Sunday, November 13, 2016

Fit4Less opens.

After nearly two years of preparatory work, Josh Waters has opened the Fit4Less gym in Erith High Street, directly opposite Erith Health Centre. The commercial units that the new gym occupies have been vacant since the block was built nearly ten years ago. I for one am glad to see that they are finally being put to productive use after standing empty all of this time. I have been reliably informed that the gym is already doing very good business – word reaches me that it has had the largest pre – opening member sign – ups of any gym in the Fit4Less franchise chain. Not bad at all. I feel that it will do very well indeed – it is conveniently located in the centre of town, with lots of free car parking very close by, courtesy of Morrison’s supermarket; it also is very convenient for commuters heading home from Erith station, and is adjacent to the 99, 229, 428 and B12 bus routes, with more bus stops just around the corner. Compared with other gyms, Fit4Less offer a very competitive membership rate, with no long term annual commitment – an area where other gyms make their “hidden” money – usually by encouraging post - Christmas sign – ups to an expensive annual membership, which then gets used for a while, then forgotten. In this traditional business model, gyms are somewhat like mustard – the money is made by what is left on the plate – or in the case of the gyms, by the memberships purchased, but rarely if ever actually used.  As you can see from the photos above, the Fit4Less Erith gym is very modern and well – equipped, and is already proving to be very popular. I passed by on the opening night, and the place was crammed with local and not so local people having a look round at the facility. I happened to bump into Josh later in the evening, just before they closed for the night – he looked utterly exhausted, but very happy with how things had gone. He has been working incredibly long hours to get the gym open as soon as possible, after a couple of setbacks which were completely outside of his control. All is back on track now, and I predict a bright future for Josh and his venture. 

The photo above shows what I occasionally refer to as "The Erith Big Sky" - Erith is the only place in the London Borough of Bexley where you can see from horizon to horizon without anything being in the way. I took the photo from Erith Pier a while ago. You can see Westwards, upriver towards London; the old wooden Erith Jetty can be seen in the middle distance, and on the horizon are the grain silos belonging to ADM Oils - the largest manufacturer of edible oils in Europe. If you have bought a supermarket ready meal in the UK, the oil used to cook it will have come from ADM Oils in Lower Belvedere. It is also one of the largest local employers, with around 1,200 workers, many of whom live in the local area. More on ADM Oils later in this update. The view above will be similar to that seen by visitors to Erith during the last Saturday in November; 
Just for once some good news from Bexley Council; Erith Riverside Gardens will be the location for a Christmas themed pop - up cinema on Saturday November 26th starting at 4.30pm. Two films will be screened - Home Alone  will be shown at 4.30pm, which will be followed by Gremlins at 6.30pm. The screenings follow Erith Riverside Shopping Centre’s Christmas fair on the same day, which will last from 10am to 4pm. The event is to be part of the Greater Erith programme, which aims to bring more people into Erith. Specific details of the pop - up cinema event are still sketchy - hopefully the event will be held in a marquee tent or other form of cover. The weather at the end of November is usually terrible, and the Riverside Gardens are one of the most exposed areas of Erith - the wind comes straight off the Thames, seemingly directly from Siberia. This could be a fantastic, creative and unusual event, providing the planning and execution are properly carried out. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

There have been numerous reports in both the local and national press about a higher than usual number of residential fires over the last few weeks. There have also been a number of violent assaults by youths against others in the form of firework attacks. Both the increase in fires and the attacks can be directly attributed to the misuse of fireworks. I have heard an increasingly large number of people voice the opinion that the law regarding the sale of fireworks to the public really needs to be revisited. Personally I  am of the view that one should need a licence to purchase fireworks, and that these would only be permitted for public displays, outdoor concerts, weddings and suchlike. The problem is that at the moment total idiots have access to fireworks, which are basically low explosives. The number of accidents and injuries that occur every year at this time are mainly down to irresponsible and malicious abuse of fireworks. Banning the general sale of them to individuals would go a long way to mitigate this. What do you think? Would this be an affront to personal liberty? Is it a price too high to pay? Let me know your thoughts.

This week marks what I refer to as TRP – Tweed Retirement Point. This is where the weather has got colder to the point where a tweed jacket worn over a shirt is no longer sufficient protection against the elements, and a hardier form of outer wear is required. For me, along with the first switching on of the central heating, this marks the first steps towards winter. It does seem that after the indifferent spring, followed by the uncomfortably hot summer, we seem to be heading back to distinct seasons, after a few years of cool summers and mild winters. Not sure if this is a good thing from a personal viewpoint (I really don't do heat well - anything over around 22 degrees Celsius is too much for me), but it should at least temporarily shut up that group who every year trot out the same mantra "we don't get seasons like we used to" and blame it on global warming. As I featured some time ago, all of the data used to model potential climate change is inaccurate, and the predictions made by both the pro and the anti - global warming theorists are now worthless. The reason for this is that nearly all weather stations that are used to collect temperature, precipitation, sunlight and wind data are located in towns and cities - wherever in the world you care to check. Some of these weather stations have been in continuous use for many years; quite often for more than a century. When the weather stations were first set up, they were often on farms and smallholdings in what were then the suburbs. Urban sprawl has now happened, and what were the suburbs are now in many cases a part of the city. Cities suffer from a condition known as Urban Heat Island - the concrete and metal that make up city tower blocks, and the tarmac that covers the ground acts like a giant storage heater, keeping the overnight air temperature artificially higher than it would otherwise actually be. When climate analysts compare the heat data, say from 1916 with 2016 they then see a marked hike in the overall temperature, which immediately gets blamed on increased Carbon Dioxide levels, due to pollution. Indeed this may also be happening, but the vast majority of the temperature increase is actually due to the heat leakage from air conditioning units and the buildings which house them. The overnight temperatures stay higher than expected, as the fabric of the buildings slowly leak the heat that they had built up during the day. What this means is that the historical meteorological records bear no relation to contemporary ones - it is a classic case of comparing apples and oranges. Both pro and anti camps in the climate change discussion really need to go away and re - evaluate their computer models, as they are all based on fundamentally faulty data. 

Word reaches me that the Bexley Police body worn video camera project has been delayed until January. The programme had been originally intended to begin in September, as I wrote at the time, but for reasons unknown there has been a delay. I am broadly in favour of the Police wearing video cameras to record their actions, as this will protect both the innocent and the Police from malicious claims of wrongdoing. My only concern is that the Police will be able to switch the cameras off and on at will. Personally I would like them permanently on, to save the accusation that for example, the Police turned off their cameras before giving a suspect a good kicking.  What do you think?

The photo above shows the original Erith Swimming Baths, which was opened in 1907; the pool was of relatively modest dimensions - it measured 60 x 25 feet, and was heated with waste heat from the adjacent Erith Power Station in Walnut Tree Road. The old baths were closed in 1967, when work on the Erith Riverside Swimming Baths began. That has now in turn been demolished, and the site on the corner of Walnut Tree Road and Erith High Street is undergoing preparatory groundworks before the construction of a series of town houses and apartments which will overlook the Riverside Gardens, which are to the West of the Erith High Street conservation area, and date back to 1937, when they were created to replace the former Cannon and Gaze flour mill, which was built on the site in 1903. Another firm that was established on the riverfront at Erith was Herbert W. Clarke and Sons, which was set up in 1890. They started out as barge owners and lighter men, but by 1911 they took over Anchor Bay Wharf, which until then had been owned by Eastern and Anderson. As soon as Herbert W. Clarke and Sons took possession of the wharf, they formed a new import and export business, which mainly exported coal to Holland and Belgium.  Nearby was a company called Mayer Newman and Co. who were engaged in the scrap metal business – the scrap yard still exists today. It is now called European Metal Recycling, but is still in the same location in Manor Road. Further East along Manor Road was a truly massive factory and works owned by Turner’s Asbestos Cement Co. Ltd. The site covered a little over forty three acres; by 1912 the company pioneered the development of asbestos roofing material, and also produced a wide range of guttering, piping and fireproof insulation material, as well as a lot of other components for the building industry. We are still living with the legacy of this today; many old buildings need to have specialist demolition contractors to remove Turner’s asbestos building products, as the dust asbestos produces when cut or abraded is severely poisonous. I think if the company was still around today, they would have been sued into bankruptcy – but of course, around a century ago, nobody was any the wiser. Another world renowned company that had a base in Erith were Royal Doulton, who had an extensive factory located just off Church Manorway. They made salt glazed piping and tiling (I wonder if the lovely green salt glazed tiles that used to adorn the exterior of the former White Hart, before they were illegally removed when Potion bought the place came from the Royal Doulton works? We will never know). Royal Doulton also made their fine china in Erith, when experimental designs were produced that depicted local scenes as their decoration. These pieces are now rare and extremely collectible. I recall seeing one piece featured on “Antiques Roadshow” some years ago. Erith has been the historical home to many other manufacturers over the years, some of which are still in existence. One such company is ADM Oils (whom I featured in detail a while back, and mentioned earlier in this update), which has a huge processing facility in Church Manorway, which employs nearly 1,200 local people. It originally started up in 1908, when it was known as Erith Oil Works – the business then was similar to now; they crush and process all kinds of seeds, to extract their natural oils, which are used in foodstuffs, cooking oils and animal feeds. The seeds, then as now are brought upriver in large bulk freighter ships. The distinctive huge concrete silos that are still present on the ADM site were constructed in 1916, where they were some of the earliest surviving examples of reinforced concrete construction in the UK. They were constructed by Danish structural engineering company Christiani and Neilsen, who invented reinforced concrete construction techniques. The earliest recorded industrial company established in Erith was a timber importing business called W.R Crow and Son, which was set up way back in 1795! I will feature more on the history of Erith and the surrounding area in the future. The best reference work on the local history of the town was the four part “A History of Erith”, written by John A. Pritchard, which is now out of print. It was originally written in 1965, and substantially updated and revised in 1989, when it was reprinted. I have not seen a work since which is a patch on this venerable publication. If you have any information which can add to this, please feel free to drop me a line to

Long term readers may recall my antipathy towards automated payment tills in supermarkets, similar to the ones you can see on the photograph above - click for a larger view. It would appear that I am far from alone in this view. Academics at the University of Leicester's Department of Criminology have just published a report entitled:- "Developments in Retail Mobile Scanning Technologies: Understanding the Potential Impact on Shrinkage and Loss Prevention." What the academics discovered was that Although shops may think they are saving money by ditching staff in favour of automated systems, in fact, the amount of money lost through theft rockets after the introduction of self-checkouts. The criminologists found that the cost of stolen items more than doubles after the introduction of self-scanning. It is not just criminals taking advantage of the lax security. The report found that people who are usually honest resort to theft simply because they can, and do not feel it is as wrong when there is no human interaction. The frustrations many people feel at the self-service till may also lead shoppers to feel justified in stealing, the report found, while technology gives offenders ‘ready-made excuses’ for failing to scan items. Self-checkouts were found to provoke aggressive behaviour particularly when products would not scan correctly, or when staff had to intervene to over-ride faults or check age verifications. Giving customers the freedom to self-scan also gives them the opportunity to blame faulty technology, problems with the product barcodes or claim that they are not technically proficient as reasons for non-scanning, said the report. The study involved data from nearly 12 million shopping trips from four major British retailers as well others in the US, Belgium and Holland between 2013 and 2015. The researchers found that introducing self-checkouts raised the rate of loss by 122 percent to an average of 3.9 per cent of turnover. It is also difficult for retailers to identify whether a customer wilfully took items without scanning or were simply absentminded. The report found that prosecutions were a ‘legal and customer relations minefield’ with one company admitting it never prosecuted because a shoplifting charge could never be proved in court. The study concluded that retailers have made theft so easy that customers who would ‘normally and happily pay’ are tempted to commit crime and may start to see it as a normal part of shopping. Scanning items using hand-held devices or mobile phones was also fund to lead to errors. At the end of one shopping trip in a large supermarket researchers found that 10 per cent cent of items in a basket had not been scanned through genuine error caused by distraction because the ‘shopper is being asked to do too many things at once.’ Professor Adrian Beck, of the University of Leicester Department of Criminology, said: “Both loved and loathed by consumers, with the phrase ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’ striking dread into many a shopper, self-scan technologies are growing in use and likely to become even more prominent as we begin to be encouraged to use our own mobile devices to both scan and pay for products in the stores we visit. From the retailers’ perspective, the benefits seem obvious – less investment required in staff and checkout technologies, with the former being the biggest expense they face. For the shopper it could mean the end of checkout queues as product scanning and payment can in theory be performed anywhere in the store at their convenience. To borrow a well-worn phrase, ‘what could possibly go wrong’? Well, our research found that quite a bit could and does go wrong, with some potentially rather worrying long term consequences.” So it would seem that my thoughts on self service supermarket tills are actually backed up by factual evidence and academic analysis.  Whether the supermarkets will take any notice of this is another matter entirely. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

A relatively new programme has begun at Christ Church, Erith - the Parish Church near the Fish roundabout and the Bexley Road railway bridge. "Men in Sheds" is a project that is designed principally to help elderly men who have problems with isolation and associated depression. A Men’s Shed is a larger version of the typical man’s shed in the garden – a place where he feels at home and pursues practical interests with a high degree of autonomy. The Men in Sheds programme offers this to a group of such men where members share the tools and resources they need to work on projects of their own choosing at their own pace and in a safe, friendly and inclusive venue. They are places of skill-sharing and informal learning, of individual pursuits and community projects, of purpose, achievement and social interaction. A place of leisure where men come together to work. A Shed’s activities usually involve making or mending in wood (e.g. carpentry, joinery, turning, carving, whittling, marquetry, furniture renovation) but may include metalworking (milling, sheet metal, welding, etc.) bike repair, gardening, electronics, tool renovation, boat renovation, model engineering (model railways, planes) and even building a car! Reclamation, reuse and restoration will feature strongly – and some say that is true of the men too. Although Sheds mostly attract older men, some have included men of any age, women and young people. Whichever activities are pursued the essence of a Shed is not a building, which some don’t have, but the network of relationships between the members. You can read more about the Bexley men in Sheds project, based at Christ Church Erith by clicking here.

Half of British children will own a mobile phone by the age of eleven, according to new research published this week. The study of 2,000 parents shows the average child will receive a phone worth £120 on their eleventh birthday, and will then spend two hours every day glued to the device. But four in 10 parents end up regretting giving their youngster a phone at such a young age – as by their teenage years the child is transfixed by the likes of social media, texts, and computer games. Incredibly, researchers found one in 20 children will own a mobile handset by the age of six, as parents give in to primary school peer pressure. Owning a mobile phone comes at a price for parents – in addition to the £120 upfront fee, mums and dads will be expected to replace the phone at least twice due to it being lost, stolen or damaged. The study, which considers mobile phone ownership amongst children, reveals two thirds of parents will allow their child to have internet access on their device as soon as they get it. On top of this, 28 per cent of children are then allowed to use their phone all day without any supervision from an adult – despite 46 per cent have access to social media channels. The report also highlights that a third of parents fear their children spend far too much time on their phone – with one in eight youngsters spending more than four hours a day chatting to friends and playing games. According to the data, one in 10 children will use their mobile during the school day, and 12 per cent will log in to their phone as soon as they get home from school. Just 10 per cent of children can wait until after dinner before checking their phone. Just one in six parents will limit their child’s phone usage to emergencies only – with many admitting their child uses their phone for a range of activities. Unfortunately, purchasing a phone only adds to the worry parents have. A fifth of parents are concerned their child’s phone has now led to them not enjoying enough quality time with the family, and 16 per cent are concerned their child is missing out on face-to-face interactions with others. Apart from my usual antipathy towards mobile phones, I do have a concern that giving children such devices limits their ability to think for themselves or act fully independently. If they are out and miss the last bus, or some other problem occurs, all they have to do is ring Mum or Dad on their mobile phone to get picked up. They won't learn about improvisation, and in later life this will impair their ability to act in a fully independent manner. What do you think? Do the safety aspects outweigh the downsides of giving children mobile phones? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Bexley Council announced this week that they are rebuilding the former Belvedere Splash Park and transforming it into what they call the "Belvedere Beach" - a new play park, which will be open throughout the year. It has been designed to be fully inclusive, with a range of equipment that includes sensory and educational play areas. In keeping with the beach theme the park will also contain an interactive water play unit. The park has been funded by Cory Environmental - the company that operates the energy from waste station in Lower Belvedere. You can read more about the forthcoming new park here.  The new park is due to open in the Autumn of 2017. More in this story as it develops over time. The former Splash Park itself was something that had been very well used by parents with children – not just locally – I know of people who came from as far as Eltham, Chislehurst and Dartford to use the very popular summer facility. There was also a contributory factor that many Erith, Belvedere and Abbey Wood locals felt disenfranchised with the current administration running Bexley Council. The North of the London Borough of Bexley has traditionally been where heavy industry, the services and warehousing has been undertaken – historically this was due to the location of the River Thames, which was a primary source of communication. The South of the borough was wealthier, with many of the factory owners and industrialists needing to be fairly close to their business empires without living cheek – by jowl with their employees. One exception to this was the community in Upper Belvedere, which was extremely upper middle class in Victorian Times. Nevertheless history has dictated that there has always been an economic and social divide within the London Borough of Bexley – the borough gets wealthier the further South one travels – one could almost liken it to a microcosm of the entire United Kingdom I suppose. The problem that has vexed the Splash Park protesters was that a majority of the Bexley councillors don't really give a stuff about what happens in the North, since their mandate comes from voters in the South. The councillors feel that there are no votes to be won (or more importantly in the circumstances, no votes to be lost) in the North. They therefore invest little if any time, effort or attention in those areas. This may well be one of the reasons that the Danson Splash Park did not have the same closure threats – the councillors care about the wealthy voters in Danson, and want to keep them on side so that they can continue with their snouts in the trough. Those residents in the North just don’t count, I am sad to say.

The ending video this week is a short film on the new ArcelorMittal Orbit - the world's largest and longest helter skelter, which is located in Stratford, East London. See what you think.

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