1pm update: I’ve just got home (from the table tennis at ExCeL, natch) and found the latest edition of Greenwich Time on my doormat. This headline from the propaganda weekly shows the council’s reputation-first communications policy falling flat on its face – there’ll be a few hollow laughs in Greenwich town centre at this.

I couldn’t get to take a peek for myself, but from the tellybox Greenwich Park looked amazing during Monday’s cross-country event. The day that some predicted would end in crowd crush catastrophe and equine tragedy ended up as nothing of the sort. Instead, it was the best advert for the area since, er, that ITV documentary with John Sergeant the other night. And across south-east London, thousands of people felt their hearts swell with pride as our park – our park, not just belonging to those who live adjacent to it – took on a new identity, and was showed off to the world.

No mysterious holes opening up in the ground, no sewer collapses, no shortages of water, and no bio-terrorist attack requiring the evacuation of an area stretching out to Charlton for several years. All these things seriously predicted by opponents of the Greenwich Park Olympics, still trying to bully local correspondents up until the day of the event. All those things didn’t come to pass, and they’ve been left looking silly, despite their efforts to bully local correspondents for not agreeing with them.

Yet one widespread worry has come to pass – a dramatic drop in trade in Greenwich town centre, as stewards encourage people to go straight between venues and transport hubs. There may well be tourist jam tomorrow, as the coverage encourages visitors, but it’s a thin gruel in central SE10 right now, it seems.

What struck me was the defensive Greenwich Council quote in the BBC’s story from Monday, pinning the blame on LOCOG, just has it has done for the ongoing parking permit mess in this staggeringly self-serving page on its website. That’s the same LOCOG it spent years snuggling up to, of course.

But the council only seems to have reacted once BBC London came calling on Monday, when it could have utilised its clout to help local firms earlier. It’s recruited an army of volunteers, ostensibly to help visitors to the borough (on top of LOCOG’s Games Makers and City Hall’s London Ambassadors).

They’ve been employed to give out a free newspaper called Games Extra, a thinly-disguised copy of The Greenwich Visitor, the free monthly which has proved local papers can still have some life in them. There’s been restrictions on what people can hand out around venues, but the council appears to be exempt.

Instead of advertising in GV, the council decided to compete with it. Like GV, it has a map of local attractions in the middle. It even uses similar headline fonts and has an ad for a skip firm at the foot of its front page. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but not when it’s trying to barge out a locally-run business.

The volunteers have also been handing out leaflets promoting the borough’s attractions as a whole, prefaced by none other than an introduction from council leader Chris Roberts.

All this is part of Greenwich’s terrible habit of prioritising boosting the council’s reputation over anything else. Hence its readiness to point blame anywhere but at itself, its notoriously slow press office, the weekly doses of bull in Greenwich Time, the “Royal Greenwich” banners, and the referring to itself as “the royal borough” like a pound shop Kensington & Chelsea.

This disastrous strategy has finally come to pass during the Olympics. Only a fool would read too much into what goes out on Twitter, but it’s a handy snapshot of the council’s communications policy. Rather than use the short-message medium to promote local businesses, it has provided a running commentary on gold medals won in the borough (other news organisations are available) and retweeted messages warning people to avoid public transport. Clearly the intention was to show off the borough as an exciting place packed to the gills with crowds. But on the other side of the coin, having read all these messages emphasising how busy the place was, who can blame potential visitors to Greenwich from staying at home?

This added to TfL’s notorious messages of doom and gloom – the hated Boris Johnson announcements are now being silenced – while several years of predictions of chaos from certain quarters can’t have helped either.

Thankfully, during Tuesday, Greenwich belatedly started using Twitter to promote local shops, and a meeting was held yesterday to hammer out just what the council can do to help improve things for Greenwich’s shops. Hopefully, this is what’s brought about the barriers coming down. Although the council’s statement still reeks of chest-beating – if the council is frustrated with TfL, why was it retweeting its messages of transport doom and gloom?

A more bizarre situation is the terrible fate of the Peninsula Festival, which has now decided to close its site until 5 August. On Monday night at 9.45, it was closed, dark and deserted.

So much for the £50,000 Greenwich Council coughed up for its community big screen – why wasn’t this promoted by the council’s volunteers standing outside the North Greenwich Arena, handing out council PR material? The place has been the busiest I’ve ever seen it – yet those crowds aren’t going anywhere beyond the cable car station.

This isn’t the time for blame, though. This is the time to put things right. So, what can the council do to rescue matters? What it should have done all along. It should put itself in the background and put local business in front.

No Olympic visitor gives a damn about what’s happening at a school in Kidbrooke – but they do want to know where they can get something to eat, something to drink, somewhere to watch the rest of the action and where they can buy some a present for the folks back home. Something bespoke for each of the three venues – Greenwich, North Greenwich, and Woolwich – would do the trick. It has volunteers to hand out this information – and they can also hand out flyers.

It’s time to bin the council PR, and get doing PR for local businesses instead. It’s time to pull together and support Greenwich’s businesses. Wednesday’s a rest day for the equestrian contests – but Thursday or Friday would also be a good time to visit. Or Saturday, Sunday, Monday…

Greenwich has always suffered from a lack of a common purpose – traders often competing against each other, and the council and landlords pulling in different directions. Hopefully some lessons will be learned, and this experience will forge a real sense of unity in SE10.

16 replies on “Greenwich and the Olympics: The profit and loss account”

  1. Whilst I appreciate the logisticial problems of getting thousands of people to and from Greenwich train station to the park, without causing a complete traffic / pedestrian snarl up, I find it extraordinary that not one person from the Council (or indeed LOCOG, although they obviously can’t be relied upon to give two hoots for local business) seems to have looked at the Greenwich road barrier plans in advance and asked the question “if this is where the barriers are, how are people supposed to find the market”? Not one person. It’s not rocket science to look at plans and ask questions about practical implications, although this is clearly not one of the Council’s strong points. One gets the sense that LOCOG says “jump” and the Council says “how high?” without checking to see where they might land. And as for the Council’s self-serving “it’s not our fault” responses to the resulting muddles that are surely their job to prevent from happening or at least mitigate to the best of their abilities under the circumstances…well…

  2. Do you reckon there’s any chance of getting that fifty grand back? I mean – if there’s no screen, the contract hasn’t been honoured. That’s the equivalent of more than one and a half Blackheath Fireworks, or, if you want to talk in Council-speak, Mayoral induction ceremonies…

  3. Get Greenwich provides traders with a free place to promote their events and offers on a mobile app, and as it provides users with a free 7 day taster all visitors can take advantage of it. Why not promote that as an offer truly supporting business in Greenwich brought to you by a business in Greenwich.

  4. It’d be interesting to know what the Big Screen on Blackheath has cost Lewisham – I’d guess it’s delivering much better value to them than the Peninsula Festival is to Greenwich (and it’s provided some additional opportunities for local traders).

  5. This is what happens when you have a Council Planning Board that does not understand Town Planning. Greenwich Councils is particularly bad. I have heard Councillors purr with excitement over an application before they have even decided on it’s approval throwing all objectivity out the window. Remember the Cruise Terminal that would be open in time for the Olympics? Councillor Denise Hyland all but got up and cheered for the application. Calling it “World Class” and enthusing over it before any decision had been made and in turn influencing other members on the committee. And where is this World Class Terminal? Who knows.

    The same committee has managed to approve a Nandos footsteps away from the historical Cutty Sark.Not something that would have been in keeping with the area or it’s famed neighbour but a Nandos. The Council is embracing such applications with gus£o and cannibalising what is good and works in Greenwich.

    Greenwich Council are more interested in being a Royal Borough than being a People’s Borough. I guess they will approve the Silvertown Tunnel and bring Greenwich to a standstill. They have not uttered a world about Heathrow Jets flying over Greenwich park and they impact they will have – a situation that may get much worse to the point that the park will soon be under a constant thunder of plane noise.

    I hope all the local business can rally and local people get out there and support them. Good Luck to them.

  6. Perhaps we should wait until the games are actually over, so we can see for ourselves how much damage – or not – has been caused to the park.

  7. Darryl – a very useful analysis. I am pleased with the contribution Greenwich Borough (not the Council) is making towards the success of these Olympics. It is a shame we have so little leadership that is pragmatic and sensible. Any other Council would have raised these issues with LOCOG already and got some action. Why on earth are we preventing visitors to Greenwich from going to our fantastic market? It took pressure from the Charlton Society to get even the merest signs at Charlton Station (shame the banner poles didn’t get used). I contrast this with the non-Olympic borough – Lewisham. The Big Screen at Blackheath and some good promotional activity in other parts of its borough. Perhaps this wil mean no knighthood for a certain someone after all … or are they not awarded on merit?

  8. Anyone remember New Years Eve 1999? Same story back then. Stories of congestion, overcrowding and over managing the event. We all had to get wristbands in advance to be allowed access and beat the crowds. As it turned out the town center was completely desolate and bereft of any atmosphere because everyone had been scared off.

    They never learn.

  9. A friend that was there on Monday was directed on to a Blackheath train from Waterloo East. I had told her to go to Maze Hill but she said that a marshall said only Kent bound trains were stopping at Maze Hill. Is that correct? Anyway they went in and out via Blackheath station but said they were told to stop for a drink in Blackheath but too tired to after the whole day.

  10. The contrast between the big screen at Blackheath and the peninsula festival couldn’t get much greater. It’s a shame but I think the boat has been well and truly missed by now. Perhaps I’ll be proved wrong, but at the moment I’ll be surprised if it even opens on 5th, or at all. What a missed opportunity!

    As for Greenwich centre, I’m a regular visitor but have been completely put off going up there during the Olympics by warnings of overcrowding and transport doom.

  11. Yes, that article in Greenwich Pravda made me laugh. As did the piece on the same page about the new play sculpture in Charlton Park. Apparently it opens today, and people “were able to use it from the middle of July”. Well, I pass it every day and as of 1pm today it was still fenced off. Looks like they used Photoshop to doctor the photo to make it look finished.

  12. Well, I walked through and around Greenwich from the foot tunnel past Cutty Sark DLR to the overground train station on Tuesday at about 3.30pm and there didn’t seem to be barriers barring people from going anywhere. I saw I could easily have walked into the market. For that time on a Tuesday afternoon the (independent, Yay!) restaurants looked pretty busy too. All good.

    There does seem to be a lot of scare-mongering about the crowds. On my commute from Plumstead into Canary Wharf via Greenwich every day I have had little problem (excepting the usual Southeastern incompetency). I had a carriage all to myself on Tuesday morning from Greenwich into Canary Wharf on the DLR.

    Enjoying the atmosphere all around though! Looking forward to seeing some shooting in Woolwich on Saturday. Eh – hum. No jokes please!

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