Sunday 5 September 2010

Big Turnout For Wanstead Flats Community Protest Picnic

The weather for today's Mass Community Picnic, organised by the Save Wanstead Flats campaign, was predicted to be fine and sunny. But as I walked up Woodgrange Road towards the Flats at lunchtime, the sky was leaden and I could feel the occasional spot of rain. There was no way of knowing how any people - if any - would show up to what had been billed as an opportunity for local people, concerned about plans for a police operational base on Wanstead Flats, to meet neighbours from around the area who share their concerns about defending common land that belongs to all of us.

At 12.30pm there were about ten of us, but I need not have worried. Small groups of people soon appeared from every direction, bringing their blankets and food, whilst at around 1.30pm, a large group of cyclists from Forest Gate showed up in procession. There was a good turnout too from the local churches and a number of the schools and a good mix of residents from Forest Gate, Leyton and Wanstead. The children's banner-making area, organised by a friend from Godwin Road, came up with some funny and brilliant placard designs.

I heard some rather wild speculation about the overall numbers, but a rough headcount at about 2.15pm suggested 350 picnickers, which is fantastic achievement for what was fairly autumnal afternoon.

Paul Thomson, the Superintendent of Epping Forest (right), was also there and to give him all due credit, he stayed to debate with local people despite a pressing engagement in Chingford for the Epping Forest Festival. I'm pretty sure he felt he had little choice at times though. One of my friends said the impromptu public meeting that had surrounded him was like a 'gherao', an Indian protest tactic from West Bengal that involves surrounding a politician or employer and refusing to let them leave until their demands are met or their questions answered! However, Paul also kindly confirmed that the City of London Corporation will definitely provide representatives for the residents' public meeting organised for Wednesday 6th October, which hopefully will convince the Metropolitan police to stop beating around the bush and promise to turn up too.

The main problem the campaign steering group has now is an unusual but very welcome one: will Durning Hall Community Centre's main hall, with a capacity of 300, actually be big enough to accommodate everyone who has said they want to attend? Everyone I spoke to today is coming and it is a real indicator of the strength of local feeling about these controversial proposals - and an indication that so far, the assurances given by the Corporation and the Met police have failed to satisfy many. October's public meeting does, however, provide both with a chance to talk directly to a large number of people - and I'm sure that Paul Thomson at least has a much clearer idea of the questions that local people want more detailed answers to.

You can download a flyer for the residents' public meeting on Wednesday 6th October at Durning Hall Community Centre from here. My photos on Flickr are here.

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