Unfinished Empathy

This week, in our day job, we're helping to put the final touches to something called c&binet forum, an event which brings together 300 or so creative business leaders with technologists, financiers and international government officials to discuss the big issues facing their businesses.

One of the hot topics will be the changing status of 'the gatekeepers'- companies that by virtue of their scale and control of distribution have typically dominated the content industries. The digital age offers an opportunity for IP producers a direct route to their customers, they just have to work out how to get it to them and make money out of them. The implication of this is that, potentially, producers have to stop worrying about producing to meet the needs of one or two managers within those companies and start worrying about what the public wants.

This is potentially quite liberating for creative entrepreneurs and it's also one of the reasons why PR people are so excited about the impact of social media - it means that instead of supplicating ourselves before media 'gatekeepers' by pitching stories to grumpy journalists, we can put stuff out there online and let people decide for themselves whether they like it.

That's not to say that the editorial role of the media isn't still an important one, just that there are now alternatives. PR people sometimes send journalists terrible, poorly-written, poorly-targeted pitches and sometimes they are rightly laughed at by those journalists. But sometimes the journalist is just in a bad mood. Whatever the reasons, pitching stories is often a miserable right of passage for every aspiring PR person.

Blogging hasn't really overturned this system - all it's done is dilute it, by supplementing big gatekeepers with lots of smaller ones. Brockley Central therefore finds itself as a poacher turned gamekeeper. Having been scarred by the barbs of a hundred stroppy journalists, we try to be fair and polite to anyone who sends us a story, to respect that there is stuff that might not interest us, but will interest other people and to always respond curteously. To behave with a degree of empathy, if you will...

The other day we got this abortive pitch:

Not spotted anything on the likely part demolition of local Brockley School.I've been reading through some of the past blogs and think you are pro knock it down and put something big and new up. You don't seem to empathise with other resident's sensitive concerns. But it might be something people would like to know about, before thei

That's as far as it got. Presumably the pleasantries like hello, please or thank you were due to come at the end of his note. We emailed back asking for him to send the rest of it, but haven't had a response yet.

We reckon that what this person was talking about was this planning application for Gordonbrock School, which Cllr Luxton has been discussing on her blog.

Sue has her reservations about the application but summarises the reasoning behind it as being:

"To enable the school to go from 2.5 form entry to 3 form entry, which as well as creating much needed extra primary school places, avoids the need to have classes with mixed age groups. I'm pleased that it's proposed to retain parts of the Victorian school building, that the awful portacabins in the playground that are long past their sell-by date will finally be going and of course that more, larger classrooms will be built."

We'd urge anyone interested in this application to read full discussion on her blog.

28 comments:

Brockley Kate said...

God, I would LOVE it if PR people stopped calling me to pitch things.

Brockley Nick said...

Haha, yes. I'd like to see you fill an issue without a word written by PR people!

Anonymous said...

Mmmm. Purple. Lovely. How?

Anonymous said...

Sorry. Not purple italicized text, but monitor resolution issues. And caffeine. Please feel free to remove these posts. Apologies.

Tressilliana said...

Poor old Gordonbrock. The first discussions about a re-build/massive refurb were, to my knowledge, held in summer 98 (it could have been a little earlier, but it certainly wasn't any later). That's a long time to be in limbo.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the present school buildings are inadequate for the number of children on roll, never mind for the proposed new number. The classrooms are very small for the most part, with a lot of wasted space in the high ceilings. The toilets are almost all reached from the playground, which is very unsatisfactory. Like most schools, it hasn't been maintained to a high standard and so there are persistent problems with the structure. And finally, the 'temporary' buildings have been there since the late 40s!

On the other hand, the present design has a lot to recommend it - for a much smaller school.

I wish them luck with the re-build and the decant.

Brockley Kate said...

I do that most issues, actually!

Brockley Nick said...

Not a single press release, briefing or piece of info sourced from a press office? You are unique among media brands.

I'd wager you're one of those journalists poor young pr people are scared of having to call! ;)

Brockley Kate said...

I am indeed reputedly a fire-breathing dragon. Sometimes I even ask them questions til they run out of info on the piece of paper they've been given. Then they go 'Errrrrrrr ... I'll have to call you back' and never bother to contact me again.

Just emailed you with the details of PR-related content from the latest issue btw. It is indeed a very small percentage, though I would never claim to be entirely pure (very sadly). I'd love to be though.

Anonymous said...

I'm really interested to know what both B Nick and B Kate do for their day jobs now!?

patrick1971 said...

I don't know the school building myself, but is it really such a hardship for children to have to cross the playground to go to the toilet? At the risk of sounding like my grandad, it never did me any harm!

Monkeyboy said...

it's 2009. Having an inside dunny is not unreasonable! do they still have shiny toilet paper?

maxink said...

Pretty shocking actually to learn that this day and age there are primary schools in Lewisham with outside toilets. Honestly, I would have never thought.

Anonymous said...

You don't need to knock the whole building down to provide better loos. The classrooms are light and airy with wonderful high windows and full of character. They open onto bright halls, again full of character, fantastic wooden floors and a hundred years of polish. The new build is very similar to Ashmead and they are experiencing problems already, apparently far too hot and not the fantastic ventilation they were expecting.

The existing buildings could withstand a shake up to create better spaces than the proposed new build will.

Ashmead weren't expected to increase their school role for the new build, but poor Gordonbrock have to cram in another 100 children.

Tressilliana said...

Before I say anything else, I feel duty bound to say that I thought Gordonbrock was a great school and it did very well by both my children.

Now turning to the present buildings: they are full of character, yes, but the classrooms are far too small. I was a school governor there and I was converted from my former position of thinking 'what lovely old buildings' to my present 'something radical needs to be done about these buildings' by two experiences:

1. A teacher showed me a plant growing in a crack in the wall inside one of the halls.


2. I sat in on a lesson in the old laundry building and was astounded to see that the arrival of one extra person in the room made it almost impossible for the children to move around freely. The classroom contained about 25 10-year-olds, the teacher, a teaching assistant, another teacher supporting a child with English as an additional language and now me - no free space left at all. Not all the classrooms are as bad as that but when I've been to other primary schools I've always been struck by how much more spacious the classrooms usually are than Gordonbrock's.

As for the toilet issue - yes, as children, a lot of us had to go outside into the playground to go to the loo (although I personally never did - and I was born in 1961). I wonder how many of us choose to live in dwellings where we have to go out into the rain or howling wind on our way to the loo?

School toilets are often places where bullying happens. That's a lot more likely to happen if they're a long way from the adults in the school. Much better for each class or small group of classes to have a loo for their own use. Far less likely to be haunted by bullies or vandalised. Much more likely to be used by the children who currently hold it all in till they get home rather than use the school toilets, which isn't healthy.

Sue said...

Your mystery empathiser could also have been talking about Brockley Primary School, which is next in line for a rebuild and increase in capacity from 1 to 2 form entry. That is at a less advanced stage than Gordonbrock's plans however. Officers are talking to English Heritage to check they aren't thinking of listing it, as apparently it is quite a rarity as one of the few schools built v soon after the war (1947?) that is still standing.

Tressilliana said...

That's interesting, Sue. It's years now since I was involved in this sort of thing but at that time Brockley Primary School was about to be moved from 2-form entry to 1-form entry. Their classrooms are much better than the Gordonbrock ones, as I recall, much larger and lighter. I met someone still living in Brockley who was there in the late 60s/70s and said that in her day a lot of people preferred Brockley PS to Gordonbrock because it was such a lovely new building. Brockley originally had a Victorian building which was destroyed in the Blitz.

Anonymous said...

A PR person decided to send me a press release today about some sort of Halloween magic marker. Why they thought it would be of interest to anyone covering national politics is beside me. I replied that we have enough ghoulish goings-on in Parliament and could they please remove me from their list. Even time-wasters deserve a polite, if firm, response. Gatekeepers exist for a reason, to keep out the dross and overt marketing.

Anonymous said...

A healthier and happier option would be to make Gordonbrock two form entry. Build some new classrooms, sort out the loos and reconfigure some classes. Some times buildings just aren't properly maintained, it doesn't mean you have to tear them down and put up a replacement lacking the character and quality of the old, that won't last half as long. I think Brockley School looks fab and I heard it was huge inside. I don't think I could bear living round here much longer if I have to put up with more architectural vandalism.

Tom said...

In my job - reporting companies going bust - company press people tend to very helpful until they find out why I'm asking it.

Brockley Kate said...

Anon: B-Nick is an evil PR genius, B-Kate is a shameless amoral hack.
B-Jon is a creative type and thus ethically pure.

Anonymous said...

Thanks B Kate, much obliged. Loving the blog btw - I've been following for a few months now and you guys do a terrific job.

matrowan said...

I think politics comes into the decision on two or three form entry. They say that there aren't enough places in Lewisham primary schools and then try and make Lewisham Bridge smaller..presumably so they can deliver the secondary school. They want to make the money from the neighbouring site, hence the 24 tower block which was given planning permission to over look the school and no doubt lots of the nearby homes. So there is no way they would let Gordonbrock be a civilised 2 form entry.

M said...

Well it appears I did get cut off the other week, but you got part of my message. Thanks for posting it...but I think I'm correct. No one is questioning whether the lovely buildings with their original stone work and clay roof tiles and quirky details could be lovingly refurbished and the new build put in place of the prefabs. Shame local authorities don't have to enforce a sustainable school refurbishment. Shocking they can get away with re working some bad old plans. Lets hope the two storey block means they will improve the playground and give the children lots more space.

matrowan said...

My neighbour is quite besides herself with the horror of the new plans and particularly the fact that the playground is much smaller and they are having extra children. She said the planners approach is that other London schools are short of space so reducing the playground area is not an issue. Indeed why not expose 600 odd more children to a cramped school. After all there is a whole load of new evidence to show how lack of space and a harsh urban environment makes us all less well behaved and more aggressive. Maybe it is a policy to toughen children up more quickly so they can cope with all those unsympathetic adults out there.

Anonymous said...

...and to think they have to spend the best part of their childhood in school..and it's compulsory.

Anonymous said...

Just catching up, that is bad news about Gordonbrock. They will live to regret it no doubt, probably before the cedar has started to split and turn up at the corners. Shame all that stuff about sustainable schools is all talk.

M said...

There is a planning meeting at the school this Thursday from 7-9pm.

Apparently they have made some improvements to original dreadful scheme.

Have they gone out of their way to make the proposal the most expensive option with most disruption? Do they get paid extra for trying to cause more chaos and maximum disruption? Does anyone know how these schemes are funded and who has a strategic say in what happens?

I can't help but think someone is on the make. Otherwise there are so many better decisions that could have been made.

DesSampson said...

Having re-looked at the original Gordonbrock proposal today, by Bouygues, the building company behind the rebuild, I'm struck by the blatant error in section 6 'Landscaping' where it says "The design INCREASES the area of external play spaces." This mistake is repeated in the summary and also in two other parts of the report.

In fact, the current outside play areas compared with the proposed plans for the outside play areas show that there is actually a REDUCTION of some 16%, or 721 square metres! On top of that there will be 105 new pupils being squeezed into this smaller area.

As this proposal was used as the basis for (the very limited) consultation with parents/ residents (but not the community) - who were told the play area would increase when in fact it will decrease - does this thereby invalidate the planning approval?
After all, the consultation document was not only inaccurate but misleading.

When I raised this point with Lewisham Council's rep and Chair of the Board of Governors at the recent decant meeting it was shrugged aside as a necessary copromise, rather than a U-turn on what was promised: better facilites for our children. Shocking!

Latest Tweets

Brockley Central Label Cloud

Click one of the labels below to see all posts on that subject. The bigger the label, the more posts there are!