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Bonkers Blog October 2013

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22 October - Howbury. No friends in high places?

Messages keep coming in about the Howbury Centre and the alleged behind the scenes skullduggery that ended up in a private company, Eco Communities, being chosen to run the community activities there. For the last eight or nine years the Centre has been run by a volunteer group called Howbury Friends which is a registered charity. A lady by the name of Melanie Hudson made a powerful case for the Howbury’s retention at a cabinet meeting two years ago. The council approved an £8·6 million investment at the site but with a lot of the land sold off to Redrow Homes.

For an outside company to be invited to apply for the job of running the Community Centre (the messages say that is what happened rather than a proper tendering process) suggests they must have something very significant going for them. A proven track record in the field elsewhere, a stack of money to invest, a magnificent vision for the future or a scurrilous link with Bexley council. It has to be one of those, what other reason can there be for chucking out the tried and tested Howbury Friends?

Howbury FriendsUnfortunately most of the recent messages are anonymous so it looks as though I will have to do most of the research myself. The registered charity, Howbury Friends, is an open book, no difficulty there. It’s not hard to discover what they do, the money they raise and the money they spend on themselves. Up to £100k. a year raised and spent on improving the local facilities. All done by volunteer labour putting in countless hours to benefit the local population. Slade Green is one of the most deprived areas in the country.

Among the Howbury Friends’ activities are; running eleven after school activities for five to eleven year olds, eleven more for those up to 19 years old, over 60’s clubs, games, Tai Chi, First Aid courses, half term holiday activities for families and adults’ keep fit classes. Impressive is it not? But not impressive enough for Bexley council who decided to jump into the unknown. Presumably they didn’t even notice that the name Eco Communities Ltd didn’t exist before the start of this year; it appeared at exactly the time Bexley council gave them a call. Reason enough to be suspicious I would think.

Something definitely smells here and I shall do what I can to unravel it. My guess is that Melanie Hudson is a pain in Bexley council’s backside, organising petitions, nagging and asking awkward questions and they want rid of her. I’ve seen how they treat her at council meetings. She comes from Slade Green so is by definition worthless. When she made that impressive speech two years ago a councillor asked her who wrote it for her; the condescending bastard! The alternative is that there is a close personal or political link between someone at Eco Communities and Bexley council. It may be that Eco Communities is prepared to pile in their millions and not take any profits, maybe that is what impressed Bexley. Given time the truth may be told. If you know it, all information gratefully received.

Howbury Friends on Facebook - Bexley Times report - News Shopper report - Petition to council. (The paper version has more than 1,000 signatures.)


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