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.

9 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. You must be the only one proud to live in Woolwich. It’s becoming a no go area for many white people and yet another stabbing today can only mean regeneration will run in to trouble. Woolwich has too many immigrant’s and that’s the problem it’s leading to white flight from the area to safer less intimidating places.

    I am sorry for what happened to Mr Rigby and feel for his family but I also feel ashamed to live in Woolwich currently. I didn’t bargain on living in an area that has been in the news for too many negative reasons including the riots and now this. My whole view is the policing of Woolwich is appalling and perhaps Greenwich Borough needs a commander willing to tackle the anti social and criminal problems within the borough before Woolwich becomes a no go area.

    I wish I had lived in the Woolwich of the past the Woolwich that existed up until 1990’s the Woolwich I have lived in over the past two or so years isn’t for me so sadly I will be moving from Woolwich to somewhere where I feel safer and not at risk from violence from Muslim fanatics.

  3. Thanks Gabriella , I’m proud to live in Woolwich. Please close the door on your way out.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Hi Gabriella – personally, I prefer “immigrant’s” to white trash. They’re more neighbourly and they smell less.

  7. Gabriella, to be fair, if you want to live somewhere where you are not at risk from violence from Muslim fanatics, then I suggest you move out of London, avoid all the major cities in the UK, and don’t live anywhere where there’s an Army, Navy or RAF/USAF presence. That’s huge swathes of the UK!

    I grew up as an army brat, living in Germany when we had BFG number plates, we were sitting ducks for the IRA. We had to check under the car everytime we got in, we weren’t scared, it was just a normal everyday thing that we did. A few disturbed people carrying out violent attacks in the name of religion isn’t going to make me move away from an area that I like.

  8. Re: gabriella’s view.

    I often find that there is this perception of Woolwich and the surrounding areas as somewhere that is distinctly different and rougher than other parts of London. I think the view is a reaction to what some might experience as a rapid pace of change in local demographics and a flow of ethnic groups moving to the area.

    Just because the people may look different from 20 or 30 years ago doesn’t mean the area is more intimidating. Instead, Gabriella’s view probably reflects a sense of alienation and fear of the change taking place in the area. We all after all crave habit and stability, so when you can’t control the changes you experience in your life it becomes scary.

    But i think this fear is unfounded and damaging. When you look at crime statistics for the area, it doesn’t differ drastically from other parts of London. in recent months Woolwich has an average crime rate of 12.92, compared to Greenwich Peninsula which is higher at 16.84. If you were fortunate enough to have a luxury flat in the West End the average crime rate for your area would be 194.56. (take a look for your self: http://maps.met.police.uk/)

    So is Woolwich really that bad a place, or are we dealing with something that is perhaps is more perceptual?

    It is obvious that there are lots of disparate communities in this part of SE London. I would say Woolwich and the surrounding areas lack a distinct and coherent sense of identity that can make it difficult for people to grasp what it is all about and contribute to the sense stability of that identity. By contrast, somewhere like Greenwich has a pretty strong sense of identity, and is to a large extent unchanging.

    Woolwich has communities, and strong ones. But how all of it hangs together as a whole is something that Woolwich and areas like Plumstead don’t yet seem to have a grasp on. But anything that bridges some of the gaps between cultures and communities is in my view a positive thing.

    It is unfortunate that it would take something as tragic and shocking as recent events for people to come together. But, there is something deeply positive at work when people of different backgrounds can stand together and say ‘we do not stand for this.’.

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