Louie French, MP

Our new Member of Parliament Louie French was sworn in at the House of Commons on 6 December 2021, having won the Old Bexley and Sidcup by-election, triggered by the death of James Brokenshire.

And he makes history as Blackfen’s first homegrown MP, having grown up in Orchard Rise West. He became a Bexley Councillor for the Falconwood and Welling ward in 2014, which until the boundary change included the north part of Blackfen.

In fact Blackfen has produced a few notables recently: Matthew Scott, who became Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner in 2016, also grew up in Orchard Rise West, and Blackfen lad James Hunt is serving an historic second term as Mayor of Bexley.

Blackfen is making its mark on history!


Politics in Blackfen

Bexley’s Local Elections take place on 3 May. Use your vote! This year’s 100th anniversary of votes for (some) women reminds us that we didn’t always have the opportunity. We don’t have any Suffragettes in Blackfen but Dame Ethel Smyth, OBE lived in nearby Sidcup and she devoted herself to the cause of women’s suffrage; she was also a female composer in a musical world dominated by men, and a prolific writer.

As the community in Blackfen developed in the 1930s a number of political organisations were established as the Labour Party and trade unions were growing in importance and the Conservative Party reacted to their rise.

The Blackfen Constitutional Association began with a meeting at the Woodman in April 1932. Mrs Packham, Chairman of the women’s branch, proved herself a great leader, starting with 15 members in early 1932 and almost 1,000 members by the annual dinner in November 1937. They held meetings, socials, whist drives, outings and talks.

Many of the early residents of Blackfen, who had often moved out from London, wanted to improve their lot in life through politics and trade unions. In 1931 there was no Bexley Labour Party group and John Cronin became committed to establishing one (he later became a Councillor and Mayor). The Ridgeway Residents Association tried to get people elected to the local council. The Ridgeway Estate became known as ‘Little Moscow’ because of all the Labour posters in the windows of houses.

The Blackfen Co-operative Men’s Guild and the Blackfen Co-operative Women’s Guild (men and women were always separate at that time!) met in the hall above the RACS Stores. They held horticultural shows, cake-making competitions and dinners.

I always think this must’ve been quite an exciting time in Blackfen’s history. Thousands of families had arrived in a new place in a very short space of time. They all wanted a new life and they worked together to make it happen.

The candidates for Bexley’s Local Elections on 3 May are shown here: http://www.bexley.gov.uk/sites/bexley-cms/files/2018-04/Statement-of-Persons-Nominated-for-Thursday-3-May-2018.pdf


Cllr John Cronin

John Cronin was one of many people who came to live in Blackfen in 1931. He had lived in Islington but rents there were rising dramatically. At that time there was no Bexley Labour Party group and Cronin became committed to establishing one. This was a time when the trade unions were growing in importance and many of the new residents had an interest in politics.

Cronin became councillor for the Falconwood Ward in 1937 and later for St Michael’s Welling. He worked hard to assist those in need – some people who moved to Blackfen had over-reached themselves and couldn’t afford rents, food or clothing. When Cronin became Mayor in 1947 he and his wife Ellen regularly had to attend ceremonies and dances but they couldn’t afford extravagant clothes and as Mayoress, Ellen held her ‘at home’ at Danson Mansion rather than at their bungalow.

During the Second World War Cllr Cronin’s home became a centre for the distribution of gas masks and his garage was used by teams of builders repairing house roofs to store their tools. As one of the few people in the area with a telephone, he placed it by an open window so people could stick their hand in and use it. He was an ARP Warden and his duties included enforcing blackouts, directing people to shelters when the sirens sounded, reporting bombings and helping with the aftermath of an air raid.

John Cronin died in 1986 aged 84.

ARP warden recruit

Smartening up nicely

At 10am on Saturday 22 April a group of volunteers met to paint the railings and weed the pavement along Woodman Parade in Westwood Lane, Blackfen. We were joined by Rt Hon. James Brokenshire, MP and Councillors Louie French, Cafer Munur and Lynn Smith. Despite the rain (how unlucky!) we carried on and it has made such a difference in just a couple of hours.

Thank you to Raw Hair Salon for the tea/coffee and biscuits! We will return soon to continue the job.

And happy 2nd birthday to The Broken Drum!


Is Blackfen in London or Kent?

Blackfen has for centuries been a small hamlet in the parish of Bexley in the county of Kent.

Administrative changes in 1894 meant that Blackfen became part of the new Bexley Urban District Council but in 1910 the southern half of Blackfen was transferred to Foots Cray Urban District Council, renamed Sidcup UDC in 1921 and in 1934 becoming Chislehurst and Sidcup UDC. In 1965 Blackfen was united once again into the London Borough of Bexley under the London Government Act. Ever since then, residents have argued over whether the Borough of Bexley is part of London or part of Kent.

Many, and perhaps younger generations in particular, identify more with London. If someone asks where I live, I say different things according to who has asked. Sometimes I say south-east London to avoid notions that I live in a picturesque village, but I always feel a terrible sense of disloyalty when I do this. Usually I would instinctively say Kent.

When I commute to central London each day, I do feel that I leave Kent in the morning and return to it each evening. When driving down the Maidstone Road between Ruxley and Swanley and reaching the ‘Welcome to Kent’ sign, I always protest “but I was already in Kent.”

How has this contradiction come about? Since 1965 Bexley has been a London Borough. We are eligible to vote for the London Mayor and part of our council tax goes towards funding the Greater London Authority. Bexley is under the Metropolitan Police and our regional television is London. However, Bexley does not have a London postcode.

Why does it have such great importance? After all, these are just administrative factors. A sense of belonging is a core part of our being. The Kent motto ‘Invicta’ (meaning ‘undefeated’) was adopted just after the Norman Conquest, and that motto was applied at the Battle of Britain in 1940 which was fought in the skies over Kent. The symbol of Kent, the white horse, is included in the Bexley Borough Coat of Arms.

The only reason Bexley does not have a London postcode is because the Post Office was not able to expand its London postal district after 1965 due to the prohibitive cost. If this changes, is it inevitable that one day people will forget that Bexley was once part of Kent? I hope not!

Ward boundary changes for Blackfen

Draft recommendations have now been published regarding a change in ward boundaries in the Bexley Borough. This is good news for Blackfen which is currently split down the middle into three different wards, creating divisions in policing, local government and community identity. There is now a consultation period from 9 Feb. until 4th April 2016 so you can have your say on the proposals and your support would be helpful. Information on the proposals and how to comment are at https://www.lgbce.org.uk/current-reviews/greater-london/bexley

Boundary changes: Proposals

Proposals have been submitted to change ward boundaries in the Bexley Borough. This is good news for Blackfen which is currently split down the middle into three different wards, creating divisions in policing, local government and community identity. Blackfen and Lamorbey ward covers the south western part of the area known as Blackfen; Falconwood and Welling covers the area to the north of Blackfen Road on the west side; and Blendon and Penhill covers the eastern part. Blackfen Road and Westwood Lane, the main routes through the community of Blackfen, are used as divisions.
According to the proposal for Blackfen and Lamorbey:
“This proposed ward is defined by the western boundary of the Borough, with the A2 as its northern boundary and the Sidcup loop line railway to the South. The Boundary to the east at the southern end skirts Lamorbey Park and Sidcup Golf Course (which is in Blendon and Penhill Ward), follows the River Shuttle to Willersley Park and then up to the A2.
In the main it is the present Blackfen & Lamorbey ward, with additions of the northern parts of the present Sidcup ward (most of SP1S & SP2S) where local residents regard themselves as being a different community from Sidcup (e.g.
Lamorbey and The Hollies); as well as small parts on the west of the present Blendon & Penhill ward (from BP1S). The latter changes are important to bring all the shops and facilities on Blackfen High Street within the same ward. There has been confusion as to which councillors represent which ward in this locality (e.g. recently a number of residents have been lobbying the councillors for Blackfen & Lamorbey about Blackfen Library when it is actually situated in Blendon & Penhill Ward).
[*It should be noted that councillors in Blendon and Penhill were contacted regarding Blackfen Library but never responded*].
In addition a few roads are gained from the present Falconwood & Welling Ward in Polling District FW4S that are south of the A2.
The proposed boundaries reflect the fact that there are no road crossings of the railway or A2 here and only one footbridge across the railway and one pedestrian subway under the A2. All housing in this area to the South of the A2 is now included in this ward including several roads on the western extremity which are in the present Falconwood and Welling Ward, but can only be accessed from the rest of that ward by an infrequently used subway.
The proposed ward brings together the communities in Blackfen and Lamorbey (including the Hollies), both of which are largely suburban areas with many residents commuting to London from Sidcup Station. There are several shopping areas serving the communities within the proposed ward, the largest of which is Blackfen, including a large supermarket and a library. Near Sidcup Station there is another large parade of shops including a Post Office and shops on Station Road. There are smaller shopping parades in Halfway Street and near Days Lane School. All of these act as focal points for the various communities that lie within this proposed ward.
The communities around here all run into each otherwith different housing styles reflecting the eras in which they were built. The roads of Days Lane (running North to South) and Halfway Street (running West-East) link the whole ward together.
The ward also includes a number of schools and churches on or around Days Lane and a specialist internationally renowned drama college (Rose Bruford College), the campus of which is based around Lamorbey House and its grounds.”
The changes can be seen in full at http://www.bexley.gov.uk/19654

Blackfen Library – Community Management: response by Bexley Council

At the Blackfen Community Association meeting on 18 February 2015 a number of questions were asked by those who attended. They were addressed to the councillors who were present. Some but not all of the questions were answered at the time.

On 25 March Bexley Council addressed these questions by publishing the following response on their website:

Blackfen library – community management proposals

The following is being published in response to questions raised about the community management of Blackfen Library.

Would a community library result in fewer books to borrow?

Not necessarily – there are many different options for a community library. It could involve the same number of books as is currently held in stock, or more or less – it depends on the proposals that are received from the community management organisations and the level of emphasis they place on stock holdings. It should also be noted that book borrowing levels are falling overall in libraries across the country, and established professional practice suggests that simply increasing or maintaining the number of books will not resolve this downturn. The number of people borrowing books and the number of book loans from libraries nationally has fallen by half since 1997 and therefore it follows that stock levels in libraries generally, are changing.

Would library membership have a fee?

Our existing community managed libraries offer different membership tiers, including a free membership that offers similar benefits to the Council service, as well as ‘paid’ memberships that provide enhanced benefits, such as freedom from library fines. We welcome creative proposals that demonstrate a business case that seeks to provide sustainability but we would not approve a proposal that made use of the library exclusively dependent on a ‘paid’ subscription.

How could volunteers run it if they aren’t professional librarians?

Professional Librarians work out of our shared back office and offer support to libraries in Bexley and Bromley. Our Librarians offer continued support to Bexley’s existing community libraries, where they require it, and would extend this to all community managed libraries going forward.

The staff that work in Council libraries on a day-to-day basis are trained in customer service and gain a great deal of experience through their work. They are also trained to handle the complexity of running the Council’s service as it is currently delivered. The model for our existing community managed libraries (that was proposed to the Council by Greener Bexley) is to ‘second’ staff from the front line Council service (our current branch libraries), to provide an appropriate level of support These seconded staff work with the volunteers, as they do in the Council’s libraries.

We would welcome proposals that suggest the use of seconded staff. Alternatively, we welcome other proposals, if potential community management organisations have other ideas as to how they would wish to manage staff.

It is also worth noting that the role of staff/volunteers in the library in terms of the skills needed will be very much dependent on the form that the management model takes and it does not need to be beyond the reach of volunteers in terms of complexity. We would also be happy to provide training as part of the setting up of the new arrangements.

Why was money being spent on new Council offices and Sidcup improvements but Blackfen gets nothing?

The provision of the new Civic Offices was funded by the sale of other Council properties and has resulted in a net saving to the taxpayer, as well as investment in community facilities and new homes. The improvements to Sidcup Library have been paid for through external funding that the Council secured for the purpose of regenerating the town centre.

Has Bexley Council protested to Central Government about the cuts to local government?

Councillors have raised the issue of the Council’s funding with Ministers.

Why was a petition of 3,017 signatures ignored?

The petition was reported on and heard at Public Cabinet. A debate (also broadcast on the internet) was held about the petition at the meeting and Members took the petition and overall response to the consultation into account when making the decision about the future of libraries in the context of the challenging financial position that the Council is facing and their responsibility to set a balanced budget.

Why has Sidcup Library just received money for refurbishment?

The refurbishment of Sidcup Library was fully funded by external development funds that were secured to improve community facilities in Sidcup.

Why was no account taken of the numbers who use Blackfen library compared to others?

The rationale for how the Council has defined its core Library Service was set out in the consultation proposals in Autumn 2014. This rationale is that the Council’s statutory duty to provide a library service has been defined through an assessment of need, including an assessment of the geographical coverage of the borough’s libraries. The 6 libraries that will remain in Council control will mean that over 98% of the population will be within 1.5 miles of a Council-run library. If Blackfen was included as a 7th core library, it would not extend coverage to any additional residents on this measure. If Blackfen Library was included as a core library instead of Welling, then 6,000 fewer residents would be within 1.5 miles of a Council library.
Usage figures on a branch by branch basis did not influence the approach outlined above, as the rationale was to provide maximum geographical coverage across the borough to the core service for residents. Focusing on usage levels would be more problematic as they vary over time.

Would a similar situation happen in Blackfen as happened in Slade Green where a community group’s application was refused?

The process to identify and appoint partners for the community management of libraries is a procurement process that allows the Council to dismiss bids that do not meet key criteria. In the case of multiple bids being received for the same library, we will assess and compare quality and financial factors to determine the successful bidder.

What would be the cost of a community-run library sharing books and facilities with the Council service, and what would be the cost of lighting, heating, wages, etc?

This would very much depend on a range of factors – including the proposals made by the group for staffing arrangements. Groups that declare their interest in the first phase of the process (expressions of interest) and that are shortlisted will be sent these costs along with other supporting information. At this point in the process, shortlisted groups will also be provided with information about the level of finance that the Council can provide as annual revenue support to the groups. Council officers will work with them to develop a model that seeks to meet their aspirations and that addresses the financial challenges.

What should we do if we have volunteers but they do not have the necessary skills to put forward a business plan?

After groups have expressed an Interest, we would suggest that the particular areas where help is needed are flagged in order that we can offer help and support – as far as this is possible within the terms of the procurement process. It should be noted that the business planning stage of the process does not require extensive business planning skills, because the structured application documentation will guide groups through the process It might also be possible to signpost groups towards other sources of help outside the Council to help them with this process.

Blackfen Community Association meeting 18 February 2015

The new Blackfen Community Association held its second meeting on 18 February 2015 at the Jolly Fenman pub. Fifty residents and traders packed into the room, along with several Councillors. The focus of the meeting was the situation regarding Blackfen Library.

The councillors in attendance were Peter Craske (Cons, Lamorbey and Blackfen), Brian Beckwith (Cons, Lamorbey and Blackfen), Louie French (Cons, Welling and Falconwood), Lynn Smith (UKIP, Welling and Falconwood), Cafer Munur (Cons, East Wickham) and Mac McGannon (UKIP, Colyers – who explained that he used to live in Blackfen). All nine councillors from the three wards which represent residents of Blackfen were invited to attend and it is noticeable that those from Blendon and Penhill, in which ward the library is physically located, did not respond.

Karen Mensa-Bonsu explained the concern over the decision to remove Blackfen Library from the core borough service. She explained that the decision was made for ‘geographical’ reasons and did not take account of cost or the effect it would have on the community. She outlined the possible actions from this point: 1. judicial review. 2. that everyone present should contact their councillors and MP to express their concern directly. 3. as Cllrs Craske and Beckwith hold their surgeries at the library, could they offer any help? 4. any suggestions from anyone else?

Cllr Craske gave the reasons for Bexley Council’s decision: that government spending cuts were having an impact on local government and that £50m savings had to be made. Small unnoticeable cuts had already been made, such as merging library administration with Bromley Council, but now larger cuts were needed. He suggested that Blackfen Community Association should apply to manage the library.

Strong views were expressed by those present at the meeting, and questions were asked. Would a community library result in fewer books to borrow? Would library membership have a fee? How could volunteers run it if they aren’t professional librarians? Why was money being spent on new Council offices and Sidcup improvements but Blackfen gets nothing? Has Bexley Council protested to Central Government about the cuts to local government? Why was a petition of 3017 signatures ignored? Why has Sidcup Library just received money for refurbishment? Why was no account taken of the numbers who use Blackfen library compared to others? Would a similar situation happen in Blackfen as happened in Slade Green where a community group’s application was refused? What would be the cost of a community-run library sharing books and facilities with the Council service, and what would be the cost of lighting, heating, wages, etc? What should we do if we have volunteers but they do not have the necessary skills to put forward a business plan?*

Cllr Craske reiterated that the Blackfen Community Association should apply to manage the library: “Roll your sleeves up and get stuck in”. Cllr McGannon suggested prioritising what the community wants from its library and looking at overall costs to find the best non-political community package possible. The councillors promised that they would get hold of the running costs for Blackfen Library so that the Blackfen Community Association would be in a better position to be able to put together a successful application and understand what they are committing to.**

As a final item, those present voted to formalise the name ‘Blackfen Community Association’.

Many thanks to the Jolly Fenman for generously providing tea and coffee as well as the venue.


*On 25 March Bexley Council published responses to these questions which can be seen here.

**On 21 February Cllr Craske told us that he was not able to give the running costs for Blackfen Library after all, as Bexley Council had refused to share financial information while the procurement process was ongoing.


On 27 February Karen Mensa Bonsu and Joy Barnes met with James Brokenshire, MP to explain the dissatisfaction with the decision to remove Blackfen from the borough’s core library service. (Unfortunately I was unable to attend due to work commitments).

Since the meeting we have been trying to talk to as many people as possible about the various models for community libraries and we are considering our options.

Divided into three: ward boundaries

Blackfen is divided into three wards, cutting through the centre of the main shopping area: Blackfen and Lamorbey to the south, Penhill and Blendon to the east, and Falconwood and Welling to the north. It must surely be the most (politically) divided district in the Bexley Borough. This can make it difficult to address issues which affect Blackfen collectively. The Blackfen Forum was set up in 2004 to overcome this but it ceased to exist in 2010.

Blackfen Library is situated on Blackfen Parade in Blackfen Road, which is in the Penhill and Blendon ward. There are three Conservative Councillors for this ward: Graham D’Amiral, Steven Hall and Nick O’Hare.

Next door in the Blackfen and Lamorbey ward are Conservative Councillors Brian Beckwith and Peter Craske and UKIP Councillor Lynn Smith. There are three Conservative Councillors for Falconwood and Welling: Nigel Betts, Val Clark and Louie French.

That’s quite a lot of councillors for Blackfen to have overall. But will any of them support Blackfen’s library and help to secure its future for the people of Blackfen?

Blackfen and Lamorbey ward map. In fact the map, taken from Bexley Council's website in 2014, is an old one as it still shows the old library building in Cedar Avenue which closed in 2005.

Blackfen and Lamorbey ward map. In fact the map, taken from Bexley Council’s website in 2014, is an old one as it still shows the old library building in Cedar Avenue which closed in 2005.

Blendon and Penhill ward map

Blendon and Penhill ward map

Falconwood and Welling ward map

Falconwood and Welling ward map