Cllr Paul Gadsby is the Cabinet Member for Housing, and a councillor in Vassall ward.
There are many big questions facing us as we enter the upcoming winter election. Brexit, the housing crisis, climate change and the future of an under pressure NHS are all at the forefront of voter’s minds – and quite rightly. But I am hoping that whatever the result, the next government will look at giving real support to projects driven by resident and council partnerships, like the Slade Gardens Adventure Playground development that has just been successfully green lighted in Lambeth.
To start with the good news first: In September, Lambeth council and the Friends of Slade Gardens Community Play Association (SGCPA) announced a £2.5 million investment project into the community centre in the park. As a local councillor for the area and someone involved in the long history of this project, I can’t under state how important the improvements will be that this will delivers. It will see the current old and small centre rebuilt with a café, supplied with food grown in a new local allotment, and a two storey centre that will allow space for community projects, volunteering opportunities and employment training. The design of the building will feature a sloped roof with solar panels to power the facility, polytunnels will appear alongside it and there will even be room for three new beehives. All this will compliment the already well used park and adventure playground, with its iconic Yellow Submarine climbing frame, that local councillors in Vassall, Ferndale and Stockwell have long championed.
This is an impressive list and it is built on three very important foundations. The first relates to the project’s location. Slade Gardens is nestled between Stockwell and Brixton, an area rich with diversity, but also afflicted by higher than average areas of deprivation. Lambeth Labour has over the past few years made this, and other areas, a priority in terms of its focus, winning funding from the LEAP project for investment in local children services for example. The benefits in training that the new SPCA will bring, especially at a time when austerity has been the driving ideology of the current government, will be incredibly important. Just as important, this is not a top down council project. I can genuinely testify that the residents group has driven the idea, the ethos and the outline of the plans. As a recognition of this, the council has granted the SGCPA a 99 lease which will put them in the driving seat going forward. I am a great believer that the state and local government should be an active player in society, but genuinely, well set up partnerships can provide real benefits by tapping into the experience and skills of residents. And finally in a borough which has declared a climate emergency, this is a thoroughly green project built on sustainability.
I would be lying if I said this has been a completely straightforward process. At a time when Tory cuts are ripping the heart out of local government, finding the investment was not easy, and I am grateful to both Cllr Andy Wilson and former Deputy Leader Imogen Walker for championing this project. Residents, particularly the engine of the project Robin Langton, have shown enormous patience as the course has been navigated.
But these tests aside, it does show a road-map for what a future government should be empowering local councils to do with residents across the country. To do this, we do need to dispense with a decade of relentless cuts and have proper funding flowing back into council coffers that allows projects like this to get off the ground and more quickly. And we need to encourage the right balance between councils and residents, where the potential of both can be exploited. If we can get this right then there will be many more projects like this opening up across the country.
Cllr Paul Gadsby