Team, who have been championing health in the community for some time.

This is a unique opportunity, as it will be local residents in this area who will vote to decide which projects will be successful through an online (lockdown compliant) Community Voting Day, based on the principle of participatory budgeting. This will be held on Saturday March 27 (time to be decided). It’ll be a community-style Dragons Den.

The funding is being dispensed through the Royal Borough of Greenwich. I have been commissioned by the council to deliver the Community Voting Day process for this area.

Residents and organisations have the opportunity to gain funding through making an application outlining a project that they wish to deliver (based on the criteria set by the local community).

As well as organisations, we are actively encouraging individuals with great ideas, enthusiasm, and the energy to deliver, to apply. To support this aim we are also looking for organisations willing to play the role of an umbrella/sponsor organisation for an individual or small group that has a good idea but may not be constituted.

The application forms will be available shortly, with a final decision being made (as to who gets the funding) at the community voting day to be held on March 27, to which all from the community would be invited to take part.

Training will be available to help those interested in applying to help them formulate their project ideas, complete application forms, and to make a great presentation to the local community.

If you have any further queries regarding this funding, please do feel free to contact me at gayle.wallace[at]btconnect.com or call me on 078144 22696 for a brief discussion.


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
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