Just why is Community so important, particularly for Ham?
Strong communities are this country’s best hedge against economic, social and environmental instability. All authoritarian regimes, like that of Mao or Stalin, have known this, which is why they have actively sought to undermine communities in order to create dependence on the state. We should do everything we can – nationally and locally – to support and nurture our communities.
What challenges do you face in reinstalling a sense of community in the residents of Ham?
Ham, like many of the villages in Richmond Borough, is already a proper community. Where there is a threat – the removal of an important service, or the spectre of overdevelopment, people rally together and are well placed to defeat it. That’s a great sign of life in a community. Politics is a big deal, even if people are put off by it. But we need to try to ensure that it is less remote, which is why I have held countless public meetings in Ham, and am always amazed by the turnout. Given a chance, people want to be heard, and to have their say.
What role can Ham House play, not just on the 23rd of May, but in the continual development of a self-sufficient community in Ham?
Ham House is a major attraction, but sometimes when these treasures are on our doorstep, it’s easy for us to ignore them. I would love to see more people visit the house. I think its emphasis on allotments and working with schools is also key, and I hope the plans will be continued and expanded upon. Getting involved in growing food is perhaps the best way for people, particularly children, to reconnect with the natural world.
Ham encompasses the entire class spectrum, with some of the most lavish houses in London mere walking distance away from some of the most challenging estates. Growing up in Ham, what were your experiences of both?
Ham is considered to be very affluent, and for those who don’t fit that category, it can be more difficult than it would be living elsewhere. There are pockets of real deprivation in the area, and because they are surrounded by affluence, they can be overlooked by the authorities, particularly when it comes to funding. I have spent time in people’s homes and have seen living conditions that wouldn’t be right anywhere. There are also too many cases of antisocial behaviour. I have been helping an elderly lady who has had years of problems with an unpleasant and violent neighbour. Her pleas for help had been ignored, and by making a lot of noise, we managed to change that. She may now enjoy some peace in her old age.
Playwright David Hare believes has been quoted as, “you cannot, in England, begin to imagine the number of people who are simply never given the means to dream of any other life than the one to which they appear to be condemned by circumstance.” How can a socially integrated community, and specifically community projects like ours inspire young people to break this monotony?
A lot of people in Ham are starting at the bottom. And there’s no point pretending their chances of success are as good as those starting out at the top. But Ham is also a vibrant and strong community. Greycourt school is increasingly the school that every community yearns for. And through its success, pupils will have opportunities available to them that weren’t available to their predecessors when the school was less successful. The more the community works together, the more the barriers will come down, and through so many inspiring projects and initiatives, I believe that can happen.
How can the performing arts and participatory events build community?
I don’t know if it fits the category, but the dirt bike track in Ham, near the Loch, is truly inspiring. Every year, up to 40 young people build an extraordinary, brilliant earth track for their bikes. Despite no Council involvement (or possibly because the Council keeps away) there is an organised anarchy that works for all ages. Finally the project has been recognised and the Loch Dirt Bike Group has secured a grant of £7,000 from Central Government. We need to learn from and replicate these sorts of projects.
What makes Ham a suitable place for a project like this to be successful?
In short, Ham is a strong and vibrant place. Unlike so many places in and around London where community no longer exists, Ham is still a village. That means anything is possible.
What changes would you like to see implemented in Ham which would improve the sense of community for everybody who lives there?
Ham House has had wonderful allotment schemes and I would like to see that extended greatly. I think we should also do more to improve and support our local shops. Small independent shops define the community, and they are under threat because of the recession, awkward parking arrangements, lack of investment and exorbitant rates. We need to come together to support them and to push the Council to follow our lead.
I think he has done extremely well to answer some of these questions, I especially like the input about the dirt track which is built once a year. If we can find out about this, then we should have people on their mountain bikes and bmx's tearing down the precession! This would be fantastic!