A curious press release from Lewisham Council. Yes! Blackheath fireworks are back this year! But…
No public activity can be immune to the effects of cuts in public spending, so the Mayor of Lewisham is asking pyrotechnophiles all over London to join him by digging into their pockets to ensure that the Blackheath fireworks don’t end up as damp squibs this year and to keep the event going.
Last year some 80,000 people flocked to the historic heath to see a stunning display. The whole event costs less than £1.50 a head – about the cost of a packet of sparklers.
Mayor of Lewisham, Sir Steve Bullock, said: “We know that many people come back year after year to enjoy the spectacle of the Blackheath Fireworks display and it continues to attract new devotees all the time. Money is tight at the moment as we all know. But I don’t want to see this event cancelled without giving people the chance to show their support. Just £1 each from every one who attends would ensure that the skies sparkle as usual over the heath this year.”
One word is missing from this though – Greenwich. The two councils have backed the display for many years, with the heath straddling the two boroughs. Both Blackheath and Greenwich businesses benefit from the huge crowds who come to see the fireworks. But what’s happened to Greenwich’s contribution? Has Greenwich pulled out or will we see the council leader brandishing a collection tin on the front of next week’s Greenwich Time? Or is Greenwich simply staying aloof from this business?
Since Lewisham seems to have issued this statement unilaterally, we don’t know yet. But while we wait to hear from Greenwich quite what’s happening, there’s a wider significance to this little episode. Fireworks are big a deal – people who dismiss them neglect their significance. Ask someone in Valencia what life would be like without Fallas, or a Sydney citizen about a New Year without its night-time display.
Guy Fawkes’ Night is a big deal for English culture too – but can be an easy cut for councils. Lambeth has axed two of its three displays, upsetting locals in Herne Hill and Streatham. A couple of years ago, Lewisham Lib Dems claimed the Blackheath display was under threat, claiming “victory” a month later.
Lewisham has been very upfront about its cuts – and interpreted from that side of the boundary, passing the bucket around seems a natural extension of elected mayor Steve Bullock’s attempt to break bad news gently. It’s different in Greenwich, with leader Chris Roberts playing his cards a lot closer to his chest.
It would have been smarter, however, for both councils to have acted together on this and issued something jointly. Especially when merging council press offices is one of the economies that’s been suggested…
Meanwhile, fans of innuendo will love the last paragraph of Lewisham’s statement on the fireworks… what sort of cuts did they have in mind again?