From Golden Lane… Seeds of harmony

The Golden Baggers allotment project leads the way for all residents, not least in how to bake cakes

The Golden Baggers AGM always raises the bar in the dull-but-necessary meeting category. The homemade cake on offer is superb (this year a yummy ginger parkin), making it a truly pleasurable way to start planning for the growing season ahead. 

The allotment project is now in its ninth year, yet the energy and enthusiasm for progress never flags. The scheme is based around 42 wooden planters (it started as one-tonne builders’ bags, hence the name Baggers), which residents can rent for an annual subscription of £20 (‘Friends’ can join for £5).

Membership is open to all residents, experts or beginners, and on the first Sunday of every month they share more scrumptious home baking at their Social Sunday events. 

I was especially disappointed this year to learn that one of our Hatfield House residents and veteran Bagger has gone to live in America. He was always very generous in sharing his show-stopping tomatoes, so I never needed to grow any of my own. 

Key issues at this year’s AGM were the election of a new Chair and the agreement of a new constitution, the need to attract more ‘Friends’ and to promote the project’s core community values. 

We also discussed the failed attempt to save the trees that border the allotment but will soon disappear as part of the development of the former Richard Cloudesley School and suggested locations for this year’s annual outing. Last year’s trip to Turn End house and gardens in Buckinghamshire will be hard to beat. Anyone wanting to join should write to goldenbaggers@gmail.com.

The Golden Baggers is clearly the most successful resident-led project on the estate and its example is proving influential, most obviously in the activities at our refurbished community centre. 

The Christmas Day tea party was a riot of festive fun and the recent jumble sale added to the feeling that residents revel in the chance to do things together, preferably with cake included. 

Jumble sales are a great chance to hone your people-watching skills. One minute residents will be chatting amicably about family fortunes and local issues; the next they will be cutting a tough deal for that old teapot, holding out for the last 50p.

If anything can take the shine off this neighbourly bliss it is the clumsiness of the council. A number of residents met recently with housing chief Paul Murtagh, who arrived in a foul mood to explain and apologise for the City Corporation’s stuttered response to a potentially deadly gas leak at the building site next to Basterfield House. 

He’d hoped to make his task easier by fixing the meeting  (two months after the event) as a drop-in rather than a full-throated Q&A grilling from the residents most affected. Unfortunately, his plans went awry when some canny individuals promptly rearranged the set-up and started firing their questions. Mr Murtagh looked more and more uncomfortable as the volleys of verbal shots whistled his way. 

While admitting that the City Corporation had failed residents and was searching its soul for “lessons learned”, he stuck to the script that the site work met with all existing laws and regulations. He expressed this forcefully, but tripped slightly when it came to evacuation policy and revealed that, unlike almost every large building in the developed world, there are no emergency muster points or marshalling for the Golden Lane Estate.

On the day of the accident back in December, it was residents, acting on advice from the gas board, who cobbled together a plan of action until the emergency services arrived to offer some leadership. Confused residents eventually found a safe point at Prior Weston School, shaken and feeling sick. 

Mr Murtagh told the meeting that the City Corporation’s advice when faced with an emergency is to sit tight, keep calm and carry on until help arrives. Yes, even if, as has happened before, an unexploded wartime bomb is uncovered! It later emerged that the City Corporation is reviewing how it handles “events such as this one”, but is unable to share or publicise the findings.

The Square Mile’s emergency plan to swerve Brexit appears to have paid off with a hush-hush deal in Paris last month to make sure all the City’s hedge funds and derivative thingies do not turn to dust at midnight on March 29. 

The best revelation about this mysterious caper would be proof of my suspicion that the audacious plot was hatched not at the Bank of England but here on Golden Lane with the help of Bayer House resident and YouTube sensation Elly Space, whose infectious Europop anthem ‘Cancel Brexit’ is powerful enough to turn the tide of history. If you’re still in doubt, visit the site and turn the volume up to 11.

Billy Mann lives in Basterfield House on the Golden Lane Estate. He is a teaching assistant and a City of London Community Builder. Write to him at goldenlanegazette@gmail.com.

● Read From Golden Lane… Residents Unite

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