David Powell is standing for the Green Party in this election mainly because he feels it is necessary to bring about a change in local housing policy. However his own area of interest and expertise is education. He has lived in Walworth and Kennington for over 30 years, and his sons went to a local primary school where he has been a Governor for over ten years. As well as his activities as a performing musician, David does some teaching for Southwark Music Service, and has done instrumental teaching as well as short music projects in many Southwark primary schools. David gets a great deal of satisfaction from working with children and seeing how they can thrive and make progress despite different disadvantages. Therefore he feels qualified to comment on issues around education which he believes is poorly funded and taken-for-granted. He is also Director of Music at a local Parish Church which contributes to a local Food Bank, as well as hosting projects for asylum-seekers and homeless people.
David became aware of environmental issues as a teenager, when for example the harmful effects of DDT were just being recognised, as well as habitat destruction and the impact on wildlife. At that time there was outrage when Schweppes abandoned its returnable bottles policy. David says: "Since then we have seen an unimaginable increase in disposable products and packaging of all kinds, which people now think of as normal. Hence the appalling state of the oceans, highlighted by David Attenborough."
David was an active member of the Party in the 1980s in Lewisham and stood in the council elections then. He believes it's very important to get across the idea that Green politics is about the lives and health of ordinary people as well as big issues around the environment and climate change, and showing that all of these are connected in many ways; for example, there is great concern about air quality in this borough and many other parts of London. This affects all our lives, particularly our children. David says: "You rarely hear the word 'citizen' nowadays; instead, many people in this area feel powerless to influence decision-making by a remote Council, ignored and marginalised.
"I am standing for the Green Party in this election mainly because I have been politically inactive for too long, and I want to contribute in a small way to bringing about change at a time when so many people feel disengaged and apathetic about politics."
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Betiel Mehari is a single mother who became a housing activist to try to save her own home.
Betiel works in retail on a zero-hours contract. She lived on the Loughborough Park Estate in Brixton for 11 years, until her family lost their home when the estate was completely demolished by housing association Guinness Partnership in a £75m "regeneration" scheme. She was forced to leave Brixton, losing her much valued local community, with huge disruption to her family. ("That's what regeneration does," she says.) Rehoused in a smaller flat in Newington with no balcony, her two children (aged 11 and 10) are now commuting the lengthy distance from Newington to Brixton in order to maintain their educational stability and friends.
Furthermore, Guinness whacked up the rent in the family's new flat, from a "social rent" of £109 per week to a so-called "affordable rent" of £265 per week. Although Betiel had been a Guinness tenant for 11 years, Guinness claimed that demolishing her flat and rehousing her had created "a new tenancy".
Betiel says: "'Affordable' rent is a con. You'd assume it's based on wages, but it's not. It's set at 80% of market rents, not according to any measure of actual affordability. With two kids it requires an income of £35,000, which is higher than the national average. This measure puts us at the mercy of the housing market - it's absolute madness."
The historic Walworth Town Hall building on Walworth Road, and the Newington Library next door which houses the Cuming Museum, suffered significant damage in a fire in 2013. In 2015 plans were drawn up for the comprehensive redevelopment of the buildings, but Southwark Council has now paused these plans. They were costed at around £40 million, almost twice as much as the original budget. Evidently there was no adequate fire insurance policy despite the fact that both these Edwardian buildings are Grade 2 listed.
Labour-run Southwark Council has never published the results of its last public consultation on the future of the building. Instead, it has published a glossy website walworthtownhall.com proclaiming an "opportunity" for "investors, developers, businesses, organisations or other consortia" to express their interest in "play[ing] their part in reviving this historic gem". The council proclaims its willingness to consider "ancillary and complementary commercial uses" alongside arts and culture uses retaining "some genuine public access to... parts of the site".
A governor of a local primary school has spoken of his great concern about the impact of budget cuts on our local schools.
David Powell, who is also a visiting instrumental tutor in several Southwark primary schools, said: "It seems very likely that there will be a big reduction in Southwark this year, and possibly further cuts in future years. Despite some careful budgeting by schools aiming to protect excellence in teaching and learning, with the likely decrease in Pupil Premium it looks likely that children from poorer families are going to lose much-needed support. Many schools are already finding it difficult to cater for the significant rise in Special Educational Needs, particularly autism.