Meet the Councillors: “We’re facing a catastrophic future. It’s climate suicide”

Councillor Sophie McGeevor Pic: Lewisham Council

As the dust of the General Election settles, the bins still need emptying and the schools still need running. Many know little about them and most don’t bother to vote for them, but local councillors wield huge power over everyday lives. Eastlondonlines has spoken to some of the individuals who are responsible for spending £96bn of your money.

Today, Celine Wadhera speaks to Sophie McGeevor, who is Lewisham cabinet member for the environment, waste and recycling, parks and green spaces and transport.

As you might imagine from her job title, Sophie McGeevor has a lot on her plate; especially when faced with a climate emergency, the Bakerloo line extension of the London Underground and a decade of budget cuts.

Luckily, the 33-year-old Lewisham councillor is fiercely passionate about her role and wholly committed to building a more resilient community.

Born and raised in Brockley, the same ward that she now serves, McGeevor left London to study history at Cambridge University and through the Erasmus programme in the Netherlands.

It was her experience in Leiden, the Netherlands, that sparked her passion for community, environment and liveable spaces, ultimately leading her towards public office. Being able to travel seamlessly by bicycle across neighbourhoods that were designed for people – not just cars – was an incredible experience.

“When I was in Leiden it didn’t matter. I could cycle with my shopping, and cycle in high heels. I never had to worry. It’s much more depressing in London, as the streets have not been designed for it.”

Describng herself as a “hyper-local” Brockley resident, with lifelong ties to her community through her parents, her husband, and now her young son, she was a proud Remainer and campaigned in 2016 alongside her parents for Lewisham Labour Party, shortly after returning from the Netherlands.

Her time abroad reinforced what it meant to be a part of the European community, and with friends across the European Union, she understands how important that sense of belonging is.

The timing of her return to London coincided with a Brockley councillor stepping down from Lewisham Council. When Labour asked if she would consider running, she agreed, but did not expect much to come of it.

But when the Party released a women-only shortlist for the seat ahead of the by-election, McGeevor says: “I knew that I was the best person for the job.” The voters agreed. McGeevor was elected to Lewisham Council in October 2016. She was re-elected in 2018 and promoted to the cabinet.

McGeevor speaks of the interconnected nature of her portfolio, and the ways in which making Lewisham more liveable depend on better access to public transportation, stronger parks, safer cycle paths, and an increase in available council housing.

She said that her greatest achievement to date was the creation of the Greening Fund. The fund recognises the work of local community groups in protecting and enhancing Lewisham’s environment, and aims to enable further improvements to the health and wellbeing of the borough’s residents.

Its funding is sourced from financial contributions negotiated from developers working in Lewisham and has provided more than £136,000 to community groups.

Reflecting on improvements realised through the fund, McGeevor says: “Being able to see the changes that you’ve made to your borough – across the parks that I grew up in – is very rewarding.”

However, despite the progress made across the borough, McGeevor is concerned about climate change. “We are facing a catastrophic future,” she says, “it’s climate suicide.” But all hope is not yet lost.

She was encouraged by the council’s declaration of a climate emergency earlier this year and says that she is inspired by the work of local climate activists across the borough.

In particular, she says Climate Action Lewisham and Extinction Rebellion have demonstrated how regular people connect with issues around climate change and are holding local authorities to account in order to build a more sustainable future.

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