Chislehurst Report – June 2020
Now that some semblance of normality is returning, it’s difficult to think back to the days when we had loo roll shortages and everything was closing down. Several things will never leave me. Heading down the A1 having listened to Boris on the evening of 23rd March announce the lockdown feeling I must get home and STAY HOME (I had spent the Mother’s Day weekend with my daughter and family in Bedfordshire. Little did I know then how long it would be before I would see and hug my two gorgeous baby grandsons again. Facetime just wasn’t the same). The sudden silence and tranquillity of the area like after a heavy dump of snow also struck me. No aircraft (sadly reminded me of 9/11), no traffic, no people. I could walk down Willow Grove not seeing any cars let alone a queue – a miracle! But the eeriness of walking up Chislehurst High Street on my daily exercise also hit me. Closed shops. Cote boarded up. Only Sainsbury’s, the post office and the two chemists open. People playing dodge, diving into empty car park spaces to avoid getting too close. Smiles and kindness – and no masks then. Also, the community coming together – oh those weekly claps for the nhs and our key workers – what a highlight they were. And so many days of glorious weather to lift our spirits. Sadly, too we had to say a socially distanced farewell to our beloved almost 15 year old Golden Retriever.
What a different place now some 13 weeks on. Many businesses are open, have adapted, or most have a date they can open. Social distancing is reducing from 2m to 1 m. The new normal. But it isn’t normal. We are all changed by it. My family and friends have blessedly largely escaped the virus or had relatively mild versions. We are beyond lucky and my heart goes out to each and every family that has lost someone or suffered. I am so very sorry. Grief is such a difficult and lonely place and I hope everyone who has been affected is getting support.
People who know me know just how passionate I am about Chislehurst, both the town and its people and I, was not going to use a pandemic to sit back on my laurels. With face to face meetings proving impossible, social media and email came into its own as did a tool completely new to me, Zoom. I became a convert of Zoom, then died a million Zoom deaths and now seem to have reached a happy balance.
Even before lockdown we mobilised, setting up The Chislehurst Society and Visit Chislehurst Community Support Group which quickly amassed over 290 volunteers supporting our local residents in isolation with shopping etc (getting online supermarket deliveries was not easy back then and beyond the reach of many of our elderly residents). We encouraged WhatsApp groups to be set up on each road and notes through doors of those who didn’t use technology. Reaching out to help each other. We set up the Chislehurst Community Support Facebook group as a means of communication.
Very quickly a demand for a prescription and delivery service became apparent. So, I set up a service, since used by hundreds, whereby I or Joanna of the Chislehurst Society, took the calls and my dear husband mostly did the hard work delivering! Monday to Saturday, we were in our chemists collecting meds and then out on the roads of Chislehurst discovering areas we did not know even after 29 years here! A great relationship with our medical practices and chemists who referred people to us, meant no-one had to worry about how to get their meds. We now have our regulars who have become virtual friends. People we would never normally have met but residents of the wonderful place we call Chislehurst.
Recognising that not everyone is fortunate were the wonderful Jayne and Greg at Deva Yoga. They set up a collection point for Bromley Foodbank before lockdown that then had to stop when we had to Stay Home. It was therefore a real honour to work with them to set up and promote the Chislehurst wide weekly (now fortnightly) donations and collections for Bromley Foodbank from Chislehurst homes which by the end of May was almost 2000kg worth of donations! Amazing!
At the same time, the pressures on the NHS was becoming evident. From a conversation I had with the medical director of the PRUH, I heard they were establishing a Staff Wellness Unit and was invited to visit it in its infancy. As a result, we set up a weekly collection for them to coincide with the Foodbank donations. And wow did Chislehurst residents support it.
Also, early on, we heard about the need for laundry bags for uniforms to help prevent contamination. An appeal on the Chislehurst Support Facebook Group resulted in an army of 40 sewers and a deluge of donations of linen. My study became a storage area with carrier bags everywhere on material and finished items that I quickly got out in batches. In total we made over 800 bags that went to the NHS and care homes. A wonderful achievement which resulted in the most lovely thank you messages.
It was also important to support our local businesses which had been forced to close with their future livelihoods in doubt. Visit Chislehurst came into its own. Sue, Daniela and I used the social media tools at our disposal to help them any way we could, such as our #FollowFriday campaign, passing on details of grants that would help them, signposting those that were struggling to get their grant payments to local councillors, posting news of how they were adapting to the new world (stand tall Cook & Matthews!) and then finally announcing as they were re-opening. We also welcomed new businesses opening on the High Street – Joelle’s and Chislehurst Bridal – and were delighted to welcome them and several other BR7 businesses to our Chislehurst Business Group – all of whom fund the annual Christmas lights. We continued to liaise with landlords and agents regarding empty shops in the area and approached potential new businesses.
I am thrilled to say that we have progressed our idea to have some branded items which will both promote local shopping and also hopefully raise a small amount of monies to plough back into improving Chislehurst – watch this space for some Visit Chislehurst shopping bags coming soon, beautifully designed by Mary and Mick Design. We have also reviewed our Chislehurst Reward Scheme and worked with the Chislehurst Society on its promotion via their website.
Chislehurst Library is a key asset on the High Street and it is great to hear that it will be one of 6 in the Borough opening on 6thJuly. Meanwhile the process for the sale and redevelopment continues. We provided local knowledge about Chislehurst to a number of the potential developers for the Chislehurst Library site and sought updates on progress and timescales from ward councillors which were posted by us or them on the dedicated Chislehurst Library Redevelopment Facebook page.
We reviewed and commented on a High Street planning application and addressed two issues of non-compliance with LBB Planning dept.
Stay Home and Social Distancing have been the buzz phrases of the last 3 months. At Visit Chislehurst, the clever Mary & Mick designed a number of bespoke and clever images for us to post on Visit Chislehurst to drive the message home. With many pinch points on our Parades and High Street we were keen to see appropriate measures introduced to enable pedestrians to pass and people to queue safely. Following publication of a Government document on 13th May, we gathered ideas from CTT members, Chislehurst businesses and local residents, pulling them together and submitting them to LBB. We also responded to a paper published by LBB for their Environment and Community Services PDS committee on 6th June. So far all we have seen are a few stickers on the ground and we wait to see if changes to the parking provision will be introduced. There has been a plethora of reports and articles on how the High Street is evolving during and post corona virus. I’ve been working my way through them with a view to seeing what we can do to be proactive and reactive in responding. All ideas welcome!
One of the benefits of lockdown was a reduction in crime initially. Sadly, though recently there have been some car thefts and shed burglaries as well as a break in to a church and a church hall as well as an arson attack at the back of The Chestnut Café. Amazing to see the owners that morning continuing their business with their usual professionalism. I have long (years!) been making the case for cctv for Chislehurst and it is good to see that, thanks to Local Parade grants from LBB, cctv has now gone into Royal Parade and is due to go in to Belmont Parade. But there has ironically never been LBB funding for the High Street and previous attempts to secure it have failed. I am delighted to say that following discussions with our new police sergeant, Jamie Keen, with whom we also shared our detailed case, we have his unequivocal support for cctv in the High Street. That case is now being made to LBB again by Cllr Sharma on our behalf. We live in hope.
So, it’s been a very busy few months all in all. But, like everyone else, I have also managed to clear a few cupboards ready to take to the 2gether charity shop and another load to take to the dump when my appointment date finally comes round. Oh, the excitement!
I want to finish by saying that this crisis has opened my eyes yet again to what a wonderful community we have. Thank you everyone for making it so special. I am proud to live here.
Alison Stammers, Chair, Chislehurst Town Team
C/o The Chislehurst Society, The Old Chapel, 3 Queens Passage, Chislehurst BR7 5AP
Facebook: @VisitChislehurst Twitter: @ChisTown Team
The Chislehurst Town Team is a voluntary group focusing on keeping Chislehurst a thriving and special community and business hub.