MP joins local school in the world’s biggest birdwatch

To help keep track of Haringey’s bird population, Lynne Featherstone MP on Friday went bird counting with Greig City Academy students, in the school’s grounds in Hornsey.

The Hornsey and Wood Green MP joined the students for the RSPB’s ‘Big Schools’ Birdwatch’, an annual event to check up on the UK bird population and part of the world’s biggest birdwatch. Armed with check sheets and pictures of the most common birds, the team spotted species such as woodland pigeon and blue tit, in the schools’ special wildlife garden.

Any local resident who wants handy tips on how to make their garden more inviting to birds should go to

Lynne Featherstone, MP, comments:

“I’ve just had the most amazing time, bird counting with the Greig City students, and, thanks to this handy sheet, we were able to identify quite a few different ones, like woodland pigeons and blue tits.

“I look forward to seeing the results, but I fear that, judging from previous years’ counts, we need to do all we can, to make Haringey’s birds feel more at home.

“The RSPB has got a really useful website, with handy tips on how to make a garden more inviting, and I’m certainly going to have a look to see what I can do with mine!”

Tweeting – the real thing- RSPB's Big Schools Garden Watch

Up with the lark and hopped over to Greig Academy to join them in the RSPBs Big Schools Garden Watch. Armed with pictures of different birds and a check sheet to tick off which ones we spotted – I went out into the cold morning air with a group of enthusiastic pupils, teacher and binoculars.

And I finally got it! I mean – I have long known that bird-watching is hugely popular – but have never really understood the joys of staying out in the cold, keeping still and silent, and staring endlessly at mostly nothing. How wrong I was. It is completely fascinating and enjoyable – and the special wonder of suddenly finding in my urban surroundings – just how much bird life is out there. It’s just like this massive secret life that runs parallel to ours – but I guess I am just so busy rushing around and never lifting my eyes – I just don’t see what’s in front of me.

The annual count that this visit is part of is a really important way to keep a check on just what is happening to our bird population – and what happens to birds matters to us and our future.

In fact –  so enthused – I begged to take hope a sheet of pictures so I can watch in my own garden.

So thank you Greig City Academy and the RSPB – for opening my eyes.

Exam results

Lynne Featherstone with Inas Himedan, Taimmy Hango and Janet Kanyange outside Greig AcademyPopped into Greig Academy – the school next door my constituency office – just to see how results were going. There were three girls there (Inas Himedan, Taimmy Hango and Janet Kanyange) who had just received their results.

The Deputy Head came out to say hello and overall – congrats definitely to Greig who have hugely improved results.

I always feel hugely sorry for the students now – as each year so much of the media coverage isn’t about celebrating their (and their teachers and families) success – but about knocking the results. Yes – there’s a time and a place for debate over exam standards, but there’s also a time and a place for celebrating success – and someone sitting an exam can only do the exam paper put in front of them.

What does an MP do when they are not in Parliament?

Sometimes people think that being in Parliament was the only part of being an MP. I wish – the job would be much easier if that was all there is to it!

So as an example – this is what Friday was like for me. Started with a few hours of surgery (residents coming to meet me face-to-face to raise issues) – with at least four people bursting into tears. No – not ‘cos I am mean to them – but because I am sympathetic – and so many of those who come to me at surgery have been through so much with nobody listening. And when someone sits you down and says now what’s wrong and how can I help – it is obviously a release. I may not always be able to solve the problem – but I do listen properly. It’s pretty dreadful when the first person who will listen non-judgementally is your MP! And it is very, very emotionally draining.

Next port of call – to see the finished works at Bounds Green station. Cllr John Oakes, my local Lib Dem colleague and councillor for the ward was also in attendance. I went to see the works in progress some while back – hundreds of fluorescent orange jackets deep underground, dozens of different trades busying away at 2am. They have very limited time to work – so literally an anthill of activity.

Today I am met by Mike Challis, who is the General Manager of the Piccadilly line. The station really does look marvellous. And the very beautiful lights at the bottom of the escalators now look splendid in their setting. So much better!

The only flaw was the backing to the posters you stare at inanely whilst you are going up and down the escalators. This area wasn’t renewed (they can’t do everything – too much money) but it was a shame as they detracted a bit from the rest of the work that made the station look so much better.

Lynne Featherstone with Alzheimer's Society, Wood GreenThen back to Wood Green to support the Alzheimer’s Society day of protest about the appalling way those with dementia or caring for those with the dementia are treated compared to other illnesses. It is that they are charged for help with washing, eating and using the toilet. One in three people over 65 are affected. And it could be you!

The cost is heavy. The quality of care often poor. Dementia sufferers are hardest hit by such costs as they need so much care over so many years. And the means test for what help there is penalises those who have saved a little bit for their old age with the threshold at £21,000.

The Government is to launch a consultation in 2009 and what the Alzheimer’s Society is saying is that for dementia they need a funding system that is fair, sustainable, transparent, simple to understand and will deliver good quality care. The solution the Government eventually puts forward must meet the needs of people with dementia – not just the convenience of the Government.

Then on to the FAITH Plant Centre which is in Wolves Lane right on the edge of my constituency boundary with Tottenham. Cllr Richard Wilson, my Lib Dem colleague and spokesperson for Social Services and Health in Haringey, was there too.

Lynne Featherstone at the FAITH garden centre, with protestorsHere they have the most remarkable jungle area, desert area and rain forest area – as well as a garden centre – and also training and work for volunteers with a variety of disabilities.

About 50 volunteers come here to train and work in horticulture. This perfectly fits the bill of helping people to find routes to occupations for those who simply cannot work in the normal way. Additionally – local children come here to experience the different climate areas, to learn about some of the creatures that live in them too.

The problems are thus. This wonderful scheme has been funded through a national charity, Livability, to the tune of roughly £300,000 a year. It will end its funding at the end of August, because they say they can’t afford to continue this any more without support from Haringey Council and others.

This would end all the educational work with primary schools, all the work with adults with learning disabilities and force the place to close unless Haringey Council steps in to find other sources of funding.

The site is owned by Haringey Parks (it’s their old nursery) who give it rent free to the organisation that run it. The (only) funding Haringey Council gives is for the three staff who run the cafe (a council funded project that was moved to the centre when it had to leave its previous location), and they pay for the plants that are grown there for the parks. But Haringey Council do not pay towards the maintenance of the site. In addition to the funding needed to keep the service open, it is in need of investment – it needs £300,000 to replace the electrics very soon.

A lot of volunteers, their families and local users of the centre turned up to tell me how much the centre means to them. To most of the volunteers closure will result in the end of their outside independence. Many of the volunteers will simply be left to vegetate at home if the scheme closes – so it’s battle stations for a really worthwhile cause. Watch this space!

Whoosh back to get to Greig City Academy to meet with the students and staff who tell me what they plan to do as part of the B & Q @One Planet Living Award scheme. Greig has been awarded £2,400 based on a natural pond they have created. They will use it to establish plants and to purchase special tools to construct and maintain the area. Two B & Q staff came for the photo op – and together with four students there are now photos in existence of me and them in wellies in the middle of the pond. It’s not dull – being the MP! Well done Greig and B & Q for the scheme itself.

Lynne Featherstone at Highgate SchoolThen off to to Highgate School for two very good reasons. Meet the science teachers and the four boys who have won the 2008 Top of the Bench competition. Twice before they have got close – but this time they have done it. It is a wonderful tribute to the science teaching at Highgate and to celebrate I have tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament to congratulate them!

But the main event I am at Highgate School for is to launch the Chrysallis Partnership. Basically Highgate School is using its very best skills to advantage all the bright children from other schools in Haringey and Camden. This part is about offering subject-specific teaching to bright pupils and about offering specialist advice and assistance in applying to top universities.

I think this is fantastic. For far too long Highgate School has been regarded as separate from the community of schools in Haringey. What I saw was the beginning of a reaching out and bringing all our schools together to develop and use skills to help all our children. I think there is a passion and a hunger there which will spread benefits widely.

And – as the Head himself said – the ultra bright pupils who are coming from other schools are teaching the Highgate pupils a thing or two themselves. Adam hopes in years to come to extend the scheme so all the schools can offer any specialist skill they may have to pupils from the other schools – not just Highgate. Anyway – too much to put in a blog posting!


Saturday 23rd September saw the sun shining on the first St Mary’s Estate Lightfoot Road Fun Day, which took place in Greig City Academy. The event was initiated and promoted by leading local residents and Nadya Enver and Jeannette, and featured food provided by Conrad Clarke of Bonding PHRU Food, a wide variety of children’s activities and football coaching.

Hornsey Liberal Democrat Councillor Errol Reid was successful in corralling support from both the Council’s Neighbourhood Management team and London & Quadrant Housing Trust.

Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone showed her support by coming along to see the facilities being set up. Resisting the temptation to climb the rigging of the children’s pirate ship, Lynne Featherstone said:

“This is a fantastic example of local residents celebrating and enjoying their local area. The organisers have worked very hard to put this event on, and the day shows what a great community spirit thrives here.”

Councillor Reid comments:

“I am very pleased to have been able to drum up support from both the Council and London and Quadrant. This was a great success for the local residents which we hope to build on and repeat next year. A huge thank you is due to all who helped to organise the event.”

Greig City Academy

I am against the break up of the school fraternity into trusts, foundations and academies – for very good reason of believing that the only way to bring real success to all children is for the local community school to be excellent. But we are where we are – and the reality of Greig City Academy in my constituency is that it is forging ahead to create a community school and tackling head on the challenge of creating a really good community school with what even the headmaster termed challenging children.

Mr Paul Sutton (the Head) is quite something, and he zooms around the corridors of the school in his wheelchair, having been paralysed only two years ago in a rugby accident. His speedy return and his extraordinary determination to deliver exciting, aspirational and practical futures is quite something to behold. Results are improving from the bad years of the previous school which transmuted into the Greig Academy.

The reason I believe lies in the staff. In the end, it is always the quality and determination of the human beings driving this forward that delivers results – and here from head (literally) to toe there is absolute commitment.

However, academies can pay their staff £5,000 more than other inner London state schools – so of course application is high and the motivation is high. I had about an hour with the Head and then walked around the school going into a few of the classrooms as the children were being taught.

The atmosphere was serious and studious and the teaching was really interesting. In one classroom the teacher was asking the kids a question. The boy answering used the word ‘like’ in his answer almost every two words:

Well Miss, like, it was, like, when you go like, to you know, like to a …

The teacher pulled him up on it. And I thought that was fantastic, because it is a detail – but its a detail that belies a way of thinking behind what is said. And it was done nicely and well.

So – the Head’s aspiration is for the children from the area to come to the school as it is the local school. It is the case, at present, that most of the parents from up the hill prefer to try and get their kids in elsewhere. It will take time – but the school is improving and I have no doubt that the children who go to Greig Academy are being educated – and I mean educated in the best sense of the word.

Hornsey Carnival

Off to Hornsey Carnival! Arrive at base of Ally Pally to meet Monica who is accompanying me for the duration. I find the organiser Paul and Mr Rathbone – who is Mr Hornsey Carnival.

I am to judge the best business float – so I wander up the road looking for the five ‘floats’ named on my judging sheet. One of the floats is for Action for Kids – well – a painted van would be more accurate. But they were all dolled up as hippies – peace and love man – which appealed as that was my youth. And I can’t find the other three competitors at all. So – I declared the winner Action for Kids and the runner up – Greig Academy.

Retracing my steps to the beginning of where everyone was lining up, I was introduced to Karl Heinz and his troupe of girls from Koblenz. The Hornsey Carnival queens go over there each year and they visit back from time to time. In Koblenz the carnival is big and the streets are lined five deep with onlookers.

I am to sit on the back of an open-topped Mercedes with the Deputy Carnival Queen – Verity. Verity was Queen last year and knows the ropes. She is my mentor for the duration and knows all there is to know about carnivals, waving and smiling. She was a lovely girl, actually, and I learned a lot from her about what the girls do – from selling brochures for the carnival door to door to attending all sorts of functions as well as going to other local carnivals to take part. They raise quite a bit of money for local charities – and lots of people give their time free from the woman on the committee who makes the girl’s dresses (both day and evening) to the woman who had moved away from Hornsey but still helped run the carnival as she had for years.

The parade moved slowly off and through the streets of Hornsey. Five deep the crowds were not – but there were quite a lot of people out to waive and watch us pass. The atmosphere was lovely and I have to say I really enjoyed it. Waiving at strangers is clearly an art – and it is quite a psychological study as to how to make even the grumpiest, “I am not going to smile or waive at any cost” teenager, respond. If you catch someone’s eye – and you waive and smile directly at them – it is almost impossible for them not to respond.

And so the carnival parade wended its way for an hour and a half through the streets. At the journey’s end I went on my way – as the carnival would go on late into the night with dancing and celebrations.

I went home and watched what was left of Live-8. My two daughters had texted and been lucky enough to get tickets. At 10am this morning they had departed for Hyde Park and at various times throughout the day they had called me to let me a) know they were alive and b) listen to the music live through the mobile.

I thought the whole thing was fantastic! Of course – I remember the first one 20 years ago. And I don’t subscribe to the cynics who say that this will do nothing. Of course this won’t solve poverty in Africa – but it is a start. We need to make sure that the aid that is given is given to agencies who will help enable the local African people to build small businesses and sustainable lifestyles so that they can survive and build an industry of their own to sustain the economy.

Sir Bob and Live-8 have delivered the increased debt write-off and the increased aid – but more than that – they brought us all together to say we do care and we will act.