Sometimes we like to get out of our Hackney/Tower Hamlets gaybourhood and go to somewhere exotic. In March, we travelled far overland to the Oval, where the Sheila McKechnie Foundation were holding their annual National Campaigner Awards. We were very excited to be awarded the ‘Community Campaign of the Year’ award, and Dwayne was there to collect the trophy. Here’s his account…
When random, strange faces approach you while in Vauxhall; singing your praises and thanking you, and you’ve not just stepped out from a nightclub, covered in sweat; well, I guess that’s a welcomed change from the status- quo. And this change, or progress is certainly a positive movement not just for the LGBTQI + community, but for communities in general. With the unrelenting threat of redevelopment led by austere economic conditions, the level of disruption and displacement to small businesses and communities is a reality all too familiar for many. Thus, our victory, this achievement of safeguarding our space through a Condition of Planning must not be understated.
The Friends of The Joiners Arms (FoTJA) formed when a group of people; patrons and friends of The Joiners Arms rejected the idea of losing a community space we felt belonged to us. United in opposition, our primary objective was to prevent the bar/club from closing down. It’s important to recognise that saving the Joiners in its current, existing condition was a challenge that proved all too difficult to achieve. If that were objective No.1, then surely objective No.2 would be what we have. That being, a right-to-return post-redevelopment of the site. Permission to build was approved on this premise and failure to discharge a planning condition ‘ain’t a good look!’ WE did that! Planning legislation governing all development in England & Wales allows for the local planning authority (in this case, the London Borough of Tower Hamlets) to refuse planning permission, to grant planning permission unconditionally, or to grant subject to such conditions as they see fit.
Often the issues with a decision relating to land use are not over the question of whether the development should be permitted at all, but on what terms it should be permitted. For example, there may well be a local need for a new outdoor playground for kids. But building that playground directly alongside a major motorway route might not be such a good idea! A planning condition attached to such a development proposal approved by a local authority may stipulate a significant reduction in the size of the playground, and instruct that a dense bufferzone of trees to further mitigate against exposure to pollutants be planted also. For us then, Towers Hamlets council in their recognition of the general need for new homes also agreed that such new provision should not be at the loss of a space [the Joiners] that caters for a different, but no less important section of the community. YOU!
Such is the level of achievement, our efforts have certainly not gone unrecognized, not least by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation’s National Campaigner Awards, where we were awarded ‘Best Community Campaign’, celebrating our success at local community level. The award ceremony was attended by Dan Glass, Olimpia Burchiellaro and myself, who collected the award on behalf of FoTJA – the same week that David Pollard, The Joiners Arms’ founder and landlord, was laid to rest. David’s passing, at such a moment, to me feels symbolic. His long battle against his illness, a battle that he sadly lost, was not entirely in vain. He held on long enough to lend his support and guidance to the campaign, and I hope our small victory made his passing that little bit gentler.
The runner up in our category was rhe #17DaysOfAction campaign, run by Basis Yorkshire. This was a bold and innovative community-led campaign, which aimed to raise awareness of the prejudices that sex workers face and to change local attitudes. In the run up to the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, the campaign engaged the community in number of different ways, including a spoken word and comedy night, a pub quiz, choir, flash mob and community clear up… Yes, we like singing in public spaces and encouraging all to join. No, we don’t have an official FoTJA theme song, though I hear whispers of the recording taken from a speech delivered to Tower Hamlets Planning Committee being dubbed over thumpin’ Chicago House track…
The award ceremony and the evening in general was an incredibly inspiring and uplifting event for me. Being surrounded by people who have committed tirelessly to something they feel that strongly about, who are of the belief that not campaigning can and does have negative, life changing consequences for people, families and communities. That energy; that collective willingness to achieve social justice is felt and one cannot help be moved and motivated by it. (Or maybe that was the free wine and mini buffet!)
On accepting the award for Best Community Campaign, Dan Glass said:
“Part of the thing about SMK and about the Joiners campaign is seeing all struggles as collective. And one of the most beautiful things that goes on in the SMK, behind the awards ceremony, is the training and mentorship that goes on behind the scenes, to see how we can be effective, how we can strategise, and how we can win our campaigns.”
He went on to say:
“And lastly, we want to say thank you to David Pollard, who was the founder of the Joiners Arms. Not only did he open a legendary queer pub, but it was the first pub that paid the London Living Wage for its workers. He passed away about 3 and a half weeks ago. Behind the bar at the Joiners Arms there was a big sign that said ‘LOVE, LIFE AND LIBERTY’. He really inspired us all. When we found out that the Joiners Arms was being closed by Regal Homes, and we had the first campaign meeting to stop the place being closed, he said ‘when this pub closes, the revolution starts.’ And that dream spurred us on, so we really want to say thank you to David. Rest in peace. ”