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“We need health services within walking distance. If the surgery closed it would be difficult to get my children there.”

April 12, 2011
Doctor

Stand up for your GP

There are many advantages of being able to walk to my local doctor’s surgery. I know what time I’ll arrive; I won’t be held up by a traffic jam or trying to find a parking space. I’m able to think about what I’m going to say to the doctor as I’m walking along. After I’ve left the doctor, I can walk to the chemist to get my prescription. If the doctor or nurse measures my blood pressure, I know it’ll be a more natural reading: if I’d have driven my blood pressure would be raised due to the stress of driving!

Local surgeries are vital. That’s why they are close to our hearts. Villagers in Wrington, Bristol recently staged a protest against proposals to close the village doctors’ surgery and move it to Langford, a neighbouring town. If the move goes ahead it will mean patients, many of whom are elderly, will have to travel three miles to see their doctor.

A local mum, Charlotte Tyler, expressed her concern. “If the surgery closed it would be difficult to get my children there. Wrington is a big village, and it is expanding and we need health services within walking distance.”

People really care about walking to their local GP’s surgery. That’s why the GP is this week is our neighbourhood hero.

Are you concerned about living in a neighbourhood where you can walk easily to essential services? Join the campaign at www.livingstreets.org.uk/heroes.

The sweet soul music of the post office

April 4, 2011
Post office

Post offices get people fired up

Post offices get people fired up. The mass post office closures of a few years ago saw opposition spring up all around the country. More recently, the closure of around 160 post offices last year and concerns over the Government’s plans for Royal Mail has got local communities concerned about what one campaigner called the ‘soul of the community’.

Putting the soul back into communities is at the heart of what Living Streets does, and as part of our campaign to keep essential public services within walking distance, we’re crowning the local Post Office this week’s ‘Neighbourhood Hero.’

According to our recent poll, a third of British adults over the age of 55 cannot walk to their nearest post office. A third of British adults feel isolated, or know someone who feels isolated, because we can’t access these kinds of basic amenities. Some of society’s most vulnerable members – older people, people with disabilities and the less well off – rely most on access to post offices for banking services, pension payments and just some contact and conversation.

Nigel, from Cardiff, says ‘We have an excellent thriving village shop that includes a post office. The nearest PO is further away, about 4 miles, and would require a bus (every half an hour) journey of 20 minutes and a ten minute walk. The shop/PO is the hub of the village and as well as being a very well stocked shop and newsagents it displays village posters, village mag, delivers newspapers if required, cash machine for people whose card is not accepted by the PO, free samosas to all customers at christmas as a thank you etc. This would all be lost if the shop closed and many people, particulary those who are not so mobile, would lose all these facilities and equally important would feel much more isolated.’

Easy access on foot to basic local services is a key part of a walking-friendly neighbourhood that provides a hospitable environment for all. Living Streets is campaigning to make sure neighbourhoods and new housing are planned with the ease of walking in mind – and to give communities a voice when essential shops and services, like post offices, have their use changed.

So do you think your local post office is a neighbourhood hero? Sign up to the campaign and tell us more about it.

– Anne

The local shop under threat: not ‘just economics’

March 30, 2011

A lack of local shops is bad news for people with disabilities, older people, and those who don’t drive. Imagine how annoying it would be when you realise you’ve run out of some vital cooking ingredient and there’s nowhere close to buy it. Yet local shops are under threat – in London alone, according to a recent London Assembly report, 7000 local shops were lost between 2001 and 2007. Is this a tragedy or simply inevitable?

The advent of big American-style outlet stores and supermarkets, and the rise of online shopping, have both contributed to the changing pattern of neighbourhoods. So It’s easy for people to say that the demise of local shops is just a result of their preferences. But when you talk to people, a different picture emerges. 82 per cent of people in the UK feel that a decline in local shops has a negative effect on their local community. 24 per cent of us already do all our grocery shopping within walking distance of home – but another 28 per cent would like to if we could.

Another factor that doesn’t help is the way the planning system currently works, failing to give local communities a say in keeping a balanced mix of shops and services within walking distance in their area. When banks become betting shops or a community pub becomes a fast food outlet – neither of which require planning permission under the current system – the whole community is affected, most of all older and disabled people who are unable to travel further afield to access such basic amenities.

Local closures aren’t inevitable – there are a lot of things that can be done to protect the kinds of safe, compact neighbourhoods that people consistently express their desire to live in. We’re campaigning to make sure planning reforms change this for the better. But we need your support. Please stand up for your neighbourhood hero and make your feelings known.

The great tradition of the local shop

March 28, 2011

What’s your local shop like? Perhaps you love it, like I love mine. Without naming names or places, let’s just say that my old local shop was hardly bursting at the seams with lovely edible goods. If somehow you wanted a warm fizzy drink, over-priced wine, a tabloid newspaper or a Pot Noodle then it was a veritable Nirvana; however, if you wanted anything vaguely healthy or even tasty then you were out of luck.

But everything changed when I moved house. Now my local shop has everything. And I mean everything. From mop heads to bouquets of flowers, Brillo pads to Polish dumplings, fine wines to cheap lager. It’s all there and it’s just around the corner. And what’s more the young chaps behind the counter never blink when I bounce through the door with my hair on end and my slippers still on (yes, I am one of those; I wear my slippers to the shop). Instead of laughing into their sleeves at my frightening state, they greet me with a cheery Good Morning (all right, all right, most likely Good Afternoon) and bag up my goods with a smile.

Am I just incredibly lucky? Is your local shop as good as mine? Tell us why your local shop is your neighbourhood hero. We’d also really like to hear from you if you’ve been involved in a campaign to save your local, walkable public services.

-Kerry

Standing up for lollipop people amid the cuts

March 27, 2011

Earlier this month Annette Brooke, the MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole, secured a short Parliamentary debate to raise the issue of cuts to school crossing patrol staff.

Dorset County Council’s plans to cut 65 posts have sparked a vigorous local campaign which has highlighted the benefits of lollipop people, but also the minimal savings that would result from the cut – as campaigners have pointed out, funding the lollipop people’s posts costs 0.03% of the County Council’s total annual budget.

Annette Brooke emphasised the impact that removing the lollipop people would have on how likely children were to walk or cycle independently to school. She used her speech to explore some of the other options that have been suggested for keeping the posts – including volunteers getting involved as school crossing patrols, schools paying for lollipop people from their budgets and parish councils raising the money – but noted that these would present huge difficulties in practice, concluding that ‘We are discussing vulnerable children who should be walking and cycling to school where practicable. The cut is small in relation to the county council’s budget, achieves nothing and destroys a lot.’

The Local Transport Minister, Norman Baker, held to the line that it has to be up to democratically elected councils to make the decisions that they feel are best for their area, pointing out the new Local Sustainable Transport Fund that the Government has made available. But he used the occasion to ‘pay tribute to the men and women all over the country who work as school crossing patrol officers-our much-loved lollipop men and women’, saying that ‘They have seen the children grow up and then bring their own children to school, and they are remembered with affection by those of us young enough to have benefited from their help’.

That’s why lollipop people are this week’s neighbourhood hero. But as both Annette Brooke and Norman Baker hinted at, the issue is even wider. This period of radical political change is the time to ask a crucial question: what kind of neighbourhoods do we want to live in? If we want neighbourhoods where everyone, young and old alike, can walk independently and confidently down sociable, well-designed streets to get where they need to go, we need to stand up for them.

“If Lesley wasn’t there… you know what would happen”

March 24, 2011

Keep them close, don't watch them close

As budgetary pressures quickly start to filter through from the national debate to the local level, the human face of service cuts is becoming increasingly obvious – and rarely more so than in the case of lollipop people. With their earnings at or just above the minimum wage, many are questioning the financial logic behind cutting lollipop patrols.

Marie, from Gateshead, is campaigning with a group of other mums to save their local lollipop lady Lesley, who works in the Highfield area. It has been announced that some of the school crossing patrol workers will be made redundant, but they don’t yet know who.

Marie said ‘I don’t think Lesley should lose her job – I don’t think any lollipop ladies and men should go because they’re very important. It can be dangerous at the crossing, sometimes the older ones just run out into the road and Lesley nearly got hit by a car herself recently. The children and parents walk past Lesley and they say good morning to each other, it teaches the kids to be polite and respect other people. They’ve got new orange and yellow coats so you can see them from ages away and slow down – if Lesley lost her job, you know what would happen.’

There are huge amounts of passion around this issue: people clearly care what the everyday experience of their neighbourhood is like. At a time of huge upheaval in the planning system, we need to come together to ensure that issues as fundamental as the walk to school are addressed by the government.

– Majeed

Pillars of the community

March 21, 2011


Their yellow jackets are an unmistakable bright spot in most neighbourhoods. School crossing patrols – or as they are more affectionately and familiarly known, lollipop men and women – have been keeping streets safe and enjoyable for fifty years, helping generations cross the road each morning. But recent council budget cuts have placed many of them on the chopping block, amounting to a “terrible blow” according to one road safety campaigner.

Lollipop people play an invaluable role in the community, helping to teach children (and drivers) safe road behaviour and ensure that they feel comfortable walking to school. Younger children often feel safer with a lollipop person present and can build up the confidence to travel more independently at an earlier age – all the more essential given the peak in child pedestrian collisions that arises when children move from primary to secondary school and start walking to school without having developed the road sense they need.

This quiet but vital work sees lollipop people take on hero status in many people’s eyes – but there’s no shortage of more striking examples to choose from. A Dorchester lollipop woman relates one of many incidents: “I just caught the little boy from the corner of my eye running into the road and I managed to stop him with my arm. If I wasn’t there he would have got hit by the car…this isn’t the first time this has happened either.”

Lollipop people are also well-respected figures in the community. Many lollipop people get to know local children, who appreciate what they do – children even vote annually in national contests for lollipop person of the year. Their brightly coloured presence contributes to a neighbourhood that’s healthy and walking-friendly, where people come first.

This is what Living Streets is all about. As part of our campaign to promote walking-friendly communities, we’re naming lollipop people this week’s Neighbourhood Hero.

-Nicholas

Love being able to walk your child safely to the local school? What would it mean to you if this wasn’t possible? Tell us your story