Sitting in the vibrant Café Forever in the corner of St John’s estate, Maggie Phillips thinks carefully about the secret of a good community network. “In a community you need groups that hold hands, and support each other,” she explains, “otherwise you get groups or people who want to do something good, but maybe don’t have the experience, local knowledge or understand the history, so don’t always know the most effective way to do things.
“And we may be the old wrinklies, but there should always be room for the people who have worked hard for the community over the years!” She may be a great-grandmother, but Maggie remains as active in Island life – and as passionate about St John’s estate – as ever. Chair of the St John’s Tenants & Residents’ Association (TRA), Secretary of the Association of Island Communities, trustee director of the Docklands Sailing Centre and a trustee of Mudchute Farm, she also helps to run a number of activities including football training, ballet classes, and health awareness and keep fit for the over 50’s (and is quick to thank One Housing for funding some of the activities).
Born in Poplar, Maggie moved onto St John’s with her husband and three children in 1968. “When we arrived the Blue Bridge had been knocked down, and they were just about to replace it, so I used to walk the locks to get a bus into the city, where I was working.” Her children all went to St Edmunds: “My kids had a very happy childhood on the Island,” adds Maggie, who has fond memories of her children enjoying barge trips along the Thames, and family fairs at Tower Bridge. “What happens at home is so important. Me and my husband both went out to work, and while we would support the kids as much as we could, they understood the value of money.”
When the TRA was launched in 1986, Maggie agreed to help by taking meeting notes and writing letters; five years later, she became Chair. She is understandably proud, not only of the achievements of the TRA, but also of the estate itself, and the many community groups and people who’ve played an active role.
“We’ve worked through all different kinds of things, with the council, with the LDDC, Canary Wharf Plc and others. We’ve always had to fight for what we needed on the estate, to make a good case for funding, but the things we’ve managed to push for, such as the park, have been well worth it. “The TRA has also been involved in a lot of planning issues. For example, although Wood Wharf is only just beginning to be built by Canary Wharf Group, it’s been quite a few years since we were involved in the first consultative meetings.
“And we’re still pushing. We pushed hard for an independent stock survey, which we got, and we’ve been involved in the exhibitions for that. And at the next TRA meeting, a representative from Hunters, the independent assessors who carried out the condition survey, will be coming along to talk to members and answer their questions. “Although I’m the Chair, I’m very lucky, because I’ve worked with a lot of people on the committee for a long time.” However, not all the changes over the years have been positive. “I’m really concerned about the lack of police on the streets, particularly because of anti-social behaviour,” says Maggie.
“I’d like to see more family homes being built – proper family housing, rather than 50-storey blocks of flats. And I think transport is a problem on the Island, because although a lot of new developments include things like schools and doctors surgeries, they don’t really improve the transport system.”
But overall, Maggie remains very positive about Island life, and the strength of the community. “The Island is still a very nice place to live, St John’s estate especially,” she adds. “The 4 Estates Forum is very successful, very together, and working with someone like Mike Tyrrell, who has so much experience and know-how, is a real advantage. “We’ve always had some very sound community people, and there are a lot of them still working with us; they still have the summer barbecue and Christmas party, and they help to fund some of our activities. “So there’s still a strong sense of community, particularly on St John’s.”