A guest post: ‘Woolwich – I’m proud to live here’

Barcelona newspapers, 23 May 2013
It’s been shocking following developments following Wednesday’s murder in Woolwich from afar, but reassuring to see that people are uniting and getting on with life, rather than rising to baiting by bigots.

Ken Welsby was kind enough to send me his thoughts yesterday on life in Woolwich since Wednesday’s horrific events. I thought they were worth pulling out of the comments and reproducing here. Thanks, Ken.

Friends, neighbours and the local community. That’s a word we hear a lot. But what does it mean? In the last 36 hours Woolwich has given a new meaning to the word.

Ours is a town in transition. This used to be a bustling, working town that rubbed sholders at times uneasily with its neighbours in the borough: tourist, arty Greenwich up river and leafy residential Eltham to the south.

But over 30 years we have lost the four main generators of employment which provided, if not exactly prosperity, then at least a decent living and, more importantly, a sense of place.

The decline and closure of the Royal Arsenal was a long-drawn out affair which took out the largest source of male, manual work.

The poly – originally conceived to provide the arsenal’s technical skills and training – transmogrified into the uni, and then moved up and down river: arts and humanities to Greenwich, engineering and science to the Medway.

Morgan-Grampian publishing, where bright young folk learned the hard lessons of business publishing – both journalism and sales – declined and broke up.

By then the Artillery had long gone to Salisbury plain, and the Barracks was no longer packed with squaddies spending their money – and meeting the girls – in the local pubs.

In recent years there has been a revival. New flats on the riverside – the new square, more social housing, the new civic centre and now the amazing new Tesco development – a supermarket too big for me to explore topped with blocks of futuristic flats. And the Barracks has a new lease of life. But we are still short of core employment, and the town centre regeneration is still a work in progress.

But on Wednesday afternoon the people of Woolwich showed the world that we are a community. The brave women who faced Lee Rigby’s killers – who “thought they’d better keep them talking so they didn’t attack anyone else” and knelt by his side in a silent vigil of thoughts and prayers. The teachers who shielded their children from the horror yards from the school gate. All those who stood on the street, refusing to hide indoors, or took flowers to the crime scene or the barracks gate. And the mosque, who were quick to condemn the crime as evil.

Woolwich – I’m proud to live here.

A book of condolence for Dummer Lee Rigby has been opened at Woolwich Town Hall, which is open from 9am-5pm across the bank holiday weekend.

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4 comments

  1. Thank you for posting Ken’s thoughts. I am proud to live in Woolwich too. There is a stronger community spirit here than anywhere I’ve lived in London and I feel humbled by the incredibly brave and selfless actions of the women who were on the scene during this horrific tragedy.

    I’ve just walked through a sunny General Gordon Square to pop into our nice new coffee shop to support a local business, and felt heartened to see a community event happening and people coming together and enjoying themselves. I hope we will never lose this spirit, even in the face of such adversity.

    I am also grateful to have the opportunity to sign the book of condolences in Woolwich Town Hall to show my respect for Drummer Lee Rigby and his family.

    Thanks again, I am very glad to see articles like this instead of people dismissing and putting down a place and a community that I love.

  2. I don’t live in Woolwich any more but I still work there part-time and visit at least twice a week. I may be further out in the suburbs now but Woolwich is my home. I lived there for 20 years and as an “immigrant” myself I always found it to be a welcoming place. Woolwich is interesting and fantastic, full of history and character, and the people that live here are no better or worse than any other area in the country that has faced the problems Woolwich has with unemployment, a lazy local Council and the divisive nature of modern politics. I remain optimistic.

  3. As I came down John Wilson Street yesterday in the afternoon’s deluge I was proud to see there’s still people making the journey, despite the weather, to pay respect to Lee Rigby and that particularly British modest single-mindedness and sense of duty that our military exemplify. To hell with the weather and to hell with a couple of f*ckwits. And to hell with with all the other crazies that would make more trouble.

    London united last summer by the joy of the Olympics, united this summer by a shared grief for a cowardly, senseless murder.

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