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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