Ashburton Park is for people, not politics

By - Wednesday 27th November, 2013

Conservative activist Gareth Streeter is excited about the Friends of Ashburton Park – and has a proposal for his Labour counterparts

Gareth Streeter (fourth from left, in orange) at the most recent meeting of the Friends of Ashburton Park

Most of my friends are decidedly non-political and one thing they always assume is that a Conservative Party activist like me would be the polar opposite of a campaigner from another party.

But we have more in common than people think.

For example, both myself and the typical Labour activist are people of passion. We both want our neighbourhood, our community and our country to be the best they can possibly be. We’ve both thought of ways that positive change can happen, and we are both prepared to stand up and be counted for those beliefs. We might have different ideas about how to achieve the change we want to see, but often the objectives aren’t so different.

The initial meeting had a degree of political motivation behind it, and the council’s plan for the future of the Park was not presented accurately

And it’s because of this, that any opportunity for two parties to work together is immensely exciting. When the Friends of Ashburton Park was launched, it was my deep hope that this would be one such occasion.

At first, I was sceptical. The initial meeting – while generally even-handed – had a degree of political motivation behind it, and the council’s plan for the future of the park was not presented accurately. However, at the second public meeting, I felt reassured. To start with, the tone was more balanced: there was an acknowledgment that the council’s plan to market the long-lease of the building to community groups was a positive step and something that the group could work with. Second, there was an appreciation that any plan needed to be credible and self-sustaining from a financial point of view. No longer were the people at the front making the council the bad guy. But Stephen Mann’s article on November 1st got me worried.

While it is true that no councillors were able to attend the second meeting, it should be remembered that only seven working days’ notice was given

Firstly, there were some inaccuracies. Stephen claimed that no Ashburton Councillor had attended either public meeting. In reality, Cllr Adam Kellett was present at the first meeting, introduced himself publicly and spoke to residents after it had finished. I am surprised that this was so quickly forgotten.

While it is true that none were able to attend the second meeting, it should be remembered that only seven working days’ notice was given. Is it really reasonable to expect a busy councillor to cancel important ward and resident meetings in this time frame? Could they not have been approached in advance to secure a date where attendance was possible?

But perhaps the bigger worry is that again the tone was hostile; anti-council and most certainly anti-Conservative, with a misleading line about my own opinions. It felt like Friends of Ashburton Park was actually a Labour campaign.

I do not want what could potentially be a powerful community group to turn into a political football. Therefore, I would like to make an open offer to the local Labour Party

Since the meeting I have been approached by leaders of residents associations who had a big concern: if this community group is really a front for a political campaign, they could not possibly be involved. I was able to reassure them: I myself was a Conservative and this is an activity that involved multiple political parties. I’m now beginning to regret my good faith.

I do not want what could potentially be a powerful community group to turn into a political football. Therefore, I would like to make an open offer to the local Labour Party: I propose that I meet with my equivalent in Ashburton Labour and negotiate our ‘terms of engagement’ on this issue. We could agree exactly how we can work together for the good of the park, how we will communicate externally and be crystal clear on our motivation. We would then make these terms public, allowing residents’ associations and other community members to be confident that the group is party neutral and that they are not being caught in a political crossfire.

I would also be very happy for a member of The Croydon Citizen’s editorial team to attend this meeting and publish our agreed terms as a result. Political correspondent Tom Black may be a Labour supporter, but I have every confidence that he would be utterly impartial.

The Conservative party may never have lost an election in Ashburton, but we don’t own it. Neither does Labour. It’s time we reasserted that the political parties are there to serve the local residents, not to have them serve as pawns in petty, political games.

Gareth Streeter

Gareth Streeter

Gareth Streeter is a communications professional and Croydon based community and political activist. Passionate about inclusion and community, Gareth is an active member of Oasis Church Shirley Park in Ashburton. Currently PR for charity Oasis and chairman of Ashburton Conservatives.

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  • Anne Giles

    This is a wonderful article, Gareth. Congrats! So true, though. Tom Black is the best person to attend. I hope he does. Funnily enough, I have been blocked by the Friends of Ashburton Park Facebook page, but my dog has not!

    • bieneosa

      Funnily enough, I was blocked from the Facebook group supporting the sale of the Riesco items. You shouldn’t have been blocked from the Friends of Ashburton Park Facebook page (unless you were a rampant troll). In the grand scheme of things it’s all so unnecessary and petty.

    • gbsblogs

      Thanks Anne. I agree, Tom Black is a treasure!

  • bieneosa

    Gareth, the irony of this post is that it does come across as a “political game”. Have you spoken to your counterpart in the Labour party instead of addressing him/her via this post? Surely that’s the best way to get things done?

    I, like many, would like to see councillors working together for the good of the community. I’m not particularly interested in the ‘dance’ to gets you to collaborate, or even making a song about the dance, as per this post. An open blog post may be good PR, but sometimes the simplicity of picking up the phone or meeting your counterpart(s) over coffee can help you to achieve the desired result that you seek.

    • gbsblogs

      Hi Bieneosa

      I agree that people want to see political parties working together.

      Thanks also for the challenge on this article. I need to go away and think about it.

      And the moment (like I say, I need to give it some proper thought) I’m not sure I 100% agree with you. I think that when a conversation is started on a given platform (like the Croydon Citizen) it is appropriate to respond via that platform.

      I also think that people do want to be part of the process of how both parties interact. For ‘Friends of Ashburton Park’ to work there needs to be total transparency in order for everyone to be confident it is not a political front. I think that community media is a fantastic way of achieving this.

      Having everything happen behind closed doors (in my mind) just adds to the idea that the political class go away and have their debates while most people are left disenfranchised.

      But I do really appreciate your thoughts and will think more about it.


  • Stephen Mann

    Gareth, thank you for your article; however, I am disappointed that you have chosen this forum to air grievances. Why did you not raise this at
    the meeting where Arnie Graff spoke?

    We have been in email contact since the meeting. Was always happy to correct errors or inconsistencies. Like I hope you will do so in your own article…

    It has taken 26 days for you to respond and we did have a date pencilled in the diary…

    I am not going to resort to a comment box tit for tat and will respond properly to your points later today.

    • gbsblogs

      Thanks Stephen

      Would be good to talk. To be fair, I didn’t have these concerns at the meeting with Arnie. It was your article on this very site that gave me cause for concern.

      By all means get in touch in any way you see fit.

  • Peter Staveley

    I attended the first meeting (the one next to the building) but I was not able to attend the following meeting. I too want to work with the other parties to find the best solution for the building and for the local community.
    So please keep me informed and I will try to attend the next meeting (or ensure one of my colleagues attends).

    • Stephen Mann

      Certainly, Peter. Like we’ve always said more than happy to work with others as it is a Community and residents project.