Spending cuts threaten Blackheath fireworks

Crowd at Blackheath fireworks Photo:paul-simpson.org

This year a penny for the guy becomes a thing of the past, as Lewisham Council ask local residents to dig a bit deeper to help fund the Blackheath fireworks.

The annual fireworks display, which is the largest in South East London attracting around 80,000 people per year, has until now been a joint effort between Greenwich and Lewisham councils, but with big cuts to their grants from central government anticipated, Greenwich council have “reluctantly” pulled out of this year’s display, jeopardising what Londoners refer to as “an institution.”

The decision of Greenwich council not to fund the display has left Lewisham requiring public donations of £35,000 for the event to go ahead, with £10,000 raised since Lewisham Council launched its public appeal for donations on 14 September.

Sir Steve Bullock, the Mayor of Lewisham is backing the fundraising efforts, saying: “Money is tight at the moment as we all know. But I don’t want to see this event cancelled without giving people the chance to show their support. Just £1 each from everyone who attends would ensure that the skies sparkle as usual over the heath this year.”

Also backing the appeal is Matt Herrington, the Lewisham Fire Station Manager, who wants the display to go ahead, as it lessens the likelihood of people putting on their own displays. Mr Herrington said: “There is no doubt that well organised public displays are the safest way to enjoy fireworks…  on bonfire night fire-fighters already receive and attends twice as many calls than on an average day. Public displays prevent this figure from rising even further.”

A spokesperson for Greenwich council said: “The Council has reluctantly taken the decision not to fund the event this year, having been advised to anticipate up to 40% cuts to its grant, representing some £70m when the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review is published on 20 October. The Council is committed to maintaining front line services and has a strong track record of identifying efficiency savings, which has enabled us to freeze council tax in six of the last 12 years.”

Since this announcement a great deal of controversy has surrounded the decision, however there have been issues surrounding the cost of the Blackheath fireworks since 2008, when  Greenwich councillors were worried that Lewisham may withdraw funding from the event.

Blackheath councillor Alex Wilson said: “I think Greenwich Labour have been looking for an excuse to stop paying their share of the funding for years, and are now using government cuts as a cover. I think that this has been done without probably considering all the options.”

Some have suggested that Greenwich council could afford to continue supporting the fireworks, through cutting other expenditure. Cutting the fireworks saves the council £40,000, but Greenwich council spends £30,000 each year on the mayoral inaugural ceremony, an event many people see as a waste of time. Hannah West, 20, a Lewisham resident said: “Just give the mayor a packet of crisps to welcome him in, and let us have our fireworks!!”

Some have also pointed out that Greenwich council has also hired a PR firm to promote to tout non-council venues such as the Royal Naval College to Olympic sponsors, spending an estimated £80,000 on PR contracts, which could have paid for their share of fireworks for 2 years.

This has increased anger amongst some Lewisham residents. Lucy Wright, 38, of Brockley said: “It is outrageous that Lewisham are having to ask that public for money when Greenwich Council are spending so much money on trying to hire out buildings with nothing to do with them! I will of course donate some money to the firework appeal, as both my kids and I love going, it would be such a shame for it to be cancelled.”

The debate rages among local bloggers. The Blackheath Bugle blogger wrote: “It’s not that I mind Lewisham asking for money for this, it’s just that I find it hard to discover any examples of them running anything better than Greenwich.”

And Darryl Chamberlain, author of the South East London blog 853 wrote: “Why should Lewisham spend a wodge of taxpayers money on setting fireworks off right on the edge of its patch, meaning Greenwich residents… get a free show without even setting foot or spending cash in the blue borough.”

Others seem unfazed about whether the fireworks take place or not, with a post on the Brockley Central Blog saying: “Before the Blackheath fireworks display was established, we used to go to the display at Kidbrooke house in Westcombe Park, organised by the WestCombe society. A smaller but more fun event than the Blackheath show. It cost a few quid to get in and was therefore killed off when the Blackheath show was introduced. If Blackheath can’t now survive without public donations, then perhaps we will see the return of events organised by local societies. We’d much rather pay to support a small event on Hilly Fields, even if the bangs were less impressive.”

To encourage people to fundraise Lewisham council have posted money raising ideas, as well as ways to donate on their website at: http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/NewsAndEvents/News/RememberRemember.htm

The Blackheath fireworks are scheduled for Saturday the 6th of November at 8pm, however, should the event not go ahead, there are other firework events taking place along the East London Line.

Although Blackheath is the most well known display along the line, Crystal Palace is also a major Bonfire night player; with some even saying it is the “home of fireworks” in this country.

Fireworks first made an appearance in Crystal Palace in July of 1865, with a competition between two British firework makers. The event was a great success attracting 2000 spectators, and thus continued on until 1936 when the Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire. In the 70 years following the destruction of the Palace itself, over 70 firework displays have taken place, attracting more than 30 million visitors.

This year will be even more special, as the extravaganza will have two displays throughout the evening, a quiet and colourful display aimed specifically at children is to take place at 7pm, with the main display, which will be set to music, kicking off at 8.30.  Details can be found at: http://crystalpalacefireworks.webeden.co.uk/

Elsewhere on the line a fireworks display will take place at Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets, on Sunday the 7th November, at 7.30pm.

Keep checking East London Lines for more firework announcements as the ‘ day to remember’ nears.

3 Comments

  1. Gavin Jones October 19, 2010
  2. Angela Phillips October 19, 2010
  3. Vanity October 13, 2011

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