Sunday, February 14, 2016

St. Anne's nursery.

The News Shopper are currently featuring a story about the enforced closure of St. Anne’s Nursery on the Erith Park Estate (what used to be known as the Larner Road Estate before it was redeveloped). Their article can be seen here.  I have done some investigation into the story, and have found out that it is far more complex and nuanced that the News Shopper have described. In the story, reporter Josie Griffiths makes several key errors – principally in believing everything that the nursery owners have said, and printing it as fact. I have done some digging, and found a far different state of affairs, and far from the “black and white – Nursery good / Orbit bad” situation as described in the News Shopper. The reporter writes “St Anne's Nursery is a not-for-profit business run by Liam Connolly and owned by Silon 7”. This is factually incorrect. A simple check with Companies House confirms that Silon7 is  a ‘private company limited by shares’ with one shareholder – Liam Connolly. So it is definitely not a not-for-profit organisation as the News Shopper incorrectly states. Reliable sources have told me that Liam Connolly has run the nursery as a profitable business for some years. A couple of years ago Orbit Housing Association (the landlords)  instigated a conversation to suggest that the nursery might want to switch to a not-for-profit model such as a charity or social enterprise. Liam Connolly said no, it was a profitable company, he planned to grow it and he expected to have a commercial relationship with Orbit. Liam and his company Silon7 own the nursery and control the finances, but are not involved in the day to day running or the childcare which is all delegated to the (excellent) staff. At the time the nursery moved to the current premises, Orbit knew that rent was owing on the previous location.  Orbit therefore gave the nursery a licence (rather than the security of a lease) with a clear message that the nursery were required to enter into an agreement to pay off the arrears as a condition of the Orbit partnership continuing.  No proposal has been made by Liam.  Rent has been paid on the current property but only after Orbit involved lawyers. Silon7 have not responded to any of Orbit’s attempts to open up a conversation about moving this forward – if they were to do so, they could still consider it reopening as a not-for-profit business with transparent accounts and reinvesting profit in the business. I also understand that the statement about nursery staff not being admitted to the building when the locks were changed is also untrue. My informant tells me that  on the morning Orbit changed the  locks, one of the staff asked if she could go in and get the records, and Orbit representatives let her take as long as she liked to find what she needed and she confirmed that she had found what she was looking for.  Since Orbit changed the locks,  they have had no contact from Silon7 to request  access. The big shame in all this is the effect it is having on all the children – by all accounts the nursery was excellent, with dedicated and caring staff. My understanding is that the nursery staff had little if anything to do with the business side of the enterprise, which was solely administered by Liam Connolly. It would appear that through some kind of failure on his part, the staff and children are now suffering. The News Shopper have also deleted two comments made by readers – which, knowing the history the local paper’s website has with online trolls, may not be that surprising. One of the comments alleged that Liam Connolly had a history of criminality, and that he should not be allowed to run a nursery for that reason. I have absolutely no idea whether this is true or not, but the allegation was made – and the News Shopper webmaster made the (wise in my opinion) decision to remove the post from the website.  The bottom line would seem to be: 1) Liam Connolly has reneged on an agreement with Orbit Housing Association; 2) As a result of this, Orbit have closed down the nursery, as they are legally unable to subsidise a commercial organisation with their tenants rent money, and 3) All this has left the hardworking and dedicated staff, and the children who used the nursery with nowhere to go.  It is a pity that the News Shopper have only published half of the real story.  What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

With all of the debate going on at present about improving road and rail connections across the River Thames, It is interesting to see enterprises that instead of viewing the river as a barrier, they use it as a means of transport in itself. Back in 1963, a unique experiment was carried out. A hovercraft ferry service on the Thames was set up. The Denny D2 Hovercraft could carry seventy passengers at speeds of up to 21 knots, and the service was launched in early July 1963. It was operated by Thames Launches, who planned to operate a service every day until that October with a schedule of three trips per hour. The fare was £1 for adults and 10 shillings for children – a very substantial amount by the standards of the time. Built in Dumbarton by Denny Hovercraft, the hovercraft travelled under its own power along the east-coast, which was at the time the longest trip ever made by a hovercraft. The hovercraft also required a permit to fly along the Thames, as they were officially classed as aircraft, under the Air Navigation Order 1960. As such, a Times newspaper report into the new service was written by the Aeronautical correspondent, not their shipping one. The first passenger carrying “flight” took place on 1st July, with some five hundred customers on the first day. Initially the hovercraft service was limited to running three trips per hour between Tower Bridge and Westminster, but a series of experimental flights were also made down river, at least one of which was to Anchor Bay, Erith, to the area that is now the site of Erith Construction Ltd’s six and a half acre logistics and materials treatment facility. A key advantage of the hovercraft over conventional ships was that it would race along the Thames at much higher speeds as it caused minimal disturbance to the river as it passed over the water, a problem which limits speeds on the Thames to this day. Sadly, the experiment was a failure, and the builders were forced into bankruptcy the following year. The hovercraft was eventually sold in 1970 to begin life on a new route in the Caribbean linking Kingston, Jamaica, with the island’s Palisadoes Airport. If things had turned out differently, it could have been that Erith residents took the hovercraft to work in the morning. It would have certainly been a somewhat more interesting commute that using Southeastern trains!

Some great news. The Kent Chilli Farm have moved their artisanal chilli sauce and jam production facility into Erith. I will be running a special feature on this independent local business shortly. You can find out more about the Kent Chilli Farm by checking out their website and online shop here

The two photos above are a "then and now" photo showing the Erith end of Manor Road at the junction with James Watt Way and Erith High Street. The upper photo was taken in July 1966, and shows the old Co-Op store, not very long before it was demolished. The lower photo shows what the site looks like recently. The KFC drive through and the new block of affordable apartments for rent, which replace the old Erith Trades and Social Club that used to be on the same site in James Watt Way. As you can see, the area has changed beyond all recognition in the last fifty years; many would say not for the better. Further East along Manor Road, the houses are little changed - many of which date back to the 1860's, so there is still a lot of history in the area. 

Bexley Police have just issued the following updates on matters of concern to local residents in relation to safety and security matters:- 

Erith Safer Neighbourhood Team.

The team has received reports of drug activity in different locations across the ward. A different approach has been taken to tackle the issues where letters have been posted to each address in the affected areas providing the teams contact details and requesting residents to report matters directly and anonymously. The idea behind this will be to provide the team with more regular intelligence / information with a view to catching those responsible. In crime news, a high value vehicle, stolen from during a burglary from an address in Greenwich, was recovered on the ward.  A prolific shoplifter was caught in the process of stealing items from Morrison’s supermarket and arrested and sent to court. The team has arrested 7 people during January for numerous offences such as criminal damage, theft and motoring offences.  The team is now on twitter! Follow the team at @MPSErith. The team has some upcoming surgery dates and encourages residents to come along and meet the team and have a chat about problems on the ward. The next 3 surgery dates are as follows:-

29 February 2016 - Erith Library 2pm-3pm
29 March 2016 - Erith Library 2pm-3pm
22 June 2016 - Erith Library 2pm-3pm

Northend Safer Neighbourhood Team.

During January the team has continued to focus on their ward promises which are Anti-Social behaviour in Forest Road, increased visible foot patrols across the ward and Drug use.  Anti-Social behaviour patrols in and around the Forest Road area and tower blocks have seen positive results and a reduction in ASB related calls. Several searches have taken place in stairwells of some of the tower blocks after males were found at locations believed to be involved in drugs offences.  The team have recently acted on information in relation to people involved in drugs supply on the ward and executed 2 search warrants. One of these warrants led to the seizure of a quantity of drugs and 2 arrests made for drugs offences. They also continue to work closely with the local housing authorities and will actively target residents engaged in anti-social behaviour who cause issues for their neighbours and the local community. The team are committed to tackling anti-social behaviour and will explore utilising enforcement powers for breaching housing / tenancy agreements. They are currently working closely with L&Q housing and Orbit housing in two such cases. A number of arrests have been made over the past month for a variety of offences such as drug possession, criminal damage and public order. On 1st February the ward panel meeting took place. After listening to panel members who raised some local issues the following new priorities for the ward were set. Traffic Issues due to the upcoming major roadworks on Northend road and the knock on effect this will have on the surrounding streets. Block Patrols. Continued reports of youths loitering and drug misuse in communal areas of several of the wards tower blocks. General increased visible patrols of the ward which will include Erith marshes and other key locations on the ward known for Anti Social Behaviour, as well as any identified crime hotspots. Please find below a list of Northend’s upcoming events. Please come and speak to members of your local team about any issues you have.

Drop-in Surgery 
Date - Sun 14th February 2016
Time - 6pm - 7pm
Venue - Pier Road Safer Neighbourhood Office

Drop-in Surgery 
Date - Sat 23rd February 2016
Time - 10am - 11am
Venue - Forest Road Cafe

Street Briefing 
Date - Wed 24th February 2016
Time - 8.30am - 9am
Venue - Peareswood School.

I see that TGINO (Top Gear In Name Only) announced their full presenter line – up this week. I wonder how much the BBC will be spending on the re-launched  show? Having seven presenters is going to make a big dent in the BBC wage budget.  As I have mentioned previously, I don’t think the new version is going to work, especially not with Chris Evans at the helm. I have heard a story that when TGINO comes back, it will be at a prime spot at peak viewing time on BBC1, instead of at 8pm on a Sunday evening on BBC 2 as it used to be.  The thinking behind this seems to be fairly straightforward; the change in channel and time will ensure that the viewing figures look good in comparison with the old show. Such “massaging” techniques are fairly common by TV producers. Personally I won’t be watching the show, as I cannot stand Chris Evans. I have however taken out an Amazon Prime subscription – which for me at least seems like pretty good value. Some Amazon Prime only shows have proved to be very good viewing indeed. The bonus that Clarkson, May and Hammond’s new ultra high budget motoring show will be aired on Prime is also welcome. I would expect that I won’t be the only person attracted to the online channel because of this.

For years a debate has been bubbling away between psychologists, child welfare experts and video game players about the effect that playing video games has on adolescent behaviour. Now a large study conducted over a considerable period of time has been published. A fair number of studies suggest that there is a link, but those can be contrasted with other research that says there isn’t. The problem is that there are so many different factors to take into account, along with a swiftly-changing medium and difficulty in obtaining high-quality data—we'd need an avalanche of research to answer the question definitively. While it's not an avalanche, a group of researchers, led by biological psychologist and video game violence sceptic Peter Etchells, has published an analysis suggesting that players of violent games might face a very small increase in risk for behavioural problems. They’re the kinds of small results that would be met with disappointment by authors who were hoping to find an effect, but they’re there. And yet, as always, this analysis isn’t the final word. This field is so tricky to navigate partly because of the wealth of potential confounding factors and difficulty finding causation among the correlations. It’s conceivable that substantial exposure to on-screen violence could cause a change in behaviour, but it’s also conceivable that people with behavioural problems would seek out violent media. And many studies have looked at “games” in general, which encompasses a wide range of media. Even if we manage to focus on just violent games, there’s the problem that games that are violent are also other things as well: challenging, competitive, fast-paced, and so on. If players of these games show higher levels of violence, it’s difficult to say for certain that it’s the violence that's causing the problem. For instance, games that are highly competitive have been found to increase aggression in the short term, even if they're non-violent. Games are also a modern and evolving phenomenon, which means that the best data is still in production. Ideally, to see whether a long-term habit has long-term effects, you need longitudinal studies that takes measurements from people over years of their lives, but that data takes decades to collect. Peter Etchells and his team were lucky enough to be able to use an existing study, but it came hand-in-hand with the weakness that the games in question were all from the '90s. To see the effects of modern games, we'd need to wait even longer. The study which had started with more than 14,000 pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. Around 2,400 of the children in the study had answered a questionnaire on their gaming habits when they were eight or nine years old, and around 5,000 had completed an interview called the Development and Well-Being Assessment (“DAWBA”) at the age of fifteen. Approximately 1,800 children fell into both categories. The researchers focused on two outcomes of the DAWBA: risk for depression, and risk for “conduct disorder,” which is a term describing antisocial behaviours in children. Then, they tried to eliminate or control for as many confounding factors as possible. They looked for children who had been rated as high-risk for conduct disorder by their parents when they were seven years old and removed them from the study. The researchers included family history of mental health, maternal education and socio-economic status, religious beliefs, family structure, gender, bullying victimhood, IQ, and social and emotional problems in their model as well. What they found was that children who had reported playing shoot-em-up games (a stand-in category for violent games) at the age of eight or nine had a slightly increased chance of conduct disorder, even after controlling for all the confounding factors. The effect was weak, though; just on the border of statistical significance. The initial risk for conduct disorder is small, too, so any additional risk above that is going to be even smaller. There didn’t seem to be an association between the number of games the children reported owning and an increase in risk for conduct disorder. When examining depression among shoot-em-up players, there was evidence for increased risk before the researchers controlled for all the confounding factors, but not afterwards. There are some obvious weaknesses in this study. They couldn’t control for the question of whether the children who played shoot-em-ups were already predisposed to problems but didn't yet display them at age seven. They also had to rely on self-reported data from eight-year-old children, who might not have known what a “shoot-em-up” game was when they answered the questionnaire. Even more problematic is the question of what games eight-year-olds are likely to play. Maybe children generally only really start with violent games when they’re a little older, which is why this study didn’t find much. A more detailed look at gaming habits in later childhood and adolescence could find a stronger link. In any case, '90s games are not today’s games, which have changed drastically, and often don’t fit in clear genres that are clearly violent or non-violent. We need to move away from a generalized discussion of “video game use,” the authors argue, and look rather at the content of particular games. This research sits squarely in a middle ground: it found an effect that ties in with other, more alarming research, but the effect sizes were so small that they don’t really provide much support for the idea that video games are a major concern. “Some have claimed that the magnitude of this effect is larger than the effect of exposure to smoke at work on lung cancer rates,” they write. “Our findings do not support such claims.” This rather leaves us back at the beginning – and provides more fuel for those on both sides of the argument.

Housing association Peabody is seeking responses from local people to its proposals to regenerate south Thamesmead over the next decade, which includes the building of fifteen hundred new homes on the estate on Wolvercote Road. Peabody plans to rehouse the nearly six hundred residents currently living in the Wolvercote Road area to its housing zone on Harrow Manor Way, which recently received a £1m funding boost from London Mayor Boris Johnson. The six towers and housing blocks on the site would be demolished under the proposals and replaced by better designed, better quality homes with improved public spaces. Peabody intends to start a planning application in 2017, with residents being rehoused over three phases, and demolition planned to begin in 2020. In addition to this, it proposes refurbishing existing homes in Southmere and Parkview that are in need of repair and regularly suffer from cold and damp, with high heating bills. My concern is that as this will happen shortly after the full opening of Crossrail, with its South East terminus at nearby Abbey Wood, there will be a great temptation for the developers to market the new estate at higher wage earners, and to "gentrify" the area (I detest the word "gentrify").  Peabody plan on spending £440 million on the regeneration of the South Thamesmead estate, and will want to see a decent return on their investment. Another improvement will be the demolition of the unsightly concrete wall facing Yarnton Way. The boss of the Peabody Trust, Stephen Howlett, said in a recent interview with the Bexley Times that "We are passionate about Thamesmead – the people, the place and its future potential. Our proposals take into consideration the wants and needs of the thousands of residents we have consulted over the past two years. Our proposals are ambitious but they are based on what we believe we can realistically do. Residents are vital to the future of Thamesmead and we want to encourage as many of them as possible to share their views.”

The surprise news that popular Dartford pub the Paper Moon is closing for good today came as a shock to many local (and not so local) residents. An online petition was set up, and after reading the comments on the site, it is clear that feelings are running high. I understand that the reason given for the closure of the Paper Moon is that there is another Wetherspoon’s pub only a couple of minutes walk away in Spital Street. The Flying Boat was converted from a Beadles car showroom and generally caters for a younger client base, who at the weekends use the giant pub before heading to the night club. The Paper Moon seems to have a mixed set of regulars, but primarily those who are slightly older. I am certain that no amount of campaigning will get Wetherspoon’s to change their mind. It may well be that there is more to the closure than has been publicised  - the lease may have expired on the building, which prior to being used as a pub, was a branch of Lloyd’s Bank. If Wetherspoon’s no longer want to operate the Paper Moon, I cannot see why another brewer or pub chain could not take it over, if indeed there are sufficient loyal customers to make such an enterprise viable. Personally I would love to see a Fuller’s pub in the area, though I am not holding my breath. I am quite surprised at the extent of the support for the preservation of the Paper Moon – it is OK, but just another corporate Wetherspoon’s operation. One can take a walk for a minute or two up East Hill and take the first left into Darenth Road and visit the absolutely superb Malt Shovel pub – a fifteenth century hostelry that offers a wide range of Young’s real ales and superb, home cooked food. I definitely rate The Malt Shovel as the best pub in Dartford, and it is only pipped to the post as my favourite pub of all time by the stunningly brilliant Robin Hood and Little John, in Lion Road Bexleyheath. Both highly recommended. Do you have a favourite pub in the local area that you would like to tell people about? Drop me a line to and let me know.

The end video this week is an aerial film of Erith Yacht Club. The impressive clubhouse building and workshops are not known to many people, as the club is situated at the far East end of Manor Road, out on the Crayford Marshes, well away from most people. The area around the club is stunningly beautiful, and I would highly recommend it for a walk on a sunny day. Back in 2012 the Olympic torch was landed at Erith Yacht Club as part of its tour round the UK.

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