Here in Bermondsey we got a new school built – thanks to being part of a community that has its fair share of battleaxes.
Way back in the summer of 1999, 56-year-old grandmother Kate Southion put up handwritten A4 posters in shops near the council estate where she lived. She was furious that her bright, 11-year-old granddaughter was without a school, and asked all the other families in the same situation to come to the tenants’ hall. The Southwark News was there and spent the rest of the night interviewing and taking photos of hundreds of children with their parents.
In the following edition we ran the campaign on the front page and devoted many more pages to highlighting the plight of each child. As Kate said afterwards: ‘I could not bear to see their little faces, saying this friend and that friend had a place, but they had nowhere to go. No 11-year-old should feel like that. I wanted to show them that I had the will to fight and so they should too.”
Even if a new school was to be built it would take time, so a temporary self-help school was set up above a library. Local businesses, pubs and charities, as well as the band of mums with their buckets, collected what they could.
In the meantime, the battle still raged as to where the school was going to be built. Our campaign was set on Paterson Park, as it had to be in Bermondsey if it was going to be for the Bermondsey kids, and this was the only
Yet Ken Livingstone argued that the school could not be built on Metropolitan Open Land. We took the view that the loss of a disused park, while regrettable, was of less importance than providing a decent education for local children.
Carrying banners, and wearing t-shirts with a picture of Ken and a caption reading ‘This man says No to my school’we went along with Kate and two coach loads of parents to storm his offices, and staged a sit-in protest in February 2002. As Kate said at the time: ‘I remember telling him that his new City Hall office was being built on green space. One month later we got him to agree.”
Last year as we celebrated our 20th anniversary as the only local independent paid-for newspaper in London, we profiled our campaign with Kate. She told us: ‘The paper was with me from the start at that very first meeting in Marden Square – right through to
sitting in at our protest against Ken. We got on the telly and were in the nationals, but without Southwark News’s support we would never have had the publicity to make it work. You boys were wonderful – it was your campaign too.”
The City of London Academy (Southwark) is now one of the most over-subscribed secondaries in the area.