It was time to march again. On a bright, sunny Saturday in January, hundreds, no¬†thousands, assembled in the centre of Lewisham to march past Lewisham Hospital, and on to Mountsfield Park. They were marching to defend themselves from having to share one accident and emergency department with 750,000 people by fighting against the closure of Lewisham Hospital including its new accident and emergency department, intensive care, maternity and children’s services.

They were determined to save Lewisham hospital by influencing health secretary, Jeremy Hunt’s final decision. Not so easy. Comments made during the consultation period and the groundswell of public and medical opinion had been largely ignored so far.

I joined the march at Ladywell, expecting to be somewhere near the back. Actually, I was easily in the front quarter. Ahead, I could see the purple balloons of Unite: behind was a long procession of predominantly red banners. Everyone was very upbeat. Cars on the opposite side of the road hooted in support. Those unable to walk far lined the pavement to cheer the marchers on. There was street theatre, choirs and drummers along the way to keep us entrained.

Suddenly, we were passing the hospital we were trying to save. Staff, presumably on their lunch break, had come out to watch the march and cheer us on. It was a poignant moment. We were marching to save not just their jobs but their life’s work. We waved to each other, and the marchers passed on.

As we walked up George Lane, I began to realise the breadth of people who had turned out: the unions, health workers, “professional protesters” and Joe Public; parents with their kids, many claiming to have been helped or had their lives saved by Lewisham hospital. As well as children in slings or pushchairs, I saw people in wheel chairs, on crutches or using walking sticks, some coloured white. Many carried homemade banners. Local organisations had been invited to adopt a banner and many carried banners bearing the name of their business or community organisation. Not only was it good publicity, it was good to know that they were standing with us.

We reached the park gates and started the slow procession into the park itself. Information and food stalled lined the route. Portaloos¬†had been provided for those who needed them. Stewards urged people onto the grass and to make their way down to the specially erected platform. It was at this point that I parted company with the main march. Grannies don’t do mud, and I followed the other oldies round the park and out the next gate. I felt bad. So near, yet so far.

But I’m glad I did. As I started back down George Lane, I faced the remaining marchers still coming up the hill. Some were tired and could barely put one foot in front of the other. Others were in groups laughing and talking with their friends. The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly. I rounded the corner into Lewisham High Street – still they were coming! It was unbelievable. I stopped to chat to friends and urge them to complete the march. The cars were still tooting their support and the staff at Lewisham hospital were still out in the cold waving and cheering everyone on.

Finally, by St Mary’s Church a dozen or so Police brought up the rear. Thanks guys for everything you did to help us. Thanks to the drivers who patiently sat in their vehicles while the march went by. Thanks to those who had to wait for their delayed buses. Thanks to the organisers and those who helped to get the word out, including local councillors and local and national media. And special thanks to you if you marched, made banners, tweeted and were part of that procession, estimated to consist of twenty five thousand people.

Whatever the outcome, we are part of the changing history of the NHS.


Snow kindness

Snow brings out the best in people, that world war togetherness that you don’t see every day.

Helped by Twitter and Facebook I can know the most up to date snow status and what my neighbours are doing. I can share their travel frustrations and celebrate their snow creations. Having seen one snowman on Twitter, I was delighted to recognise it on BBC News – fame for the local park.

My neighbour pops out as I am putting out the rubbish to make sure I’m alright. She’s older than me, so I should be asking her. Between us, we keep the shared front path clear of snow and clear the pavement outside our respective houses.

If only other people would clear the snow outside their homes and businesses. Some boroughs have snow friends, wardens or buddies who check on neighbours and keep the pavements clear. My borough is trialling a snow warden scheme. I hope it goes borough wide next year.

Imagine my joy and delight then when I went to Playgroup in another borough. I am the person who gets the key and I was contemplating the slippy two minute walk down the road to get it. I looked down the length of pavement in front of me. A path had been cleared down the centre of the pavement! I thought neighbours had got together to do it – it’s that kind of street, but no. The borough sponsored snow warden had single handedly cleared the path himself. It made my day.

Later, I was at my daughter’s house. A man appears and starts clearing and salting their driveway. Turns out he’s a neighbour who just wanted to bless the family. Using text messaging, his wife and my daughter had got together when the snow started and had taken their children down to the park for some sledging fun. Apparently, the mums commandeered the kids’ sledges and had races down the slope while the bemused kids looked on!

So three cheers for the neighbours who go the second mile. Let’s not forget the street cleaners and gritters who have been going out time and time again to clear and grit the pavements and roads so that we can travel safely. You’re all snow heroes!