As a resident of the City of London it is a very eerie feeling for me to have the usually busy Cityscape at such a standstill. No planes overhead (except the London Air Ambulance red helicopter flying to and from the Royal London) and a sporadic stream of cars and vans and rather too many noisy blue light flashing ambulances. The bright red buses have a reduced timetable but still enliven the scene albeit with very few occupants. The many public green spaces and pocket parks are blooming with spring flowers and blossom with only the birds and bees to enjoy their shade and nectar.
Only 2% of business premises in the City are still occupied and then only with a skeleton staff, save for the retail food shops that are still open. The City Corporation is largely working from home but vital services such as social care and waste collection are still operating. The City Police are still present and keeping a watchful eye over all that is happening. The criminal fraternity may not be self isolating.
St Bartholomew Hospital founded in 1123 has seen this all before (Black Death, Great Fire and the Blitz) but is now reforming its operation to meet this new need. Whilst it is not a full service hospital – it specialises in heart and cancer treatment - it is now reconfiguring to treat all heart emergency surgery across London (thus relieving other hospitals in this regard). It is also transforming what was a 6th floor with 16 intensive care beds into a ward with 70 such beds in order to provide world class care for those with Covid-19. Staff are needing to be retrained in these areas and the senior clinician is positive about the difference that they can make.
The City Police are fully operational but one of their officers died during the week of Covid-19. They report an immediate drastic drop in the daily crime rate but still warn that Counter-terrorism is a viable threat to the City. With so many empty premises unguarded there has been a number of burglaries and it is the case that many shops are now being boarded up against such intrusions. There are some random assaults and occasional urban explorers who seek to scale the tall buildings for fun. Whilst there is reduced traffic this can be deceptive and the police are still picking up traffic offences that often lead to other offences such as no driving licence or possession of drugs and a worthwhile arrest.
The City Police also run the national Action Fraud helpline and, again numbers of reported cases are down but it is a fear that this might be a blip. Fraudsters turn their hand to anything and there are already many reported cases of fraudulent calls to the elderly and spoof and fake email scams tricking people when they are most vulnerable.
The numerous building sites in the City are rather still with cranes at rest position. Last week only five were still operating. However there are crews working on emergencies and loose manhole covers that are both irritating to residents with the continuous thud as cars go over them but also where they are creating a lasting pothole in the carriageway ( a complaint from one of my voters).
The City was the first authority to give preferential parking rights to the NHS and other care and emergency workers allowing them the right to park for free in the car parks and at metres.
City businesses have the benefit of various government schemes as to rates and loans. Additionally the City has proposed a scheme to help their direct business tenants with concessions as to the rents at this time.
For residents in the City there is a City Advice team on hand; libraries are online as well as the Museum of London. Additionally a food bank has been set up for those residents in vulnerable situations. Set up in 7 days with the help of Age UK this helps residents across the City, who are a very diverse set of people.
Food banks are not the only way to help others at this time. The City Bridge Trust is a founder partner in the London Communities Response Fund which is being administered and convened by London Funders. The City Bridge Trust has donated £1m to the fund together with a further £1m from the Greater London Authority. The fund now stands at over £8 million. This is giving immediate help to charities across Greater London . Charities do not qualify for much other assistance at present. Mainly they do not want to furlough employees as the work that they are doing with the most vulnerable in our society needs to continue even more so now and not stop. However the funding sources such as shops or even donations have dropped by an average of 50%. A national equivalent fund called the National Emergencies Trust has been set up.
It is amazing how we are all adapting and it pays to be flexible and creative at this time. The City of London is not closed; it is online (not offline) and working as hard as ever. When you come back I hope you will return to a City that has both survived and been transformed in its ways of working and the value it puts on its people and those around them who collectively make sure this City works.
For 14 years a committee of City women have organised a breakfast to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8th). I am honoured to be part of this group that includes representatives of many City businesses and organisations. We find no difficulty in filling the Great Hall of Guildhall every year with over 400 people (mainly female). We aim to celebrate the role of women in the City of London and use the theme decided by the United Nations each year in order to frame our proceedings. This year it was Each for Equal – encompassing the fact that each one of us (regardless of gender or any label or description) can help create a gender equal world. This gives us each the responsibility to act when we see or hear something that is wrong such as gender stereotyping or bias or all-male panels or speakers of interviewers. To see how we can help mentor others or actively promote or support a women’s charity or business.
On Friday 6th March we had a fantastic line up of speakers who gave personal testimony to their experiences and encouraged everyone there to act in however small a way to take a stand and make a difference. #EachforEqual.
Ranvir Singh acted as Chair and ambassador for our charity partner Refuge. “Violence against women is still a scourge on our society, ” she said and reminded us of the 24/7 National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247.
Sonita Alleyne, Master of Jesus College Cambridge, talked about life being a series of doors and how we must push ourselves a little to step through these doors.
Roma Agrawal, Structural Engineer, who worked on The Shard and Professor Fiona Wilcox, HM Senior Coroner for Inner West London both spoke about their lifetime challenges and tips.
Flavilla Fongang, Founder of 3 Colours Rule and Tech London Advocates for Black Women in Tech, gave a lively description of her multi-dimensional formal education but acknowledged that her business was founded on what she taught herself, urging us all to keep learning which keeps us young.
It was an uplifting experience for everyone attending and will resonate in many lives over the weeks to come – maybe until next year’s International Women’s Day
The new Dowgate Ward newsletter has been published about the work in and around Dowgate Ward and the City of London. The newsletter is published three times a year and is physically posted to all voters in the Ward and available online at the City of London website https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/about-the-city/voting-elections/Documents/ward-news/dowgate.pdf
Transport for London have agreed to make the Central London street network that they control subject to a 20 mph speed limit from March 2020. This means that Upper Thames Street that cuts through Dowgate Ward will be 20mph. This stops the confusion amongst drivers who can be baffled by the City's roads being 20mph but the dominant traffic routes controlled by TfL are not and still allowed 30 mph. Reducing the speed limit is a proven method of reducing casualties on the roads and reducing injuries where collisions do take place. When the City 20mph was introduced the streets to the south of Upper Thames Street remained at 30mph. The City of London Corporation agreed in December 2019 that the speed limit on these should be reduced to 20mph. This will relate to Angel Lane, Cousin Lane, All Hallows Lane and Swan Lane in Dowgate Ward. It is fair to say that they are all small cul de sacs where high speeds are unlikely but there is a lot of pedestrian flow walking down to the River Walkway.
The latest James Bond film was being shot in Dowgate Ward last week on the roof of Cannonbridge House. Look our for a view of our picturesque Ward in "No Time to Die" due out in the summer.
Each month I provide an update to the Plaisterers' Livery Company about the events in the City of London over the previous month. Here is latest news of the Lord Mayor's visits, the new skyscraper with planning permission, the City of London School, the first zero emission street in London and fungi.
It is an honour to be re-elected as the Alderman for Dowgate Ward today, December 18th. It is a democratic process but on this occasion I was not opposed. (I have fought two previous elections and won!). The formality of the election takes place at a Ward Mote which is the original term for the people in the Ward to gather and consider whom to elect. The Lord Mayor attends in state in scarlet robes and chain of office with the City Marshal carrying the sword of state and the Common Cryer the mace of the City in full robes. Although it was a formality I was pleased to have over 20 present to witness the ceremony and congratulate me at the conclusion. I was able to address the gathering and gave a brief resume my recent work: (1) in the Ward, to ensure the return of the bronze statue of the LIFFE trader to be erected in Dowgate Hill, marking the role of the LIFFE market that had its open outcry trading here in Dowgate; (2) in the City, in chairing the Active City Network meeting to engage businesses with active travel in walking and cycling and (3) internationally attending the COP25 climate conference in Madrid promoting Green Finance and the Green Finance Institute.
I pledged to continue this work to make the City the best place to work and live and enjoy life; championing any issues raised in Dowgate Ward; I will be working to ensure that the City will thrive and prosper post Brexit and amongst other initiatives, I will lead on the COP26 presence for the City.
Visiting the Birmingham NEC is always exciting but it was even more thrilling to be there on Friday 22 November in the midst of the Worldskills UK Live competition. Seven of the exhibition halls were teeming with young people at the top of their game competing with skill and professionalism in their chosen jobs and training programmes. There was another equally excited group of young school students visiting and viewing their possible jobs of the future. The competition is divided into sectors and, whilst I, as Master of the Plaisterers’ Livery, was more interested in Construction and Infrastructure, the other sectors provided equally interesting skills. They were Engineering and Technology, Digital Business and Creative, Health, Hospitality and Lifestyle and Education. All of these areas offered competitions to test the competitors but also demonstrated an array of job opportunities and “have a go” try out areas. Competitors from all over the UK were there from a very wide variety of colleges and locations. This year there was an emphasis on ensuring that health and wellbeing were at the heart of the training giving the young people support and mental strength and emphasising that such care and concern for mental health should by followed up at college and in the work place. I was delighted to see the plastering and dry lining competitions with sponsorship by British Gypsum. The students had to build a room complete with an internal pillar for the drywall systems task and the plasterers were busy plastering a wall of their structure and then running a moulded architrave around a door. It was hard full on work under time and pressure of the public gaze. It was exhausting just watching them and exciting to see the skill and dedication of these young people and their college and work trainers. These skills are vital to the economy of the UK and these competitions help drive standards and employer commitment as well as showcasing skills and jobs to engage the next cohort of young people.
The charity London Youth has been championing young people, youth clubs and organisations for over 130 years. As Londoners when we can often only hear bad news in the press about young people in trouble, in gangs and connected to knife crime, it is important to celebrate and acknowledge the thousands of young people who are positive role models and living fulfilling lives. All young people need to have opportunities to have fun, learn skills and participate in their local communities and this great City. Not everyone has the easiest start nor the chances to engage in fulfilling and diverse activities. However, London Youth helps all young people enjoy sports, arts and outdoor education and provides help towards jobs and with employability skills.
The London Youth Awards held at City Hall rightly rewarded the cream of organisations and individuals who have helped each other, gained skills and made a real contribution to their communities and wider society.
One theme of the evening was to pay tribute to the youth workers who are a steadying rock, mentor and role model to many of the young people in the youth clubs. We saw the launch of a new film about youth work in action https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLx9jc0ATYlGNFHFX8lb7WbC0yKo2cQ44O that really gave testimony to the huge importance that youth workers make to the lives of so many young people. Literally “life savers” Our young people deserve this support and the opportunity to grow up in a safe and supportive environment with the chance to find jobs and gain skills for life.
As one of the participants said young people are not the problem and we need to ensure that we don’t brand them as such but ensure that we are open to helping and providing every opportunity for them to flourish.
I was pleased to present the Award for Young Leader of the Year to Jordan Isaacs from Hackney Quest. She led in their Youth Voice Project with workshops for young people aged from 10- 18 and presenting to a range of stakeholders including the Mayor of Hackney. She showed real ambition and talent in providing leadership and the positive voice of young people. What a tribute to Jordan.
I know that London Youth and others continue to work without a lot of resource and with difficult situations to give every young person a chance.
Dowgate Ward continues to be the focus of my work. Some issues can be promptly resolved but others are continuing and I seek to oversee and ameliorate any problems where I can do so.
The rough sleepers who had been prominent in Laurence Pountney Hill in the Ward are believed to have been rehoused and we all hope that this is for the long term. There are others sleeping rough in the Ward either temporarily or longer term. The City’s officers are working closely with them alongside Broadway/St Mungo’s. You can report anyone you see sleeping out to the Streetlink helpline streetlink.org.uk. At the same time it is also important that you report any criminal activities or anti-social behaviour, although by no means are rough sleepers necessarily involved in this sort of activity.
The gas mains works continue on Cannon Street. The original end date given was December 2019 but there is hope that this will be earlier. Unfortunately the works keep being disrupted when new complications are discovered or existing pipe work is less robust and needs more repair that was anticipated. This is not the only location across the City where these works are happening a result of the established infrastructure no longer meeting current needs.
Planning applications are regularly received in the Ward - not all about tall buildings! The refurbishment of Dyers’ Hall in Dowgate Hill has been tricky as it is a Grade 1 listed building needing Historic England input to create a modernised accessible building but still retaining its historic nature. Another application relates to the proposed re-opening of the Swan Lane Pier for use by commercial and entertainment river craft (not a regular taxi service). This is still in the early stages and has to date received much adverse attention from residents and businesses alike. More consultation will take place before the Planning and Transportation Committee receive the report for final consideration. An application has been submitted to change the use of one of the two betting shops in the Ward into a circuit studio - again early stages.
I am always happy to receive comments or requests for help around the Ward and you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Annual Ward Mote (meeting of electors in the Ward) has been fixed for Thursday March 19th at 12 noon at Skinners’ Hall in Dowgate Hill. It will be a chance for you to meet the elected members and raise any issues and we aim to have an interesting presentation on a local topic of note. Please put this in your diary to attend.
Finally this is the time of year for the registration of voters on the electoral lists. The forms are sent to each office and you have until 16 December to reply and ensure that the list is up to date. Please contact me if you need any more information.
Diversity of gender in the workplace seems a very current topic and one that did not trouble those working in the City more than 50 years ago - a time when gender work roles were rather more specific with women taking the lower paid and less prestigious work without seeming complaint. But the role of women in work has not always been subsidiary. A new outdoor exhibition in the City of London called City Women in the 18th Century delves into that period of the great rise in the City's international supremacy. Here we have displayed via their business cards the shops and ateliers of many women working in and around Cheapside, St Paul's and Newgate Street. Not only did they produce the exquisite clothes, hats, fans and gloves but they ran the businesses themselves as the cards show. Further (and against the predominant view that Livery Companies have been the preserve of men) many of these women were Liverymen in their own right. The work has been researched by curator Dr Amy Erickson of Cambridge University and the website http://citywomen.hist.cam.ac.uk/ gives further details. However it is a delight to wander the streets of the City to see the boards telling about these female entrepreneurs of the past. I was pleased to be interviewed and share ideas on how well the modern Livery Companies and City accept women in their midst on this YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJ5Xwbu1A1g
The WorldSkills competitions certainly need more publicity in the UK. Before I went to Kazan, the members of my Livery Company (the Plaisterers) knew about it as we have been supporting WorldSkills for some time. Some of the 110 other Livery Companies know about it as they support their respective skills in the competition or at Colleges. However outside of that there is no real visibility. Why does it need to be known? So that we can celebrate the talent of the young people and appreciate the training and professionalism in the system that produces 37 excellent young people from the UK on the world stage but also to recognise and trumpet the educational system that provides regular daily training and skills to every new generation of young people ready to learn. We need to be proud of the work of the colleges and trainers and the businesses who invest in these young people. Whilst that system is not perfect we need to learn from the competitions and the liaison with other nations so that we can improve the training and lift the skills and ensure that our training can create the future workforce that we will need. It is that training culture that is so important and not just the wining of medals that should be the key to the UK's engagement with an integrated training and accreditation system.
That is a message that I would like to broadcast loud and clear. That we need to value the skills of these young people and to assist them in being able to learn and start their careers. The competitions are an important showcase but the day to day work and commitment is the story I will bring back to the Livery Companies, to the businesses and to Government.