Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Exchange.


As long time readers will be aware, I have for a very long time taken a dim view of the fake and / or criminally misleading leaflets that get posted through local doors, promoting "charity" clothing collections. Back in September 2011 I reported that undercover Police had been watching a gang of Lithuanian and Romanian organised crooks, based at a warehouse and goods yard, just off the A13 at Rainham in Essex. When raided, thousands of pounds in cash was found in large bundles of £50 notes, along with hundreds of thousands of pre – packed plastic bags with fake charity leaflets, some for a bogus children’s charity and some for a non – existent animal welfare charity. The clothing collection vans in the yard had swappable magnetic signs on the sides, so that they could appear to represent different charity organisations. Several shipping containers were filled with sorted clothes, ready for export to Latvia, where they were to be sold in a chain of second hand clothing stores. The sorted contents of each container was worth around £50,000. Apparently the brands Next and Marks and Spencer are highly regarded second hand buys in much of Eastern Europe. It was estimated by Revenue and Customs that the gang had made £12 million profit a year, for several years before the Police raid put an end to their criminal exploits. How much damage this did to the genuine charities I do not know, though their own methods of clothing collection have also recently come to light, and also make for distasteful reading. Most (but not all, I hasten to add) outsource the clothing collections to third party organisations who collect, sort and commercially resell the clothes, just giving a relatively small percentage of the proceeds back to the original charity. Understandably this gives a very bad impression to many of the people who donate the stuff to begin with. It would seem that the 2011 arrests and prosecutions were not enough to send a message to criminals misrepresenting themselves as charity workers. The photo above shows a collection bag for a group who say that they are collecting clothes in order to make money for women suffering from breast cancer in Lithuania - the bag appeared through my letter box about a week ago. Whilst the Lithuanian charity (called Do Not Delay) is properly registered in Lithuania, it is not registered in the UK, and neither is the company Intersecond, which is actually the one collecting the donated clothing, and acting as the intermediary. By law, door-to-door textile collection companies must obtain a licence from the local authority they are operating in and register with the environmental watchdog.  Despite the threat of legal action, and action actually being taken against them, many of these illegal collectors continue to operate. For example, one was taken to court in 2013 for operating without a licence while another had its licence revoked for unscrupulous practices. A third company came under fire the same year for using the Save the Children logo on its bags even though it had no links to the charity. The annual value of the worldwide second-hand clothes market is estimated at £2.8 billion. Good-quality textiles sell at around £300 per tonne – down from more than £650 three years ago. Some firms donate just £50 per tonne while others hand over a set amount – meaning it could be far less. This chimes with research which shows that in some cases just five percent of the profits from collections run by commercial companies ends up in the hands of good causes. According to the latest available figures, the UK exported more than £380m, or 351,000 tonnes, worth of discarded fashion overseas in 2015. That works out as seventy percent of all reused clothing going abroad. The Do Not Delay collection bags went out days before a similar collection for Kent Association for the Blind - a genuinely registered "proper" local charity which made a similar collection bag drop in the local area. It is likely that any available clothes for donation would have already gone to the fake Do Not Delay commercial collection, thus robbing a genuine charity of much needed donations. Dr Andrew Brooks, a lecturer at King’s College London who has researched the journey of second-hand clothes, said: “Families will be amazed at how many of their cast-offs are traded abroad for profit. If you assume they are going to be sold in charity shops think again – the majority of your clothes are destined for all over the world.” Andrew Hind, of the Fundraising Standards Board, the self-regulatory body, said: “Across all forms of charity fundraising, it is critical that charities make it clear which organisation will benefit from any donation and how much is going to that organisation. Only by doing so can charities ensure the public are able to make informed choices about their giving.”


I had an email from reader Philip earlier in the week; he told me that the location of the Vox musical instrument and amplifier factory in Dartford had been awarded a blue plaque by Dartford Council. The plaque is located at 119 Dartford Road, between Hair flair and a Yellow Business Centre. This was very welcome news, but it struck me that it would have made more sense to award the plaque to the West Street Erith site, which was the location of the largest and most significant Vox factory as seen in the period photo above (click on it for a larger view), several times larger than the Dartford Road facility. The Vox factory in Erith was formerly the Vickers factory which used to be located in Nordenfeldt Road, off West Street. The factory had several owners over its life; after Vickers no longer had need of it, the place was sold to a company called Elizabethan Electronics, who made radios and record players primarily for domestic use; when the company relocated to a new factory in Romford in the early 1960’s the place was sold on to Jennings Musical Industries (JMI), a company that was soon to be better known by the name of their best known products – the Vox range of guitar amplifiers. Founder Thomas Walter Jennings started the business in Dartford in 1958, when he took a prototype guitar amplifier which had been demonstrated to him by Erith born big band guitarist and Belvedere resident Dick Denney two years earlier, and turned it into a working, commercial product – the Vox AC-15. The AC-15 was almost immediately purchased by Hank Marvin, and the unique sound of the Shadows was down primarily to the use of Vox amplification. Soon after, the “British Invasion” of the early 60’s was under way, powered almost exclusively by Vox amplifiers. Keeping it local, Dartford’s own Rolling Stones used Vox amplification, as did The Kinks, The Yardbirds, and in what was one of the very earliest pieces of celebrity product placement, Vox amplifiers were promoted and exclusively used by The Beatles, after manager Brian Epstein negotiated a deal – one which greatly benefitted JMI, who were pretty much called Vox by this point. As the audiences for gig got bigger, and the venue sizes increased, the need for more powerful amplification became evident – the 15 Watt Vox AC-15 was not powerful enough; JMI effectively nailed two AC-15 amps together to create their all time classic Vox AC-30 amplifier – a model still in production to this day. Contemporary musicians who employ the AC-30 include Brian May of Queen, who was the first person to create a “wall” of AC-30’s to create his unique and totally distinctive sound; Tom Petty, Rory Gallagher, Pete Townshend, Ritchie Blackmore, Mark Knopfler, Paul Weller, and the Edge of U2 – pretty much all of rock royalty use or have used Vox amplification. JMI also manufactured guitars, many of which were technically ground breaking – including active pickups, and built in sound effects – the down side of this was that they tended to be heavy and ugly, and did not pick up many celebrity users. JMI / Vox also invented the Wah Wah pedal – most famously used by Jimi Hendrix, and the fuzztone distortion pedal used by Jimmy Page, then of the Yardbirds, and soon to be of Led Zeppelin. Vox / JMI also created the very first wireless microphone system, early models of which gained a reputation from picking up interference from nearby mini cab radios. Another very successful and influential product made by JMI / Vox at Erith was the Vox Continental electronic organ, which most famously featured on “The House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, and “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors (actually, pretty much any Doors track heavily features the Vox Continental – it was integral to their sound).


Some news for local readers, as many of you will know, a public spirited chap called Bob runs a web - enabled weather station which enables anyone to see exactly what the weather is like in Erith and Northumberland Heath at any time of the day or night. You can see a screen capture of the live weather status page above - click on it for a larger version. Bob dropped me a line last Monday with some unfortunate news. The computer which hosts the specialist software which runs the weather station has developed a fault. Bob wrote:- "Just to let you know that my weather station has failed on the software side.  My equipment still works and I will have to review what I need to do.  I noticed that the program had stopped working and the only message shown was that Windows had discovered an error and the Weather Display program would close.  I tried re-installing the latest update but the same thing happened". Bob tells me that he was considering upgrading his website and the weather software, and this failure may well prompt him to do that. In the meantime, the much used and well loved live weather page is currently not working. I will post an update when Bob has the new and improved version up and running.


I have to confess that an event passed me by this week that I really should have been aware of, and if I had known I would have written about it in the last Maggot Sandwich update. Did you know that Monday the 13th February was World Radio Day? This was not just some event dreamed up by a public relations company as a method of flogging a few transistor radios (what a quaint term "transistor radio" is nowadays - as if anyone has a valve radio set any more - actually, I do, as you can see in the photo above - a cosmetically almost mint, if currently extremely deaf ex Royal Navy Racal RA17L Communications Receiver which dates from 1968, and when new cost the same as a brand new E-Type Jaguar). I digress, World Radio Day was created by none other than UNESCO. In a press release they wrote:- "UNESCO’s General Conference, at its 36th session, proclaimed World Radio Day on 13 February. UNESCO’s Executive Board recommended to the General Conference the proclamation of World Radio Day, on the basis of a feasibility study undertaken by UNESCO, further to a proposal from Spain. Radio is the mass media reaching the widest audience in the world. It is also recognized as a powerful communication tool and a low cost medium. Radio is specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people: the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor, while offering a platform to intervene in the public debate, irrespective of people’s educational level. Furthermore, radio has a strong and specific role in emergency communication and disaster relief. There is also a changing face to radio services which, in the present times of media convergence, are taking up new technological forms, such as broadband, mobiles and tablets. However, it is said that up to a billion people still do not have access to radio today. The date of 13 February, the day the United Nations radio was established in 1946, was proposed by the Director-General of UNESCO. The objectives of the Day will be to raise greater awareness among the public and the media of the importance of radio; to encourage decision makers to establish and provide access to information through radio; as well as to enhance networking and international cooperation among broadcasters. The consulted stakeholders also proposed ideas for the programme of celebration: extensive use of social media, annual themes, a dedicated website enabling virtual participation, special radio programmes, radio programmes exchange, a festival involving key partners, and so forth. On 14 January 2013, the United Nations General Assembly formally endorsed UNESCO’s proclamation of  World Radio Day. During its 67th Session, the UN General Assembly endorsed the resolution adopted during the 36th session of the UNESCO General Conference, proclaiming 13 February, the day United Nations Radio was established in 1946, as World Radio Day. Radio is still the most dynamic, reactive and engaging medium there is, adapting to 21st century changes and offering new ways to interact and participate. Where social media and audience fragmentation can put us in media bubbles of like-minded people, radio is uniquely positioned to bring communities together and foster positive dialogue for change. By listening to its audiences and responding to their needs, radio provides the diversity of views and voices needed to address the challenges we all face. Radio informs us and transforms us, through entertainment, information and audience participation.  Having a radio means you are never alone – you always have a friend in radio".


Much conjecture has been aimed at the future of one of Erith’s landmark buildings – the Grade II listed Andrew Carnegie gifted Library building in Walnut Tree Road (photo above - click on it for a larger version), which has been empty and unused since 2009, when the library was relocated to the new site in Erith High Street – a move which many local people feel was a big mistake. The new library building is soulless and completely lacking in atmosphere, and nowadays seems to be little more than a place for students to use the free Wifi to complete assignments. I have been one of the voices trying to keep interest in the old Carnegie Library going, and many had feared that unless action was taken soon, the old building would fall into such a level of disrepair that it would not be economical to preserve and it would end up being demolished in much the same way that the old Erith Odeon cinema was some years ago. I had posited that the former library would be an ideal site for a Wetherspoons pub – I even went as far as contacting Wetherspoons New Acquisitions Team, who would only confirm that they were looking at Erith as a potential new site, but that they would not make any specific comments regarding individual building locations. Now it would seem that a new occupant has been found, but much to my surprise it is not Wetherspoons. Instead a new organisation called The Exchange will be taking over the building on what I understand is a fifty year lease from Bexley Council. The Exchange will be investing a substantial sum in repairing and restoring the historic building and ensuring that is returned to its glory days as one of the architectural and social hubs of the town. I am pleased that The Exchange have taken on the Carnegie Library building, and I hope to feature both them and the library in greater detail in the weeks that come. An official press release has now been published; here is the text for your information:- "Joint press release with the Greater London Authority - Erith's iconic Carnegie Building to reopen. 17 February 2017: A local company, The Exchange Ltd, is set to be the new occupier of the landmark Carnegie Building in Erith, under a lease and partnership agreement with the London Borough of Bexley. It will be working with the Council on a £1.6 million project to develop the building as a high quality centre for innovation, enterprise, creativity, learning and production. It means that the building will remain in public ownership, to benefit other organisations and the wider community, in line with the original principles of the Andrew Carnegie Trust. "We are very pleased to have found three experienced local entrepreneurs who have established The Exchange Ltd to work with us to prepare the building for the next exciting phase in its history," said Cllr Linda Bailey, Cabinet member for Regeneration and Growth. "We have agreed to co-finance the refurbishment of the building together with the Mayor of London and the new operator, and we believe it will be a powerful demonstration of the ways in which regeneration can benefit the town and its people." Deputy Mayor for Planning, Regeneration and Skills, Jules Pipe, said: "The redevelopment of the historic Carnegie Building will give it a new lease of life as a community arts hub and events space. This milestone is part of wider plans to deliver much-needed new homes, jobs and public space thanks to funding from the Mayor of London and the London Enterprise Action Partnership, in partnership with the London Borough of Bexley." The Exchange Ltd plans to offer cultural, artist and designer studios, space for exhibitions, workshop space for creative businesses to make and sell their products, plus a cafĂ© that will provide courses and food fairs, plus an exciting daytime and evening menu. They hope that some initial programmes will begin during the refurbishment - possibly as early as the autumn of this year. The directors of the company said: "We are incredibly excited to have been offered the opportunity to make the Carnegie Building lively again, and we are looking forward to developing this project over the coming months. It will be wonderful to see the building cared for and busy, and to provide opportunities for people within Erith to showcase their work and talent." The Carnegie is a Grade II listed building. Council officers will work closely with The Exchange Ltd and Historic England to ensure that the refurbishment work is carried out in a way that is sympathetic to the character of the building. A well-known local landmark, the Carnegie Building is located opposite the recently completed campus of Bexley College and a short walk from Erith Station. Erith Library moved to a new building in the town centre in 2009. London Borough of Bexley has plans to develop Erith into a thriving town centre through an ambitious programme of regeneration. It aims to provide a mix of housing, new business premises and leisure uses set within new residential streets and improved public spaces. The Council has secured grant funding of £926,600 from the Mayor's London Regeneration Fund for the project, which is part of the £1.96m it won for the Erith Town Centre Regeneration Programme. This is in addition to the £4.2 million repayable loan funding it secured for the Erith Town Centre Regeneration Programme from the London Enterprise Action Partnership's Growing Places Fund". Feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Bexley Council are currently scrabbling around, trying to find ways to make money, or at the very least, stop spending money on certain public buildings in the borough. One such building is Crayford Manor House, which in the past was a centre for evening classes and other learning based activities, and was best known for being the home to Crayford Manor House Astronomical Society, although they actually relocated to a new venue in Sutton at Hone in Dartford back in 2012. The council has held informal talks with a small number of third sector groups and the Bexley Voluntary Service Council to turn Crayford Manor House into a voluntary sector hub. The plans, which I understand are still at a relatively early stage, would involve passing control of the building and the extensive grounds over to a charitable trust. In an interview last week in the News Shopper, The chief executive of Bexley Voluntary Service Council, Sakthi Suriyaprakasam, said: “We have been exploring the idea of a hub that can house our voluntary and community sector organisations for some time. We know that together we can offer more coordinated support and services to residents and create a lively centre for community engagement. Crayford Manor House, with its local history and beautiful surroundings, also offers great opportunities to develop indoor and outdoor activities that will enable local people to be more actively involved in their community”. This is fine in principle, but my concerns are those of a practical nature. Crayford Manor House is a fantastic venue, located right on the very edge of the borough, but it is fairly had to access from many parts of the local area if you do not have a car. People who volunteer for charitable work quite often are retired, and may not have access to a car. I wonder what provision will be made to enable access to them? A mini bus service might be a good idea, though whether it would be practical or economical to run is another matter entirely.


The restoration of the frontage of The White Hart / Potion Bar in Erith High Street is progressing; it may appear that work is going relatively slowly, but it must be remembered that it is all skilled work that has to be done by hand. The replica of the original Victorian frontage is being constructed from original materials and construction techniques. I am pleased to see such attention to detail; this is the polar opposite of the former Potion Bar owners and their illegal activities, which led to the destruction of the original acid etched glass, granite and salt glazed tile frontage. Word reaches me that the ground floor area of the former pub will actually be returned to use as a pub, and it will be operated by The Wellington Pub Company, who have a very good reputation for turning around pubs in “problem” areas. All in all, things are definitely looking positive for the locally listed building. More on the restoration in the weeks to come, along with coverage of the redevelopment of the pub garden into a handful of low rise apartments with a view over the River Thames - these flats will effectively pay for the restoration work on the listed pub building, which would otherwise be uneconomical to preserve. Personally I would prefer the garden to remain a garden, but I am pragmatic; there has to be some profit in it for the developer, otherwise nothing would happen at all.

The end video this week is a bit of a find. It features a slideshow of historic photographs of the local area, accompanied by a poem - the "Ode to Old Erith" which was written in the mid 1970's and subsequently audio recorded onto tape in 1982. The poem marks the destruction of the historic Victorian town and bemoans the replacement brutalist concrete shopping centre, which I remember was hated by absolutely everyone (I can recall as a child my overwhelming memory of the place was the smell of Jeyes Fluid and stale wee). Things have definitely changed for the better nowadays, but the poem is a snapshot from a time not long after the horrible concrete town centre had been completed, and many heavy industries had closed down - the area was becoming very depressed in the 1970's - a trend that continued really until Morrison's opened on the site of the former Erith Deep Water Wharf on the banks of the River Thames in 1999. Now the town is definitely in the ascendent, with many new businesses moving in, as I have detailed over the past couple of years. The good times are finally coming back to Erith, after far too long a gap. Watch the video below and let me know what you think - leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.