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Church patrols guide mums and toddlers through unlit park ‘plagued by drug users’ in Shadwell

PUBLISHED: 19:00 10 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:18 11 December 2018

Campaigners call for lighting at St George's Gardens which become pitch back after 4.30pm. Picture: Mike Brooke

Campaigners call for lighting at St George's Gardens which become pitch back after 4.30pm. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Volunteers are out every evening in Shadwell guiding people through the blacked out St George’s Gardens in their campaign for public lighting to keep people safe in the dark.

The light patrol... meet the volunteers who guide you through St George's Gardens at night. Picture: Citizens UKThe light patrol... meet the volunteers who guide you through St George's Gardens at night. Picture: Citizens UK

They have been calling on Tower Hamlets Council for two years to light the way and install lampposts in the park that’s plagued by drug users.

Mums collecting toddlers from nursery school and commuters heading home from Shadwell station feel unsafe.

Carol singing protesters waved a banner outside the station on Friday asking how many councillors it takes “to change a light bulb”—or more appropriately to install one.

The gardens have been a haunt of drug dealers, the council admits.

Even children joint parents in protest for lighting at St Goerge's Gardens. Picture: Mike BrookeEven children joint parents in protest for lighting at St Goerge's Gardens. Picture: Mike Brooke

So St George’s-in-the-East parish church and Citizens UK volunteers took a stab in the dark while waiting for the council to act and sent out patrols in high-visibility jackets with torches to guide people through the pitch back.

“We’ve been asking for lighting for two years,” assistant priest Angus Ritchie told the East London Advertiser. “We don’t want a situation where the park only gets lit up once something bad has happened.”

Parents collecting their children from Greengables nursery in St George’s crypt and commuters heading home from the station were being guided through the “black out” on the night the Advertiser joined them. It was genuinely pitch back, yet wasn’t even 5pm!

The new Rector, Fr Richard Springer, said: “We have 10 volunteers on rotation each evening because people feel unsafe.”

The campaign started in January last year when parishioner Phil Hogan sent an email to his local councillor pointing out “the rise in criminal activity in the pitch back” with commuters and children having to hurry through.

The campaigners received notice from the council’s Sport and Leisure director on November 16 that installing “a fixed lighting solution would require spending a large sum of money for just two hours a day during winter”. They were told that lights have “no proven impact on reported anti-social behaviour in the park which is mainly about drug use during daylight hours—not mugging or crimes against others”.

But now the mayor has stepped in following a meeting with the campaigners at his surgery with a promise of small solar lighting, all the council says it can afford.

Cllr Amina Ali wrote to him: “We can’t please everyone and money is tight.”

So the night patrols have been out again waiting for the solar panel lights to arrive—hopefully before winter ends.

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