Sunday, June 29, 2014

A first look at the new Bexley College campus.

Casual visitors to the Maggot Sandwich could quite easily get the impression that the blog is exclusively concerned with the building work going on in and around Erith. Though this is very far from the case, it is true however that there is currently more construction going on than at any time in my memory. Last week I covered the construction of Erith Park, the new housing development on the site of the old and mostly unlamented Larner Road estate. Erith Park looks extremely promising, and it will be great to revisit the development as work progresses. This week another key site in Erith receives my attention. The new Bexley College campus between Stonewood Road and Walnut Tree Road is getting close to completion. On Thursday I was invited for a private VIP tour by Danny Ridgeway, the college Principal, and Martin Peat, the Deputy Principal. We met on site and had to don hi Vis waistcoats, hard hats and goggles; as I habitually wear steel toecapped construction boots I did not need to change footwear. We then proceeded onto the site itself. The photo above shows Martin and Danny looking symbolically back from the new college to the old college building in Tower Road about a mile away, which is now closed to students, and will soon be demolished to make way for housing. I have heard several people comment that the new building looks too small to accommodate all of the thousand or so students and the classrooms and other facilities that will be required. I can categorically state that this is not the case. The interior of the new building is absolutely huge compared to the old tower; there is really no comparison. The new campus is very high tech and green - the main heating system is powered by a biomass converter, the air conditioning system filters the incoming air to remove pollutants, including vehicle emissions from the nearby roads, and the design of the structure allows for large windows in the internal walls, meaning that natural light penetrates even the deepest parts of the interior. Many college facilities will be open to the public, including a coffee shop, the hair and beauty suite where people will be able to get haircuts and beauty treatments from students. This was the case in the old campus, but the steep climb up the hill in Tower Road put many older customers off. The new campus has full wheelchair access throughout, WiFi internet access, a large library, a gym open to students and staff, a state of the art refectory and some cutting edge classrooms.

The photo above shows final construction work on the roof terrace, which is invisible from the ground. Students and lecturers will be able to use this external space for learning activities, and I think this will be a very popular destination when the weather is fine.

The photo above shows an alternative view of the roof terrace from the inside; as you can see the glazed area is huge; the artificial  lighting level required during daylight will be minimal, keeping bills down.

The photo above shows a fairly typical classroom, prior to the furniture and fittings being installed. Click on any picture for a larger version. 

This large space is where the gymnasium will be located; I understand that the windows will be fitted with an optical obscuring film in due course. The lighting throughout the campus is provided by energy efficient LED flat panels, which use less than ten percent of the power required by traditional light bulbs, and last much longer.

The last photo shows the space in which the college refectory and kitchens will be installed; as with everything in the new building, it is far larger than the facility in the old building which it is replacing. 

Erith hit the headlines on Tuesday night / Wednesday morning; a scrap yard and car repair centre on the Darent Industrial Estate on the Slade Green Marshes had a major fire, which drew fire fighters from Erith, Lee Green, Plumstead, Sidcup and Bexley to put it out. One problem that exacerbated the situation was the current closure of Manor Road for remodelling work; the road is the main route to the industrial estate; indeed one of the principal reasons the road is closed is to repair the wear and damage caused by trucks and heavy vehicles travelling to and from the industrial estate.  I saw a couple of fire engines get as far as the "King of the Grill" Kebab shop at the Western end of Manor Road. The drivers seemed not to have been informed about the ten week road closure, and had to turn around and take the lengthy diversion via North end Road and parts of Slade Green. I have no way of knowing if this contributed to the size and duration of the fire, but having some of the fire fighting resources tied up travelling on a circuitous one and a half mile diversion cannot have helped. If the fire had been on somewhere like the Frobisher Road estate, where the houses and flats are very densely populated, I hate to think what could have happened. As it is I understand that no lives were at risk in the breakers yard, although any place where high pressure bottled gas comes into contact with intense heat is always a risk. During the last fire in the same location, a number of propane cylinders exploded, which could have caused fatalities. It would seem to me that the fire safety record of the Darent Estate needs to be called into question, as these serious and potentially life threatening outbreaks are far too frequent.

Local resident Joan Newall has asked me to pass on the following information:- The Children's Society, are having a DO afternoon on Saturday 12th July 2pm to 5pm, at All Saints Church Hall, Nuxley Road,  Belvedere. We will be having a silly olympics afternoon with other games to play. We are asking everyone to bring their own picnic, we will play gamesfor the first half, with the parachute, and a hunt the thimble, catch the rat etc. then the picnic followed by silly olympics all we do will be suitable for all ages including the adults. There will be prizes and medals. Refreshments will be available at reasonable prices. there will also be a cake stall, and handmade cards for sale among other things. A number will be on the back of their ticket for a raffle prize. Entrance will be £2.00 each or £5.00 for a family ticket.

The local area seems to be targeted by a number of companies offering credit cards to people on low incomes and with poor credit histories. I have had a series of envelopes posted through my front door, which I generally remove any personal details, then take round to be recycled. This time I decided to read through the documentation just to see what was on offer. Personally I don’t own a credit card, as I have little or no need for one. If I cannot afford something immediately, I save up until I can. I am not a believer in personal debt – I have my (small) mortgage, but that is it. When I read the small print of the credit card application leaflet from a company called Vanquis Bank, I was appalled. You may recall that not long ago I wrote that being on a low income is very expensive. Lenders charge far higher interest rates to people they feel are a bad credit risk; conversely this means that the borrower is actually more likely to default due to the crippling interest charges. The Vanquis Bank credit card has a base interest rate of 39.9 to 59.9 percent, depending on the financial situation of the applicant. The card offers a very low initial credit limit, from £150 to £1,000, though the bank does state that if card repayments meet certain criteria, the credit limit can be raised every four months to a maximum level of £3,000.  Compared to this, Barclaycard, MBNA, Sainsbury Nectar and Leeds Building Society all offer a credit card that charges a fixed 18.9 percent interest rate and far superior terms and conditions. Vanquis Bank is an operating arm of the Provident Financial Group, a financial services company with an income in excess of £1 billion a year, and Vanquis is designed to siphon as much of that cash from low income earners as possible. Once again the poor get financially hammered for being poor. It is a vicious circle. If this was not bad enough, the largest payday lending company in the UK is Wonga – they have dreadful adverts on television so frequently that they feel like they are shown on a loop. Wonga got in very hot water this week after they got caught red handed sending out fake solicitors letters to borrowers who had not repaid their loans on time. To add insult to injury, Wonga were then adding “solicitors” fees to the amount of the outstanding loan. They have been fined £2.6 million for these fraudulent actions, but nobody has been prosecuted. I feel fortunate that I have a healthy income and don’t need to worry as the end of the month approaches, but I am acutely aware that many people are not nearly so lucky. Organisations like Vanquis and Wonga are exploiting people who have little other financial choice. It may be legal (or not, in Wonga’s case) but in my books it is certainly not moral.

Locals may have noticed an increase in the number of commercial ships mooring on Erith Pier over the last couple of years. I know for certain that some of the anglers who fish off the pier have been none too happy regarding the increase in shipping traffic that periodically stops on the pier. The reason that mostly bulk freighters stop on the pier is simple; they are being used to transport millions of tonnes of earth from the tunnels dug for the Crossrail Project, and take them to Wallasea Island in Essex, where the soil is used to enlarge the Wallasea Island nature reserve, one of the most successful wetland bird reserves in the UK, which specialises in the conservation of wading birds.

Long time Maggot Sandwich readers may have seen some disturbing similarities between the story printed last week in the News Shopper about the illegal rave planned to go ahead in the Arjo Wiggins fine paper factory in Turpin Lane, Off Manor Road in Erith. Police got wind of the plan and descended mob handed on the place before the organisers could get the sound system set up. After the stories in the national press over a 15 year old boy’s death at another rave in Croydon, the Police are understandably concerned about something similar happening locally. Some years ago there was a nightclub / bar in Manor Road actually on the industrial estate. The place was called “The Wardrobe”, and from what I can gather it was very dodgy indeed. It was run from a car breakers yard, and I am pretty sure that it did not have a licence. Nowadays it is long gone, and largely forgotten. The most blatant illegal nightclub in the area was one I am happy to say that I had a small part in getting closed down. Back in November 2008 GC’s Nightclub opened in an old and abandoned industrial unit in the Europa Industrial Estate on Fraser Road. The club was unlicensed and had no fire certificate. The people behind it hid behind an obscure law which states that unlicensed premises can be used to hold entertainment events up to twelve times per year. The law was intended to allow youth clubs and scout / guide troops to hold cabarets and pantomimes in their village halls without needing to get council approval. Unscrupulous operators use the law to set up nightclubs in old and often unsafe buildings; they set up the club, then just before opening to the public, they apply for planning permission and an entertainment licence. In most instances, this prevents the council from closing them immediately – they have to wait for the often lengthy process of licence approval / denial to go through. In the meantime the club operates with virtual impunity – usually over the Christmas period. The owners know that they have no realistic chance of getting their application approved, and this really is not the point – they get to open over the lucrative Christmas period, only to close up shop as soon as the licence application is thrown out. They then disappear without paying any bills. This is exactly the situation than nearly happened with GC’s Nightclub, but so much negative publicity was generated via both the Maggot Sandwich, and the News Shopper that the venue only opened for three nights before the operators pulled out. It was just as well, as I understand the place was full of blue asbestos, the wiring was condemned and it had no fire escape. The operators disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared, and nothing has been heard of them since. I am all for new leisure and entertainment facilities in the local area; there is very little to do in and around Erith in the evenings at the moment, but they need to be legal and safe, and GC’s was neither. There is a very bright light on the horizon in this respect, and I will be going into greater detail in the weeks that come. For the moment however, I am sworn to secrecy, as the project is not yet quite ready for launch. Watch this space.

Local MP Teresa Pearce is running a jobs fair and workshop for local people at the Belvedere Community Centre on the 11th July - details on the poster above. Click on it for a larger view. A very worthwhile scheme, and I hope that it does well.

At work I am currently involved in testing Microsoft Office 2013 for deployment. Large companies are usually very cautious when deploying new software, especially when the application forms a core of their business. You will often find that they are at least one, if not two versions behind the current one for this very reason. Personally I only use MS Office during my paid work; The current Office 2013 is a fine product, and a major improvement on Office 2007 which was a pain to use with an inconsistent and unintuitive user interface. Office 2013 is cleaner, clearer and generally a better thought out application. What does strike me about the new look and feel Microsoft are deploying in many if not all of their products is that they are being designed to look good in a browser window. Microsoft now offer a web based office suite called Office 365, and it is immediately apparent that the locally installed Office 2013 mimics the look and feel of the online product. I am pretty certain that Microsoft have been watching Google and their Google Docs online, web based office suite for some time. Google Docs is an excellent product that I use on a regular basis; it does not however have all of the enterprise functions and features that MS Office does – but for most people it is “good enough”.  The other striking point about Google Docs is that it is free to use,  though corporate can pay for 24/7 technical support, and for it to be branded with their company design and logo. I think that Microsoft will reduce emphasis on the old “big iron” MS office locally installed application, and instead promote their Office 365 web based solution, which will be available by corporate and individual subscription. The other benefit of a web based application is it is far easier to issue patches and updates, as no software needs to be installed on the client machine – all it needs is a web connection and a suitable web browser to operate. This is where the market is heading, and I would not be at all surprised if Office 2013 is the last version that will be locally installable. The technology has moved ahead, and Microsoft are fully aware that they can no longer rely on shifting boxes. The market is now online. The debate is now, how long, rather than if software will make the transition from something installed on your computer hard drive, to something accessed over the web. When this is done well (examples include the aforementioned Google Docs, Gmail and Flickr) it is impossible for the user to tell where the work is actually taking place – just as it should be. Your thoughts and feedback are welcomed below’; alternatively Email me at

A development has happened this week that will mean little to most people who don’t come from a North African background. The Government has decided to make the stimulant plant Khat illegal, and in this respect Khat is now a class C prohibited drug. The drug comes in the form of a small, green leafed plant, which is chewed to get a mild stimulant effect; I am told it is roughly similar to a cup of strong coffee. Khat has been legally sold in Britain for many years, mainly from African greengrocers. The drug is only effective when the Khat leaves are fresh, so it tends to be sold in plastic bags to keep the leaves moist. I have seen Khat on sale in Plumstead and Woolwich on many occasions, but not in Erith. I think the main reason for this is that there is a substantial Yemeni and Somalian presence in Plumstead and Woolwich, which is not the case in Erith, where most residents of African origin come from Nigeria. Culturally the chewing of Khat leaves seems to be isolated to a handful of countries, and Nigeria is not amongst them. I am somewhat ambivalent about the way in which the government is handling the situation; they are keen to align themselves with several European countries, Canada and the USA which have already banned the sale and consumption of Khat, yet by the same token they risk driving it underground and creating a new revenue stream for drug dealers, as the demand for it will not stop just because of the ban. Khat has been graded as the least addictive and least damaging recreational drug that is in common use – way lower than Alcohol, Tobacco or Cannabis. Whilst personally I would question why anyone would want to chew a bunch of leaves that turn your saliva and eventually your teeth green, I fail to see a compelling argument for the banning of it.  This is what the Metropolitan Police official statement on the banning says:-


The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has been working with their partners to prepare for the change to the law, and have listened to the concerns of community leaders and groups. The Police have been talking to khat users, retailers and mafreshi and cafĂ© owners. Distributing \'reassurance messages\', leaflets, posters, and press releases and speaking to the media - examples of relevant video footage are shown below: Link to YouTube footage of interview with Brent Police Partnership Lead, Simon Rose and the Association of Chief Police Officers Drugs Lead, Andy Bliss: Link to a YouTube footage of khat classification infomercial:


The police have taken steps to ensure that their officers are aware of the cultural issues surrounding the use of khat and they have been told to adopt a sensitive, appropriate and proportionate approach to enforcement. Following national guidelines on personal possession, in the first instance possession will be dealt with by way of a Khat Warning. On the second occasion, a £60 Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) will be issued. Further possession offences will likely lead to arrest for possession of a controlled Class C drug and further action. The importation, supply and distribution of khat will be dealt with far more severely. For example the maximum punishment for importation of a Class C Drug is 14 years imprisonment. 


The impact of police enforcement in the MPS will be reviewed after one, three, six and twelve months when each borough will be required to review stop and search, khat related interventions, incidents of anti-social behaviour, domestic violence, community tension and public confidence in the police.

For more information

To contact your local Safer Neighbourhood Policing Team visit the Met Police website at:

I have been conducting a bit of a study, with some interesting results. Back in August 2008, I wrote the following:-“ I have been carrying out an unscientific and informal investigation - I have been counting the number of discarded beer cans I see in the street and in hedge rows. So far the results seem pretty conclusive; for every ten discarded cans I see, one is Heineken, one is Fosters and EIGHT are Stella Artois! It would seem the street drinkers' tipple of choice is indeed Stella. Please read the article here - unfortunately sourced from the daily paper I most despise, but the article is well written and puts some valuable points into consideration. Stella Artois has indeed "done a Burberry" and ruined its' own reputation.” I have carried out the same informal investigation into discarded beer cans once again, and the results were surprising to say the least. This time only four out of ten cans were Stella Artois, and I think I know the reason why. Back when I carried out my original, very unscientific survey, Stella was brewed so that each can contained 5.2 percent alcohol, which is what gave it the unofficial title of “wife beater”. Nowadays the alcohol content has been reduced to 4.8 percent, making it a less attractive option for al fresco topers.  Nowadays I see more white cider cans, some of which have an alcohol content of between seven and nine percent – as strong as some wines. It would appear that Stella has been edged out of the wino market by stronger and cheaper brews. Nevertheless it is still vile, tasteless and gassy rubbish.

Going back to where we started for the ending video; here is a visual run through of what Bexley College will look like when it is fully finished and open to students. Please feel free to leave a comment below as always.

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