Category Archives: Islington

Mentoring in Islington – ” Bridging the Gap”

For several years, a small group in Islington called “Bridging the Gap” have been arranging mentoring partnerships in Islington. I am proud to be one of the trustees (Details of our trustees here: http://www.bridging-islington.org.uk/who-we-are/)

In 2015 we became a registered charity and launched our website http://www.bridging-islington.org.uk/. Please check us out , and share news of what we do to interested parties.

Bridging the Gap Islington is looking for:-
-mentors (we provide the training)
-sponsors  (people, local businesses or companies interested in being a patron, sponsor or partner)
-volunteers (to help with fundraising)

-funding! We welcome contributions toward our work. (All our mentors and trustees are volunteers, but we have some admin costs and cover mentor’s travel costs)

Donate via this link

I have been involved in many mentoring projects over the years, but I am really excited that at last in Islington we have a partnership that brings together people in need of help and guidance and those willing to provide it. Please spread the word!

NOTES

1 Bridging the Gap Islington is an Islington based charity, formed in 2012, that provides a mentoring service by providing trained volunteer mentors, and linking them with people in need of help and support.

2 Objects
The objects of the Charity are: –

-The prevention of crime and the rehabilitation of offenders by offering offenders, ex-offenders and people at risk of offending advice, guidance and support, including to address their needs and promote their integration into the wider law-abiding community.

-Working together with other organisations with similar aims particularly but not exclusively by providing a voluntary mentoring service for people at risk of offending.

3 Bridging the Gap Islington is a Membership organisation – because we believe that helping vulnerable people and people at risk of offending is a community responsibility. We welcome new members! To find out more and to join email Josie Osei at admin@bridging-islington.org.uk

2 The following are trustees:-
Mick Holloway
Maddy Robinson
Jonathan Joels
Robin Latimer
Greg Foxsmith

(Details of our trustees here http://www.bridging-islington.org.uk/who-we-are/ )

We welcome new trustees, and if you are interested in joining the Bridging the Gap steering group, please contact Robin Latimer – Robin@bridging-islington.org.uk

4 Website: http://www.bridging-islington.org.uk/

5 Appeal

1 Bridging the Gap Islington is looking for:-
-mentors
-sponsors (in particular local businesses or companies that may want to be an official sponsor)
-a Patron
– volunteers to help with fundraising

If interested in any of the above please contact Robin Latimer at robin@bridging-islington.org.uk

We also welcome contributions toward our mentoring work! All our mentors and trustees are volunteers. Donate online through the donation page of our website here http://www.bridging-islington.org.uk/donate/ or contact Robin@bridging-islington.org.uk

6 Quotes

1 Founding member and trustee Robin Latimer :  “Bridging the Gap Islington provides a unique opportunity for local people to help many people in our community who are excluded by a competitive and bureaucratic society. Anybody can benefit from talking about their plans and friendly encouragement to put plans into practice. As well as welcoming prospective mentors, we are also looking for ways to make contact with people who need help.”

2 Islington Councillor Joe Calouri:  “It’s fantastic to have Bridging the Gap working in the Borough with some of our most vulnerable residents. Well trained mentors can provide the kind of trusted relationship that can help create real change for vulnerable people.”

3 Greg Foxsmith: “I have been involved in many mentoring projects over the years, but I am really excited that at last in Islington we have a partnership that brings together people in need of help and guidance and those willing to provide it”

 

Highbury Court Advice Centre-One Year On!

A Local court-based advice and support service celebrated its first year at Highbury Magistrates Court this month.
North London advice and support service, Community Advice based at Highbury Magistrates Court has been providing practical help and access to long term support to those who attend court.

  
Based inside the court, the service in its first year has helped over 600 people from Islington, Haringey, Camden and Enfield. It has assisted court users with accessing long-term support services such as alcohol treatment, housing, mental health services or providing immediate help with practical issues such as outstanding fines and benefit claims.

The service is aimed especially at those who are not eligible for probation support due to the level of their offences such as theft, vandalism, drunk and disorderly conduct, but appear in court again and again absorbing a considerable amount of the criminal justice system’s resources.

A paid coordinator and a team of volunteers at the service help identify and tackle the underlying problems that contribute to people’s offending such as housing needs, debt issues, and drug and alcohol misuse.

The service has made hundreds of referrals into wider community services ensuring those who come to court can continue to receive the support they need once they leave the building. In its first year, the clients attended three quarters of all the referrals made for them and two-thirds reported their issues had been resolved six months on.

Set up by the Centre for Justice Innovation, the service is supported by local magistrates and court service and is delivered by Islington Citizens Advice. For more info, check out this short film!

Joanne Thomas, Innovative Practice Manager at the Centre for Justice Innovation said: “Community Advice is an invaluable resource as it is addressing significant unmet needs of people who are coming to court. There are early, positive signs that it is helping people who would have had no other recourse to resolve their issues.” (See also this blog by Joanne)

Notes

• The Centre for Justice Innovation is a UK justice research and development charity. It works to build a justice system that holds people accountable, that is fair and feels fair, and which seeks to address the problems of those people who come into contact with it. It is an initiative of the Center for Court Innovation, based in New York.

• A reception event to mark the anniversary was held on March 9th in Islington Town Hall. My contribution:-

Anyone practicing in criminal law is aware that the vast majority of defendants have any one (or more) of a number of complex issues or difficult challenges , which often underpin or contribute to their offending, but which the Criminal Justice System does not address. These issues can include mental health issues, drug addiction, homelessness, welfare benefit issues, domestic violence, exploitation, pressure by gang members, unemployment, depression, and more. 

In some cases limited help provided comes from the probation service, but gone are the days when there was a probation “service” whose role was to “befriend the prisoner” and instead we have a fragmented, part-privatised, underfunded system whose main purpose is to punish, and, where there is a subsidiary component of help, it comes with sanctions for “non-compliance”. 

Leaving the offender to seek their own help, we have also seen a steady diminution of help and advice services , both Centrally and by Local Authorities, and a particularly brutal reduction in services since LASPO.

Solicitors cannot plug this gap-as a result of year on year Legal Aid cuts we barely have time to take meaningful instructions on cases to present a proper defence for a desirory fixed fee within an adverserial system. In earlier years a High Street Practice would offer a holistic service, with solicitors advising on employment law, benefits advice etc, now that rearely exists.

About 10 years ago I began mentoring ex-offenders, which I continue to do, and I have been amazed at the paucity of mentoring available compared to the potential demand, and the willingness of people to give up their time. My mentoring campaign led, accidentally, into politics, and indeed into this Town Hall where I was an elected Councillor from 2006-2014.

I never managed to establish an Islington mentoring service, but I have at least now seen the birth of an Islington mentoring project, BRIDGING THE GAP ISLINGTON.

Mentoring, which is time-intensive, essentially is signposting or referring clients to the right experts who can provide help with specific issues. “If only”, I sometimes mused, “there was a service where the people needing help and the volunteers who can provide it could be gathered together in one place”. It was no more than a pipe-dream.

So now I turn to the Highbury Court Advice Service.  The service that shows me that dreams can come true!

I was aware there was some kind of pilot project in Plymouth, (my home City!)

I was aware of the excellent work of the Centre for Justice Innovation.

And I was very aware of Highbury Corner Magistrates , my Local Court.

But never would I have believed that somehow these threads would be drawn together to create this outstanding service.

The first time I saw it in action, I spotted somebody gliding across the waiting area, friendly, welcoming, introducing themselves to clients. Naturally I thought it was one of the infamous solicitor-touts that proliferate at Highbury Court, trying to poach clients from other solicitors (fighting for scraps at the beggars banquet)

You cannot imagine my delight when I realised that instead this was a volunteer from the Advice Service, offering help and advice. On subsequent visits I introduced myself to the team, and gradually met more of the volunteers. I referred my clients to them. I visited the CJI for a seminar. I blogged about the Service. I am, in short, unambiguously a fan.

I tell everybody I can about this Service, and was glad to see Mr Gove visited. I hope he was impressed.

So well done, and thank you to the visionaries who developed the concept, the volunteers who deliver and all those who support it.

And I ask of you all one thing, support this scheme, and shout about this service from the roof-tops.

We need to ensure that it survives, and that it is rolled out across London and hopefully Nationally.

I look forward to the 10 year anniversary celebration! 

  

(A version of this speech appears on the CJI website here)

Expanding Sunnyside Gardens!

There are two wonderful pieces of Green Space in Hillrise Ward, Islington, seperated by an ugly but underused road. There is a great opportunity to increase greenspace by closing a stretch of that road.

The Green Spaces are Sunnyside Community Gardens and Elthorne Park, and the road is the short stretch of Sunnyside Road that divides them. The road is used by very little vehicular traffic, but is used as a short-cut by the 210 bus, rather than take the short detour around the Southern part of Elthorne Park.

In 2011 a campaign to “close the road” (see here) was launched jointly by Friends of Sunnyside Gardens and Friends of Elthorne Park, and supported extensively by local residents in a petition.

The Council faltered, blaming opposition from London Buses and failed to show leadership. But last year, the lead Councillor agreed to look again at the viability of the popular idea.

At the Council Meeting on 15th October I tabled a question for the Lead Councillor asking for an update. 

Cllr Claudia Webbe in an encouraging reply indicated personal and Council support for the proposal, noting the only barrier was raising the finance. She has agreed to provide a breakdown of the figures.

Local MP Jeremy Corbyn confirmed support for the road closure

Welcoming the support, Friends of Elthorne Park will be asking LBI to “close the road for a day” as part of next year’s “Car Free Day”. This would give residents, park users and Cllrs a chance to experience the benefits of what would literally be “joined-up thinking”.

Press coverage here.

watch this space….

Press Release 19/11/15

Campaigners for Greenspace welcomed the Council’s committment to permenantly closing part of Sunnyside road which separates two Green Spaces in the North of the Borough- Elthorne Park and Sunnyside Community Gardens.
Previously, LBI had not supported the proposal, citing opposition from London Buses who objected on the basis there would be a small re-routing of the 210 bus road.

But now the Council say the only barrier is finance -and the the lack of budgetary options following cuts in the Government central Grant.

Friends of Sunnyside Gardens welcomed the change of heart, and noted that in the next few years there was a proposed redevelopment of the side of the Park currently hosting the Islington Boxing Club-which will generate funds for local amenity from the planning process (1)

Greg Foxsmith, speaking for Friends of Elthorne Park, said “We have had for a long time the support of park users, environmental campaigners, local residents and Councillors and our local MP Jeremy Corbyn- now we finally have a commitment from the Council it seems we are moving in the right direction”

Friends of Elthorne Park are also asking the Council to close the road on the next “car-free” day, so that residents and Park Users can experience the benefits for a day.

Notes
(1) s106 Planning Act. The Boxing Club, currently housed in a temporary structure, is looking to rebuild in a development which may include housing and a cafe.

Community Advice at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court

Community Advice offered in Court

A new court-based Advice Service at Highbury Court is most welcome!

 See also this blog by Joanne Thomas

The Magistrates Court is not somewhere people associate with receiving advice, other than the occasional finger-wagging lecture from a Justice of the Peace, usually warning of the consequences of not complying with their instructions. Yet the vast majority of people who pass through their doors are clearly in need of advice and help in tackling the kinds of problem that brought them to Court in the first place.

Homelessness, mental health, unemployment, poverty, debt, alcoholism, drug addiction, illiteracy, overcrowded accomodation, domestic violence, the Courts often see some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.

Of course the Probation service can sometimes help, but are suffering from funding restraints as well as outsourcing, and  Community Orders are increasingly targetted at punishment rather than rehabilitaion.

Often solicitors defending at these Courts try to plug the gap in the lack of advice available, but apart from constraints on time and money have to be careful not to blur the professional boundary between lawyer and client, as well as acknowledging that we are not trained counsellors or social workers, lacking the resources and knowledge to advice on the areas that need addressing outside the immediacy of legal representation. Often lawyers do not even know where to direct clients who need help in other areas.

All this has changed with this exciting project at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court.From January of this year, the project has been offering help and advice from a small room accessed from the same waiting area as the Courtrooms on the first floor. And as there is plenty of waiting at Court, there is time for the people who desperately need help and advice to talk about their problems and receive practical help and guidance.

Last week I popped in to see how they were getting on. I was impressed by the set-up and those running it, but more so by the verifiable results they could demonstrate, and the numerous cases they could describe showing practical examples of problem-solving for clients.

The community Advice is run by Royal Courts of Justice Advice Bureau incorporating Islington Citizens Advice. It follows a longer running pilot project in Plymouth. Since opening they have helped hundreds of court users with issues such as homelessness, debts, housing, family, mental health, benefits, alcohol and drug related issues.

I met Jess, a volunteer (working there one day a week) and Ross, the co-ordinator for the project who told me:- 

We work with people who are using the court and their families to give advice and help them to find out about and access support services in the community. We also provide immediate help with practical issues and offer emotional support. We are independent of the judicial process. We operate independently from other agencies in the court. The service is delivered primarily by a team of 10 volunteers and one paid staff (co-ordinator) and focuses mainly on those who are not working with probation, though we are open to all” .

Ross provided numerous case studies. I attach an edited version of one below. 

I later spoke to Joanne Thomas from the Centre for Justice Innovation who proudly told me the Advice Service at Highbury was “doing an incedible job”. Joanne has previously written about the project here.

Conclusion

For too long the criminal justice system has been used to punish criminal acts, without addressing the causes of crime, even where the perpetrators are crying out for help. Judges, like lawyers, are not social workers, and have to uphold the law. But if we are to avoid the “revolving door” syndrome, and break the cycle of recidivism, then taking an opportunity to tackle root causes with practical help, is not only humane and just, it is likely to prove a cost-effective way to reduce crime 

Case Study

Paul (not his real name) was 35 years old and homeless when he attended court because of drug offences. He had a large number of previous convictions and his relationship had broken down. He was suffering severe financial hardship, receiving no income and owing money to a number of people on top of the court fines he had just received. He was also suffering from drug and alcohol dependence that was affecting his mental health. In addition, he had lost his birth certificate and wanted help to apply for a CSCS card.

Paul was empowered to make his own decisions about what to do, assisted in applying for jobseekers allowance, and referred him to a number of services for his mental health, drug and alcohol use and homelessness. He was also guided on applying for his CSCS card and birth certificate as well as helped to access support for his debts.

There were Follow up appointments. He is now in receipt of jobseekers allowance and is managing to pay his priority debt (his court fines) as well as sorting out his other debts. He has received his CSCS card and is looking for work in construction, and has received his birth certificate. He is also receiving counselling for his mental health.

Decision not to seek Re-Election

I was first elected as a Councillor for Hillrise Ward in Islington in 2006, and re-elected in 2010. During my eight year tenure, Arsenal have failed to win a single trophy. These things may be connected.
Now Arsenal stand on the brink of winning the FA cup.
My course of action is clear.
To avoid another four trophy-less years, I will not re-stand.
Tribune article here.
In Addition:-
1 In 2006 and 2010 the Conservatives were trounced in Hillrise. This year, they are fielding NO candidates! My work here is done.
2 I always said I would only serve a maximum two terms. I fulfil that promise. In fact, I think all Councillors should serve a maximum two terms. There are two many tired old faces, entrenched in the Town Hall bubble, with seemingly no life or interests outside politics. New candidates with fresh ideas are surely preferable to careerist politicians becoming increasingly dependant on their allowances, and surviving by patronage in servile demonstrations of Party loyalty.
3 I would like to pay tribute to my fellow ward Councillor Lorraine Constantinou, who has been an outstanding, hard-working Councillor.
4 I was elected as a Lib Dem Cllr, but became Islington’s only Independent Councillor after resigning from the Lib Dems over the National Party support for Secret Courts.
And Finally….
I would like to thank everyone who entrusted me with their vote, and particularly those who campaigned, done-knocked and delivered with me in two elections. Also to my former Hillrise colleagues Fiona Dunlop and Julia Williams, current Cllrs Lorraine and Marian and the excellent MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn.
And not forgetting Donna Boffa (RIP)
I also acknowledge the massive support from Council Officers, who of course do all the hard work for which Councillors take credit.
And (yes I know this is worse than an Oscar speech) to my family, who at times I saw less of than I would have liked.

Below:-Hillrise Councillors 2006. I still had hair when I was first elected!

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“Save Our Slide!” Guest Blog by Adam and Daniel FoxSmith

This first part of blog from 2014 is by Adam Foxsmith then aged 10 

We all know that children’s play space is important in a crowded place like Islington. So when my brother Daniel,( aged 6, yr2) and I heard that the Council were planning on taking down the Archway slide, we felt we had to do something about it.
There was a consultation, but we discovered that both options involved taking down the slide!
So, Daniel and I put together a question for the Council meeting, as reported in the Islington Tribune HERE
At the meeting, Daniel asked the question “Will you save the slide?”, and I asked a supplementary question. The Council said they would think about it!
We also presented a petition to save the slide.
We have decided to continue the petition, to see how many more signatures are gathered. The Council is still considering what to do, as reported HERE

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This part of the blog is by Daniel Foxsmith (now aged 10) in 2017

I am very happy that the Council has improved the park. It is great to have the slide back and I am glad that we saved it. I have tested the slide and can confirm that it as good as before or maybe better! 👍

Slide re-opening covered by Islington Tribune here

Notes

The park-including revamped slide was re-opened on September 30th 2017

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Late Night Levy Madness

The streets of Islington are, according to Islington Labour, rife with violent drunks after the midnight hour, and thus they have rushed to be the first London Borough to raise a tax on licenced premises- well summarised in the Tribune here as the Islington “late night levy”
The move will have little effect on high-profit clubs with promotional drinks offers, disgorging their drunken clientele in the early hours, but will hasten the closure of small community pubs according to CAMRA
In classic Islington style, the money raised will be spent on more saturation CCTV coverage, and recruiting a private security force, who will patrol the streets with no powers of arrest, a rag-tag motley-crew of para-military red-coats.
This hare-brained scheme was introduced by Islington Labour’s Councillor Paul Convery.

There was always something of the Puritan about Cllr Convery.

Unfortunately, Captain Convery’s New model Army is more of a “Dad’s Army”, with Paul as a cross between Private Frazer and the pompous Captain Mainwaring character, supported by his loyal sidekick Cllr Poole, and some loyal backbenchers resembling Cpl. Jones, running around wringing their hands and shouting “Don’t Panic! Don’t Panic!”

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The proposal to introduce a privatised security squad was buried in the policy paper (at para 5.3 ) and was not a “recommendation” , perhaps because the idea had nothing to recommend it, but more likely as under the Constitution it is possible only to amend recommendations, so therefore impossible to table an amendment to the goon squad proposal. 

Predictably, Councillors supporting the levy ignored the failure of current licensing policy and policing, and naively assumed that the levy would somehow magic away the problems associated with late night drinking. Thus, they argued anyone against the lobby was somehow in favour of vomit, urine and yobbery. Each speaker was keen to outdo each other with apolacyptic visions of Hogarthian imagery, Cllr Poole offering to conduct guided tours of the hellish scenes in his ward. It’s only a matter of time before someone takes up that idea, and we see “drunk and disorderly” tours advertised in TimeOut or Rough Guide. It was this hellish imagery that gave rise to the headline “Islington rivers of vomit and urine” in the Islington Gazette.

In 1979 Elvis Costello recorded Oliver’s Army.
Now we have Convery’s Army:-
Convery’s Army are on their way
Convery’s Army are here to stay
And we would rather see anything else than Islington run this way…

Full music playlist for “Cap’n Convery’s Late Night Levy Army” here

Letter in Islington Tribune here

Protecting Children Services in Islington

UPDATE:-My amendments to the Budget were unsuccessful, and the cuts to Children Services have gone through, with Labour Councillors voting instead to keep their press officers, support officers, and allowances (with the Lib Dems abstaining)
Coverage in islington Tribune here

November 2015-shock rise in crime in Islington reported.

Original Post from 27 February:-
At Islington Council’s Budget Meeting tonight, the Council is potentially going to make a grave error with its proposed drastic cuts in children’s services.
The Council has of course been unfairly hit by disproportionate and draconian funding cuts from central Government, and there are inevitably difficult decisions to make.
However, targeting posts in Children’s Services is making the axe fall in the wrong place, and potentially putting vulnerable children at risk.
In my amendment, I will argue that the cuts should fall instead on the bloated Communications budget (currently running at about £1million per year), and on Councillors own allowances.
When Labour took control in Islington in 2010, they had pledged to “slash” expenditure on both communications spending and allowances. Now they can fulfil that pledge, and protect a front-line service.

My budget amendment also provides additional funding for road safety, especially around schools, and preventing bike theft (which is prolific in Islington)
Detail
I’m trying to stop the Councils proposed slashing of jobs in children’s services. (See appendix B esp items 3,4 and 7) In nearly £4million of proposed cuts, there are six senior posts and a management post being deleted amongst staffing reduction.
I will protect these posts by instead:
-abolishing party political spin doctors
-abolishing the Councils propaganda magazine “Islington Life”
-reducing the Councils million pound Communications budget by about a third
-reducing Councillor allowances by 10% (to follow the example of Council Leader Richard Watts)
(I will follow Cllr Watts Leadership, and take a 10% reduction in allowances, whatever the outcome of the budget amendment)
-abolishing “special allowances” for chairing planning meetings.

My amendment also provides funding for an air quality strategy to tackle killer pollution levels.

Finally, my amendment also provides some additional funding for the Advice Alliance- there help for vulnerable people needed more than ever with Coalition attacks on welfare and the needy.
(Also topical, with today’s announcement by Grayling killing off Criminal Legal Aid)

Islington Employment Commission

Islington Council set up an employment commission, to solve the unemployment crisis in the Borough by having a series of meetings.
It sadly never reached the high profile those who dreamt it up felt it deserved, so I’ve made this playlist to help promote it.
The terms of reference, appointees and timetable were carefully controlled by the Council Leadership. Nonetheless, the aim of reducing unemployment was a laudable one.
The process has finished, and the report is here
Good luck with that!

Legal Aid Protest- lawyers on strike!

I was not representing anyone on January 6th this year.
Together with fellow legal aid lawyers, we were MAKING A STAND

What happened on 6th January?

There was this protest against legal aid cuts in the morning outside Westminster Court organised by the Justice Alliance.
This was a public demo, well attended despite the weather, to show support for legal aid and against Grayling’s proposed cuts.
I was stewarding a “training session” for lawyers, at Islington Town Hall (from 1115) organised by the LCCSA
It all started to feel a bit like a strike!
The protest was billed as a strike in the Daily Mirror
This had never happened before, and shows the MOJ is in a right old mess reported the Telegraph
The guardian also reported on the action
but was this just the usual stuff from fat cat lawyers?
The reality of life for the majority of legal aid lawyers is far, far removed from the distortions regularly reported in the popular media. What is dispiriting is that selective and misleading quotes and stats are routinely deployed by the MOJ to re-in force the stereotype.
Check out the Legal Aid MythBuster here
The point of the demo was to help make people aware that if this Government continues with these cuts, It will lead to the collapse of proper publicly funded defence, and innocent people will be either unrepresented or poorly represented, with bitter consequences for Justice and Society.
A report on the Days events in Islington is here

legal Aid playlist here

Catch up on twitter comments #fight4legalaid and/or #walkout4justice

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