September 18 2014 Latest news:
Freddy Mayhew, Senior reporter
Thursday, July 24, 2014
A small revolution is underway in Custom House. They call it “people empowerment”, but in simpler terms it’s a fine example of musketeer-like thinking: one for all and all for one.
Having just celebrated its one-year anniversary, the People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House, better known as PEACH, has been busy uniting shopkeepers, priests and tenants with a view to working with Newham Council on the issues affecting them.
The community group – or “people’s organisation” as they prefer to be called – was set up with a £1million grant from the National Lottery’s Big Local scheme, to be used over 10 years.
Community organiser Hero Austin, the only salaried member of PEACH who offers guidance and advice to its members, simply the residents it engages with, believes it is the only one of its kind in the country.
Parallels might be drawn with other grassroots groups such as London Citizens or Acorn (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) in America. The techniques are the same but the scale is the difference, said Hero.
“Nowhere else in the UK is it being done on this level,” she said. “We are probably the most well-organised ward in the country.
“There’s nobody else who builds alliances of all these organisations and builds common campaigns out of those groups.”
PEACH has helped set up a workers cooperative, created safe havens for vulnerable people and has fought for the rights of shop owners threatened by new developments in Freemasons Road, Custom House. For the latter, the group agreed parts of a “shopkeepers’ charter” with ward councillors at its one-year celebration on July 10, in the Ascensions Church Centre, Baxter Road.
The charter, backed by 340 residents, was drawn up to protect more than 20 independent high street traders who feared being relocated without sufficient compensation as the £3.7billion transformation of Canning Town and Custom House gets underway.
As a result, where it had previously proposed relocating some stores in Woolwich, the council agreed to relocate them on Freemasons Road, to cover reasonable legal and surveyor costs and for shopkeepers to be involved in selecting a developer.
Tariq Khan, 54, who has run Sam’s Dry Cleaners for more than 30 years, said that PEACH had given him and other shopkeepers “more confidence and more stability”. “We can’t be singled out now,” he said.
“We have strength in numbers and anything we aren’t sure of we have somebody who we can go to who can check it out for us. We feel quiet empowered. We aren’t alone anymore.”
Chinese takeaway owner Norman Law, 53, has run the Golden Sands for more than three decades, said: “PEACH has actually helped me to open my eyes.
“Without this organisation we would be treated each as individuals and tackled one by one. Together we have got a chance to get the best deal for us.”
Others have heralded PEACH as being part of the long tradition of mobilising the people to fight for themselves in the East End, stretching back to the Dockers’ strikes in 1800s.
John Armitage of St Anne’s Catholic Church, Custom House, said: “We have always organised to make our voices heard. As members of PEACH we are the next chapter in that proud history of residents empowering themselves.”
Cllr Lester Hudson, executive member for regeneration, planning and finance, said up to 10,000 homes and 5,000 new jobs will be delivered as part of the regeneration of the Custom House and Canning Town areas.
“We are working closely with PEACH as well as residents and traders to ensure the existing community continue to benefit,” he said.
“We have always been clear businesses which wish to remain in the area will be given opportunities to do so.
“We continue to engage with local businesses and residents and ensure they are involved in every stage of the redevelopment.”