Sunday, September 18, 2016


The top photo was taken recently by me in Manor Road Erith; the lower one a while back in Erith High Street. The upper photo shows one of the large advertising hoardings that are erected on the Eastern end of the extremely long road.  Fit4Less are a no - frills gymnasium franchising company, which is part of the énergie Group, has approaching 100 clubs and more than 110,000 members across the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe are shortly to set up a gym in the units adjacent to Erith Library in the High Street, in a trio of units that have lain unused since they were built around nine years ago, as shown in the lower photo - click on either for a larger version. Fit4Less describe themselves thus:- "Fit4less is a fast-growing budget gym within the fitness and wellness sector. British Franchise Association. With in-depth training and on-going support from the énergie group, who are leaders in the UK fitness sector, franchisees are given the tools to launch and manage their own ‘no frills’ budget gym business. With our tried and tested system and a steady market, franchise owners are equipped in all areas so as to provide customers with a quality Fit4less experience. Franchisees secure their future, ensuring they create the life/work balance that suits them. Fit4less is an Associate member of the British Franchise Association. How much does a Fit4less franchise cost? The initial franchise fee is £19,999 outside London or £24,999 within London and the minimum total investment is £95,000. We have a strong relationship with all major banks. Fit4less is an innovative low-cost franchise business which is part of the énergie group, an undisputed market leader in the fitness and wellness sector. Fit4less franchise business opportunity energie group sport gym budget management lucrative job career. Offering a ‘no frills’ service to customers, Fit4less’ budget gyms are one of the fastest growing fitness and wellness franchise businesses in the UK. With over 100,000 active members across their network in the UK and Europe, our franchisees are part of a rapidly expanding and highly profitable tried-and-tested system. Fit4less is expanding further and are searching for individuals with a ‘can-do’ attitude and a thirst for success! Does this sound like you? Fit4less works on the premise that we offer customers a valuable service at a fantastic price! In offering a low cost price, the Fit4less gym is a highly attractive and appealing option; this, in turn, pushes profitability. With this in mind, it is no surprise that budget gyms constitute the biggest growth in the health and fitness sector. Recent examples of success include the Fit4less gyms in Scunthorpe, Loughborough, Glasgow, Hoddesdon (Hertfordshire) and Brentford which all had more than 1,000 members within a week of opening. There are many others, like Kilburn (North London) which has surpassed its 3 year target of 2000 members within 4 months! Fit4less Highbury sold over half their 3 year target of memberships in just 3 months. These gyms are not exceptions and you too could be enjoying the same success." Quite. The people who have taken the Fit4Less franchise in Erith (which is due to open on the 27th October - though I strongly doubt this opening date - the site is still an empty concrete shell, with no fitting out taking place at the time of writing) have already unwittingly landed themselves in hot water, through no fault of their own, I must emphasise. The parent company engaged in a UK wide advertising campaign back in the Spring of 2016; the bulk of the advertising was concentrated on the use of roadside hoardings like the one in the photo above. They used a couple of "humorous" adverts, which offended so many people that the story made the national papers and the BBC News website back in April.  The case was not referred to the Advertising Standards Authority, but the story made so many headlines critical of the style and tone of the adverts that many of them were voluntarily taken down. Not so the one for the forthcoming Erith franchise, which is still on display at the time of writing. I would have thought it critical to any marketing scheme for a new business to make absolutely sure that you engage your local customer base. It will be interesting to see how things work out for the Erith branch of Fit4Less, and what type of clientele they attract. I get the feeling that it could be rather successful. The other gym in the town - the Nemesis Muy Thai gym is a specialist kickboxing place, which is not very likely to appeal to the mainstream public in the same manner that a popular brand that has UK wide recognition will. I am fortunate that if I was athletically minded (not that I am) I could make use of the huge gym in my company's giant HQ office building in Canary Wharf, so you won't be seeing me in the new place in the High Street, but I suspect that many people will be. Since I wrote the piece above, I have met Josh Waters, the owner of the Erith branch of Fit4Less, and I ran the piece past him prior to publication. He provided some interesting and insightful feedback which you can read here:- "What seems to feature heavily is the advertising and in your opinion on our opening date. With the billboards we have 4 up and only 1 of this nature and I'm sure you would have noticed we had the one next to it as well, which is normal. We actually only paid for that specific billboard for 4 weeks and has run out already, I guess it hasn’t been replaced as no one else has bought the space since. We don’t mean to offend and haven’t received any negative feedback from anyone so far, but I feel this may change with the tone of your statements. Again this is fine but we are just trying to show that we don’t take ourselves particularly seriously and the gym will be a fun place to be and try to reflect that in our national marketing campaigns. In regards to this fit out – works have started and the screed floor went down over the last couple of weeks. That is setting as we speak and dry liners will be in starting next Tuesday to start putting up walls etc. Windows were on a lead time and couldn’t order them until the lease was completed so they are due in another 2 weeks at the most. In the next couple of weeks you will start to see a lot more progress but we are well on track to hit our opening date set by our contractors that have fit out many of the F4L London sites". Well that clears those concerns up then. I will be covering the fit - out and opening of the gym, and think that it will become an important addition to the town centre. It is good to see the long vacant units finally going into productive use after lying empty for so long. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Long-time Maggot sandwich readers may recall that some time ago I bemoaned the closure of my favourite restaurant –the cheap and cheerful Sweet and Spicy in Brick Lane, which closed due to a huge increase in the cost of their shop lease a couple of years back. As I mentioned at the time, the area around Spitalfields and Brick Lane is becoming increasingly gentrified; when I used to work in the area in the mid 1990’s it was still primarily involved in the clothing industry, with many small factories and warehouses in the locality. It was rather rough and ready to be honest, but in a way I am quite grateful that I was able to experience the end of the East End as it had existed for a good couple of hundred years. Sweet and Spicy was nothing like the other restaurants in Brick Lane, which even twenty years ago were pretty much tourist traps. Instead Sweet and Spicy catered for the local residents – the Pakistani and Bangladeshi factory workers, and the congregation of the nearby Brick Lane Mosque. It had lino on the floors, melamine wipe clean tables and counter service. The menu was short compared to a normal British Indian style high street restaurant, and the curries cooked long and slowly, with the meat mainly being served on the bone. Food portions were huge, extremely cheap and utterly delicious – it was home cooked, rather than restaurant style, and all of the better for it. The place had an amazing reputation, and was busy from 11am until they closed at 11pm. It was one of the only places where you could get a curry for breakfast in the whole of Greater London. You can read more about the legendary Sweet and Spicy here. When it closed down in 2013 I was upset – it was a rough diamond of a place; when I first went there I was usually the only white face in the place, but only a handful of years later the customer demographic was far more diverse. This diversity ironically may have been what eventually led to its demise. As wealthier people started using the area around Spitalfields and Brick Lane, the rents started going up and the traditional look and feel started to change. I never thought that I would find anywhere that had anything approaching the atmosphere and food that Sweet and Spicy had, but I am pleased to announce that I have found a restaurant that comes pretty close in many ways, and it is local! The Punjab Curry and Grill in 309 Broadway, Bexleyheath is the nearest place I have come to proper, home cooked food that is generous in portion and reasonably priced. I went there last Friday evening with two friends – including the one who recommended the place – and his family is originally from the Punjab. We had poppadoms and dips, starters and a main course each with rice and garlic naan breads. The food was excellently cooked, nicely presented and the final bill for the three of us came to £32.95. The Punjab Curry and Grill does not have a drinks licence, but a wide variety of non – alcoholic drinks are available, and visitors are able to bring their own with no corkage fee. There is a small independent (and rather quirky) off – licence a couple of minutes’ walk away in Lion Road if this takes your fancy. The Punjab Curry and Grill could be a bit of a culture shock to someone used to a bog standard high street curry house. It is more akin to a transport café with nice décor and waiter service. The food menu does have a few nods towards the high street favourites, but many of the dishes are most definitely not the usual kind of thing one would expect; for example, I had Punjabi Goat Curry, which came served as a plate of meaty ribs with a thick, rich and spicy curry gravy. Other curries include Rabbit, Turkey  and Bater (Quail).  I will be heading back to the place sooner rather than later – and it has the added bonus that it is also within easy walking distance to the superlative Robin Hood and Little John – my favourite pub of all.

The Erith Quarry housing development will be holding an open day on Saturday the 15th October between 10am and 4pm. You can find out more on their website here. I will be going along with my camera, so please feel free to come and say hello.

As I have written in the past, the "legitimate" UK gambling industry is now starting to be regarded in the same way that the tobacco industry became in the 1980's, when the long disputed health risks of smoking became apparent to those outside of the medical profession. Last Monday night, a Panorama special investigation into high street bookmakers and the proliferation of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals was broadcast. The main reason that the large betting companies want to open more outlets is that the law limits the number of FOBT’s in any specific betting shop to four machines, but it says nothing about the number of betting shops in any location. To increase the number of very lucrative FOBT units in a town, the bookmakers just open additional shops. Many local councils have been reluctant to block this, due to the fact that during the recession, many shop units have stood empty, and the betting shops offer a steady council tax income, which the council otherwise would not get. A recent report makes for extremely troubling reading; it reveals that in the 55 most deprived boroughs in the UK – overwhelmingly located in Northern cities and urban Greater London have a  total of 2,691 bookmakers shops, in which £13 billion was gambled on FOBT machines, and £470 million lost by gamblers in the last year alone. In the same time period, there were 1,258 bookmakers shops in the 115 wealthiest areas, adjusted to cover the same volume of population, within which players gambled a total of £6.5 billion, losing £231 million. The figures are now a couple of years old, and may now be appreciably higher. The report was commissioned by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, and shows that the large betting companies have targeted the poorest areas that have the highest unemployment, lowest per capita income and higher crime rates. The last year has also seen a large increase in the number of high street betting shops, mainly due to the leap in the total number of FOBT machines, such as digital roulette in use. In December 2013 there was a total of 9,343 active betting shop licences in the entire United Kingdom, which was an increase of 280 since 2012. The most deprived town council in the UK was identified as being Liverpool. A total of £118 million was gambled in 570 machines, and £23 million was siphoned off by bookmakers in the process. In the same time scale, the place voted as the most desirable place to live in the UK – the Hart district of Hampshire there are just seven betting shops with a total of 24 Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. Liverpool council have understandably got very worried by the figures, and are now keen to place strong control measures on the betting shop operators. The problem with FOBT machines is that large amounts of money can be spent on the machines very quickly, and losses can mount up almost before the gambler realises. A hundred pounds can be lost in no more than thirty seconds. Nick Small, of Liverpool City Council said of the situation “millions of pounds that should be used for paying for food and rent was being sucked into the FOBT machines”, and that “Bookies are arriving all the time into prime retail locations. This is all driven for FOBTs. I have no doubt of it. We are seeing horrific reports of family breakdown caused by gambling debts, problems with loan sharks. We are pretty sure organised crime is using the machines to launder money. It's out of control in a city like ours, where there are a lot of poorer people”.  The same situation exists all around the UK, with poorer areas – just like Erith, being hit far harder than wealthier regions. Industry observers have commented that one way to reduce the problem specific to FOBT machines would be to limit the maximum stake gambled to £2 – like ordinary one armed bandit machines, and to limit the maximum payout to £100. The gambling industry is not keen on this approach, for obvious reasons. To add to this, the Government are now showing an interest, as the subject is gaining column inches in the press now, and following the Panorama documentary last Monday evening. The government have taken a very weak stance, saying that they will wait for the findings of the (gambling industry sponsored) research before any decision will be taken; at the rate things are progressing, it will be the end of the year before any changes come into force, if at all. The problem is that the gambling industry is wealthy and powerful, and has a strong lobby in parliament – last year the five big gambling firms, which between them account for 92 percent of all bookmakers shops on the high street made an estimated total gross profit of £1.6 billion on FOBT machines alone – and this does not take into account the additional cash they generate through conventional stakes based gambling; still a very lucrative market, if now being overshadowed by the rise of the electronic gambling machine, and also it ignores the vast amounts of cash spent during online gambling – a somewhat shady and overlooked area of an industry that already has a somewhat tarnished image. Personally I feel that the UK gambling industry needs a massive shake up. It has been allowed far too free a rein for years, and has exploited the market to the point where it is more powerful than some banks. People rightly get annoyed by the activities of certain banks and bankers, whilst seemingly overlooking the scourge of the high street and nowadays also the web, the big five bookies. If all this was not bad enough, the web based casinos and poker sites that operate on the periphery of some country’s laws are proving increasingly aggressive in trying to separate people from their hard earned cash. I have noticed that sites such as 888 Casino and 888 Poker use software resistant pop – ups and pop unders, which are embedded into legitimate web sites, usually without the owner’s consent. The fact that a large organisation would willfully contravene the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to try and promote its dubious services to me says a lot about their intentions.

The photo above shows part of Erith High Street back in the summer of 1966, shortly before it was all demolished to make way for the hideous 1970's brutalist concrete shopping centre, which was universally hated by all. It took the extensive remodelling and re - engineering of the centre around ten years ago to turn it into the light and pleasant venue it is today.

As a lifetime non - smoker, the upsurge in the use of electronic cigarettes really means little to me personally, but I know many people feel that they are a way forward in their desire to give up smoking completely. I have written in the past that I would reserve my judgement on the use of them until better scientific evidence became available - well, it would appear that it has now done. More research into electronic cigarettes has reported positively on the devices, finding evidence of their use as smoking cessation aids and finding that they do not appear to cause any serious side-effects. An update to the Cochrane review on electronic cigarettes has restated the findings of the initial research, which was completed two years ago. It found that e-cigarettes are potentially a valuable smoking cessation aid, although there was not enough evidence to conclude that they helped people quit smoking confidently. The updated review now also includes observational data from an additional 11 studies which found no serious side-effects from using e-cigarettes for up to two years. Aside from throat and mouth irritation, which commonly dissipated over time, the review’s co-author, Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, said “in the short to medium term, we didn’t find any evidence that they were associated with any serious side-effects.” Evidence from two trials found that e-cigarettes helped smokers to quit in the long term, but “the small number of trials, low event rates and wide confidence intervals around the estimates” meant that the researchers could not conclude with confidence that e-cigs helped smokers quit more than other cessation aids". Nevertheless, it would seem that they are a hell of a lot less harmful than traditional cigarettes - and I reckon it will not be long before the government begins to tax them like the real thing.

In a story first covered by Darryl of the excellent 853 Blog (so named because it covers Charlton, Lewisham and Woolwich – which at one time was covered by the old 853 telephone dialling code). As well as being a blogger, Darryl is a “proper” journalist with all of the skills that entails. He has uncovered a story around the venerable News Shopper – our once local, but now a regional paper. The paper had offices in Petts Wood, but these were closed down last year, with the remaining staff transferred to offices in Sutton, Surrey in order to share offices with its sister newspaper, the South London Guardian. Darryl writes:- “Last month, the Shopper’s Greenwich edition was merged with the neighbouring Lewisham paper. The Gravesend edition was also merged with its Dartford counterpart. Now all the Sutton-based staff – bar the web editor and managing editor – have been put on notice of redundancy. Four reporters, two content editors, three sub-editors, an editorial assistant and the deputy managing editor will lose their jobs by mid-October. This will leave just 12 reporters and four content editors to produce 11 South London Guardian papers, four News Shopper editions and their websites, the National Union of Journalists says, including news, sport and leisure coverage. The cuts come despite Newsquest making £70m profit last year. The News Shopper is one of its most successful titles on the web, although the strain of cuts is starting to show with simple mistakes showing in news stories and, more damagingly, in the printed papers. Staff are already being balloted for strike action over inadequate staffing, increased workloads and “reduced quality of newspapers”. Reporters walked out last year in protest at a previous round of cuts and the move to Sutton”. I knew about - and have written about the ill – advised move to Sutton, but until I read Darryl’s piece, I was not aware of the further round of redundancies. I have commented at length at the inaccuracies and obvious lack of knowledge that has crept into the News Shopper journalism over the last couple of years; on recurring error is the News Shopper repeatedly referring to Yarnton Way as being located in Erith, when it is actually on the Lower Belvedere / Abbey Wood border. I have written to the paper on more than one occasion to point this out, but with no effect.  Errors of this nature will only get worse. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or send me an Email to

The end video this week is some aerial footage taken over Danson Park. I know aerial drones are pretty commonplace these days - you can even buy quite decent ones in Maplin, but this footage is pretty awe inspiring. See what you think.

1 comment: