The Brockley Assembly: Connect the dots

Scenes from "Simply Red and Green at Luxmore Gardens" one of the projects supported by the Brockley Assembly (Photography: Lewisham Arthouse)

Roughly a year ago, we went to a Brockley Assembly in St Andrew’s Church where we were invited to put dots on a map, indicating where we thought the trees that the Assembly had paid for should be placed in Brockley. Two weeks ago, a couple of trees sprang up in those spots.

Stupidly, we didn’t connect the dots between those two events. But last night’s Assembly meeting at Lewisham College illustrated how dots can become trees. Or indeed, how Luxmore Gardens can become a riot of colour through art, thanks to Assembly funding for Lewisham Arthouse.

There was a huge amount discussed, but more excitingly, a huge amount delivered and reported. We got enough material from those two hours to keep us in blog posts for a month. We’ve already reported the news about the Orchard and we’ll be bringing you more over the coming days.

The event was an important reminder to everyone there that Brockley Ward comprises two very different neighbourhoods, divided by the A20. But it also showed that the people in each neighborhood had more common causes than they had differences. Clare Cowen of the Brockley Society argued persuasively that this is precisely why more attention needs to be paid to Lewisham Way. It shouldn’t be seen simply as an arterial road, but a meeting point of two communities – we should cultivate better crossings and more useful shops and we should reject attempts to turn it into the Old Kent Road by building a storage facility opposite Lewisham Art House.

Clare said that Lewisham Way should be a “ribbon of joy”. Even when Brockley Central is at our most utopian, we’d struggle to summon a phrase like that about Lewisham Way, but she is right.

The Ward Assemblies are a triumph of action over inertia and of optimism over cynicism. They are making a difference to our daily lives, in ways you can’t always appreciate until you come and listen to your neighbours talk about the work that’s going on.

Assembly spending is public investment at its best – transformative, tangible and accountable. Ten grand may be peanuts, but the Assemblies make it go a long way. One of the outputs from the last year of Assembly meetings was the creation of a new safer neighbourhoods group. Annual cost? £33. Every penny accounted for. One woman spoke about a project she got Assembly funding for – to clean up a flytipping hotspot. Once she started work, she found a private sector partner who offered to do the work for free. So her money got put back in to the pot last night. We’ll write about that story in more detail soon too.

The Assemblies work – not perfectly, but pretty well. One person in the room last night asked whether this kind of discretionary spending might get hit by budget cuts. The officer present said there were no plans to cut Assembly funding. Any other answer would have been a travesty.

Every BC reader should go to at least one local Assembly meeting before they die. If you live in Brockley ward, you’ll have the perfect opportunity on July 17th when the next Assembly will fall on a Saturday, to coincide with a World Food Festival, which is one of the projects backed by the Assembly. More on that story soon, naturally.