The final session at Healthy Streets was chaired by Lucy Saunders, Consultant in Public Health, Transport for London and the Greater London Authority, and the architect of the Healthy Streets approach that has been adopted with great success across London and beyond. Lucy invited a range of Londoners to share their views on how Healthy Streets can change lives...
Lucie Beeston and Tiff Howick, Co-founders and Directors of Venner Store on Francis Street in Waltham Forest, told delegates how the new pedestrianised streetscape has enabled them to develop their business, building up new friendships and partnerships with walking and cycling locals who become loyal customers. They regularly use the space outside their store for social gatherings, and are so enamoured of the new Waltham Forest, post mini-Holland investment, that they rarely leave their postcode!
GP, activity advocate and TV personality Zoe Williams made a deep impression on delegates with her stories of the under-privileged, inactive and often lonely Londoners that she works with daily, and who can be helped enormously by Healthy Streets. ‘Keep up the good work,’ she asked of the practitioners in the audience, “as it’s my patients that are benefitting from being able to walk, cycle and play outside, and to breathe cleaner air”.
Sergeant Steve Wilson, London Metropolitan Police, shared his personal story of leaving a professional career that was lucrative but unfulfilling, and returning to his south London home to join the police and take a lead on building better community relations and improving road safety, especially for vulnerable road users. He has used his background in IT to create a suite of tech and VR tools that can help all road users to understand each other’s perspectives and share road space more safely. What’s more, the move to working with the community has given him back his sense of purpose, and he and his team are excited by the difference they are making.
Mike Saunders, CEO and Co-Founder, Commonplace, spoke of the need to involve with and engage local communities in any process of change, and explained how past successes with community-based projects led him and his team to develop a wide-ranging platform, based on trust, that helps politicians and practitioners to understand and respond to the needs of communities.
I was tinkering with parking schemes and pandering to car owners. I was not delivering for our community. Then I got a chance to do something extraordinary...Cllr Clyde Loakes
Caroline Russell, Assembly Member, Green Party, London City Hall, spoke of her personal understanding of the lasting impact of the “knock on the door” delivering unwelcome news of injury and life-changing experiences as a result of cycling and pedestrian accidents. She explained forcefully how her recognition of the devastation this can cause has given her direction throughout her political career, and has shaped her determination to make London’s roads slower, cleaner, safer and healthier for all.
Cllr Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader, Waltham Forest Council, summed up this special session of personal thoughts by telling the story of his struggle to win hearts and minds during his borough’s transition through the mini-Holland process. Having been a councillor since the age of 27, he said, “I have the scars from looking into car parking schemes. I spent years talking about encouraging a shift to bikes and walking without actually doing the things that make a difference. If I am honest, I was tinkering with parking schemes and pandering to car owners. I was not delivering for our community. Then I got a chance to do something extraordinary. We won our Better Waltham Forest mini-Holland bid, and signed up to deliver a huge public health implementation, at pace.”
Surprisingly, he added, the borough’s plans for a human-centric, better community provoked vociferous, determined opposition, rage and protest, and suddenly a small minority of residents were following him around with a coffin. But a ground-up movement of residents and fellow councillors championed a progressive intervention for our streets, he said, making them better for everyone. “We went house to house and made the case.”
In the local elections in May that year, worried by what was being said on social media, the local press, in public meetings and on protests, he drafted his resignation letter. “But guess what,’ he said. ‘I got the largest majority I have ever had. Every Labour councillor that had backed the scheme showed a significant increase in votes. It was amazing. But was it impactful?’
“We commissioned King’s College to see what the health impact of the scheme was. Again, I prepared my resignation letter,’ he said. ‘But the study showed that the impact of what we have done is enormous and has impacted on public health measurably. DfT data shows that not only did the borough have the largest increase in walking last year, the increase is so large that life expectancy has been extended for residents. For too long we, in fact I, as a councillor, had been focused on maintaining a status quo that did nothing for anyone. But now we have done something extraordinary, a radical intervention that puts people first.” Inspiring stuff indeed.
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