The Dulwich Society Journal for Autumn 2018.
Responding to concerns at Bessemer Grange Primary School regarding air pollution, Southwark Council have announced a trial scheme for the closure of Nairn Grove to motor vehicles during the morning and evening school run times. Physical barriers will be installed and the trial will last for the entire Autumn term.
Bessemer Grange stands in one of the least polluted parts of London, situated as it is with extensive playing fields on two sides and almost opposite a nature study area of woodland. There is little through traffic and the school is virtually in a cul de sac.
Many other schools in the Dulwich area are built in far worse places for air quality. For example, both Oakfield and Rosemead schools sit directly on the busy South Circular in Thurlow Park Road and are bounded by Croxted Road and Lancaster Avenue, also both busy roads. Goose Green School in Grove Vale has to contend with constant traffic along Lordship Lane and with the help of the Dulwich Society has install a ‘ Green Wall’ to attempt to combat the pollution. There are numerous other schools similarly exposed to air pollution from passing traffic.
There are voices within the Dulwich Society’s Traffic and Transport Committee which would like to extend the idea of temporary morning and evening road closures to Turney Road, thereby protecting to some extent, Dulwich Hamlet School. However, (so far,) even the most militant member might hesitate to suggest closing Dulwich Village at school run times to protect Dulwich Infants Lake House site which is exposed to high levels of pollution.
So what is to be done? The idea of temporary road closures would exacerbate the frustrations of already harassed car drivers and could well lead to increases in accidents as a result. Furthermore the disruption would be costly in productivity levels and still leave schools in far worse spots still exposed to the harmful effects of car and van emissions.
It is quite clear that local and national government have got to find the right tools to tackle the problem of air pollution at source by legislating for the much earlier scrapping of diesel and older petrol driven cars and vans. The proliferation of vans delivering small items must also be tackled head-on. The growth of online buying is a major contributor to air pollution as all vans used are diesel powered and are not subject as yet to early scrappage. Many of the major online firms employ sub-contracted drivers in a gig economy where inefficient older vehicles are the norm.
While the motor industry appears focused on moving ahead on the production of electric vehicles it still has to overcome the problems of short battery life which limits range and improving the speed of charging which requires the vehicle to be out of action for a lengthy period. And do not expect honesty from the motor industry in what they tell you if recent practice is anything to go by. As you will read in the News section of Journal, electric charging points apparently rank low on both local and national governments lists of priorities, either in requiring them in new builds or on public roads.
The long promised new Dulwich Estate website was finally launched on 10 July - www.dulwichestate.org.uk. It is a considerable improvement on its predecessor and provides much more information on the local area, including the shops and the Estate’s operations, and it includes its annual review and accounts. Although there is no map of the Estate, a surprising omission, it has to be welcomed, and it does seem to reflect the Estate’s promise of a more collaborative and responsive tone in its dealings with local ‘stakeholders’.
‘The Proud Sow’, an independent butcher, will open for trading in the Village at the end of August, which is good news, but we are still waiting for confirmation on the new convenience store or grocer that we have been promised will go in the former Shepherds unit - we have been told that it will also sell newspapers, an important feature given that we have not been able to buy one in the Village since November 2016. There is some positive news in In the Croxted Road/Park Hall Road shops in West Dulwich where the former pizza restaurant is under offer, as are three of the four units in the new development. There were also rumours about a restaurant operator taking the former Lloyds Bank but it has now pulled out - and the Estate will be carrying out a small-scale refurbishment on the bank block (which has flats upstairs) and will look for a different tenant.
Following the local elections in May we welcome a number of new councillors in Village Ward, Dulwich Hill & East Dulwich (or Goose Green as it is now) - and the Village Ward councillors have already been active over the impending closure of Barclays Bank in the Village. The Southwark Labour group’s manifesto set out a number of borough-wide promises but perhaps the ones most relevant to our area are a commitment to improving air quality by encouraging more sustainable transport and persuading parents to allow more children to walk and cycle to school (see the article on the plans for road closures at Bessemer Grange Primary). There are also commitments to improve the pedestrian crossing at the Lordship Lane/South Circular junction, to provide additional facilities on the Kingswood Estate, to open a new library in Grove Vale in East Dulwich, and to make sure Dulwich Hamlet football club can return to their ground on Denmark Hill.
The Society is still involved in the aftermath of the GALA event at Peckham Rye Park. We attended a review meeting which identified a number of concerns on the amount of consultation with local stakeholders, over and above the damage to the Park caused by bad weather as it was being taken down. The lack of consultation was illustrated yet again in the middle of July when Southwark Events permitted an outdoor children’s cinema to take place in Dulwich Park without any prior discussion with the Dulwich Park Friends or the Park Café. When questioned at the 17th July Dulwich Community Council meeting, they apologised for failing to implement their own guidelines but could not tell us why. It is now very clear that all our parks are coming under more pressure to earn money - Councillors say that income from park events pays for other free events in the area like the Christmas Cracker, but parks are not just places to hold events in, they are a community asset and what makes our area special. Their protection and enhancement should be one of the Council’s main priorities.
Electric Vehicle Charging Points
Following on from our article in the last Journal about the lack of action in installing electrical charging points in local streets, the government recently announced that it would shortly be a requirement for all new residential development to include charging points for every unit. Southwark’s Labour Party manifesto also sets out a commitment to encourage installation of street charging points - though they appear to think that the answer lies in putting them on lamp posts rather than specific purpose built charging posts.
We asked for members thoughts on this and had two responses, both charged their cars themselves in their off-street parking areas, but reiterated concerns over the lack of street charging spaces elsewhere - the electric cars were generally only used for short journeys, with one owner using a zipcar for longer journeys.
As we said before, if the long-term aim is to facilitate the ownership of electric cars, then action needs to be taken as soon as possible.
Proposed Development in the Former Rear Garden of Lyndenhurst, Red Post Hill
Following on from the ‘sold’ sign recently seen on the boundary wall a planning application has now been made to build three houses in this former garden along Red Post Hill. An earlier application some years ago was turned down by the Council and confirmed on appeal. The Society objected as did many neighbours.
Nothing has changed and the majority of local residents remain strongly opposed to any plans for this site which has never been built on and has become a haven for trees and wildlife. There is also the question of access, currently a four feet wide gate which opens on to a narrow pavement by the bus stop opposite North Dulwich Station. The applicants have said that they intend to leave the access as it is and that purchasers will either not have cars or park their cars in surrounding streets - but there is the question of how the scheme is actually built if there is no other way in. The Dulwich Village Conservation Area Appraisal says that ‘Lyndenhurst's large rear garden has not been developed, although half of it has been separated off. This garden setting positively enhances the listed building. It is important for the proper preservation of the character of the conservation area that the open setting is preserved, and that both parts of the former garden remain undeveloped’. Who can disagree?
Street Closure to Ease Air Pollution near Schools
Responding to concerns at Bessemer Grange Primary School about air pollution and child safety, Southwark Council has agreed to the trial closing of Nairn Grove, the road in front of the School, to motor vehicles during school drop off and pick up times - 8.00-9.15am and 14.40-15.45. The closure will be implemented using physical barriers and will start on 10th September and run though until the end of the Autumn term, a total of 14 weeks. Closure will not be enforced during weekends and school holidays.
An essential part of the exercise will be to carry out a monitoring test programme to confirm that air pollution levels are reduced. As well as improving road safety and reducing air pollution, the school and the council believe that this experiment will encourage parents and children to travel to and from school in a more sustainable way - by walking or cycling.
Nairn Grove lends itself relatively easily to such an experiment as it is not a major road, implementing a similar proposal in Dulwich village for example, would be far more difficult and contentious. But there has been a lot of talk on what to do about air pollution and it is good to see the Council taking some action.
Funds for local projects
The Dulwich Society’s aim is to maintain and foster the amenities of Dulwich in the interests of its residents and the wider community of which Dulwich is part, and to increase awareness of the varied character that makes the area so special. Our financial resources currently allow us to consider grants to projects that meet this objective.
Grants have been made in recent years for a wide range of projects, including for removal of cherry laurel and for labelling trees in Dulwich Park (both in association with Dulwich Park Friends), support for London Wildlife Trust’s Great North Wood project, digitising the historic court rolls and estate maps held in the Dulwich College archives, providing conference fees for the local Safer Routes to Schools initiative, an interactive white board for St Barnabas Parish Hall, a green anti-pollution screen at Goose Green Primary School and funding the poetry event at the recent Dulwich Festival. The most recent was the Society’s donation to the new World Gallery at the Horniman Museum,
Funds for permanent physical improvements may be available from Southwark Council under its Cleaner Greener Safer initiative, which has funded many local projects - see www.southwark.gov.uk .
Whilst the Society’s own funds are limited, we welcome applications for suitable projects - see our website for more details. Applications should be addressed in the first instance to
Visit to Southwark’s Integrated Waste Management Facility, 11am on Friday 19th October
Have you ever wondered happens to the contents of your bins when they are emptied? Join us on a tour of Southwark’s Integrated Waste Management Facility and you will see!
Operated by Veolia, the facility is one of the most advanced in Europe, processing waste from across Southwark. The Materials Recovery Facility uses a combination of mechanical and manual processes to sort waste collected for recycling (your blue bin) into its components for onward processing, and the Mechanical Biological Treatment Facility extracts recyclable materials from “black / green bin” waste and creates fuel from its organic components for a nearby Energy Recovery Facility that heats 10,000 local homes.
The visit is free and open to all members of the Society, but numbers are limited - if you would like to come, please contact Jeremy Prescott on 020 8693 3173 /
We will meet at Southwark IWMF, 43 Devon Road, London SE15 1AL (off the Old Kent Road; it’s also the site of the Southwark Reuse & Recycling Centre). Our visit will last up to two hours. A full health & safety briefing will be given at the start and personal protection equipment will be provided. Please note that strong magnets and eddy currents are used on site so that members with pacemakers should not attend. There is no wheelchair or disabled access, and high heels, open toed shoes, photography and the use of mobiles are not allowed on site.
The 53, 172 and 453 buses from Elephant & Castle stop at Commercial Way, a two-minute walk from the IWMF site, and Queens Road Station, Peckham is a 15-minute walk. No parking will be available on site.
What if we told you that the solution to loneliness could cost you £25 a year?
The U3A learning model has a positive cost-effective and sustainable impact on the wellbeing and future of retired people in the UK.
This report outlines the Principles of the U3A in promoting values of Lifelong Learning for people in the period of life when fulltime employment has ceased. This is organised through Self-help principles with learning for enjoyment being paramount, where there is no distinction between teachers and learners and costs are kept to a minimum.
The conclusion of this report suggests that while much of the public debate around ageing is predicated on a deficit model and dependency approach, the U3A offers an alternative ageing experience built on shared learning, skill sharing and volunteering. It demonstrates the value of communities that are not defined by age, or by past experience, but instead are defined by the experiences still to be explored.
On Thurs 13th Sept 12.00-2.00 Dulwich and District U3A is holding an Interest group Fair at St. Barnabas Parish Hall, where nearly 80 Interest groups will be on display. Come and see what you can join for only £25 annual membership fee.
All activities are advertised on our website, together with a link to this U3A Learning not Lonely Impact Report: https://u3asites.org.uk/dulwich
University of the Third Age Impact Report: ‘Learning not Lonely , published by the Third Age Trust
Liz Day ( Chair D&D U3A)
Not a MAMIL in sight
Where were the middle-aged men in Lycra? They were certainly not at the World Cycling Revival Festival held at the Herne Velodrome and the adjoining Griffin Sports Ground in June. As it was held on a Thursday and Friday as well as a Saturday, one suspects that they were all doing their day-jobs. They missed a lavish event, full of olde world charm. Indeed, there were very few cycles parked in the designated area and there were vast expanses of empty deck chairs, sparsely filled stands and an even thinner attendance in the hospitality suite.
The sponsors did not appear to be the ones who have benefitted from the huge upturn in cycling's fortunes - where were the Evans Cycles, Halfords, or even the purveyors of cycling lycra gear? And where were Conways. The highway firm which seems to have won most of TfL's contract for building cycle ways? Instead we find that R White's Lemonade, Exodus Travel, Fevertree Tonic and Millbrook Beds were sponsors. A swing band played to an empty stadium at lunchtime on the Friday and even Saturday saw only a thin crowd. Not surprising at £50 for a day ticket.
One of the highlights of the Festival was the attempt by Mark Beaumont, the round-the world- cyclist record holder to better the distance ridden in 1 hour on a Penny Farthing for the world record, established in 1881 by the American W A Rowe. Even a state of the art track and penny farthing (admittedly with solid tyres) did not help Matt and the 1881 record of 22.08 miles remains - a tribute to the athleticism of the day. As a consolation Matt did however break the British record established on the same track in 1891 with a ride of 21.92 miles.
Although no expense had been spared, It was nevertheless an odd kind of Festival, opening as it did on a Thursday/Friday/.Saturday. Lessons have clearly been learned and next year (yes it will happen again - there is a 3 year or a 10 year agreement, depending who you talk to) it will be staged over a weekend.
Speedy Cyclist - or speeding cyclist?
Speeding cycles are not new in Dulwich. In 1897 the founder of the Herne Hill Velodrome, George Lacey Hillier, was summoned by police for ‘riding a bicycle furiously... along College Road, Dulwich, at a rate of from 12-14 miles an hour’. Mr John Othen jun. who defended Mr Hillier, said his client was a stockbroker in the City (the first MAMIL?), had been a cyclist for 22 years and had never had an accident or been summoned by the police prior to this. The defendant estimated that he was not going more than eight ot ten miles an hour. Mr Hopkins ordered the defendant to pay a fine of 10s and costs.
Of course the question is - was he riding uphill towards Crystal Palace or down towards the Village? This is not mentioned in the report. Certainly, if he had been riding down College Road instead of ‘along’, no self-respecting cyclist of Hillier’s calibre would be travelling at less than 20mph.
‘Boots on the Ground or Tangled Feet’
Originally commissioned by Salisbury Playhouse in collaboration with Army SW, Southwark Council is promoting a local version of the event as part of their programme for Dulwich Park - it will take place on the weekend of 9, 10, 11 of November.
‘Boots on the Ground’ is a headphone performance created by physical theatre ensemble and charity Tangled Feet, (www.tangledfeet.com). Inspired by the centenary of the WW1 Armistice, it explores the experience of demobilising from the Armed Forces and returning to civilian life after the experience of conflict. Each performance is aimed at roughly 30 participants and starts in an Army tent stationed in a public space. The audience 'enlist' to take part and are invited to step inside the boots of a soldier who is being demobilised from the Armed Forces. Wearing headphones, the audience leave the tent and are instructed how to march together. On their route around the local area, two storylines play out - one set in 1918 and one in the current day. Part of the story is told via binaural recordings, and part by our two professional actors. The performance is designed to respond to the local history and environment of Dulwich. The performance will happen three times a day, lasting about an hour in total each time.
Tangled Feet are looking for a wide range of participants including local schools, local historians, local forces/ex-forces communities and volunteer stewards. If you are interested in participating or learning more, please contact
Wherever there was a good local cause to be pursued, Ken Deller was in the forefront of the charge. He was the ideal person to be involved; caring, thoughtful and practical. These included a myriad of successful campaigns, invariably involving the welfare of people, ranging from the establishment of the Deanery Lodge homeless women’s project, to helping spearhead the London Ecumenical Aids Trust. Ken was involved in the Church Urban Fund’s campaign to save Christ Church, Kennington (the parish on which David Hare’s play ‘Racing Demons’ was based)., His particular individual cause was the building of the Goose Green Centre for church and community use at St. John’s East Dulwich. Once built, it was opened by Dulwich MP Tessa Jowell in 1996, Ken, assisted by his family, started a lunch club for elderly people which continues to flourish. More recently Ken (and his wife Barbara) became trustees in the Elms Care Home in Barry Road.
Ken Deller was born in Walworth but as a youngster moved to Worlingham Road, Goose Green where an association lasting 75 years with St John’s Church was established. He was very much a local boy, attending St John’s Primary School and Strand School. After National Service in the RAF Ken began his career in local government, first at Southwark and later at Tower Hamlets where he was Deputy Chief Executive. He studied for an Open University degree and specialised in Fine Art, a subject which he would continue to enjoy for the rest of his life. His son, Jeremy is the Turner prizewinner conceptual artist.
Early retirement in 1987 allowed him to pursue his second career of community service and he was also president of the Dulwich & Peckham Rotary Club as well as an active worker for many years in the Dulwich Festival. He was made a Freeman of the City of London and was honoured with the Southwark Civic Award.
Tessa Jowell grew up in Aberdeen, the daughter or a chest consultant father and a radiographer mother. After studying at Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities she took a post as childcare officer for Lambeth and then went on to take a further degree in at Goldsmith’s College qualifying as a psychiatric social worker. She devoted herself to the treatment of mental health from her first appointment as a psychiatric social worker at the Maudesley Hospital in 1974, and two years later she was appointed the assistant director of the mental health charity Mind. In 1986 she spent four years working in community care in Birmingham.
She had entered politics as a Labour councillor in Camden in the 1970’s and was selected to defend the marginal seat of Ilford North in the 1978 by-election. The unpopularity of the Labour government at that time denied her the seat but she was selected to fight the marginally held seat of Dulwich in the General Election in 1992 following fifteen years in local government. She won the seat convincingly although Labour lost overall to John Major’s government. In the 1997 election, following boundary changes with the amalgamation of Dulwich with West Norwood, Tessa Jowell increased her majority and she was one of ‘Blair’s Babes’ in Labour’s landslide election win.
Always a Blairite, she was rewarded for her loyalty and dedication by being appointed Health Minister by Tony Blair. She introduced maternity and paternity leave, health targets and the Sure Start scheme to ameliorate child care. However, she attracted criticism for her support to exempt Formula One motor racing from the government ban on tobacco advertising despite her earlier stand against it. The exemption came as the result of an earlier donation of £1million to the Labour party by Bernie Ecclestone, head of Formula One racing. She was further embarrassed by her lawyer husband’s association, although quite legitimate, as legal advisor with one of teams.
Her career thus had highs and lows. Highs when she as Minister of Culture, Media and Sport where she played a central role in persuading Tony Blair to bid to stage the 2012 Olympic Games in London and seeing it through to a successful conclusion as Minister for the Olympics.. She won praise for her handling of support for victims of both the 2001 terrorist attack in New York and 2005 London bombing atrocity The lows were associated with her plan to establish ‘Super Casinos’ which although rejected by Parliament led to the Licensing Act 2003 which allowed pubs to remain open 24 hours a day. Her career was also tainted by the association of her husband with the Berlusconi scandal for which he received a 4½ years prison sentence in Italy, later quashed on a legal technicality.
As Member for Dulwich, Tessa Jowell was a hard-working and caring person and supported numerous local events and initiatives, not least by unveiling the statue of Edward Alleyn in the grounds of the Old College in 2005. She was appointed Dame in 2012, and following her retirement from politics in 2015 after an unsuccessful bid for the role of Mayor of London where after an early favourable start she lost to Sadiq Khan, she joined the House of Lords. She was found to have brain cancer in 2017 and won enormous support for her brave stand in the House of Lords where she made a moving speech shortly before her death, in which she argued for support for an international initiative to share research, resources and new treatments for brain cancer.
John Ward moved to his home in Burbage Road when he was aged 1 and remained there for a further eighty nine years, most of which were spent in a labour of love in his garden. John’s enthusiasm for gardening, perhaps inherited from his parents, developed at a very early age while a pupil at Wycliffe School during WW2 when it was evacuated to Lampeter, North Wales. He was a fellow pupil to another Dulwich evacuee, Jon Silkin the poet (see Journal Winter 2017). As part of the school’s Dig for Victory campaign, the boys were encouraged to grow vegetables. One year his poor school report was redeemed by high praise from his Geography teacher who was also in charge of the school’s allotments, who gave a glowing report of John’s potatoes.
While in Dulwich on holiday from his Welsh boarding school, his house was severely damaged by a bomb which destroyed the next house and the family were obliged to hire a caravan until repairs to the roof and windows were carried out. Another wartime experience was nearly being machine-gunned in Dulwich Village by a German plane which was targeting the anti-aircraft batteries near the golf course. In 1945,after leaving school, John joined the Royal Marines on a hostilities-only contract and volunteered for the Commandoes. After rigourous training he joined 42nd Commando Division about the same time as the war ended and served in Hong Kong and Malta. After demobilisation he enrolled at the London School of Economics and on graduation worked for a number of years in book and magazine publishing. This led, twelve years later, to his joining the Royal Institute of British Architects, initially with responsibility for the RIBA Journal but later he was appointed managing director of RIBA Services where he started an employment agency for architects, ran conferences and exhibitions and helped to develop a series of information services for the construction industry, including the now widely used National Building Specification.
John was always keen on sport, he played for Wycliffe’s First XV, and developed a keenness for tennis and squash. When he retired in 1992 he took up golf at Dulwich & Sydenham and later croquet with the Old College Croquet Club. Meanwhile his gardening enthusiasm took a new turn, when, as chairman of the Gardens Group of the Dulwich Society, he extended the existing programme of members’ gardens visits by producing the first ‘Dulwich Gardens Open for Charity booklet, now an annual fixture of the Society’s year.
If Loretta Minghella ever stops to think that after HM The Queen and the Prime Minister, she is the most senior lay member of the Church of England she is determined not to let it worry her. Nor does the fact that on the Board of the Church Commissioners women are outnumbered by men in a ratio of 3 to1 particularly faze her. Her vision is to bring greater diversity, not only to the Commissioners but to the boardrooms of the companies the Church invests in.
She comes from a talented family, (her brother, the late Anthony Minghella won an Oscar for his directing of ‘The English Patient’). which originated in Italy and made its home in Scotland and a couple of generations later became a key element of the community in the Isle of Wight, establishing the famous Minghella ice cream brand in the 1950’s
“I was born at home in Ryde on the Isle of Wight on 4 March 1962, the 4th child of Gloria and Edward Minghella. I have a younger brother Dominic who also lives in Dulwich - we now get on famously though we squabbled like mad when we were children! I grew up on the Island, working in my parents' cafe in Ryde, which had a little ice cream factory at the back. My first job was putting on the jingle on my Dad's ice cream van as a pre-schooler. I first looked after the whole business at 12, when my parents went to the Ice Cream Alliance Conference for a week, leaving me in charge. All five of us kids were expected to take responsibility for whatever needed doing - front of house and behind the scenes - and just get on with it!
My Mum died in 2014. She was a huge influence on all of us. She was a hugely compassionate person, who would open her purse at the first sign of someone in need, was a prodigious charity organiser and fundraiser and president of everything locally from the Citizens Advice Bureau to the Motor Neurone Disease Association to the IoW Music Festival. She was a hardworking local politician (standing proudly on an Independent ticket) and the local Mayor, a long serving magistrate and a Deputy Lieutenant. My Dad turned 97 in June. Thanks to my niece, he can now be seen on YouTube, demonstrating his own recipes (eg vegetarian lasagne - delicious).
I was educated at Catholic schools on the Island until I was 16, then at school in the USA for a year (on an American Field Service scholarship), then back to the Island for 6th form, before going to Clare College, Cambridge in 1981. My first proper job was as an articled clerk and then a solicitor at Kingsley Napley, I'd wanted to be a criminal lawyer since I was 10 and this I thought would be my first and last job, as it was absolutely what I saw myself doing until retirement.”
Loretta moved into Court Lane in 2001 with her husband Christopher , their daughter then aged 7 and son aged 3. She found Dulwich to be an ideal peaceful community in walking distance to the park, local shops and a manageable commute. It had good schools and her sister lived in East Dulwich and her brother in West Dulwich. She had ceased to be a practising Catholic and her initial contact with the Church of England came on Christmas Eve that year, when the family went to St Barnabas “ as a distraction for the children. We all enjoyed it as a pre-Christmas outing but I wouldn't say it felt like anything more than that. Then in the spring of 2002 I went back. My daughter had had a friend to stay over on a Saturday night and her parents asked if we could drop her up at the church on the Sunday for the 9.30 choir rehearsal. Her parents said 'you can stay if you like'.... so we did! I was completely overwhelmed with the sense of being home, like a prodigal daughter, fully known and fully welcomed and fully loved. It was utterly unexpected and life-changing - and not straightforwardly so, given my family circumstances. It caused deep consternation amongst some of my nearest and dearest (like my non-religious husband) and deep upset with others for joining an Anglican church. But my daughter and I have been going to St Barnabas ever since and I feel enormously lucky to be part of the community and to have sung in the choir since 2002.”.
Loretta changed career, from being a lawyer, where she was both a defence attorney and a prosecutor and into the world of financial regulation. She helped set up the Financial Services Authority in the 1990’s and was its first Head of Enforcement Law, Policy and International Co-operation. In 2004 she was appointed CEO of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and was there when the banking crisis hit in 2007 with the run on Northern Rock. “I was still there the following year when several banks failed in quick succession and I got a call on Saturday 27th September 2008 telling me that Bradford & Bingley had gone bust and I had to negotiate a £14billion loan on a Saturday night, which was quite a tall order. I ended up overseeing the payment of £21bn in compensation to consumers.” “It was a bit hair-raising at times”, she remarked wryly.
Her brother Anthony died when she was in the middle of dealing with the financial crisis. “It was the most horrendous shock and so very public. But it taught me life is short, and it gave me the courage to go for a complete change of direction - to a heart and soul job running Christian Aid in 2010. That was the most incredible privilege - one of the great aid agencies, CA has programmes across the world, working with local partners bringing emergency relief when typhoons, earthquakes and other catastrophes strike and supporting long term development, whilst campaigning to change the structures and systems that keep people poor.
It was really eye opening for me to see what poverty looks like close up. The first person I met on a visit to our projects overseas was a young woman in a Nairobi slum contemplating trading her virginity to pay to bury her own father. I met people struggling to overcome the trauma of natural disasters like the Haiti Earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillippines. But also people struggling in conflict zones in places like Gaza and South Sudan. What stays with you is the dignity, generosity and resilience of so many people in extreme poverty and how much people are capable of when you can affirm their self-respect and our common humanity”
Loretta remained at Christian Aid from 2010 to 2017. “ I was very conscious of how much I depended on people - but especially my husband and my children - to get on with the daily routine without me. I think it's hard to be a good CEO and be a great spouse and parent at the same time.”
Thirteen years of being a CEO, Loretta felt, was enough, perhaps it was time for something less stressful. She says “The demands on the international NGO (non-governmental organisation) sector are greater than ever - climate change, conflict, natural disaster, rising inequality are all exacerbating poverty. At the same time, trust in institutions of all kinds, including INGOs, has taken a sustained battering. But Christian Aid has a strong vision, support from 41 Christian denominations, thousands of great staff and volunteers and a strong Board of trustees. I am confident it will continue to do fantastic work. Agencies without those pillars of strength will be more vulnerable and I expect to see more consolidation in the sector over time”.
When she was headhunted for the post of First Church Commissioner in 2017 she exchanged one kind of stress for another, not only being ultimately responsible for the Church’s financial assets but also aware that they should be invested ethically as well as profitably.
“I do feel a great responsibility to do my very best for the Church in this time of great societal need. We are running schools, lunch clubs, parent and toddler groups, night shelters, food banks etc as well as places of worship, largely through volunteers. The Commissioners manage the endowment and generally contribute around 15% of the Church's expenditure each year: £226m in 2017. We fund clergy pensions and support the ministry of Bishops and Cathedral deans and 2 residentiary canons per cathedral. We provide funding for ministry in lowest income communities round the nation and for strategic development for growth in areas of particular need and opportunity. We also get involved in deciding on reorganisation of parish boundaries and repurposing of closed churches. One project I'm currently chairing involves a new building for Lambeth Palace Library, probably the most important collection of religious books and documents outside the Vatican.”
The Church of England continues to maintain its ancient parish system whereby every person is able to seek the comfort it can offer. In rural districts this tests the CofE in terms of manpower and maintenance. Loretta says “ It's important to me that the Church flourishes across the nation and doesn't become something which is only available in the nice parts of cities and towns. I think we need to be very imaginative - maintaining thousands of listed buildings is hugely expensive and people are worshipping in all kinds of different ways these days. So yes I do want us to maintain our presence in every community - but how we do that is already looking very different now than it did even 10 years ago, and I expect it to go on changing.
Loretta Mingehella would make a good politician; she is thoughtful, thorough and persuasive. She laughingly acknowledges that she would like to represent the Commissioners in Parliament but that seat is traditionally reserved for the Second Estates Commissioner, instead Loretta represents the Commissioners at the General Synod and it was there, in July that she made her first presentation on its behalf on the ethics of Climate Change. The Church Commissioners have settled on a new strategy of not necessarily disinvesting from companies who contribute towards global warming but rather to try to persuade them to change. In her speech, Loretta used an example from her experience with Christian Aid during the floods in the Philippines. The new strategy was given an overwhelming vote of confidence by extending the cut-off date from disinvesting from 2020 to 2023 to see if the system will work. It certainly worked in the dealings with the American oil giant Exxon Mobil when the Commissioners were able to muster the support of 62% of the company’s investors at its AGM to force the company to engage seriously with them on the issue if they want continued investment. Other major companies like Shell and BP are now sitting up and taking notice of the persuasive powers of the Church Commissioners.
This policy of engaging with the boards of the companies in which they invest has already had other successes for the Commissioners. The contentious subject of excessive executive pay has begun to deliver good results and the matter of diversity on company boards is likely to be the next challenge. On average, less than a quarter of the boards are composed of women and the Commissioners would like to increase this presence to the minimum of a third. Loretta comments, “Business needs a social licence to operate, aligned to higher purpose. Companies must discover the purpose of their business.”
On the question of Brexit she observes, “it adds to our economic uncertainty amongst other things. and there are other geopolitical pressures, like Trump's liking for tariffs, which will affect markets. The best defence against these uncertainties is to be well diversified, which we are, across asset classes and geographies. I am supporting a decision to increase this rather than the reverse and have been revisiting our currency hedging strategy to make it more resilient for these uncertain times. On the property side, the pressures on retail are immense but our commercial property is not limited to retail. We have an obligation as part of our fiduciary duty to obtain best value on our investments. Within this context, one of the areas of investment I'm pushing is for greater investment in renewable energy and for as much affordable housing as possible within our new residential developments.”
In her spare time Loretta enjoys music and as an inheritance from her musical family likes singing around the piano. Theatre and family, not necessarily in that order, deliver relaxation .Her wish-list includes conducting a study of comparative history - when she can find the time!
We asked Sir David Beamish KCB, formerly Clerk of the Parliaments to comment on the connection between a former Dulwich resident and appearing before a Parliamentary Committee today.
Brass Crosby (1725-1793) was a resident of Dulwich from 1756 and Lord Mayor of London 1770-71. An article by Brian Green in the Summer 2011 issue of the Dulwich Society’s Journal records how during his year of office as Lord Mayor Crosby “became a national hero both in refusing to allow navy press gangs to operate in the City and for his defence of the free press”.
That defence related to the publication of Parliamentary proceedings. At the time it was illegal for newspapers to publish verbatim reports of the proceedings of the Houses of Parliament. Instead, accounts were published with titles such as “debates of Lilliput” and MPs were given fictitious names. Two newspapers (the Gazetteer and the Middlesex Journal) had published literal accounts of the proceedings and the MPs were properly identified. Other newspapers followed their lead, and the printer of the London Evening Post was taken into custody for not obeying the order for his attendance at the bar of the House of Commons and brought before the Lord Mayor for sentencing. Brass Crosby refused to do any such thing, saying that the citizens had the right to know what those who represented them and made their laws were saying and doing. Not only did Crosby release the printer but he supported the action of his aldermen who had committed the messenger from Parliament with assault and wrongful arrest. Crosby and Alderman Oliver were ordered to attend the House where Oliver was committed to the Tower, Crosby was allowed to withdraw because of a severe attack of gout. A week later he again attended the House attended by an enormous crowd and upon his refusal to be treated leniently on the score of his health he was also committed to the Tower.
There was a national outcry against parliament’s actions, and effigies of leading members were burned on Tower Hill. Crosby was released after six weeks imprisonment to scenes of great celebration. A column in his honour was erected at St George’s Circus where it still remains.
In recent years there has been something of a resurgence of interest in enforcing attendance before the House of Commons, mostly in relation to reluctant witnesses asked to give evidence to committees. In 2013 a Joint Committee (of members of both Houses of Parliament) on Parliamentary Privilege recommended against making it a criminal offence to fail to attend in response to a summons by a committee, but sought to begin a “process of reasserting Parliament’s penal powers”.
The lack of effectiveness of that approach seems to have been demonstrated by subsequent difficulties in enforcing attendance. For example, in 2016 Mike Ashley simply refused to appear before a committee investigating pay and working conditions at Sports Direct, the company which he founded. In May 2018 Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica, and Dominic Cummings, former campaign director of Vote Leave, were issued with formal summonses by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. In June Arron Banks, a major donor to UKIP and founder of the Leave.EU campaign, declined to appear before a committee inquiry into “fake news”.
A paper prepared in 2012 for the House of Commons Liaison Committee by the then Clerk of the House shows the gulf between the formal powers of the House of Commons and the reality:
“Recent events have shown to a wider audience what all insiders always knew; that there were considerable doubts about whether the House could really impose its will on those whom a Committee wished to summon, or punish those who gave (unsworn) false or misleading evidence to a Committee. … It is sometimes alleged that the process is unclear. It is not. What is unclear is how far it can be taken.”
Not since 1957 has the House of Commons summoned anyone to the Bar of the House to be reprimanded. The Commons last imposed a fine in 1666, and last imprisoned anyone in 1880. Any attempt to imprison someone nowadays would doubtless, in view of the lack of a clear formal process to allow the alleged malefactor to present a defence, fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In short, a modern-day Brass Crosby would almost certainly be able to avoid punitive action by the House of Commons - but thus would be unlikely to be remembered for suffering for their cause!