Bromley Council and HIV – The Fight For Social Services

The late 1980s and the early 1990s was a time when the HIV and AIDS pandemic was in the news and high on the political agenda.

Professor Virginia Berridge, Director of the Centre for History in Public Health and author of AIDS in the UK, gives us this accurate and succinct historical context:

An expert advisory group on AIDS (EAGA) had been set up in 1985 in the Department of Health with input from clinicians and scientists involved. The Chief Medical Officer, the main public health government official, Sir Donald Acheson, led the group. Despite the level of expertise, the committee faced many problems. They included the attitude of sections of the press, which called for a punitive response to HIV/AIDS. An initial lack of political interest and the danger that, if political interest were awakened, the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher might take a punitive stance. Issues such as segregation and quarantine were freely talked about.

In 1986, a sense of national emergency materialised, and developed high-level political interest on the subject. A Cabinet committee on AIDS was set up, a major health education campaign was initiated, funds were released for research, and the main health education body, the Health Education Council, was reformed as the Health Education Authority. Despite this progress, there were still powerful calls for a punitive approach, such as when the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, James Anderton, spoke of people ‘swirling in a human cesspit of their own making’. However, the general tenor of the government response was pragmatic – focussing on safe sex rather than no sex, and safer drug use rather than no drug use. This liberal response was influential at the international level too and was promoted through AIDS specific organisations set up as part of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations (UN).


In South East London, the local HIV groups were formed in response to the direct experiences of people who faced barriers accessing health and social care. These specialist organisations included the Positive Place in Deptford – which started in an office in Sydenham where Cllr Alan Hall was a volunteer.

Sydenham is a very interesting area. Geographically it is on a hill which has a ridge with its apex at Crystal Palace. Crystal Palace is the place where five local authorities meet – the boundaries of London Boroughs of Bromley, Croydon, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark.

Locally, social services are provided by Councils and health services were overseen by regional health authorities at this time. The provision of HIV services were very variable and much of the work and support was provided by specialist sexual health clinics at the major London teaching hospitals. Hospital social work could provide some support but the end of life care and care at home fell to the patients’ home local authority.

By 1991 the Government had put in place a ringfenced Government Grant called the AIDS Support Grant (ASG) – this was to recognise the additional resources needed to provide services for people with AIDS.


To enable Social Services Departments to draw up strategic plans, based on local population
needs assessments, for commissioning social care for people with HIV/AIDS; and to enable Social Services Departments to finance the provision of social care for people with HIV/AIDS, and where appropriate, their partners, carers and families.
The grant is to assist local authorities with the costs of providing HIV related personal social services.

At the Positive Place – then in Sydenham – we became aware that people with HIV were having problem accessing social services in Bromley. There were general comments and complaints in the other neighbouring boroughs however, in Bromley people were routinely refused a social service.

After extensive enquiries and local research, a meeting with Bromley Social Services Committee Councillors was arranged and a briefing document produced. Richard Cowie, the Clinical Nurse Specialist for South East London Health Authority, David Thomas a Trustee of the Postive Place which had established as a centre for people with HIV in SE London based in Deptford – joined Alan Hall who had become a member of the Bromley Community Health Council and set up Bromley Positive Support Group in Beckenham.

The first section is instructive it is called: NO AIDS HERE

“The first response to deny HIV services is that there is ‘no demand’ for them. In effect, this means no AIDS in Bromley. In 1992 this was the reason used by the London Borough of Bromley for not applying for AIDS Support Grant. Every District Health Authority must submit returns regarding the number of HIV infections and AIDS related deaths yearly and much more detailed information under the provision of the AIDS (Control) Act 1987.”

“The figures are collated in a technical manner and require considerable caution interpretating them. However the latest report for Bromley (1993/4) shows that there are ’48 people living with HIV infection and 2 babies of indeterminate status’.

“It is accepted that this is an underestimate. This includes people who attend Bromley Hospitals or services. It does not include all the people attending specialist centres of excellence, eg Middlesex Hospital, King’s College Hospital, St Thomas’ Hospital, Chelsea & Westminster….of which we know there are several cases. We estimate that there are at least 60 cases – this does not include their families, partners or carers. The no AIDS in Bromley is a myth. Indeed, the Department of Health classifies Bromley as a “moderate” prevelance area.”

“Frequently, AIDS in Bromley has been dismissed as a small number of cases, insignificant. This is a favourite argument of Cllr Cooke. Clearly, 60 people with HIV plus their families is not a small number. Contrast this with the number of people receiving intensive personal care – this is in the order of 70 people.”

The conclusion of the document states: “All of the myths, I am sure you will find have their root in prejudice and bigotry.”

Whilst the Positive Place was in Sydenham the local MP, Jim Dowd agreed to ask a Parliamentary Question. This question revealed that Bromley Council had failed to apply for its indicative allocation of AIDS Support Grant in 1992-3.

Hansard records the written parliamentary question on 14th January 1993:

Mr. Dowd : To ask the Secretary of State for Health (Virginia Bottomley)

(1) on what date the London borough of Bromley applied for AIDS support grant for the current financial year ; and what efforts have been made by her Department to urge Bromley to apply for it ;

(2) what amount of AIDS support grant was allocated to each local authority in each year since 1990-91 :

(3) what extra costs she estimates to have been incurred by neighbouring boroughs obliged to deal with HIV/AIDS cases turned away by Bromley social services department ; and what steps she proposes to take to recompense the neighbouring boroughs ;

(4) by what date London boroughs should apply for the AIDS support grant for 1993-94 ; and what steps she will take to ensure that the London borough of Bromley applies for the grant on time ;

(5) how many people in each London borough have died from AIDS :

(6) how many cases of HIV have been reported in the borough of Bromley in each year for which figures are available.

The Minister for Health, Tom Sackville, MP replied:

Mr. Sackville : In December 1991 the Department issued a circular (LAC(91)22) inviting all social services departments in England to bid for extra resources for HIV and AIDS services in 1992-93 under the AIDS support grant scheme. Criteria for bids under this scheme are set out in the circular. Copies are available in the Library. The closing date for bids was 7 February 1992. The London borough of Bromley submitted an application in November 1992 although not in the form and detail set out in departmental guidance. By that time AIDS support grant moneys had been fully committed. The Department was, therefore, unable to allow Bromley’s bid to proceed. Although not in receipt of AIDS support grant money in 1992 -93, we understand that the London borough of Bromley plans to spend £15,000 on HIV and AIDS services in the current year. We have no information to suggest that the borough has been compelled to turn away people affected by HIV.

For 1992-93 local authority social services departments will again be invited to apply for an AIDS support grant allocation. The closing date for applications will be 8 February 1993. It will, of course, be open to the London borough of Bromley to bid for funds under this scheme.

Information on the number of HIV and AIDS cases reported in individual boroughs and of deaths is not held centrally.

The table shows the AIDS support grant allocations which have been awarded since 1990-91 for a full list in England see Hansard.

Allocations for Individual Authorities in London are shown.

London Borough Grant 1990-1Grant 1991-2Grant 1992-3
Kensington 627,500652,600970,000
Lambeth 551,000573,040930,000
Westminster625,000 650,000940,000
Ealing 250,000260,000290,000
Hackney 322,500335,400460,000
Haringey 357,500371,800500,000
Lewisham 163,750170,300240,000
Richmond 135,000140,400200,000
Southwark 215,000215,000300,000
Tower Hamlets 309,000321,300481,000
Wandsworth 165,122120,152188,000
Barking 14,00017,17332,236
Barnet NIL26,00040,000
Bexley 25,00026,00046,000
Bromley 8,5009,520NIL
City of London 25,00026,00047,000
Croydon 24,50030,00049,000
Kingston 25,00026,00064,000
Merton 14,00017,17866,000
Newham 72,500110,000250,000
Sutton 22,26030,00057,000
Waltham Forest70,00090,000135,000
The Boroughs are listed in prevalence order and grant awarded

Alan Hall followed up the lack of funding and more importantly, the lack of a strategy in 1993. On 11th October he received the following reply from Baroness Cumberlege, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health in the Lords, this said: “The Department is aware that there has been an absence of a clear HIV/AIDS strategy in Bromley and has been monitoring the situation.”

If the Government were aware, why didn’t they act?

Perhaps, we will never know the answer to that. But the refusal of Bromley Council’s social services Committee members to allocate funding and support proposals for a change in direction led to protest.

The community activists in Outrage knew that Bromley Council were resisting change and they decided to mount a protest. Activists enetered the Council Chamber, chanting and holding placards. Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors stayed in the Chamber whilst shocked tories walked out. The photograph below was taken by the acclaimed photographer, Gordon Rainsford.

AIDS activists protest in Bromley Council Chamber
Outrage in the Bromley Council Chamber

The Pink Paper carried a report of the protest with the headline: “Tory Mayor flees AIDS protesters in Bromley”.

Outrage alleged that the Mayor of Bromley, Cllr Edgington attacked one of its members. This is particularly interesting as this is believed to be a counterclaim, when the Mayor of Bromley made a complaint to the Police that one of the protesters drank from his glass thereby assaulting him.

The fifteen activists held a “die in” where they laid down in the Council Chamber and held tombstone shaped placards with slogans such as killed by Bromley neglect.

In the press report, the case of a 28 year old man who was refused a home help and told to ‘try a private nursing home’ a day before he died is raised.

Daniel Winchester a local resident said that Bromley Council had shown ‘contempt’ to the ill and dying over the last ten years of the pandemic.

The independent voice of social workers – Community Care – carried an article on HIV and AIDS social service provision in March 1993 saying: “Bromley Social Services is behind with its HIV work. It’s bid for 1992-3 was late, so it did not benefit from the 50% increase and that there was great pressure to meet the standards for grant status.” In response a senior Bromley Council social services manager is quoted as saying: “Our services are pretty thin on the ground in this area.”

Confidentiality and public health policy were tested in Bromley by HIV and AIDS

Leaders in the social work profession at the time, believed that there were additional benefits with specialised HIV services as they were ground breaking and that they benefit other areas of social work like confidentiality and increasing good practice more generally.

Outrage blow fog horns and whistles to get attention from Bromley Council

This article has appeared on the Socialist Health Association website

New MP Boundaries – What This Means For Lewisham

new parliamentary boundaries proposed for Lewisham

The Boundary Commission for England (BCE) has published its initial proposals for new constituency boundaries. The public are now able to view and provide feedback on the proposed constituencies as part of an eight-week consultation process. Lewisham will see little movement except that the current Lewisham West & Penge seat will realign from a cross Borough boundary seat with Bromley to a cross boundary seat with Southwark forming a new Dulwich & Sydenham constituency.

Dulwich & Sydenham, Lewisham Deptford, Lewisham East constituencies. Green marks borough boundaries.

The current MP for Lewisham West & Penge is Labour’s Ellie Reeves, whilst Dulwich & West Norwood is represented by Helen Hayes – a Labour seat currently.

The 2023 Review of Parliamentary constituencies was formally launched in January this year. The BCE is required by law to ensure that the number of electors in each constituency is more equal.

This means that the total number of parliamentary constituencies in England will increase from 533 to 543. More locally, the number of constituencies in London will increase from 73 to 75.

The Commission is undertaking an independent review of all constituency boundaries in England and will present final recommendations to Parliament by July 2023. Publication of the initial proposals on 8th June 2021 is the first time people get to see what the map of new constituencies might look like. The rules that the Commission work to are such that wide scale change is inevitable. Under the proposals announced today, just under 10% of the existing 533 English constituencies remain unchanged.

Every parliamentary constituency must contain between 69,724 and 77,062 Parliamentary electors.

The BCE is consultation allows comments and proposals to have regard to local ties, geographic factors, local government boundaries (as they were known at 1 December 2020), existing constituencies, and minimising disruption caused by proposed change.

Tim Bowden, Secretary to the Boundary Commission for England, said: “Today’s proposals mark the first time people get to see what the new map of Parliamentary constituencies might look like. But they are just the Commission’s initial thoughts. Help us draw the line to make the number of electors in each Parliamentary constituency more equal. Each constituency we recommend is required by law to contain between 69,724 and 77,062 electors, meaning there will be significant change to current boundaries. We want to hear the views of the public to ensure that we get the new boundaries for Parliamentary constituencies right.”

View the proposals and have your say on our online

New constituency boundaries showing the local wards as they are now.
Old and new constituency boundaries

The Story Of The Racquet At The Bridge

The future of The Bridge Leisure Centre in Lower Sydenham looks bleak. Lewisham Council’s Mayor and cabinet approved plans not to reopen the leisure centre. The report added that the site has been running at losses of over £400,000 for many years although an element of the financial losses relate to the deterioration in the quality of the building and service standards in recent years.

The meeting heard that The Bridge was originally a private sports and social club and that its layout was not designed to be a public leisure centre.

Mayor & cabinet meeting, Lewisham Council discusses The Bridge at 29 mins

The history of The Bridge and the playing fields include a time when the site was a British Petroleum – BP – employees leisure club known as the Britannic House Sports Ground. In fact, in 1932, Lensbury Club (Shell) and Britannic House (the BP Club in Sydenham) came together as the ‘Lensbury and Britannic House Associated Clubs’. There was a separation of the Clubs by the two companies in 1962, however, Shell and BP employees retained the right to be members of both. These clubs had combined memberships over 5,000 people.

According to newspaper reports at the time, the 1970 British Open Women’s squash championship was held at The Bridge and won by Australia’s Heather McKay. Of course, at this time it could only be Heather on top. She ranks among the greatest players in the history of squash. She dominated the women’s game in the 1960s and 1970s, winning 16 consecutive British Open titles between 1962 and 1977. In 2000 she was given the title ‘Legend of Australian Sport’.

Many have commented on how could such an extraordinary player and perhaps the world’s most successful athlete been so starved of publicity? No one else remained unbeaten for 19 years – as she did between 1962 and her retirement in1981. No one else beat her challengers so comprehensively.

Also, Heather played hockey, representing Australia in 1967 and 1971. More recently, she has taken up tennis, winning the world veteran’s tennis championships. A true talent.

Meanwhile, The Bridge Leisure Centre was brought by Lewisham Council in 2019 after several years leasing the building. What is to become of the site and playing fields is unknown. Local residents have started to petition the local Council saying that it is a much needed local leisure centre supporting our community for fitness and mental wellbeing. No-one disagrees that it is well used.

A petition has been started by local residents to “Save The Bridge”
Credit Coventry Telegraph and BNA
Heather McKay MBE

Councillor Alan Hall has asked that Lewisham Council contact England Squash, the English national governing body for the sport. He asked a formal Question at the full Council meeting on 20th January 2021 about the ownership of the Bridge and managed to ask this as an oral supplementary question.

The Cabinet Member responsible said: “He believed that the Council had undertaken in depth research but I am more than happy to take that forward.”

A spokesperson for England Squash said: “Sorry to hear that the council are proposing to close the Bridge Leisure Centre.”

“The squash finder they mention [in the Mayor & Cabinet report asking for permission to close the Bridge] is just this page of our website. In these situations we can provide a facility report which details the level of provision relative to the population size and demonstrates the impact of any loss of courts if that would help with these discussions locally.”

Lewisham Music’s World Premiere at the Royal Festival Hall

World Premiere of Endurance a piece celebrating Ernest Shackleton’s antarctic expedition in 1914 1916

Over 1200 Lewisham children descended on the Royal Festival Hall for the third Lewisham Music’s 2019 Summer Gala at the South Bank Centre on Thursday, 27th June 2019.

Lewisham Music is an independent charity that was spun out of Lewisham Council’s music service,  they will be moving into the Grade II Fellowship Inn in Bellingham shortly.

It is the perfect venue to showcase south London’s future and talented young people.  The ‘People’s Palace‘ – the RFH was described in 1951 Festival of Britain as “a people’s palace of welfare state democracy in its pure form”.

The programme included the full range of Lewisham’s schools. First up was the Lewisham Open Orchestra of Greenvale School and Bonus Pastor Catholic College. They gave a spirited redention of The reason i’m human.

Sedgehill School’s acclaimed Vocalize performed two pieces Nobody and Diamonds. They are accomplished singers and their Director, Andy Gilbert never fails to make them shine.


The Prendergast School Chamber Choir and Orchestra got the audience’s feet tapping with a Medley from Grease and This is me from The Greatest Showman.

The Lewisham Schools Brass Band and Concert Band is open to all Lewisham’s young musicians and as the website says:  “Not only does playing in the band improve music making, but it is also a rich learning environment for other personal and social skills including working and mixing with other children and young people from different schools and communities”. They sent us on a latin journey with La Bombonera, Mambo from West Side Story and Soul Bossa Nova.

The show stopping Rathfern Primary School West African Drummers brought the Royal Festival Hall to its feet with the crescendo drumming of Moribayassa. The joy of music was there for all to hear and see.

After a short interval, the massed choirs of Lewisham assembled onto the famous stage for the world premiere of a brand new vocal work Endurance composed by James Redwood and Hazel Gould and conducted by Clare Caddick. This tells the story of Sydenham’s and Lewisham’s own explorer Ernest Shackelton and the south polar expedition in 1914-16 where the Endurance sank but no lives were lost. However, lesser known is that Shackelton was “addicted to playing truant from school, and we may
assume that he was versed in the art of plausible excuses both at school and at home.”

Have a listen to Sail away my boys – this will blow you away:

This piece is a truly inspirational work. It tells an incredible story of human endeavour and exploration over adversity. The chorus of young people who play the crew and the world who looked on, they are still captivated and energised by this, more than 100 years later. History and music together can always make a difference.


New Video: Home Park Adventure Playground – support youth services in times of austerity

Home Park Adventure Playground is part of Youth First – Lewisham’s staff and young people owned youth service. It is a mutual youth service for young people aged between 8 – 19 years.

Local Councillor Alan Hall went along and met Chantel Simpson, the Senior Youth & Play Worker – watch the video.



Demolition of Bell Green Gas Holders Approved

Lewisham Council has made the decision to approve the demolition of the Gas Holders at Bell Green, Lower Sydenham.

A decision notice was posted on the Council’s website on 11th July here 

Campaigners fighting to save the Bell Green gas holders (These Streets Belong to Us from Perry Vale and the Sydenham Society) expressed their regret and disappointment at the London Borough of Lewisham’s recent decision to allow the demolition of the locally listed cast iron structures.

Annabel McLaren, Chair of the Sydenham Society said: “The Bell Green gas holders are a visual reminder of the rich history of gas production in Lower Sydenham. The decision to allow the demolition of these iconic cast iron structures is, in our view, vandalism. Demolishing the gas holders will inevitably lead to a bland streetscape, of the kind that is found everywhere. The Sydenham Society will continue to fight for the enhancement of the Grade II listed Livesey Hall, the adjacent war memorial, bowling green and pavilion, with the aim of securing a sustainable and appropriate development in the longer term.”

Speaking on behalf of the campaign, Cllr Alan Hall said: “Residents are not opposed to development, but they are in favour of an imaginative scheme that includes the listed and historic buildings on the site. Bell Green urgently needs a Masterplan. The fight continues!”

House Sparrows and Peregrine Falcons have been sighted but these protected species have not prevented the approval to demolish the locally listed gas holders.


Sydenham Society Object to Bell Green Gas Holders demolition and ask for an ‘Article 4’ Direction

The Sydenham Society have written an objection to the plans to demolish the locally listed Bell Green Gas Holders in Lower Sydenham.

Following hot on the heels of the Victorian Society’s objection here, the Sydenham Society go further and request an Article 4 Direction by Lewisham Council. An Article 4 Direction would remove permitted development rights and protect the heritage assets. A fuller explanation by Historic England states that Article 4 directions may be used to require planning permission for the demolition of a non-designated heritage asset (such as a locally listed building outside of a conservation area), by removing the demolition rights.

Falcon Bell Green 040718

SGN the owners of the gasometers spotted a Peregrine Falcon during a wildlife review and immediately called in their drone as the Pergrine Falcon is a protected species. For more details please read:

Local Bellingham Councillor Alan Hall said: “Serious objections are mounting and the expert view of the Victorian Society should be fully considered. The gas holders form an integral part of the Grade II Listed Livesey Hall and Listed War Memorial. A sympathetic development is possible if the will is there and proper consideration of an Article 4 Direction would be necessary now.”

Comments and objections should be sent to before July 9th 2018.

The full papers for the application to demolish are here

Read the Sydenham Society’s full objection letter below:


Bell Green Gasometers demolition second application Peregrine Falcons’ sighting confirmed

The second application to demolish the Victorian gasometers at Bell Green in Lower Sydenham has been received by Lewisham Council.

Southern Gas Networks have applied to Lewisham Council for prior approval to demolish the locally listed structures. Full papers are here.

The campaign to retain the historic structures was given a boost when peregrine falcons were spotted in April. The refusal of the first application for approval to demolish followed shortly after. An account with photographs is here.

In the papers submitted in the second application for prior approval of demolition a Falco Peregrinus survey is attached. It states that no nesting birds were found but dramatically describes how “Part way through the aerial assessment, a male peregrine flew in from the west and landed on the top of the western side of the northern gas holder. Once the bird was spotted, the drone was immediately called in to land, safely away from the peregrine. The bird then perched on the structure for approximately five minutes before flying away and circling the surrounding area. A female peregrine then joined the male in flight from elsewhere (off-site) and they flew together in the vicinity of the site for around 10 minutes before flying out of sight.”

The law protects Peregrin Falcons and it is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take a Peregrine. Nests and eggs are also protected and it is an offence to take, damage or destroy the nest of a wild bird while it is in use or being built or to take or destroy the eggs.

An even earlier application to replace the gas holders with shops was refused by Lewisham Council’s planning committee.

Bellingham Councillor Alan Hall said: “These historic gas holders survived an earlier attempt to demolish them by Southern Gas Networks, they survived Lewisham Council’s planning committee and they survived World War II and bombing raids. They are now under threat again.”

Meanwhile, on twitter a young Peregrine Falcon was spotted


Objections and comments can be sent to