ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING WEDNESDAY 8TH NOVEMBER 2017
Councillor Timothy Godfrey — Croydon's 'Ambitious for Parks Project'.
Councillor Godfrey began his presentation with a brief background on how the need for the 'Ambitious for Parks' programme and the recent survey of six of Croydon's Open Spaces (including Happy Valley) had been reached. He reminded those present that Local Council funding has been cut successively over a period of nine years in line with the Government requirement for a smaller local government and smaller state. The Council's grant from government will have been cut by eighty to ninety percent by the end of the next five years. At the same time there is an increase in demand for social services and school funding — the Council has borrowed 100M to fund new school buildings in Croydon and this loan has to be repaid.
Turning to the matter in hand this evening, Cllr Godfrey referred to the Council's re-organisation of parks and open spaces under the new contract with ID Verdi (four years ago). This brought a saving of £½M but this has impacted on our parks. Cllr Godfrey reminded those present that the proposed parks policy will affect other sites in Croydon, not only Happy Valley, and that the issue of the future care of open spaces is not unique to Croydon. However, the ID Verdi contract is due for review in 2018 and a new style of contract is being sought which may enable local residents and Friends Groups to organise tasks and local contractors. Cllr Godfrey referred to the Mitcham Common Conservators Group, of which he is currently Chairman, as an example. The Mitcham Conservators group is made up from representatives from the bordering boroughs who work to ensure that the common is protected and improved and that the public have free access. The Conservators also ensure that work on the common is carried out by local contractors so at the same time supporting the local work force.
Cllr Godfrey advised the meeting that parks and open spaces are not high on the political agenda and that Local Authorities do not have a statutory obligation for their care. He went on to underline the need for more involvement in these sites by friends and voluntary groups and that the voice of the people who care about these sites needs to be heard. Cllr Godfrey spoke about the role of Peter Underwood, the Senior Project Officer, The Conservation Volunteers (who was to have spoken this evening), Peter has a wide experience in developing and directing local voluntary groups in conservation tasks across Croydon and North Surrey. He works closely with established friends groups but their responsibilities need to be taken to the next stage (e.g. engaging contractors?). With more cuts to the Council budget expected in the next five years Cllr Godfrey underlined the need for local people to become more involved with conservation and care of parks to avoid disaster. This would require voluntary groups to supplement Council responsibilities to keep the borough's open spaces up to scratch and require Council Officers to work closely with residents, friends groups and volunteers.
Cllr Godfrey referred to Tyrens UK (a design led sustainable landscape, urban design, transport and environment practice) engaged by Croydon Council to survey Croydon's six open spaces. The project was funded from central council resources with the aim of helping to unlock Croydon's £1.6M planning gain fund. Tyrens remit included looking at possible projects which will make maintenance easier, bring improvements to parks and open spaces and discover more funding streams. The Tyrens report on Happy Valley is due for publication shortly and Cllr Godfrey anticipated that it would be uncontroversial. Proposals put forward by Tyrens in the Public Consultation carried out on Happy Valley in September included: improved access; improved Ranger facilities, easier access for maintenance, better site signposting and fund raising projects. However, Cllr Godfrey made it clear that reports had to be acceptable to the community before being accepted by the Council. The current re-organisation of the Parks Department which makes it now part of the Active Life Styles team in housing and regeneration. Contract management function is within the Streets directorate.
At this point in the proceedings the Chairman introduced Juliet Stevenson, Croydon Council's Live Well Co-ordinator.
Juliet began by giving a brief background to her current interest in improving community health. Before becoming interested in motivational psychology, Juliet had been a Physical Activity Specialist on the MyAction Programme (a multidisciplinary, family centred, nurse-led cardiovascular preventative programme). She has an MSc in Preventative Cardiology. Juliet's interest in why people do not change their life style habits, although these often damage their long term health, led to her becoming Croydon's Live Well Co-ordinator in December 2016. She is supported by a team of five advisors and officers who help people to change their life style habits and improve their health and wellbeing through the Council's Motivational Interview (MI) programme. Juliet is also
a Croydon GoodGym Trainer which she explained as combining exercise with helping the less able in the community.
In the north of the borough life expectancy is ten years shorter than in the South due to poor life choices and health. The MI program enables those who smoke, are obese, are inactive or have problems with alcohol to enter into twelve weekly interview courses to help them deal with these issues. People can dip into and out of these courses to cope with their ongoing problems — i.e. move onto dealing with weight gain after stopping smoking. Juliet believes that access to good information and physical activity is key to improving well being and people can be helped in a variety of ways through the MI programme for up to a twelve month period. Juliet outlined how the public can become involved with the program which included: regular drop in health clubs run at local Libraries and the 'justbe' website (u-tube links give further access to good information on health improvements).
Twenty deprived post code areas have been identified where help for pregnant women, mental health conditions and support for behavioural change is needed. Those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma are eligible for support with stopping smoking. Juliet reported that follow-up research revealed: 91% on the stop smoking programme had successfully given up; 70% on the weight loss program had a successful a weight reduction. It was also noted that these successes had bought an increase in 'happiness scores' and general improvements in outlook on life.
Juliet reported that she was aware of the problems for residents on the Tollers Estate in Coulsdon and that they were 'cut-off' by poor transport links to Coulsdon Town Centre. She was pleased to say that she had a dedicated team of advisors who are anxious to find solutions to this problem. Regarding access to a gym and improving activity for children and adults on the Estate, residents present pointed out that the children's play park was in poor repair and in need of modernisation. The addition of an outdoor Gym (as in Marlpit Lane Memorial Ground) would be welcomed. Cllr Godfrey referred to the Council's five year programme for parks and open spaces and opportunities for funding for improvements from the Local Councillors budget.
Discussion and Questions from the Floor:
Status of Happy Valley: The statement that Happy Valley is a Nature Reserve and not a park was strongly supported by those present. Cllr Godfrey reminded the meeting that local Councillors will take-up issues raised in Tyrens report on Happy Valley and confirmed that the report will provide a scheme acceptable to local residents who will be involved with changes that evolve over the years. The Chairman strongly supported by the meeting suggested that Happy Valley, which is the subject of much conservation work, should be left untouched. He pointed out that over the last twenty years the Ranger cover had been reduced from three to one save help received from volunteers. He referred to the twenty page submission by Friends of Farthing Downs both to Tyrens and the Council's Regeneration Officer, Bartholomew Wren outlining the history of the site and tasks covered.
In response to a question regarding the City of London taking over the management of Happy Valley, Cllr Godfrey confirmed that he believed that they were not interested in this proposition at present.
Health Walks: Juliet confirmed that volunteer organised Health Walks in Croydon's parks and open spaces still take place. These are well organised and there are about twenty to thirty per week.
Annual Country Fairs on Happy Valley: Regarding the possibility of annual events such as a Country Fair on Happy Valley fields, residents pointed out that the rare wild flowers are gradually spreading up from the valley. The Chairman reminded those present that he believed that the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (HLSS) will cover fields up to the Fox PH for the coming five years. The HLSS would prevent such activities there. However, the community will have views which need to be taken into account and FoFD will help in this regard. He was aware that many proposals made for Happy Valley have now been abandoned. Cllr Godfrey referred to the report by Tyrens which will show proposed uses for each area of Happy Valley. He again spoke about Mitcham Common which also has and HLSS but has a clearly defined site for events.
Access to internet information: Happy Valley and Surrounding Commons Face Book organiser pointed out that many do not have access to the internet and may therefore be denied access to important information re health and other matters. It was felt that this is a problem particularly for the elderly. Cllr Godfrey believed that the internet was widely used by many and a straw poll of the (mostly elderly) audience revealed that the majority used the internet regularly.
Summary by Cllr Timothy Godfrey:
Cllr Godfrey began by saying that he was delighted that the Friends of Farthing Downs has a proposal for a name change to include Happy Valley which will be put to the meeting later this evening. He reported on some further plans to involve Croydon residents in more opportunities for activities which included swimming, tennis and bowls which will compliment the Live Well programme. At the heart of the proposals is input from local communities — what is wanted in Old Coulsdon and other communities in the Borough. Input from other organisations are important, an example is the proposal for input from the Lawn Tennis Association which will bring improvements to local facilities. Cllr Godfrey repeated the need for community involvement and that help for local projects will remain high on the agenda.
The Chairman thanked both Cllr Timothy Godfrey and Juliet Stevenson for coming this evening and for their interesting and informative presentations.