In early May last year, I was at home with my seven-week old baby, when I got a call from our local election agent, who was at the election count in Woolwich: “Lauren – you might want to get yourself down here – it looks like you are going to win”.
I’d taken the decision the day before not to take Baby William to a busy election count. He’d been a bit fractious all week, counts can last a very long time, and COVID was still rife. Plus – I was standing in what was assumed to be the safest Tory ward in Greenwich (the one that the leader of the Greenwich Tories stood in). Whilst the national picture suggested some shift towards Labour – surely Labour couldn’t win in Eltham Town and Avery Hill?
A few hours later I was hastily handing a grisly Baby William to Danny Thorpe so I could stand on stage at the count and thank everyone. Sammy Backon and I had done it – taken two of the three seats in our ward. Whilst we had hoped to win – we wouldn’t have stood if we didn’t – it was a very distant hope. Now I had to figure out how I was going to manage everything. I was recovering from a c-section. I had 2 children under 3. I was on maternity leave – but due to go back to a full-time job at the end of the year. Even by my standards – it was taking on a lot. But I was so excited to make it work – and I think I have (just about) managed it. Too much has happened this year to put it in one blog post - but hopefully my Councillor Diary entries have given you more detail on what has kept me busy!
Labour making a difference. It has been fantastic to be part of a Labour-run authority, which is so committed to making a difference for our residents. From investing £3 million to help residents and businesses who were struggling because of the Conservative Cost of Living Crisis; to building new council homes; to delivering a budget to protect frontline services – it has been humbling to be a part of it.
Taking Southeastern to task. As part of my role as Chair of the Regeneration, Transport and Culture Scrutiny Panel, I have led the scrutiny of Southeastern Trains and their disastrous timetable cuts. I have brought the managing director and his team to the Panel twice – and have seen some (albeit small) wins as a result. You can read more about that here and here.
Feeling part of my community. I live in the ward I represent. I moved here at the beginning of the pandemic, just after my first child was born. I was so busy with looking after the children, working full-time and navigating the pandemic - I hadn’t really had time to meet people here. I now feel really part of this wonderful community – and I can rarely walk around the park without running into someone I know!
The housing crisis. Seeing the impact of the housing crisis first hand has been heartbreaking. There are over 20,000 people on our housing waiting lists - many currently living in overcrowded and unsuitable properties. We are building council houses again – which is brilliant - but it is nowhere near enough.
The cost of living crisis. As a Labour-run authority, we have done what we can to cushion some of the impact of the Conservative cost of Living Crisis – but again, we are limited to what we can do. I have spent time this past year at the Avery Hill Food Bank, and at the Roots4Life Community Fridge – both of which have seen huge increases in demand this year. Again – we have supported where we can, but to really combat the crisis, we need a Labour Government.
The unfinished business
The Winter Garden. The Avery Hill winter Garden is an iconic building, and it has fallen into disrepair. It is owned by the University of Greenwich and they have been slowly making the improvements that they have been obliged to do, and I keep being assured it will be open to the public again soon. But, I would like to see Greenwich Council take ownership of the building again – and for it to thrive. I supported the Levelling-Up bid, which was unfortunately unsuccessful, and I am pushing for us to apply for Heritage Lottery funding.
Empty Shops. There are two shops in New Eltham (“Hungry Tums” and “Touchwood Pine”) which have been empty for decades. The owner (Criterion Estates) doesn’t seem interested – and the Council has limited powers to force them to do anything with them (except keep them clean and tidy). We have taken some enforcement action, but I would like to see the shops open again and thriving. We are hopeful that the Government will give us more powers to do this, as part of the Levelling Up bill, and I'm pushing for Greenwich to be one of the first Councils across the UK, to put this into action.
All in all though, it’s been a brilliant year, and I am looking forward to what we can achieve in the next three (hopefully backed by a Labour Government)!