Big Smoke article on Blackheath Society

Interesting article on 75 years of the Blackheath Society here:
Blackheath Society reaches 75 years


Filed under blackheath

27 responses to “Big Smoke article on Blackheath Society

  1. michelleobrien11

    A week has passed since the Bugle drew attention to the Blackheath Society this year celebrating the 75th anniversary of its foundation in 1937.

    Yet in those seven days these remarks here are the first comment to appear on the matter on this popular, energetic and widely read local blog.

    “We are celebrating our 75th birthday in 2012,” says the BS in its Spring Newsletter. “The Society’s Management Committee is proud to be the custodian of a great community organisation in this special year for Blackheath.”

    Words aimed at bolstering flagging morale after the Society’s shattering and costly £80,000 court defeat last year at the hands of OnBlackheath (formerly NIMBY) over the planned pop festival? ???????????????????????

    Lack of apparent interest in the BS anniversary so far on this blog makes this Bugle-reading BS rank-and-filer wonder if most readers here, especially younger, more recent newcomers to the area, don’t rather see the BS as a total irrelevance in their lives (until it comes to trying to stop pop festivals).

    It would be a pity if that were indeed the case. The BS does much good work. But in the opinion of some it needs to attract, and soon, an influx of new and younger members, especially among more recent newcomers to Blackheath, and to make sure they get heard and in a democratic fashion.

    The way the BS Management Committee, just 13-strong, launched the disastrous court case against the pop festival without any formal mandate from the membership hasn’t been forgotten by people outside the Society.

    • Jon lee

      Yeah, you got it right. These are the people who tried to stop the festival. Before that they were the miserable swines that tried to get the tea hut closed down.
      I’m sure that’s very unfair of me but that really is my perception of them and shows how much PR work they have to do.

    • Adrian

      Actually, even some of us older members see the Blackheath Society as somewhat out of touch. They should be an important aspect of Blackheath, but I fear the unsavoury debacle of last years court case has turned some people away from them.

    • Blackheath Bird

      No doubt in response to accusations such as that from Michelle O’Brien, our local amenity society has issued a survey. \this is what it says on their website:

      “Current News
      The Blackheath Society Survey is now on line. We have had a good response but if you have not yet completed it please go to:
      The survey will close on Friday 17 May, 2013.”

      Eager as always to grasp a previously unextended hand, I rushed to fill it in, but the survey is useless and typical of the BSoc’s blinkered fixation with itself and its little band of members. Why, for example, if you have ticked the box saying you are not a society member, does the survey not ask why?

      Even so, the more people read and respond, the better. They might suddenly click that not everyone in Blackheath is 99 and only wants to read about graffiti-clearing and the Greenwich Park. (Isn’t there a Greenwich Society for that?)

  2. Franklin

    Sniping from the outside is cheap and easy. But the Blackheath Society is made up of people who care enough about Blackheath to volunteer their time, energy and money working for its preservation and improvement.

    If you live in Blackheath and care about its future, then perhaps you should try engaging with the Blackheath Society by becoming a member and taking an active role in the Society. I’m sure that they would value your views. You might also find that the world isn’t as simple or straightforward as the Michelle-and-Jon Lee view of it.

    And, really, it’s rather pathetic to be slagging them off via a local blog simply because you disagree with their stance on the pop concert.

    • @Anonymous (April 18, 2012 at 2:07 pm): “Or even turned some in favour [see surge in membership].”

      > > > > > >

      Are you saying the Blackheath Society has had a surge in membership?
      That’s very interesting. I seem to have missed this. I’m not doubting you but can we have the facts, please?

      Where is the Society reporting they’ve had a surge in membership? And a surge from what to what? And during what period? – before the Society’s court defeat last year over the planned OnBlackheath pop festival? Or since then?

  3. sorrytobeanon

    @Franklin: In essence you are right. Fighting from within is usually the answer but first you need to attract the fighters. In what I hope is a spirit of constructive criticism, I would like to say why I think the Blackheath Society is failing to attract the kind of people who might ensure its future.
    First, the Society’s PR is abysmal. Any criticism is matched by counter-criticism, much of it on a personal level. Calling Jon and Michele “pathetic” is a good example. Why shouldn’t they and others express their views via the local blog? Isn’t that what it’s for? Comments like yours give the impression the Society would like to ban open discussion of its actions. I’m sure that’s not the case, simply a matter of poor PR.
    Second, the Society’s website and publications do little to appeal to newcomers. Both are extremely old-fashioned in appearance and overdue for a serious makeover. Worse, much of the website content is way out of date – eg the bit about comments on the Huntsman’s applications being required by November 2010. Or was it 2009?
    Third, the Society is failing to put across the good work it does. Far too much space is devoted to graffiti and rubbish clearing, both of which tasks are adequately performed by the local councils, whose responsibility they are. Again, better PR would help.
    Fourth, the feeling that the Society is run by elderly men who see no need to seek anyone else’s opinion about anything is inescapable and off-putting.
    Blackheath needs a strong, committed and active amenity society, above all one which engages with the local community in a way the present regime is signally failing to do. They could start by hiring a decent PR person.

    • Anonymous

      Do you have any idea what “a decent PR” would cost? Moans about the cost of a court case woul be dwarfed by the outcry.

      BTW, it seems that BlackSoc is well aware of the need to attract younger members. The latest newsletter says the doors are open to suggestions. Unfortunately, only members get the current newsletter [back issues are on the web site] so potential newcomers may not see the invitation.

    • the feeling that the Society is run by elderly men who see no need to seek anyone else’s opinion about anything is inescapable and off-putting

      Bullseye. But they wouldn’t be the only local organisation (amenity societies, local government…) to be like that. Which is why Lewisham Council’s local assemblies are such good things, because they at least force some things out into the open.

      The trouble is – and this is from the Greenwich side of the boundary (and speaking from Charlton rather than Blackheath) – that amenity societies’ views carry disproportionate weight in local decision-making, even outside their areas, yet they often make very little effort to attract new members, and sometimes their actions end up repelling (such as with the OnBlackheath farrago) the very people they need to attract.

      • Anonymous

        Beware of what you desire. New members may not actually be as supportive of the right to make a loud noise as you believe. Two music festivals in Hyde Park and Battersea have just been cancelled after locals were given a say.

    • Franklin

      @Sorry – no need to apologise, we’re all anon to a lesser or greater extent in these comments.

      To clarify a couple of things:

      1/ I wasn’t speaking on behalf of the Blackheath Society. I’m not a member and don’t even live in Blackheath. I live in Greenwich and am a member of the Greenwich Society, so have some insight into how slagging off of local amenity societies does not tend to reflect the reality of what those societies do or the ways in which they represent their local societies.

      2/ I didn’t call Jon or Michelle “pathetic”. I said that slagging off a local amenity societies (by, for example, calling them “miserable swines”) because the commenter disagrees with their views on the pop concert on the heath and/or their past position on the Tea Hut is “pathetic”.

      More generally. I agree that there is a disconnect between the local amenity societies and many of the younger generations of local residents. I don’t really know why that is the case – I hate to fall back on stereotypical generalisations about the younger generation (of which I am counted) “not wanting to get engaged”.

      But there is a real dearth of younger people in the local amenity societies, and I do feel that we have an obligation to put words into action by getting involved. I have found by doing so that some of the positions that the Greenwich Society has taken with which I disagreed from the outside are in fact more complex and challenging than might first appear to be the case. I would therefore urge any and all critics of the local amenity societies to also get involved in their local societies, both to affect change from within but also to get a fuller understanding of the constraints under which these societies often act – and the enormous good they nevertheless are able to achieve.

      • Anonymous

        I would be more optimistic about younger members joining BlackSoc if I didn’t look across the Heath after a day of sunshine and seen a blitz of litter left by hoards of youngsters attracted by the sun. Younger people bang on and on about the way the baby-boomer generation is destroying their world but remain oblivious to their own irresponsibility. I wonder how many beer cans and pizza boxes will be there the morning after music fans have departed to their [far away] homes?

      • sorrytobeanon

        Franklin and Pirate: I think basically we’re all agreed that the BlackSoc is capable of very good things but is failing to appeal to younger members. Right? I can only repeat what I said about poor PR. There is an urgent need to change people’s perception of the Society, and for this to happen the Society itself has to change. Having just checked the Westcombe and Greenwich societies’ websites, it is instantly evident how much less appealing is the Blackheath’s site by comparison. It looks as if it is being done on the cheap and, other than the front page, is frequently out of date, sometimes seriously so.
        I searched the printed materials in vain for pictures of anyone under 60 and, with the exception of Westcombe volunteers clearing some woodland, didn’t find any. If the Society is to survive, it can’t sit back and wait for younger members to sign up: it has to speak to them directly. How about engaging in conversation on this blog, for example? What is there to be lost, especially when as Franklin says the issues are more complex than might at first sight appear?

      • Franklin


        See the comment from HS below, as well as The Pirate King’s reference to a discussion he had with the Blackheath Society’s president. They clearly are aware of these issues and are doing what they can – including commenting here as well as using Facebook and Twitter – to address them.

        On the website issue: it takes a lot of time and energy to keep a website up to date. I am sure that they would welcome volunteers to help with that!

  4. Jon lee

    The problem really is one of perception. If I am going to give up my free time for any society/club I would like to think I would be surrounded by like-minded people. If I get the impression that a society is full of people who get worked up over tea huts and campaign against rock festivals then I am unlikely to be interested in hanging around with these people. I do understand that the only way to change them is to join them but it would feel like campaigning for socialism from inside the Conservative party!

    • Franklin

      I don’t know many members of the Blackheath Society but those that I do know are actually pretty excellent people – including the ones who were/are opposed to the pop festival on the Heath. Their concerns about the pop festival vary: some are concerned on principled grounds about the commercialisation of a public space; others are worried about damage that might be caused to the Heath; others don’t want to have large numbers of festival-goers pissing and puking in their front gardens.

      While I don’t necessarily share all of these concerns, I still recognise that they are valid opinions. Moreover, we don’t live close to the Heath so wouldn’t be affected by the concert, and I think that people who do live in the immediate area have the right to express their views and objections.

      So, this goes back to my point about engagement – get involved with your local society and engage in the debates, and you might find that views with which you currently disagree are in fact quite reasonable. If they’re not reasonable, you can try to change people’s minds and the society’s positions through constructive argument.

  5. Trog

    There are the horns of a dilemma to be felt here. It is largely due to the Blackheath Society’s efforts over the past 75 years that Blackheath has retained so much of its character and why so many people want to live here now. In recognition of that I’m happy to be a member and to pay my subs each year. But I’m also a big fan of the Tea Hut and would man the barricades to defend it, and I’m still looking forward to the (deferred) music festival. The more people who join the Society then the more it will reflect the diversity of views in Blackheath.

  6. Having spoken recently with the Chair of the Blackheath Society, I do know that they are aware and understand most of the problems mentioned above. There is no obvious silver bullet though.

    As many posters have said, it’s not easy getting any new people to join a local Society, that alone young people who tend to have much better things to do with their time.

    The fact that most young people are priced out of even the smallest flat around Blackheath Village can’t exactly help the situation either.

    • Franklin

      It depends on how you define “have much better things to do with their time”. I have a demanding job and a young family but personally feel that taking an active role in and trying to contribute to my local community is pretty high up on the list of important things to do. This is the very foundation of civic society, without which we are left with only an atomised, individualised existence devoid of social capital. Collectively we are a community with voice and can hold our elected representatives and civil servants accountable; atomistically we are weak and easily divisible and controlled.

  7. HS

    We have been following the recent posts in the Blackheath Society with interest. We are a voluntary society, doing our best, as we have done for 75 years, for Blackheath. We are as active as ever, proud of the range of things
    we do, but very happy to listen and learn how to do things, and communicate
    things, better. We are very happy to meet anyone prepared to help us improve our efforts. We also encourage all to follow us and engage with us on facebook, ( and twitter @BlackheathSoc, where you can see what we are up to and share your views with us.

  8. Jaybird

    If you’re not happy with what the BS is doing, whingeing here is probably not the best way to sort it.
    • Write and tell them
    • Phone & ask to meet
    • Join and work from the inside

    An alternative is the Blackheath Residents Group; there’s much overlap, but the style may be more to your taste:

    Interested to read from PK that “most young people are priced out of even the smallest flat around Blackheath Village”. Obviously not been around the village in the daytime avoiding the herds of young mums with prams (similarly trying to get a swift half at lunchtime in any of the locals, which seem to have lots of ditto with prams having a jolly lunch and exchanging baby horror stories.) Also the very many young people dragging their little ones to the many nursery and primary schools in the village.

    • HS

      Pl see my post of April 13 – the Blackheath Soc certainly recognises and is up for the communication challenge being discussed – see eg our new Facebook page. It’s a matter of volunteer time, and there’s a lot else going on! All advice/help welcome.

    • Jaybird – lots and lots of yummy mummies in the village, but new mums not likely to have time to reform the Blackheath Society.

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