Building Common Ground In Bellingham

Bellingham is a co-operative focal point. The social housing is owned by Phoenix Community Housing. Phoenix are a community gateway housing association. This means that they are run by the tenants who live in their homes. This includes the money collected in rent.

Phoenix took the brave step in buying the dilapidated Fellowship Inn owned by Lewisham Council at the time. Now thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and Phoenix, the Fellowship and Star is a community hub and still a pub.

The Fellowship & Star before the renovation – this is now a co-op owned cinema

Lewisham Music is a charity that was formed from the local authority music service and has its head quarters in the Fellowship and Star. They say:

“In a borough where opportunities for engagement with arts and culture is all too often uneven and localised on account of differences in financial means and social aspiration, we will target resources to groups and localities where there are barriers to participation. Our high quality learning opportunities will enrich lives, support social integration and cultural regeneration, and enable the fulfilment of musical potential.”

Across the playing fields in sight of the Fellowship and Star is Youth First. Youth First is a community benefit society that spun out of Lewisham Council’s youth service in September 2016. Born from the passion of both the staff and the council to create a means to sustain and ideally grow youth work in Lewisham, during a climate of continuing cuts and financial pressures across the public sector which elsewhere have served to end more traditional universal youth provision.

The Brent Knoll and Watergate Schools Co-operative Trust is a grassroots exempt charity in the borough of Lewisham, supporting children and young people with SEND and profound and complex learning and physical disabilities and their families and carers. Both schools are in Bellingham.

The London Co-operative Party Council has launched its manifesto for the London mayoral and London Assembly elections, and subsequent local elections.

Their manifesto explains that as co-operators, our understanding of how to achieve this is deeply practical. Our political philosophy does not come from abstract theories or airy idealism, but from the lessons learned by a movement of ordinary people who, 150 years ago, sought to regain control over their lives and to empower their communities by democratising the places where they shopped and worked. This is something we put into practice in Bellingham and there’s a thriving co-operative store on the high street too.

Importantly, the London Co-op Party says that local people should have a voice in regeneration plans:

“Over the past decade, many London councils have undertaken projects to expand housing supply, replace ageing housing stock, and to revitalise economic activity in neglected areas. While many such schemes have been successful, some have met with local opposition due to a perceived lack of consultation, poor outcomes in terms of affordable housing provision and resentments generated by perceived gentrification. These issues show the importance of ensuring that local redevelopment schemes not only consult, but are driven by, people in the areas affected, with a wide range of community groups, small businesses and residents able to influence the development of their area, rather than the dialogue being dominated by vocal, but not always representative, groups. This should happen at the earliest possible stage, before views become entrenched. London boroughs should put local people in charge of regeneration partnerships to make sure they deliver the things local communities really want and need rather than serving the needs of developers.

In Bellingham, we have a track record of putting local people in charge of community regeneration.

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Alan Hall is a Labour & Co-operative Councillor and a former Chair, Lewisham Co-op Party he has campaigned for co-operatives for many years see this article in the newsshopper

A version of this article appeared on the Co-op Party website here

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