Thanks to Anne (@LewishamGardens) for this update from the Friends of Mountsfield Park meeting that was held on Monday 17th June.
After last week's rather odd meeting with Sergio Olivares, Anne wrote to Cllr Damien Egan who forwarded her concerns to Martin Hyde, Head of Parks and Regeneration. As a result Martin attended Monday's Friends' meeting in place of junior members of staff. The meeting went well and was well attended (11 adults). Essentially once the apologies were over and assurances about the ring-fenced funding given, he held to the line that the cafe still may not happen - not because of funding squeezes but because of lack of interest.
Martin Hyde's meeting notes were distributed at the beginning of the meeting and formed the basis of all discussion. It was made clear to him (with passion!) that Hither Green is stuffed with community groups with skills and enthusiasm to bid for and win contracts. The meeting began with apologies from Martin for the unexplained delays and a statement that the department acknowledged the local frustrations arising from said delays and poor communication, especially since last autumn's Groundwork consultation. The department has been restructured since the consultation and there are now just two staff.
Procurement procedures have been altered and Groundwork lost out in this process. They had to reapply for a contract and didn't do so in time. Apparently last week's meeting with Sergio was a fact finding meeting for his feasibility study and wasn't supposed to be open to the public. (This still doesn't explain why Sergio hadn't been correctly briefed about the consultations though!)
(The current container cafe)
The council still need to be convinced of the business case for a cafe in the park. Mr Button, the current lessee, attended the meeting. He took questions for the first 10 mins. He stated that the cafe will be open from this weekend through until September. The current lessees have invested £18k in kitting out the container kitchen, but haven't made it pay. It has been documented many times on Twitter and in local forums that the container is not reliably open, hence it's not really surprising that it isn't attended (my note: and the toilets are awful - not great for families!). One meeting attendee claimed the container cafe has been closed since the end of last summer. Should the council decide there should be a cafe, the current lessees will not be bidding for the contract.
(a couple of Lewisham residents enjoying the container cafe when it was open...)
The bowling green site identified by Groundwork as a location for a new cafe may not be ideal as it is too far from the playground. A cafe would be better served on the current site, particularly as water and services are already on site (my note: I would agree with this, the current location is actually really nice, with the mature trees and good proximity to the playground).
Martin stated that no unsolicited applications have been made to run a cafe in Mountsfield Park. Bizarrely this forms the basis of the 'lack of local interest' claims, as there were several bids for Hilly Fields and over 40 for Mayow Park. The flaws in this assumption were pointed out! How does a potential investor know there is a lease available if no decision to build a cafe has been made, and no one has heard a word since the Groundwork consultation? In any case it turns out the Mizens have been in to see Martin about potentially running a cafe, but he had been reluctant because of the proximity of the Cafe of Good Hope. If a cafe does go ahead, a substantial rent holiday can be negotiated to offset initial start up costs.
The council also need to be convinced about the community food growing space. More expressions of interest must be submitted.
Additional funding sournces were also discussed:
- Pocket Park funding from the Mayor of London. The second round of funding opened last month. Now the Blackheath application for a playground at Eliot Pits has been withdrawn, it leaves the way clear for Mountsfield Park to apply. Pocket Parks money would provide an additional £30-50k to the budget. This combined with £30k from the original £400k budget could mean up to £60k to redevelop the disastrous former bowling green.
- There is a possibility of £20k more Section 106 money being put into the project.
- There will be an application to the London Marathon Charitable Trust for funding too. This would fund new gym equipment as in Northbook Park (SE12).
This report on the Hither Green Urban Design and Development Framework was commissioned in 2006, costing an epic £50k, when the Council was clearly flush with taxpayer cash, was mentioned at the meeting on several occasions and appears to be a local bone of contention. The Staplehurst Road side was largely implemented (16:45pm note: although this report talks about Staplehurst Road it is only in the context of it as a part of Hither Green's shopping/station area, and the report notes that the improvements in this area have been as a result of work by FUSS and others and not the local authority per se) but the Hither Green Lane side where Mounstfield Park sits (with the exception of the establishment of the Hither Green Community Association) will probably never be implemented because of the current financial climate. A community centre for the west of Hither Green was promised and has never materialised. A new community-run cafe would go some way to address the issues referred to in the Report.
The chair of the Friends of Mountsfield Park, Rory McNally, now wants to plot a way forward starting with drawing up two strong business plans:
- Community garden/ food growing space.
- Social enterprise/ community-led cafe
I will publish any information I get on my blog. Thanks to Anne for this report.
(As an aside to the cafe and community garden issues, sports changing rooms were also raised and a firm no was the answer. FA and Sport England League teams can't play official games at the park because of the lack of facilities- a toilet block and changing facilities. There is no money to build, maintain or staff a facility. Also discussed was the much delayed felling of some of the awful conifers around the bowling green. This may be brought forward in order to improve the look of the area, lift spirits, and discourage the vagrants who have apparently built shelters onsite.)