A lone man in black stood marking the door to Unit 2, 110 Pennington Street. Had I made a mistake, was this in fact a club night, and me without glow sticks?
I wandered in and grabbed myself a cup of coffee (and resisted the biscuits, honest) and perched myself down. I soon noticed the A-list of Wapping civic life: Cllr Denise Jones, John Biggs AM, Inspector Ryan Francis and local activists Robbie Scott and Neil King.
As the biting cold wind whipping down Pennington Street (PS) rattled the shutters of Studio Spaces the meeting began, introduced by Ellis Ruddick, the owner and one of the Directors of Studio Spaces. He outlined the various artists and publications that used their photgraphic studios (including Irish heartbreaker Brian McFadden) and that he was soon to extent into unit 1 of 110 PS, expanding the studios and opening a café open to the public.
We saw photos of large trucks parking up on PS, the damage they cause to the road surface and the satisfied look of drivers freshly relieved after emptying their ‘loads’ against the PS rum warehouse. One neighbour later mentioned that up to 12 trucks parking up early morning and again around lunchtime.
Yuval, another director then took the floor and recounted the time he was assaulted just before Christmas 2012 by a group of men from the unit next door (number 3). This unit is rented by a certain gentleman (more of which shortly) which has had such varied uses a shisha bar, a gambling den and a church, and bizarrely the tenancy was not exclusive to anyone of these uses at a given time. I shan’t go into detail on the network and nexus of ill deeds, but include inter alia cementing over the water main to prevent supplies being shut off, welding closed fire doors and disconnecting Studio Spaces own electricity supply.
Further problems were noted with the arrival of some travellers on the vacant land just east of Studio Spaces and flytipping and burning of waste to avoid refuse charges.
A lot of the problems were thrown at the door of one man, albeit one with multiple names: Derek, James, Gordon and any other moniker that he chooses. This gentlemen has the lease on unit 3 but allegedly has not paid rent for some time and changes identity and uses the corporate veil of a number of companies to avoid eviction. Some half hearted action by the landlord had been taken but for a variety of reasons nothing has progressed.
Annoyed by the inability of the authorities to take on this gentleman, Mark ‘LoveWapping’ Baynes took the floor of the forum. Had he not been a scene of crime photographer, perhaps he might have been a Roman Consul.
Mere hours after the event I can’t remember if it was Mark, or Marcus Tullius Cicero who uttered these words:
Quo usque tandem abutere, Catalina, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia?
His oratory held the audience captive (and I translate for your benefit), referring to the mystery man by the name Catiline, which might or might not be one of the alter egos of the ne’er-do-well tenant.
How long, O Catiline, will you abuse our patience? And for how long will that madness of yours mock us? To what end will your unbridled audacity hurl itself?
An artist’s impression of Mark speaking to the meeting
After some constructive suggestions (by constructive read ‘the use of concrete’) on how to end the problem by one member of the forum, discussion focussed on what should be done. Inspector Francis emphasised that residents need to report every incident they witness by ringing 101 because at present, there are only one or two reports a month, which suggests a low level of crime and ASB. Even if the police aren’t able to attend in a timely fashion, it allows the police to identify hotspots of crime and ASB to devote resources to.
For people like me, who aren’t affected but do look at data, this is crucial. In all aspects of life, resources are determined by data and Big data and whether it’s lights, pavements or crime, it’s important to report it.
A representative of St George plc was there and announced that some ‘meanwhile’ uses of the rum warehouse will hopefully commence in the summer. One resident asked whether St George’s CCTV footage could be shared with the council and the police. Neil King suggested some possible legal avenues with respect of causing a public nuisance that the council could pursue. There was then some confusion over the actual ownership of 110PS with a suggestion that LBTH might actually own the freehold though council officers said this wasn’t the case.
So did we make progress? Not really, but near neighbours got to meet, a shared purpose was identified and some ways forward were discussed. What was clear was that nothing will be done if residents don’t make their voices heard, loudly and repeatedly.
Also, a big shout out to Herb with the Hat, who I met and I discover is one of my readers: despite having shared a table in a pub quiz before, our online activities were anonymous to each other – a timely reminder that going out and having a chinwag locally can be a rewarding thing.