Creating a History Trail in Sydenham

By Andrew Orford

I am making notes on creating a trail around Sydenham Common. Twitter moments enables me to curate some of that research and present it for others to follow. The method is as interesting to me as the content. I hope to create a trail design tool from this project.


My history of London

It’s London History Day May 31st

My London History is one of social activism, but I came to London to be a drummer after the bass player in my band in Harrogate disappeared to London and was next seen on TV as one of the founder members of the estimable Curved Air. As the only drummer in the village I eventually moved to London, after buying a drum kit from Slade, to become a part of the industry of human happiness (if not mine).

I set up my drum kit in the Students Union at Northern Polytechnic on the Holloway Road and moved into digs next to the Arsenal Ground (Gillespie Road in Finsbury Park). Six weeks later I was asked if I would edit the student newspaper as “I knew how to play the drums” Knowing nobody in London beyond my fellow students on the B.Sc in Maths, Stats and Computing and realised this meant I would be hanging out with the cool guys who had been on the streets of Paris in May 68, lead the occupation of the LSE and, most importantly, had been a member of the Vipers when they occupied the 2 I’s coffee bar on 14th July 1956 & kickstarted the British pop revolution. It took me 5 issues to learn how to edit the student newspaper 118; 6 weeks later we started the longest occupation of a university in the UK and I was talking to John Izbicki of the Daily Telegraph almost daily.

Significantly we occupied the canteen for 5 years and turned it into a student co-operative, unique in British student history. That canteen, on Holloway Road, taught me all I know about collaboration, mutuality and self-organisation of social groups. I later went on to do a politics degree at City Polytechnic (and on to Colorado University in the USA) to make sense of what I had experienced and learnt. I remained socially active and was a minor part of the efforts to block the development of Covent Garden into a business district and keep it as the convivial square (and tourist mecca) it was to become. I worked at Smithfield as a van driver for a time (I know London really well from a van) and once a week picked up a raft of vegetables from Covent Garden for delivery to a hotel so I’d fallen in love with the old Covent Garden (founded 1645).

Years later I moved to Lewisham where, having done a Masters degree at City University and received my certificate at the Guildhall to the delight of my father. I had written a thesis on the “environmental impacts of computing” and spent the nineties being a green activist in Lewisham being part of Local Agenda 21 and Citizen Connects. As a part of that I was involved in the, long-running, efforts in Deptford to resist the damming of Deptford Creek (to build a marina like Chelsea Harbour) and keep the creek tidal. That battle was run, basically by outlasting the developers, as in Covent Garden (2 years minimum is my rule of thumb) and Deptford began its 20 year development into a rich and varied green and arts city eco-system, finally celebrated by the BBC Culture Show with Andrew Graham-Dixon uttering the words beloved of social activists “out of nowhere” – referring to the South London Art Map  and SLAM Fridays.

What my activism in North and South London taught me is that there is a dynamic to bottom up social change that creates interesting places to live. it could be seen as social activism, followed by cultural regeneration which is inevitably followed by developers who wanted to profit from the intriguing locations people have created. I captured these ideas in Participatory City, an alternative to the dreaded “Smart City” which is just computer companies saying we will wire up the city for you and strengthen the command centres in City Hall. But the neighbourhoods of cities run on the engagement of people not the real-time wiring of traffic lights.

More on London History Day

Citizens Connect

Lewisham 1997 – 2000

Unlike most UK local authorities Lewisham responded thoughtfully to the launch of the National Grid for Learning initiative to connect all schools to the internet in 1997. As well as the usual logistical “box and wires’ committee concerned with installing cables and computers, needed to take the National Grid for Learning live, the London Borough Lewisham also added a “Curriculum Committee”.  As I recall it was the brainchild of Althea Efunshule, who later went on to work for the UK government in the Education Department.

I was on the Curriculum Committee which is the only educational initiative I can recall having membership from all educational sectors across a London borough, or in any other borough across the country. This cross-sectoral collaboration wasn’t the only significant aspect of our work. When I went to work for the government, at its e-learning agency Becta, I found we were the only local authority who had set up a committee to examine how we might use the Internet for learning, not just to plan how to install the “box and wires” necessary to connect to the internet. Critically we had Dominic Clare from Goldsmiths, who was already teaching about how to use computers for learning, and Gill Deadman who ran the Professional Development Centre in Kilmorie Road, and was organising in situ training (CPD) showing teachers how to use computers in their subject classes. Working with this wonderful group shaped all my subsequent thinking about Continue reading

Why I moved to Lewisham

Live where you work

 Once upon a time; at a small dinner party on the Holly Lodge Estate estate in Highgate, it came to pass that conversation fell to where we lived in London and where we worked, which was invariably in a different borough. We quickly mapped ourselves from Highgate to Hackney, to Lewisham, to Wimbledon, to Neasden, and back to Highgate.  A surprisingly circular “road to work” where we worked in a borough where a friend lived and also lived in a borough where a friend worked.  As we all worked in FE colleges we felt that we could easily switch jobs and massively reduce the number of journeys across London and the journey times, as they would then became walkable. 100 miles of frustrating journeys a day (between 5 people) to do what were arguably “local” jobs in London seemed pointless, as well as environmentally unfriendly.

When I was offered a full time job at Lewisham College I felt I ought to move from Hackney (driving through the Blackwall Tunnel twice a day made a powerfully insistent argument too) and so moved south; becoming Transpontine and beyond the pale for ace London DJ Robert Elms. First I moved to close to the Lewisham Town Centre (Clarendon Rise), leaving me a 1 mile journey to work, and then to Sandrock Road (off Lewisham Way), just a 7 minute walk from house to office.

Consequently I both lived and worked in Lewisham, and I now realise that was a critical factor in how I began thinking about the borough, and also the jobs that I subsequently took on within the college. Initially I was a lecturer in “Information Systems” (how we use computers in businesses) but I was more interested in the social impact of computers and technical change on Society, particularly after the invention of the World Wide Web which, like Ted Nelson, I’d also been anticipating. When I did my Masters Degree on Information Systems & Technology (at City University) I did my thesis (1989) on the “environmental impact of computing” and became interested in greening organisations and the use of computers. Obviously I wanted to implement that at my place of work so I could test out my theories in practice.

I became Head of Community Projects at Lewisham College in order to chair the Green Committee and so green the organisation. As a consequence I also worked with many wonderful local groups and people, as well as the London Borough of Lewisham. Within the college I set up an eco-management process (emas)and recruited the first Green Governor for an FE College. This also enabled me to work on the London Borough of Lewisham Local Agenda 21 and also win a New Deal for the Environment project bid to both green the borough (in a number of ways – including Park User Groups – mostly the idea of Jill Goddard) and provide training for young people to work with the parks and the environment. Jill and I set up the Creekside Education Trust, with others, to try and provide a local environmental education (although Dusty Gedge – Mr Green Roof – was critical in our success).

In 1997 when the National Grid for Learning was launched, I worked with LB Lewisham on the only known Council group looking at how to use the Internet (the NGfL Curriculum Committee group with Dominic Clare of Goldsmiths and Gill Deadman of the PDC in Kilmorie Road) instead of just looking at how to connect schools to the Internet, which is what every other local Council did across the UK. We learnt a lot from this! Not least that Lewisham then set up the Citizen’s Connect initiative (Joe Montgomery’s idea I think) to investigate if the Internet could be used to increase “active citizenship” in the Borough (I’ll give you some of the details – and give you the answer (!) – in another blog post).

As a consequence of working and living in Lewisham I have a lot of undocumented stories to tell about the recent history, both green and digital, which I think fall into the remit of “intangible” culture; stories and activities that haven’t been recorded or formally acknowledged. I will be telling these stories as one strand of the contributions to this blog. The UNESCO definition on intangible culture is actually about “intangible cultural heritage” but Katherine Perry and I think that there is an intangible cultural present which is the opposite of what London (and its modern political mayors) is trying to achieve as a “World City” Trying to locate our “intangible cultural present” is what this blog and project is about.

Lewisham Projects I was involved with (to be discussed in future blog posts) include the Creekside Education Trust, who built the Creekside Discovery Centre (for Environmental Education and Urban Ecology), Citizen Connects, TaLENT Community Grid For Learning and Internet Teaching project and others.

I’m currently working with Lewisham on the Origin of Spaces EU Erasmus + project looking at CoWorking Hubs and Social Enterprises. Check out the PLACE/Ladywell.


First blog post

Welcome to the Intangible Lewisham blog, set up by Katherine Perry and Fred Garnett at the Hill Station, Kitto Road, Telegraph Hill, Lewisham. Intangible Lewisham will record examples of “intangible urban culture” as we find them in and around Lewisham.

We are using this blog to document ideas and practices that we hope to include in Made in Lewisham (our Festival of Intangible Culture) 2017 which will represent both tangible and intangible cultures in the Lewisham area.

Starting with a pop-up shop in late 2016  we will be co-creating the programme with the local community…

Fred & Katherine