Spring 2016 SCCoop Update; Taking over the Common & Paddling Pool Update, Budget Cuts, A new Playground

Making progress

Next month marks the two year anniversary of the formal establishment of the Streatham Common Co-operative (SCCoop), coming after two years of planning by local residents.Right now things feel a little hard to get to where we want, but before we look at that,  it's worth taking a step back and looking at some of what we've achieved.

First and foremost, yes we really are running the Rookery, we have hired skilled gardeners, and we can all see the difference.  We've built a new social enterprise, owned by over 450 members of the community and have a manager who engages with a 'can do' attitude.  We've hired an apprentice, partnering with Capel Manor college. We've progressed popular plans to establish a micro-brewery in a disused barn bringing in vital funds. We've supported community events over the year, and put on events from theatre to a hugely popular and successful fundraising Christmas fair (yes, we've learnt a lot from that and we'll do it again bigger and better next year). We've made sure the cafe lease was widely advertised to get the best possible tenant, and took part in the selection process.  We supported the cafe taking on the toilets, which has saved them from closure (despite for some reason being criticised in the local press). With the friends of Streatham common, we've campaigned to secure capital funds for a new playground after years of no investment (a project officer should be appointed next month with consultation to follow, building this winter).  The list goes on, volunteer days, garden design, outreach work, partnership with Mencap, fundraising and much more.

A big thank you to everyone who has helped and particularly to our staff, managed by Dom.

But its harder than we thought...

Well we never thought it would be easy, but the budget cuts couldn't have come at a worse time for us.  The parks budget is being cut from 4.5 million to just 2.1 per year, way more than we ever could have imagined. This has meant that despite SCCoop being more efficient and bringing in hours of volunteer time, many providing professional services for free, we have no where near the money Veolia has had over the last 10 years available to us.  Additionally the council is reorganising the parks department, bringing all the staff back in house.  So without the luxury of substantial funding, and the complexities surrounding this reorganization, we have taken the unavoidable decision to delay taking over the Common until after the summer. 

The council are currently working on plans to enable us to carry on in the Rookery after April, albeit on a much reduced budget.  Luckily we have had successful fundraising and put aside reserves to see us through this period until we can hopefully take on the common at a funding level that enables us to provide the better services we want to see. 

However negotiations with Lambeth are hard, and the flexibility previously shown towards pioneering organisations like SCCoop is harder to come by. We are struggling to convince Lambeth to let us raise funds from events we think people want (e.g a food fair and a circus for starters) at no cost to them.  The proposed Lambeth Council draft events strategy, if adopted by Lambeth, effectively destroys our business plan, and forces us to be more reliant on council funding, which can only lead to the cuts no-one wants.

The immediate impact

The first noticeable difference from our inability to take over the common before the summer will be that the paddling pool won't open.  There is no funding for it.  SCCoop is considering what we can do.  We have explored with the council the possibility of moth-balling rather than closure so if funds could be raised and the pool is set as the priority, at least the option of re-opening is there in the future.  There is much more to be discussed around this and we will look perhaps with the friends of Streatham Common to hold a public meeting on this in the future.

The commitment

Despite these setbacks, we are still committed to our goal of providing services on the common, run by a community owned not-for-profit organisation.  We believe our model offers a great blend of partnership with the council, community involvement, democratic accountability and entrepreneurial spirit.  We thank Lambeth for their support through the coop pioneer parks programme we have had to date, and look forward to working with them to find a solution to many of the current sticking points.

We are putting together more fundraising plans, as well as funding the gardeners, we need to fix the cascade in the water garden, not to mention the paddling pool.  We are always keen to hear from you too. Get in touch with us if you have an idea and the passion to make it happen.

We will keep you updated with our progress, and the board and staff would like to thank you all for you support.  We think we can make this work, and with your continued support, we will.

Richard Payne, SCCoop Chairman