That Was OnBlackheath

After some years and many obstacles, OnBlackheath finally took place on, er… Blackheath on 15-16 September. We Radical’s went for both days and, although not natural or regular music festival goers, really enjoyed the event. New bands were discovered, favourites re-engaged with, plus good food and drink was imbibed.Entrance

RibbonsOn arrival early on Saturday afternoon the Greenwich meantime was spotted and we were ready to tour the site. The centrepiece was the main stage, and as we discovered later, the size of the site and numbers attending meant it was pretty easy to be close to the stage. Near to that free beard trims were available from Gillette! There was a large family/children’s area that included an area for sack races and entertainers including circus acts. Prior to the event there were apocalyptic visions of an event mainly attended by drunk, loutish, under-aged youths. The Revolt was surprised by the number of families attending, often three generations and with picnics, who stayed well into the evening to enjoy the event.

Every group was not to everyone’s tastes and the Radical’s were not familiar with many of the acts but switching between the Main, Village,

We see (and hear you) Jarvis!

We see (and hear you) Jarvis!

Worldwide/Heavenly stages there was normally something to catch the ear. The Rude Vandals were excellent on the village stage (folky music before people start foaming at the mouth), and Anoushka was good on the Worldwide stage. And we saw local band Rhys Lewis and the Relics! In addition we caught a tremendous DJ set by Jarvis Cocker (Pulp next year??).

Grace Sunset

Grace. Blackheath.

On the main stage we discovered Tom Hickox on Sunday afternoon and realised the Levellers were not quite to our taste, but they were certainly popular with the crowd. Headliners on Saturday Massive Attack put on a good show as did Frank Turner on Sunday – again, blissfully unaware of him but plenty of people had the t-shirts! For the Radicals the highlight was the fabulous Grace Jones on Saturday evening. She really brought the place to life, entertained the crowd with music and chat, managed at least six costume changes, and yes, spent about ten minutes wandering around the stage hoola-hooping. On Sunday Imelda May was also a highlight with an great set. And yes, the Radicals were jigging away!Imelda May

Plenty of food stalls adorned the site and burgers and tacos sustained us when we were not sampling food at the chef’s club. Meantime was the alcohol on offer, although we would say that the main bars only served the lager and we Radicals had to use the three smaller bars serving the Pale Ale and Yakima Red. Prices were a little more than we expected at just over £5 for a pint. Still, there were plenty of bar staff.

It was genuinely a good day out, with friendly and helpful staff, good food, music, and yes ‘vibe’. It attracted plenty of local people (we Radicals saw plenty of fellow commuters) and no doubt attracted a wider audience to our village – we think the latter good.

Fox & SunWhat next? The Blackheath Society have arranged a questionnaire (see previous post) but we also ask that everyone takes part in other feedback opportunities and future public meetings to ensure a balanced view is heard. Some of our local elected members attended too so in future consultations will be able to reflect all sides of the debate.

We know that a vocal group has long been opposed to anything like this and frankly no matter what we say or what action is taken those people will continue to complain (see our OnBlackheath meeting reports). Those will not agree with the Revolt assessment but we ask people to avoid some of the rather petty comment that has been a feature of talk about the festival.

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OnBlackheath

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After what seems like an age the OnBlackheath music and food festival is finally about to happen – you’ve no doubt noticed the tents and stage that have gone up this week. We Radicals are very excited and shall be there on both days jigging away with the best of them (if jigging is the right term for such events (it’s not. Ed.)).

In advance, OB have released the running order for the event:

http://www.onblackheath.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/print-at-home-map.pdf

It’s highly likely we will spend a good deal of time in the food village and plan to take lunch on Sunday with Gizzi Erskine. And the late announcement that Jarvis Coker will be there is particularly exciting and pretty much doubles now the proportion of performers we’ve actualy heard of!

So, to all those planning to go we hope you have a great time (and are not too disturbed by the sight of two malcoordinated figures ‘jigging’ insensibly).

And to fellow residents who are not attending we really do hope the event is not as disruptive as we know many fear.  With that in mind, the Blackheath Society have asked to publicise a survey that they are carrying out on the impact of the event.

The link is http://bit.ly/1whfcrt

And here is the QR code:

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The survey opens on Sunday once the festival is finished, at which point it will also appear on the Blackheath Society’s website (www.blackheath.org) and will be open until the end of the month (responses after this or before it opens will not count). Respondents can answer as many of the questions as they wish but must include their full postcode. The Society’s intention is to feed the findings into Lewisham Council’s planned post event evaluation.

We actually think this is a very useful and positive thing for the Society to be doing. Clearly the more responses the more rounded and representative the results will be so please do consider completing it.

Right, back to festival preparations; as the weather forecast is pretty decent the wellington boots may not be necessary but the glow sticks are ready and waiting. Whoop whoop!

 

 

On the Waterfront

You may be under the impression the Radicals’ leisure time is spent mostly drinking wine and listening to cricket, and while you would be right, there is also time for a bit of sporting activity. This means a visit to the Waterfront Leisure Centre in Woolwich.
 
It is conveniently located a short walk from Woolwich centre, right next to one of the nodes of the Woolwich foot tunnel, on a number of bus routes and with a sizeable car park. The centre has recently undergone a refurbishment to its reception, which seemed to have the concomitant effect of standardising the previously arbitrary prices.
 
The Radicals and chums enjoy a weekly game of squash on one of the four decent courts. Courts are generally available except at peak times and each session lasts forty minutes. There is also a league to join for those who want some organised competition.
 
The swimming facilities cater for a range of desires; with a large fun pool with a wave machine and flume, a separate water slide, a children’s pool and standard twenty five metre pool. One narking element is that in the evening there can be one or two children’s lessons in the standard pool, while this is all well and good, it does mean that the adults are crowded in to the two remaining lanes, which given the mix of abilities can make things awkward. As the price doubles in the evening for none members, this can mean effectively paying more for worse facilities.
 
There is a large, well equipped gym with cardio and weights machines in abundance and for those wanting to pump more serious iron, there is also a traditional weights gym.
 
The facilities continue with a five-a-side football/badminton area and two sizable rooms that hold a variety of exercise classes from bouncing on an inflatable ball to ju jitsu. There are also facilities for functions on site e.g. birthday parties. If after all the exercise a little food is required there is a small canteen on site and also two cafes the Star and First Choice just across the road.
 
There are rumblings of moving the leisure centre to a more central location off the Woolwich town square (http://www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/news/article/291/new_woolwich_town_centre_leisure_centre_plans_revealed), while The Radicals are all in favour of change (and this would no doubt make room for some desperately needed ‘luxury’ flats). The Radicals hope that the facilities on offer are not sacrificed for a grand vision of a new improved Woolwich.

A Treatise on Customer Service

An Open Letter to SouthEastern Trains

This letter has been sent to SouthEastern trains via the complaints form on the website.

Customer service on SouthEastern is a perennial issue for the Radicals who use the service from Blackheath daily. Individually the Radicals have contacted SouthEastern about poor customer service several times over the past four years and been promised improvement but seen no evidence. The Revolt accept that delays, especially due to infrastructure, are often outside of Southeastern control, but the issue at hand is the often woeful lack of information when there are problems.

SouthEastern shrug off the very poor customer satisfaction survey results of 2014 citing the large number of issues caused by the weather and as the Metro reported in February 2014 we are grumpy because we are being taken where we don’t want to go (work) so it is not their fault (http://metro.co.uk/2014/02/17/southeastern-why-are-we-worst-train-company-because-you-hate-going-to-the-office-4306846/). Other networks in the London area suffered similar problems but managed to score higher. This blog believes that satisfaction is partly affected by the level of customer service – when there are problems confusion reigns and tempers rise when there is a lack of useful information.

The Radicals have embraced modern technology but social media is not the only answer to the problem. The Twitter team are very responsive and the rest of the customer service team could learn from them but for a start, the number of tweets produced by SouthEastern on the service can make it easy to miss the important ones; second, not everyone uses twitter (SouthEastern has 34,000 followers but carries 600,000 passengers a week and in 2011-12 there were 2.8m entries and exits to Blackheath station (excludes Olympics)); and third, the phone signal at Blackheath is patchy to non-existent so passengers are more reliant on ‘traditional’ means of communication.

Blackheath has a manned ticket office and electronic displays but SouthEastern rely on automated messages that normally blandly state that there are delays and the cause. Whilst informative, this does not help passengers with info on how late they might be or whether to try an alternative route. From Blackheath into central London this requires a bus journey to Lewisham to pick up the DLR. It should be possible to provide more useful and timely information to customers. Delays often lead to crowded trains and more information relating to that would help customers. If the signs and automated messages simply state ‘delayed’ customers will try and squeeze on to the first train that comes. A more intelligent message that states first train is packed, but second is ten mins behind but much quieter, could help. But this requires a shift away from the reliance on automated messages. This Radical finds it particularly annoying not knowing whether SouthEastern tickets will be valid on TFL routes – as the Revolt understands it there is no set threshold for this as the decision is taken on an ad hoc basis. Otherwise the compensation for season ticket holders for delays does not cover the cost of a PAYG TfL journey from zone 2 to 1.  Once on a train there is absolutely no consistency on what information, if any, is received from the driver.  Many passengers, who pay substantial sums for the privilege of travelling on the route through Blackheath, deserve better.

If SouthEastern provide customer service training to staff there is clearly an issue with the quality of the training, monitoring, and implementation. There is no consistency to information provided by drivers, some are good but many stay silent, some apologise for five minute delays, some don’t.

The solutions are simple rather than radical:

At the station:

  • Provide information that is useful to customers – ‘minor’ and ‘severe’ are pretty meaningless when talking about delays. A time estimate is much more useful.
  • Use station staff to make announcements.
  • Provide early advice on use of alternative routes and validity of tickets.
  • Do not rely solely on social media to provide latest information.

On the train drivers should:

  • Be informed as early as possible of the delay and be given advice to pass on to passengers – passengers would rather hear the driver say there is a delay but there is no further information than hear nothing at all.
  • Apologise for all delays – a five minute delay is annoying and rarely gets a mention. Paying passengers should be treated with courtesy.

The current level of customer service is unacceptable and it is difficult to understand why. A few simple changes and an effort to ensure these are implemented will benefit customers and SouthEastern. It should not be hard and if the situation does not improve then passengers will be in little doubt that SouthEastern have a general disregard for paying customers.

The Revolt looks forward to seeing a response that sets out how SouthEastern plans to improve customer service; if any of the above are already part of company policy and what will be done to ensure that policy is monitored and implemented; if any of the above cannot be implemented with a reason why.

London Bridge is Being Rebuilt

You will have probably noticed the transformation work at London Bridge (and this re-hash of a previous post…) and been slightly envious of the snazzy new roof at the terminus part of the station whilst standing on a drab platform 4. There may have also been a hint of trepidation that at some point work would be done on the through platforms. Improvements at the station are necessary but this will cause significant disruption. This is all part of the government’s £6.5bn Thameslink programme to improve infrastructure in the capital. The first phase saw disruption last week to Southern and First Capital Connect services from London Bridge.

Improvements..?

Improvements..?

The main disruption for SouthEastern and our local services will be felt in 2015-18 as platforms 1-6 are redeveloped:

  • January 2015-August 2016 – SouthEastern services to Charing Cross will not stop at London Bridge. The Cannon St service will be the only one stopping at London Bridge. There will be no services to/from Greenwich to Charing Cross.
  • August 2016-Early 2018 – SouthEastern services to Cannon St will not stop at London Bridge. The Charing Cross service will be the only one stopping at London Bridge. There will be no services to/from Greenwich to Charing Cross.

We wait in eager anticipation of the SouthEastern timetable as the greatest concern is the reduced capacity to London Bridge. Logic would dictate that more services will be diverted to routes stopping at London Bridge at the expense of the non-stopping services. Measures SouthEastern reference include longer trains; extended opening hours for Cannon St station and tube; some services could be diverted to Blackfriars.

The Radicals don’t want to be negative NIMBY’s about this as much of our infrastructure problems stem from lack of investment and long-term planning. Increased capacity (we won’t say better service with SouthEastern…) will benefit the area but there will be disruption for three years. What will be important is to ensure that customers are not short-changed, disruption is not used as an excuse for a poorer service (we still expect ticket prices to go up), and that everything possible is done to minimise the impact on customers.

Full details: http://www.thameslinkprogramme.co.uk/disruptions/southeastern-advice/ and http://www.southeasternrailway.co.uk/your-journey/timetables/januarytimetable/?station=BKH&submit3.x=8&submit3.y=5