Friday 30 September 2016

Evelyn ward by-election; runners, riders, and Ray.

It would be foolish to suggest that things are ‘hotting up’ for the by-election in Evelyn ward, which was prompted by the death of long-serving councillor Crada Onuegbu, but there are certainly signs that the outcome of the 13th October vote will hold more interest than usual.

I don't doubt that Cllr Onuegbu cared for her electorate as people, and certainly before she became ill, she was often in attendance at local community events and meetings. For whatever reason, however, she did not feel it necessary to resign her seat when she became too ill to carry out her duties, and this situation persisted for so long that it prompted complaints to the council about her lack of attendance, enhancing the general feeling of disenfranchisement in Evelyn ward.

Evelyn ward’s relationship to Deptford is rather like Deptford’s relationship to Lewisham, but magnified by ten. Largely made up of vast swathes of housing estates interspersed by industrial land, and on the outer reaches of the borough, sandwiched between the watersides of Southwark and Greenwich, it has lain forgotten for many decades. But as the industrial land is gradually hived off to be developed for housing, and existing residents see very little benefit coming back to their communities, the level of discontent has been rising, council decisions are being more closely scrutinised and regularly challenged by residents, and new groups have formed to promote the interests of the forgotten corners of Deptford.

Little wonder then that the forthcoming by-election has prompted an independent candidate to throw down his hat alongside the usual suspects. Scott Barkwith, who is standing under the banner of Independent Evelyn, has been a very active member of the Deptfordfolk group (Friends of Deptford Park & Folkestone Gardens) since its launch, and wants to challenge the borough’s largely supine approach to representation.

Clearly with Labour having a huge majority on the council there's a limit to what an independent councillor (or a councillor from any opposition party for that matter) could achieve borough-wide, but on a local level it would be refreshing to have someone who would assist local groups in campaigning for improvements in the ward in addition to turning up at community events and pursuing casework on behalf of individuals.

It's a very short period of time for any independent candidate to build up sufficient recognition across the ward - but with voter turnout likely to be low, perhaps Scott's existing profile as a local campaigner will be enough to see him through?

From the field of six candidates, Scott is one of only two who actually live in the actual ward - no great surprise there as few of our elected representatives have done so over the years and neither of the incumbent councillors do. The other resident candidate is Joyce Jacca who is representing the Labour Party - for once Labour has put up a candidate who is known and active locally, perhaps responding to the discontent that has been voiced over recent months. Joyce is on the photo above, which is the one that Lewisham Labour chose to accompany its announcement, although they failed to point out which of the women on the picture is Joyce (she's front left if you can make her out!).

Two of the other candidates are fairly well-known in Deptford - one not necessarily for the best of reasons.

Ray Barron-Woolford is standing as candidate for People Before Profit - despite the fact that he seems to think the creation of a parish council is the only way that Deptford can become glorious again. On the surface, his many initiatives suggest he is a tireless local campaigner, but it's hard to banish the suspicion that the main purpose of his heritage festivals, parish council, food bank, books and so on is purely for his own self-promotion, considering the amount of time he spends bragging about his many achievements.

When he stood for a council seat in New Cross ward in 2014, Vice magazine did a great piece on his political background, revealing that he'd crossed the spectrum from one side to the other during his 'career' as a politician.

His campaigns always highlight his 'good works', and rarely mention his day job, which is running an estate agency - formerly Housemartins, now relaunched as London & Country (we'll come to that in a minute). When he does mention it, he claims it as 'the UK only social enterprise estate agency' (sic), whatever that means. In practice it's a private company limited by shares, and with a single shareholder, Ray Woolford.

He claims that his estate agency funds his 'charitable' work, although again there is no proof of that. The 'We Care Food Bank Charity' is not a charity at all, it has no charitable status (the website  has been claiming 'charity number applied for' ever since it was launched) and in fact it is not even a registered company.

Similarly the locally-infamous Deptford Heritage Festival was claimed to be a fundraiser for his local good works, but no proof of that was forthcoming. After criticisms of the first festival and presumably some scrutiny of where the money went, he published a vaguely-worded page about festival costs, with promises of more information to be published once ticket agency payments had been made. No further details were forthcoming.

To get an insight into the tangled business affairs of Ray Woolford you only have to start digging around at Companies House. Under his various monikers (Raymond David Woolford, Raymond Barron-Woolford) and his multiple registered correspondence addresses in London, Oxfordshire and Bristol, he's held offices at quite a few different companies, from the famous 'Come the Revolution' cafe in New Cross Road which came to a sticky and sudden end to a short-lived four-month stint as an officer at the 2000 Community Action Centre in 2015.

His first estate agency - Housemartins Estate Agents, which was founded in 1999 - ran into trouble a couple of years ago. First signs of this were a year ago when Ray applied for his (wholly-owned) company to be struck off the register. Had his application succeeded, any outstanding creditors would have received nothing. But an objection was received, and subsequently it became clear that he'd had some kind of tangle with the Austrian Olympic Committee. In January of this year, following a petition to the High Court in Bristol from the solicitors of the aforementioned organisation, an order was made to wind the company up. The mind boggles as to what shenanigans preceded this - presumably some kind of disagreement relating to rental accommodation provided during the 2012 Olympics? - but when Ray is involved, preposterous is the new normal. Hence 'the UK only social enterprise estate agency' has now been relaunched as London & Country.

You can follow Ray on Twitter, but he's quite twitchy with the blocking button so do be sure not to challenge anything he says.

The other name that people might recognise locally is the Green's candidate Andrea Carey Fuller, who's been involved in setting up the Deptford Neighbourhood Action group and getting the neighbourhood plan off the ground. She's probably better known in New Cross though, rather than Evelyn, as most of her attention has been focussed on Tidemill.

At the last council elections the Tories did not even bother to field any candidates - they've wheeled one out for this election. I see from the election literature that turned up today that James Clark is keen to prevent overdevelopment of Lewisham's waterfront. Horse, stable door etc.

And what a road sign to choose for your photo shoot. I had to look it up to find out where exactly it was in Evelyn ward. Don't worry, I'm sure there's nothing significant in the choice.

Finally the Lib Dems have a candidate, Lucy Salek. In the last by-election their candidate polled slightly higher than the Tories and Ukip, who were neck and neck.

It will be interesting to see what happens. At the last full council elections the Labour councillors were elected with comfortable majorities of at least a thousand votes each. But this is a by-election and turnout at the last one in Evelyn (when the winning candidate was deselected after just three months) was so pitiful that if it's repeated, anything could happen.

In the by-election of May 2013 just 16% of the electorate could be arsed to go to the polling station. The Labour candidate polled 978, and People Before Profit's candidate (not Ray this time) came second with 404. The others trailed with just over 100 each.

The choice of several credible, locally-known candidates could potentially split the Labour vote and may make the final result a lot closer. But having a stronger choice might also motivate more people to vote.


Richard W said...

It is certainly refreshing to see the Independent Evelyn choice

Anonymous said...

If anyone has any questions for me I am happy to answer them on twitter @scottbarkwith, via email, on my website or if you see me out and about. I am even happy to meet for a coffee somewhere local. If you feel like getting involved let me know but do sign up to my mailing list as I will be sending out some ideas I want to share with everyone over the coming days that I hope will start some discussions. Most of all it is important to vote. A 16% turnout in 2013 can be bettered. Thank you.
Scott Barkwith

Anonymous said...

The area definitely needs someone who is willing to challenge the Labour dominated council. Especially with planning. The councillors (that don't live here so don't care) watched while an austerity school got passed (sir Francis Drake) and funding for the "play" part of the Skate-n-Play got cut in Folkestone Gardens. Children's services diced and sliced. No playgroup at Silwood. Minimal social housing in new developments. I dont know why those guys want to represent this area except to further their own personal goals. Look at the record of dodgy councillors that are forced to stand down or deselected by their own party in this area. No wonder local people are not seeing regeneration.

And the big Renewal/Bullock redevelopment of Surrey Canal AKA "New Bermondsey" (erasing our history is not good) just on the border at Millwall...something is rotten over there and it ain't Zampa Fish.

Anonymous said...

I usually enjoy your fair-handed comments Dame but I think you've been unfair and negatively biased towards Ray Woolford. I know him tolerably well, and although he has his faults, and it's easy to trawl through a few things to find those, he also has many assets, chief of which are his unstinting work for many disenfranchised people in Deptford and his ability to move on from experiences that may deter lesser people.
You should try and meet him dame, you really should. Whilst his written word may sometimes cause derisive humour (sic) this is as a result of his dyslexia, but to hear him talk, especially in a public situation, is invigorating and it shows his passion for community engagement very clearly. If he were to bring that oratory to the council chamber he would be a powerful voice for the people of Deptford, who have been consistently failed by the Labour and Bullock monopoly.
When you have worked as hard as Ray, and perhaps made mistakes as publicly as Ray may have done, then feel free to criticise him, but until that time I suggest you treat him fairly, as you have the other candidates.
Perhaps if you were to investigate the other candidates as thoroughly you'd find skeletons in their cupboards, but no, you choose the easy target.
As I say, go and meet Ray then perhaps reform your opinion, but in the meantime at least be fair.

Deptford Dame said...

@anon I have met Ray several times and I have also heard him talk on more than one occasion. I don't share your opinion that he is invigorating; in the exchanges I've witnessed at public meetings he's come across as a zealot who has no ability or desire either to listen to his critics or to respond to them in any effective way. If he were elected as a councillor, would he only be willing to work for those whose opinions he agrees with? If any of the opposition candidates win this seat, they will have very limited power to achieve anything unless they can work alongside the ruling Labour party effectively, and I have no confidence that Ray would make any attempt to do that. I might have put forward a kinder profile of him had he not been such a rampant self-publicist, but I also feel very strongly that he needs to be more transparent about how his businesses operate and how they relate to the endeavours he claims as charities. He regularly states that his estate agency is a social enterprise, and yet its governing document contains no statement of its social mission, which is one of the most basic requirements for social enterprises. He seems to feel no obligation to back up these claims, which suggests he has no respect for those who choose to believe them. I think I've been very fair in the circumstances.

Duane Dibley said...

Why were dodgy Ray's followers recording people's poll card numbers outside the polling station? As if they were some sort of officials.