The thing that gives me the most pleasure as an MP

Am really cross that despite best efforts cannot find time to meet up with Jenny Gillies. She’s the South African women that I met when I went to look at AIDS projects in South Africa. Jenny left a message on my phone – and as good as her word – the roof of the terrible shack I visited has an interim replacement which will keep the rain off of him during the rainy season and will be replaced with a proper roof thereafter – and going that extra mile – the walls are to be built of brick! Thanks Jenny – and see you next time!

Lunch yesterday was with the High Commissioner of Cyprus to the UK – Georgios Icovou. Well – what an interesting man (was Foreign Minister in Cyprus for 15 years). I learned so much of the history (obviously from his perspective).

It seems to me that there were many lost opportunities along the road to where we are unhappily now. I have both Greek and Turkish communities in Hornsey & Wood Green – and it seems to me that our Government does not take a really pro-active role in trying to move the impasse. In the end – it is the people (both communities) who suffer and whilst there are certainly barriers to achieving the breakthrough – there must be a way through.

In the evening was the long-awaited ‘workshop’ by the London Development Agency at the Chocolate Factory. The open session was to show the current tenants and other creative businesses in Haringey what is intended for the future for the creative industries, what the development plans for Haringey Heartlands are, what support there is available to creative businesses and so on. I think the audience appreciate the workshop and found some of the plans very exciting.

Not going to raise all the issues here as it was a closed session. However, the crux of the issue for the current tenants was the closed session where they got to question the LDA on their investment and monitoring. It was clear however, that the LDA is not going to get involved in the key issue – which is the 50% hike in rents by Collage Arts for their studio licenses – as that is a legal and contractual matter between individuals and Collage.

All I would say though, is we all hope that Collage and the tenants can find a better way forward where the tenants are not fearful the whole time and where they feel that the future envisaged by the LDA includes them rather than gets rid of them in favour of new businesses. The existing colony of artists – the artistic jewel in Haringey’s Crown – could be in jeopardy if they cannot afford the 50% hike in rent. It will be a crying shame if any of the artists have to go.

Of course – the area will be worth a fortune when Heartlands kicks off!

Last stop of the day – speech night at St Thomas More School. This is a Catholic secondary school in Wood Green and this was its first ever speech night and prize giving. I was absolutely thrilled to be there to give out the prizes and make the keynote speech.

There is nothing, quite frankly, in my role as MP that gives me more pleasure and satisfaction than seeing young people get rewarded for effort. The Head, Mr Hickey, is clearly completely committed – as are the staff. And that spirit of enthusiasm is echoed as each ‘winner’ came up shyly or boldly to receive their award – proud of themselves.

St Thomas’s has not always had the reputation of saints – but it seems to me as if there is a real ethos of achievement being instilled throughout everyone at the school – students, parents and teachers – and it’s not just academic, but it’s about creating thinking, respectful individuals who try their best. Way to go!

The Chocolate Factory

I haven’t really blogged much about the dreadful time the tenants of the Chocolate Factory – the wonderful artist colony – have been having (though see previous posting here). I won’t lay out the whole story – but the long and the short of it currently is that the tenants have been issued with new licenses for their tenancy which must be signed within seven days. If not they will be booted out.

I don’t know if this is the result of a panic because of the workshop with the London Development Agency scheduled for November 8th being almost upon us. It is almost as if Collage Arts don’t want the tenants to talk to the LDA whilst the contracts are not signed. Given that the meeting is partly to provide the tenants with an opportunity to inform the LDA of their unhappiness with the events at the Chocolate Factory – this seems very strange to me.

I have advised them to contact their solicitors as to whether it is legal and whether they can be bounced into signing by threats.

A treble win for the local community

Maxitech Kirsty Mcintyre (Hewlett Packard), Peter Padua (Maxitech), myself, Kam Matharu (NCH) and Cllr Lyn Weber (Lib Dem)is one of our local triumphs, really. A company that takes old computer stuff, waves a wand over it to make it top condition – and then gives it to those who can’t afford computers. And by the by – not only has it created jobs in Haringey for the hard to employ – but it also operates training for the hard to employ or long term unemployed. Win, win, win.

Today’s event sees Hewlett Packard (big computer company and very corporately responsible) joining forces with Maxitech who have asked the local community to bring their old computers in today. Those brought today are being reconditioned and given to the children in NCH Childrens’ Charity. Unbelievably good news all round. This is just the first of a series – and everyone should take their old computers to Maxitech. They are in Chocolate Factory 1 on the Ground Floor.

The future of the Chocolate Factory

I went straight on to from my meeting with Haringey Council’s Chief Exec to a meeting between the management, building owners and tenants of Chocolate Factory 1. There is a whole rumpus over the rent reviews on both Chocolate Factory 1 and 2 – but 2 decided not to come to the meeting arranged by Manoj (Collage Arts – the Management) as they are being represented by a surveyor who is fighting against the hike in rents and service charges. But the tenants of 1 were at the meeting and Manoj had invited me and David Lammy – as Minister of Culture and Arts it would have been useful if he had come, but he didn’t. The Chocolate Factory is our Cultural Quarter and the willingness of our artists to move into this industrial area and help revive it has so helped the area. So – gave them some advice on the short and long term issues, but most of all advised them to get detailed specialist advice over the possible future leases.

It was very difficult to know whether what was on offer was fair or not – but I am concerned that they are all individuals seemingly frightened that if they make a fuss or object, they will lose their space altogether. They wanted to know about funding streams and I will try and find out what they might bid for – but David Lammy is, as I say, the Minster for Culture and Arts and so I will try and get an appointment to see him – after all, charity begins at home!

Hilary Benn for leader?

Labour’s continuing leadership problems have made me think about who I would pick to succeed Blair. Hilary Benn would be my man. No enemies (that I know of) but more importantly a new sort of leader – one with a genuine manner and devoid of the Blair-style demeanour that is soooooo yesterday. That will be Cameron’s problem – he is emulating a past the country is getting fed up with. Benn could supply an ideal heritage transmuted to fit a modern agenda. Perhaps that way could lie Labour renewal. Perhaps it is not really for me to intrude on private grief – but it certainly is gripping.

More basic, four and a half hours yesterday of surgery, meeting residents individually about their particular issues. It always serves to remind me of the parade of problems and challenges that never seem to lessen. After which I had my regular meeting with Cllr George Meehan, leader of Haringey Council. I had a raft of issues to raise with him:

– an update on CPZs: there will now be a second phase of consultation, where they discount the roads that didn’t want a CPZ and go back and consult with those that did.

– Noel Park Recreation Ground delays – suffice to say that the poor children have had the summer without their play equipment replaced (it was taken away during building work of a new children’s’ centre and not replaced). I had categorical assurances from the Council about finish dates that were never met. Anyway – I now have the update which promises that the work will be finished by the end of the month.

– I raised the issue of the astronomical amounts of money paid in Housing Benefit for temporary accommodation. I have had two recent cases where the tenant has been placed in quite frankly unliveable one bedroom accommodation (with man, wife and child) at a cost of around £400 per week – and this in areas where normally even in the private market you wouldn’t pay more than £200 I reckon. I know there’s a premium because of the supposed short tenure – but inevitably a temporary placement for 20 days turns into months and sometimes year. Factor that up – and the costs are unbelievable. And it keeps the people who are meant to be helped with benefits in poverty as with that high price of rent they often can’t afford a job because they would then lose so much in housing benefits that they wouldn’t be able to afford to carry on paying the rent. There are some moves to make it possible to place tenants in the private sector – but I think this needs looking at. Some landlords are raking it – and it’s not as if they are taking a risk – as the rent is paid by the state!

– business recycling is next on my list. Businesses are largely untouched by recycling – so I have ‘called on’ George to look into it. In fact, as the Council has decided (controversially) to take back recycling under their own auspices – this is an ideal moment to push home the Lib Dem campaign to introduce business recycling into the borough. And while I was at it – I lobbied for bigger recycling boxes (again)!

– I also raised some issues about the Chocolate Factory with him – but more about that later.

– and last, but not least, I have offered (as the Council hasn’t used me yet) to lobby on behalf of the Council at Parliamentary level. As I had flagged this up on the agenda prior to our meeting, George had one ready for me – the cost of asylum seekers to this borough – or more accurately to get the Government to fund the deficit between spend and available government grant. Will do. In a borough like Haringey (and when I talk to colleagues from other parts of the country who rarely see an asylum case – you can see how uneven the destinations are) we happily have more than our share of the asylum seekers who come to London – but we should not have to bear those extra costs and pressures without full Government assistance.

Last meeting of the day is with Richard Sumray about Hornsey Hospital. Once again Richard stated his commitment to the project and the Primary Care Trust of which he is Chair is hosting a public meeting on 13th. I am stirring a campaign to coincide with this with the view to adding pressure and enthusiasm to support a bid for funding. A bid is being prepared – and I think we need to go for it big time. But we will hear the detail publicly next Wednesday.

Chocolate Factory open day

FinFest! Off to Finsbury Park to celebrate the summer festival on a beautiful, if somewhat sweltering, day.

Arrived early – so sat for half an hour (unheard of) on a chair by the Finsbury Park Trust tent in the sun. Sheer bliss. Then did a round of the stalls – bought a ring but (as with almost all my impulse buys) I probably won’t ever wear it.

At 1.30pm I go over to the newly refurbished tennis courts to perform opening ceremony. It had been advertised as Ian Wright – sadly – they get me as sub!

Then onto the Chocolate Factory Open Day. The Chocolate Factory has nothing to do with chocolate (these days) but houses in its two buildings a colony of visual and performing arts small businesses, studios and artistes. It’s a private operation – but run with a social conscience and some help from the borough and is a very good thing – and a great thing to have in the constituency.

Two of the performers are my nephews (twins) – both rock musicians and both in bands on the verge … of good things.

Jake’s band – ‘Mad Staring Eyes’ – is playing at 2pm before I can get there from FinFest – so miss out on his performance. However, I do manage to get there (dragging younger daughter with) by 5pm in time for Nick’s band ‘The Dirty Feel’. They are fantastic! It’s the first time I have seen them live – and with guitars singing like in the good old days of proper rock bands I am well impressed.

I watch the dance troupe from Mountview Theatre School, some karaoke rappers and then home.

Helping the arts

Not at Parliament today as not needed for the chamber and have two local commitments. First of the day is a meeting with the Director of the Mountview Theatre School to see if there are ways that I can be of help in their aspiration to combine on one site and to draw some synergy with the Chocolate Factory – an artists colony next door.

We reminisce – well I do – about my first contact with the Theatre School when I was about 8 and was understudy for a production they were putting on – ‘The Innocents’. I remember it so clearly – and spent years thereafter hankering to be an actor. Happily for me that didn’t work out and I became a designer.

What my love of theatre has done though is give me a great belief in the arts and entertainment. And I will always want to promote entertainment, arts and culture as it breathes life and fun into life.

At lunchtime, and in the blistering heat, I am at the ceremony to open the Therapeutic Network at Canning Crescent. Horrifically and short-sightedly – Haringey saw fit to close the two mental day-care hospitals in our borough. Campaigners – after a two-year battle – have succeeded in getting this service (in different form and much smaller) re-opened. Hurrah. Great occasion – but very hot!

Good uses for old computers

I visit Maxitech – a company that has moved into the Chocolate Factory in Haringey.

Maxitech basically take old computer equipment, repair and restore it and then sell it. They are a not-for-profit company and along the way they train unskilled and unemployed people and give a lot of computers to the elderly and childrens’ care homes.

I am very impressed with them and their work and will see what happens to the old equipment at the GLA or Haringey. Although not a charity, they seem to be doing a lot of good – and not for profit.

Off to the Chocolate Factory

Off to the Chocolate Factory – no nothing to do with confectionery! It’s an artists’ colony in Haringey – studios for artists, illustrators, performing arts etc with low rents and a real community. Absolutely fantastic – there should be one in every borough.

However, this is nothing to do with work. My nephews are rock musicians (nocturnal animals) and they have done up one of the spaces as a recording studio and practice space. Tonight was the opening!

I think they will really flourish with lots of interaction with other artists in the ‘colony’. They get quite a lot of work – but the elusive record contract remains elusive so far!