Archive for October, 2012
Diversity is an easy word to use and one that conveniently comes to mind in descriptions of our borough, although understanding what this might really mean is, another matter and a dutiful task for anyone who might imagine that wearing the chains of office will immediately permit the user to make the journey effortlessly from councillor to Mayor.
Appreciating and moving within the complexities of diversity is as much an earning curve as it is a learning curve, with perhaps the word understanding being far too simplistic. In preference, we could try the German word verstehen as a far deeper take and one more fittingly applied when addressing presentations of self, closely observed by others and uncomfortably difficult to conceal.
This was never more obvious than on October 14th, a Sunday of cultural contrasts, one a harvest festival thanksgiving close to home in Lambeth and the other with our near neighbours in the abbey at Westminster. These are two churches built for the same purpose with services of a similar structure but separated in their expressions of diversity. Two congregations sharing the same devotion to the unseen but seeing life so differently though either a knowing or unknowing of diversity. Two cultures that are joined in prayer and praising, but distanced by a lack of recognition for what is just another way of doing, saying and being seen, because diversity is acceptance where contact with others and their culture does not require that tiresome effort of having to be accommodated.
Although many had arrived at St Anselm’s Church Kennington as heavy rain began to fall, the award ceremony gave no indication of any dampened enthusiasm for what was in prospect as being a celebration of hard work and exemplary behaviour, for children from Reception to the current Year Six and what was a very well turned out returning Year Seven.
Marshalling her forces from imposing height of organisational thoroughness, the Head Teacher of this well supported Church of England primary school led us through the evening, aided and encouraged by her staff who appearing on cue would offer hushed but unruffled explanations for any unexpected change of name or order of the certificates being presented.
Teaching teamwork is always a joy to behold and although never having had a responsibility below Year Twelve I am always full of admiration for those who guide and foster the development of our young people in primary, especially within a well attended church school setting such as this, that included a most delightful sung rendition of the Lords Prayer.
My thanks to staff, governors, parents and all those who made it happen on the night, not least to Ursula Ovenden and the curate of St Anselm’s for their generous welcome and I look forward to hearing more about the school when I receive a copy of Archbishop Sumner’s Newsletter courtesy of their editor Nicole and Michael ;her wide-eyed news desk assistant.
It was a great pleasure to meet with the Friends of St Thomas’ once again on the occasion of their 2012 Christmas Cards Launch and endorse as Mayor all that their immensely important volunteering work means to the thousands of grateful individuals, families and community groups throughout our progressive London Borough south of the river. Whatever the spread of social networking is able to create or image for the user; the greetings card is still that bond of friendship and love sent the length and breadth of our country and often across continents with welcomed words so good to receive and even more rewarding to send. Christmas cards maybe a seasonal routine but this anticipated task is made far easier when you know that it carries much more than the written word can ever say because with the Friends of St Thomas’ Hospital; the purchase price will be used in supporting the care and comfort of patients in one of our two truly excellent NHS Hospitals in Lambeth. This year, the photographic front cover is that of the frozen Naub Gabo fountain, central to the beautifully laid out gardens overlooking the Thames with Parliament and Big Ben in the distance and that same little robin turning up again as in the stunning riverside shot used last year.
Our arrival on a most beautiful autumn morning was greeted by His Grace the Archbishop with generous welcome and assurances that although the entrance had some resemblance to Wormwood Scrubs it was a palace and certainly once inside the impressive courtyard there was no possible risk of confusion.
The occasion was the launch of the Lambeth Giving Fund that the Archbishop had kindly agreed to host; lending considerable weight to what was a huge step forward in our relationship with charitable donations and a fitting tribute to the cross-party working of elected members and the logistical diligence of development manager Grace Gbadamosi. Using an original idea the fund is designed to reach those smaller parts of charitable giving that are sometimes off the radar for the larger fund raisers, through an alternative means of giving as integral to our local culture as is our immediate response to a national appeal.
With our charitable organisations fully represented it was an initiative of altruistic enterprise, involving six local charities including horses from the Ebony Horse Club for whom meeting the Archbishop was another opportunity for attention although from a much higher sphere of ecclesiastical influence. The Lambeth Giving Fund will allow these charities to benefit from an experience uniquely personal to Lambeth with donations reaching the most marginalised in a way that makes a significant difference to their community and our borough a better place for the experience, with donors given the reassurance that their generosity will be felt much closer to where the heart is south of the river in a London Borough that was once home to Dr Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Visiting Jon Newman at Lambeth Archives is like touring a well maintained family vault with an enthusiastic academic well versed in the art of careful explanations and delicate personal details that are yours for the turning of a page, a searching look, or casual enquiry. Being with Jon on the occasion of Lambeth Archives Open Day allowed for me to connect with our past in the company of familiar faces from our wealth of knowledgeable societies who have occupied a place in our contemporary history for more years than these guardians of our treasured memorabilia might care to admit.
Something that came to light as a result of a host of anecdotes from these doyens of our oral history, was that in the early nineteen fifties; Twenty First Birthday celebrations were a regular feature in the Assembly Hall. Sadly those who were unfortunate enough to miss out with its passing still feel the pain of disappointment, as did some young men who were ready to serve their country and were then denied their two years National Service when conscription was finally ended.
Records of our past and journeys of academic discovery are freely available in this well respected storehouse of social information, accessible to us all with the good fortune to live in Lambeth and will end on one personal memory, that as a result of my visit I have been able to seek closure. I have now at last seen the publicity photographs of a near neighbour, sadly no longer with us but as a model during and after the Second World War; graced the pages of magazines and billboard advertising usually in the uniform of a nurse or member of our armed forces. The face of Greta Berry or as I knew her Greta Egan was a most stunning picture of elegance in the austerity of wartime and her memory for many might have been their last glimpse of home before boarding a troop train bound for Normandy. The age of innocence may have past but the deeply ingrained social values remain within the memories of those faithful local societies on parade yet again at the Lambeth Archives Open Day.
Civic Service and Commissioning for the Mayor of Lambeth.
As a local church of historic note and centre of community worship over centuries of service to Streatham, the friendly family atmosphere that prevailed in St Leonards on Sunday September 23rd was most reassuring for all those attending either as regular members of the congregations or visiting for the first time.
The weather might have been kinder but the evensong congregation and choir under the direction of Michael Emery gave fitting voice of welcome to the Bishop of Southwark, our Rector Mandy Hodgson, Deputy Lieutenant for Lambeth, Chief Executive of Lambeth, Mayor of Merton and former Mayors, Elected Members, Youth Mayor, family, friends and residents for a commissioning of the Mayor of Lambeth.
When in office the limitations sometime experienced as a ward councillor are measurably reduced since political impartiality permits communication across all Political Groups and Directorates. This enables out reach at all levels of responsibility to be experienced in schools and hospitals, from the need to pursue job opportunities for our young people, to the needs of the more vulnerable as a promotional duty of their first citizen. It is a demanding yet pleasurable duty in supporting officers and elected members in securing environments to be proud of, neighbourhoods worthy of extended praise and a community safety that will be enhanced in closing ranks on poverty and embracing the essentials of a comprehensive cross cultural belonging.
For these and many other considerations and responsibilities undertaken within the role of Mayor I was commissioned as follows by the Bishop of Southwark, The Right Revd Christopher Chessun in the presence of our Rector and the St Leonard’s congregation:
“I Councillor Clive Bennett will work diligently for all the people of Lambeth as Mayor. I will represent rich and poor, people of all backgrounds and nations, people of all faiths and those with none. I will encourage the council in serving and uniting our community. I will work to promote justice and the well being of all those who live and work in our Borough. I will speak the truth without fear of favour and do all I can to represent Lambeth as a progressive London Borough south of the river; endorsing the work of our officers and commending the energy of elected members.”
A thousand guest reception hosted by the International Maritime Organisation
Shipping, masters and ocean-going vessels of all types from Tankers to Frigates from Cruising to Cargo and Containers were all there at the centre of conversations, along with gold braid introductions and a kimono greeting from one of the hosts.
It was a scene of cross cultural exuberance that filled to overflowing the upper mezzanine floor for World Maritime Day held at the impressive International Maritime Organisation address on the Albert Embankment. Despite invitations in excess of 1000 guests arrangements were made with exceptional care and courtesy, demanding our appreciative thanks to the hosts for receiving us so warmly on an occasion that allowed the Mayoress and I to acknowledge formally the considerable prestige that the IMO brings to the London Borough of Lambeth.
With the concerns for our young people never far away I was heartened by a conversation that brought together the worlds of those who crew with a static cargo and that of a cruise ship, for whom, the cargo is forever on the move and in need of constant attention. Different worlds maybe but a shared discipline that prompted a heartfelt and spirited compliment to the `boys and girls’ as he called them aboard the floating hotels where skills are valued and life as precious as each new dawn.
The crew of waiters, cooks, cabin staff, stylists and entertainers were paid an enormous compliment for their exceptional discipline in making sure that the fate of the cruise ship recently run aground off the west coast of Italy did not result in many more fatalities. Discipline afloat is high and those not up to it are soon adrift in a culture that for the young crew on that awful night was to become the ultimate test of character to which they responded with an `honest grit and dignity’ in the proud traditions of the sea.