Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Feminist comedian to take centre stage at Wandsworth Arts Festival

This feature can also be found on the South West Londoner, here.

Rosie Wilby has been putting in an appreciated queer feminist angle into stand-up, music and filmmaking since she was at university, and her experiences are coming together in her new performance at the Wandsworth Arts Festival this Thursday.
Called Nineties Woman, she talks about her self-identification as a feminist and the newspaper she worked on at university, in a mash up of live performance and documentary.
Studying at the University of York, the campus fostered a wide range of student publications, and started working on Matrix, a 'zine' for women.
Zine culture (short for 'fanzine') revolves around amateur production magazines dedicated to specific interests. Because of the low barrier to entry, it meant that people who felt that their demographic or interests weren't reflected in professional media could still get their voices heard.
"It was very much put together in a lo-fi DIY style which seems appropriate, as there was a huge fanzine scene at the time which has now come back," she said.
Matrix featured a mixture of heavy topics of body image and sexual harassment, but also had cartoons.
At the time, the riot grrrl movement was popular in the feminist scene and heavily related to zine culture. Taking a harder, punk rock edge, riot grrrl media focused heavily on sexuality and empowerment in a counter to the endless reams of boy band pop at the time.
"We weren't really listening to riot grrl bands when we put [Matrix] together," said Rosie. "It was more folk lesbian acts like the Indigo Girls.
"When I got to London after graduating, I realised that some really exciting challenging musical things were going on."
Beyond Nineties Woman, Rosie Wilby works in her self-identity into most of her stand up. She said that, coming from a generation where being gay defined who you were and the company you kept, it featuring in her comedy was inevitable.
She noted that things have changed and sexuality isn't so much of a core identity issue these days which, in her opinion, is both a good and bad thing. Still, she wants to keep her stand-up accessible to everyone, regardless of sexuality and gender.
"Love is universal, after all," she said.
Outside of her performances, Rosie is still heavily involved in queer media. Back in 2011, she co-wrote and co-stared in The Bride and Bride, shown at the BFI Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Her radio show, Out in South London, was one of the sponsors for this year's festival.
She said: “I enjoyed it, particularly the widening focus to include more trans and gender queer work. Though this may mean they need to change the name of the festival.”
In the future, Rosie looks forward to a resurgence of queer voices in media, both from zines and larger-scale publications. She said that a mixture of both in-depth writing was needed among more lifestyle and entertainment publications, though they still have their place.
Out in South London airs on Resonance 104.4FM every Tuesday at 6.30pm

High Street Blues: Balham residents voice concern over rise of betting shops

This feature can also be found on the South West Londoner, here.

“Balham is my 'village' and I use it daily for shopping, dining and community engagement,” said Kevin Fitzpatrick of Fieldhouse Road, Balham.
“The addition of yet another betting shop will add nothing positive.”
He's talking about a planning application submitted by Coral Bookmakers on May 2. The proposed location is on Balham Station Road, replacing a dry cleaners and directly next to The Moon Under Water pub.
What's more, a gambling arcade, Cashino, is just down the road. The close proximity of these businesses is giving both shop owners and residents a cause for concern.
Have you recently noticed an increase in certain types of stores on your high road? Odds are, you’ve seen new charity shops, betting shops and chicken take-aways sprouting everywhere. It’s no coincidence, it’s happening all across Britain.
In a report made by PricewaterhouseCoopers, between December 2012 and February 2013, 77 new betting shops opened across Britain - and presently there are almost 9,000 in total.
It’s got to the point where betting shop companies are apparently fighting between themselves to take high street shop fronts. However, aside from the owners of these businesses and their landlords, very few people are pleased to see new bookmakers appearing.
Deborah Suggate filed a complaint about the planning notice. "It already feels like running a gauntlet of drunks when passing by," she wrote.
She added that the placement of the Coral Bookmakers is deliberate, to prey on vulnerable people who frequent the pub and the gambling arcade.
However, there’s little any of those who disagree can do about it – and it all comes down to how planning works.
A Class Act
All buildings in the UK have a Use Class dictating the use of the building. Retail is in one class, restaurants and cafes are in another, and so on. You require planning permission to change land from one class to another, which can be denied, if the local authority feels it’s a bad idea.
However, you can convert a building to anything in the same class without having to ask permission. The problem is, betting shops are categorised so they’re in the same class as a lot of different business types – so anything from restaurants to estate agents to banks can be turned into a betting shop.
Fortunately, the Balham dry cleaners that Coral wants to convert is of a different Use Class, forcing the company to go through the Wandsworth Council planning department. Still, many councils are looking into possible solutions to stop betting shops (and other overly common businesses) from going out of control.
An On-going Fight
The Greater London Authority put out a report in March showing concern for the increased rate of shops closing on high roads. It cites shop diversity as a requirement for good high street growth, and suggests that borough councils gain stronger planning powers to limit too many of the same kind of business from appearing.
The only defence councils have against betting shops is something called the ‘Article 4 direction’. The rough idea is arranging a zone under special circumstances, where certain types of building changes are required to submit a planning application, even if they wouldn’t otherwise.
It won’t surprise you that getting clearance for an Article 4 is lengthy, expensive and fraught with headaches.
In another borough of London, Merton Council did research into how severely betting shops were affecting them. Funnily enough, Merton has one of the lowest concentrations of betting shops in London.
"It's important to have a diverse high street,” said Councillor Andrew Judge, a cabinet member for environmental sustainability and regeneration.
 “It's equally important that Merton's town centres meet the needs of our residents and visitors.”
But councils are starting to fight back against the seemingly unstoppable surge of unfavourable businesses. Multiple borough councils across London have backed the idea of giving betting shops their own Use Class, forcing them to go through the planning committee and giving councils and the public a chance to refuse.
Mayor Boris Johnson is even trying to haul in the reins of betting shop proliferation by demanding a change to the Gambling Act 2005, which presently does nothing to prevent clustering of gambling establishments.
With Concerns Elsewhere
However, Wandsworth Council seem to be less concerned about the subject.
“From a planning perspective, it hasn’t appeared to be an issue,” said Sarah Dixey, of Wandsworth Council planning department.
“Take-aways are more of a concern.”
Similar to Merton Council, Ms Dixey considered Wandsworth to have a low concentration of betting shops, though a precise figure wasn’t given. As such, they have no present interest in backing the lobby to have the law for the betting shop Use Class changed.
“Our town centres are reasonable successful, with low numbers of vacancies,” she added.
They do use the Article 4 direction, but for something entirely other than high street management – the direction allows for them to conserve designs on older houses.
So will the voices of the public be heard? Possibly. For standard planning applications, Wandsworth has an average turnaround of eight weeks. At time of writing, that means there are another four weeks for concerned locals to have their say.

Fulham pub closes after feeling unfairly targeted by police

The full page for this story is available here. (Quark will only export as a .pdf, apologies.)

A pub on Goldhawk Road has closed after being met with heavy licensing restrictions, despite members of staff feeling they have been unfairly targeted.

The Raving Buddha, specialising in live DJ and open mic nights, held their last event, a ragga and dancehall night, on Saturday 25 May.

The pub, had a ruling on from the Hammersmith & Fulham Council Licensing Sub-Committee. They said that it was ‘associated with serious crime and disorder’; due to police picking up on three separate instances in one month.

The recent incidents included an arrest of a customer wanted for assault who was carrying seven rocks of crack cocaine; two men arrested on a separate incident with Class A drugs; and three arrests in one evening for GBH.

However, one of the bar staff the Raving Buddha feels that the business was unfairly targeted by the police, when there are other pubs on the road which may also suffer from crime.

Natalia Eagle, 21, said "The police bullied us!"

Taking issue with the first incident - the man wanted for assault - she said that the police were at the Raving Buddha by chance, and happened to see their target inside; as opposed to police chasing the man to the pub (which, she claims, the council statement and local news coverage implied).

The man was on a list of people the staff know to throw out on sight, but he was let in by the bar security. The pub has since switched security companies.

Ms Eagle felt that since the Raving Buddha is has fewer resources to defend itself; the police are making an example of them, when there are instances of pub-related problems in other areas.

"They think that this pub is the reason that people do drugs," said Ms. Eagle. "It's really stupid and deluded."

In light of having their License suspended, the Raving Buddha was given strict guidelines to follow in regards to CCTV usage and customer entrance numbers.

While the council do uphold that venues in the borough should follow key licensing objectives, the scrutiny that Raving Buddha was put under is a unique instance.

Nearby pub, the Walkabout Inn on Shepherds Bush Road, is also known by the police to have violent customers and now does not open on Sundays, following a policy change in February imposed by the police.

Other pubs on Goldhawk Road have been closed down over the last year. The Goldhawk Tavern was closed last November, and was reportedly sold to a developer to become offices; though no change has yet been made.

The Grand Union pub at the end of Goldhawk Road has been closed for the last year after relocating to a new venue in Wandsworth. The land has since been bought, and there are plans to turn the venue into a European gastropub, to open in late May. There is little visible sign of refurbishment on the site.