The head of one of London's leading community development trusts, and the only regeneration charity working exclusively in Thamesmead, says the cuts announced by the Government in yesterday's Comprehensive Spending Review will have a massive impact on some of south east London's most disadvantaged communities.
Launching Trust Thamesmead's latest Annual Report and Review, the charity's Chair Vic Grimes said that public sector cuts are already hurting and expects the pain to increase following yesterday's announcement that public spending is to be cut by £83bn over the next four years. The cuts announced by the Chancellor include a further reduction of the welfare budget of £7bn a year, a 7.1% annual cut in local council budgets and the news that about 490,000 public sector jobs are likely to be lost over the next four years.
He said: “To my mind two significant things flow from this; the first is that organisations like the Trust become even more important and secondly in times of crisis we need to think differently, be much more innovative and come up with creative, new solutions.
“Few of us yet know or understand what David Cameron's ‘Big Society' really means or what threats and or opportunities it offers, despite an announcement yesterday that there will be Government support for citizenship and ‘Big Society' projects. However, it is clear that the state is withdrawing and, as such, our expectation of what our Government can deliver must reduce and communities will need to learn or re-learn what self-reliance and community support means. Through the 40 year plus history of Thamesmead very often our residents have had to fall back on their own resources and networks when normal public service provision failed.
“In previous years I have been at pains to emphasise the potential significance of the work that the Trust has done to promote and help build a Bexley and Greenwich cross-borough Regeneration Strategy for Thamesmead. We have seen this as key to bringing in the significant level of public funding that it is very clear to us that Thamesmead needs if it is to finally flourish and be the place where more and more people put down roots and have their needs addressed.
“The recession, banking crisis and public sector cuts all serve to further underpin my previous position; Thamesmead still needs major investment in transport, education, housing, health and the public realm. Perhaps our overall case is as strong as anywhere else in London or the South East.
“We clearly live in different, difficult and very uncertain times and there is no doubt we need a renewed focus on building self-reliance, strong local networks and greater community ownership and influence over our local services.”
Mr Grimes continued: “In reviewing last year's work I was particularly pleased to see the increasing numbers of people we supported into work, our clear commitment to train local people to do it for themselves and our insistence that local people are fully involved in our key projects.
“Since April 2009 we have achieved a great deal. Some of our key successes include securing the funding and beginning the construction of Sporting Club Thamesmead, which will open next spring.
“Following the successful grant of £5m from myplace ‘in principle' for The Link Thamesmead, our world class youth and community facility in the arches under Harrow Manor Way flyover, we secured the ‘full award' so that we will have this wonderful new facility open by the end of next year.
“We have redoubled our efforts to ensure that local projects and organisations are best placed to enhance their services, activities and projects in a sustainable manner, and in a way that benefits the local community, by appointing a Head of Social Enterprise last January.
“Health issues have been brought to the forefront of our work by setting up the Health and Well-Being Partnership Forum which is both delivering new outreach services across Thamesmead and bringing improved co-ordination across the borough boundary.
“We have substantially increased the number of Thamesmead residents we have been able to help into work and have supporting the development of two new Children's Centres in West and Central Thamesmead following our pivotal role in establishing a service in East Thamesmead at Greenmead Community Centre.
“The Trust has also helped to establish a new Safer Neighbourhood Team presence in the Town Centre and worked with Gallions Housing Association and the Police to establish a permanent and local police presence in Thamesmead East.
“The environment is also important and we are working with partners to deliver a plan on how Thamesmead's rich canal system can be improved and, through Growing Greenwich, have secured a commission to look into the viability of setting up an Urban Farm in Thamesmead.
“We have also engaged with a large number of local groups to gain a clearer picture of the community sector in Thamesmead and how we and the two borough community voluntary services (BVSC and GAVS) can together support them.
“We live in exciting if very uncertain times. If you feel you share our passion and commitment to Thamesmead, social justice and creating opportunities for all our residents and you believe you have something to offer then I would like to hear from you.”
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