“Latchmere’s got a wave machine!”: Why free swimming matters

My first speech to Wandsworth Council, July 2010

I am delighted to be speaking after councillor Boswell, the grooviest member of the Labour group.

She recently drew my attention to the Maccabees’ 2006 single ‘Latchmere’, a pop song about Latchmere Leisure Centre. With free swimming for children in Wandsworth under threat it seems fitting to quote from it.

There’s the joyful exclamation:
“Latchmere’s got a wave machine!”

But the rather sad recurring refrain:
“Stay in your lanes, Just stay in your lanes

And the touching
“I came out of the changing rooms
Absolutely nothing had changed
So I stayed in my lane

And that’s what I’d briefly like to talk about: yes, the joy of swimming – and, of course, every child should be encouraged to take it up – but also the character of Latchmere and the feeling that people have to ‘stay in their lane’.

It is customary in a maiden speech to lavish praise on the area that you represent. I’d like to take the opposite course.

Latchmere has issues. Chronic housing problems, more children growing up with one parent than with two, at least 10 per cent unemployment – far greater economic inactivity.

I realise it puts me in a different category to many of the members present, but I joined this council to change the area I represent, not keep it as it is.

Some places were made by aristocrats, some places – such as Bourneville in Birmingham, where I grew up – were made by businesses. As much as anywhere, Latchmere was made by the local authority, and I think we have a special responsibility towards the area.

So I do ask for special treatment for Latchmere, but I don’t want us to lower the bar for people in Latchmere, I want to raise it. We must generate confidence in the future; progress and aspiration. Children on the Kambala Estate need to recognise that they live in the greatest city in the world and that they can be anything they want to be if they work hard enough and follow the rules.

We should improve the built environment of Latchmere. A friend drove onto one of our large estates by accident and simply couldn’t find a way out – “Were they designed to keep people in?” she asked.

And it’s more often the wall in people’s minds, not the wall around the estate that keeps them back. It was actually on the Doddington Estate – in Queenstown – that I met a teenager who told me he’d never been in Battersea Park as it wasn’t the sort of place for him. Stay in your lanes. That’s probably also just as true of people on Prince of Wales Drive visiting the Doddington Estate.

I’m keen to work with anyone who wants to help improve matters.

I have spent a great deal of time splashing around with the new councillors and enjoy their company. I think it is an impressive intake of talent, for both parties, and we seem to share a genuine commitment to good governance for all of the borough.

We need to recognise that policies – particularly the decision to do nothing – affect people differently depending on which side of the Road they live. Sometimes, to treat people fairly we must treat them differently.

Cuts to housing capital spend won’t affect the people of Thamesfield, but it will affect Julie Wilkes, seven stories up in Clarke Lawrence Court, whose rotten windows each winter leak condensation into pools on the floor.

A reduction in bus frequency will inconvenience residents in Bedford, but would be a real problem to Zeeshan Shahid, for whom the G1 is “a lifeline”.

And to be honest a cut in swimming subsidy won’t affect me down in Balham. I don’t like swimming. But Stella on the Battersea Fields Estate found it a great way of getting her two children out of the cramped Berry House flat.

She texted me yesterday in shock that each child will have to pay £2.75 a time from the end of July. That’s a coffee and a cookie at Clapham Junction for many residents, but to Stella it’s a good whack of her weekly income.

I ask you to back the amendment, to keep swimming free for young people in Wandsworth.

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