How many times have you wanted to take action on a local issue that is bothering you – but done nothing about it? Well my interview with Sandra Levy, damesnet contributor, is a reminder that anything is possible if we put our minds to it. What follows are her words:
‘Stop destroying healthy trees in Brent’ ran my petition to the council. Whoah! Wasn’t this a dream, or some type of Walter Mitty fantasy going on here? No, I really was a 76-year-old grandmother with ME leading a petition to Brent council.
It wasn’t even ‘another fine mess I’ve got into’ as I’d never been involved in a petition in my life. It started on Nextdoor, with people whom I’d never met (and mostly still haven’t). We shared our horror at the idea of a whole street full of beautiful trees being destroyed for a repaving project. Having some writing experience I somehow offered to write the petition. It took months for people to agree the wording. Then fortunately an amazing woman came forward who had organised petitions before. She is a business consultant and mentored my every step. She knew what to send when, and where.
And wow did I learn a lot, for example:
- Many residents were happy to get rid of the trees.
- Out of the many people on Nextdoor who were so concerned with the wording of the petition, only one of them actually came forward to canvass for signatures alongside myself and the mentor.
- The council clearly had plan A and plan B. If no one makes a fuss, plan A – a cheapo. If they do make a fuss, plan B – do it properly.
- You can send pictures to the local press before the petition is complete. They publicised the petition using our photos.
- The council won’t look at a petition like this unless there are 50 signatures from the street concerned. (Online petitions can bring in loads of signatures, but they could be from anywhere in the UK).
- At the last minute, scanning in the hard-won signatures, we discovered no one had put their postcode (we hadn’t thought of asking them). Yet we found out that a short street of 74 houses had 5 postcodes! Thank goodness for the Royal Mail postcodes website.
- Finally, when I tried to email the petition to the council, it kept being rejected, and I eventually found out that the Head Councillor had 13 official email addresses.
The petition was finally submitted just before the Christmas weekend 2019 – no chance, I thought, of being read even until the New Year. But to my amazement the response came the next day, agreeing to our demands. Was this a joke? But it was copied to so many people that I had to believe it.
I had a strange feeling of exhilaration from having used my anger in a positive way.
Eventually they did a great job of repaving (finishing just before the lockdown) – despite all their protestations throughout the whole process that it couldn’t be done.
I missed seeing the cherry trees this Spring as I was in full lockdown, but now when I go on my permitted walk I feel really happy, enjoy the trees anew each time, and don’t have to trip over their roots.
If three of us could do this, so can anyone.
P.S. After this all happened an organisation was set up called Brent Trees which continues working with and collaborating continuously with Brent Council; our petition was part of their first presentation.