St Paul’s pupils hand in 10514 signatures and over 1200 Consultation Responses
It’s the day after. Yesterday we handed in the SaveKEMP petition: 10514 signatures. To us in the core campaign team it was the result of over a year of hard work, campaigning in all sorts of weather from snow to heatwaves and in all the different forms of rain the UK specialises in (from spitting to torrential). But in reality it was much more than that: we handed in the hopes and dreams, the anger and frustration, the pressing need for space and air of a community squashed, squeezed and caught in an area that knows no rest. “If you stand still two minutes, they’ll build on you!”: that’s what it is like around here, any local will tell you that.
In the end, after much debating, we left it to the children. After all it is all about them. Not just the children of today but also those of tomorrow. I would add it is about the children of yesterday, too: those who grew up here and remember when the park was bigger and you couldn’t get to it walking along the river from Narrow Street as you can do today; those who grew up elsewhere but have come here now to spend their sunset years and hope for peace, tranquility and community living.
So, with the help of Headteacher Terry Bennett, we set up an assembly at St Paul’s Primary School. We had a workshop there in the morning about the importance of green spaces. The kids were asked what made KEMP so special to them. We let them tell us, firstly because we don’t believe in indoctrinating people (especially young, impressionable ones), secondly because this was the School Pupils Council and they were way too smart for propaganda.
A Space for Me
During the workshop, it soon became evident how reliant the children were on our local park. It is a place to play and run around, but also a place to spend time with family and friends outside the constrictions of daily routines and school work. “When I’m at home my mum and dad are busy. When I go to the park they can give me all their attention. I like that. The same with my friends. In the park we can just play. At school we have stuff to do.” There is something so deliciously disarming about children’s unadulterated logic.
Toni then divided the kids in three groups and asked each group to come up with a scene from their daily life to illustrate how important the park is to them. So the short play A Space for Me took shape with the help of Mr Rubin who kindly reigned in some of the kids’ exuberance and smoothed over their penchant for the dramatic (if Thames Water are reading this, they’ll probably think we need Mr Rubin at our monthly working groups meetings, too, to smooth over OUR penchant for the dramatic – I’ve got you sussed guys, it’s been over a year). Here’s how, roughly, the play goes:
The Dad: “Welcome to a typical day in our small flat”
Mum cooking, dad watching TV on his armchair, tired after a day at work, teenage siblings squabbling, babies crying. Two kids come centre stage, frustrated by the chaos and cramped quarters: “I need some peace and quiet!”
One of the unhappy and bored children goes to mum and starts pestering her: “Canwegotothepark, canwegotothepark, canwegotothepark, canwegotothepark”. Mum surrenders. The older kids phone their friends and arrange to meet them at KEMP. The group walks to the park but Lo and behold! a sign tells them the Park is closed, it is going to be turned into a sewer. A loud, primeval, gag-inducing, collective “Eeeewwwwwww!!!” from the actors shakes the audience. “The trees and flowers will die. I have no more space for me”. They are the final words of the kid who read the sign before he runs off, angered and disappointed at having lost his safe place to play, only to be run over by a car (OK, not all the “dramatic” was smoothed out). “What are we going to do now?” asks Mum.
One by one the children list why the need KEMP. “I need a space for me to play”, “I need a space for me to observe nature”, “I need a space for me to grow”, “I need a space for me run around”, “I need a space for me to lay in the sun”, “I need a space for me to ride my bike”, “I need a space for me to enjoy time with my family” and many more reasons.
Phil Stride receives the Petition and Responses (even though TW’s website won’t acknowledge it)
Phil Stride, Head of the Tideway Tunnel, was the lucky recipient of all this hard work, the children’s and the community’s. For all the mutually inflicted grief, in the end he got away even with a free theatre performance. He should switch to Heckford just for that. We do thank him for coming along and for the wait. He is after all a very busy man: he’s Thames Water’s human-shield for all the anger and frustration of thousands of Londoners across the Capital and yet he always maintains a polite demeanor (but then again, so does Dolores Umbridge and if you don’t know who she is… your loss and this is a post about children anyway).
So Phil graciously sat through the play, smiled a lot and then listened to the children’s appeal: “Dear Mr Stride, please don’t take our park away”. I’m an optimist, I like to think he felt something at that. Then four kids (it was a lot of stuff!) handed him the petition, all 10514 signatures of it, and 3 packs of Phase 2 Consultation responses, a total of 1203, of which there is no mention in Thames Water’s own six lines rendition of the facts (not to worry, he signed a transfer document).
I fear admitting that the matter is now out of our hands. Thames Water have a big, fat petition and loads of responses to their consultation. It is very clear what the community wants and why it wants it. Not just for sociological reasons but also because it makes more sense from an engineering point of view. It all boils down to this: on one side there is a park (and not a foreshore adjacent to a park, dear TW mis-communication team), the only one we have; on the other there is a derelict brownfield site which is up for redevelopment anyway and just happens to have a concrete plant next to it. At a meeting with Thames Water few weeks back, Prof David Smith told Phil Stride that a child of five could work out which one to go for in two minutes. Yesterday proved just that. Children do get it. So we turn to Thames Water the question the mother in the play asks: “What are YOU going to do now?”