Sunday, 10 January 2010

We Like To Help You Learn To Help Yourself

When Simon & Garfunkel sang those lyrics they weren't of course singing about the 'Big Freeze' (although their song about a married Mrs Robinson having an affair with her teenage lover is topical at the moment for very different reasons).

If the past few days of snow and freezing weather proven anything, however, it is that so many of us seem to have lost the ability to help ourselves.

We were all given plenty of notice that the bad weather was on the way yet whilst the hardy few were actively making preparations to cope with the snow, there were plenty more who were already prepared to surrender.

The pavements in Worcester Park, you will no doubt have noticed, are treacherously icy - impassible in many places. Up and down the country people are moaning that the Council has not gritted every side road, or the pavements of every minor residential road - and why did the Council not deal with the patch of ice that had gathered under my  front door mat etc etc?

Before the snow came, I gave you a link to Adrian Short's handy grit bin map of Sutton Borough. I made my way across the ice-rink pavements of Worcester Park this morning to check on stocks of rock salt in them - fully expecting every bin to have been completely emptied.

Instead I found several bins almost full to the brim with rock salt and so I set about gritting the pavements of my road. It took me a good hour and a half of traipsing back and forth to the salt bins, filling up containers and spreading the grit by hand but I managed to de-ice a considerable stretch of pavement.

There was no shortage of help and appreciation - from the young chap who helped shovel grit into buckets for me and the woman who me carry a particularly heavy load to the man who helped me haul some containers into the boot of may car and the neighbours who opened their front doors and thanked me for my efforts.

Meanwhile I hear some callers to radio phone-ins adamantly insisting that they will not be clearing or de-icing the pavements outside their homes as that is what they pay the Council to do.

Others insist that they will only do their bit if  they get a rebate on their Council Tax. I'm not precisely sure that I understand the logic of that argument. I cut my hand last November and applied a dressing to it - can I get a rebate from the NHS because I treated myself?

I appreciate that not everyone is in a position to scrape ice from their pavement or haul buckets of grit around. I am not suggesting that the octogenarians of Worcester Park strap snow chains to their mobility scooters and carry on regardless.

What I am surprised at though is the number of perfectly fit and able people who have lost the ability or simply the will to help themselves and others.

I know we pay high Council Tax (it pains me on a monthly basis) but since when did that translate to an expectation that the Council must do absolutely everything for us?

Perhaps if we were a bit less bloody-minded and a bit more civic-minded we would all be able to cope a lot better than we are currently.

16 COMMENTS (Add Yours Now!):

axlrocky said...

hear hear - I heartily agree, there was a real sense of community spirit in our little cul-de-sac as us fit and able bodies cleared the drives of the less able.

Italiastar said...

Well done!! - Unfortunately on the Kingston side the two bins I found were empty, but I did get some after the last bought of snow, so had enough to clear my bit. I've just logged in after clearing outside my house - OK not as public spirited as you, although I'm now minded to be. There are too many people who find excuses - health and safety, they might get sued, it's the council's job. At a time when finances are particularly stretched, do these people really think that councils have got money to spare to pay a load of overtime for people to clear the pavements? come on get real - the same people would be moaning about the greater cost to them and the fact the council is paying overtime to their staff. We should be grateful that grit has been provided and all clear outside our house (and that of others who cannot do it themselves). There's no quicker way of getting warm and getting some free exercise, in addition to talking to people who'd normally ignore you. it only took me about 10 minutes, but in that time, a driver gave me an appreciative thumbs up and two people waking past praised me for clearing the path - i hope that these three people went home and did he same. Come on - get out there - it's really easy to clear today, and make our journey to work and school easier and safer tomorrow. If you need to borrow a shovel, please ask.

Anonymous said...

Well done WP Blogger and well done to Adrian short for his useful blog. Your views are spot on.

Howeve, when the pavements were iced up before Christmas I decided to do the same as you. The children and I duly slipped and slided down to the grit bin at the junction of Langley Avenue and London road only to find the bin gone, despite it being on Adrians blog and google Streetview as well as being indelibly burnt into my geographical knowledge of the local area.

Habing discovered Adrian's blog via you, today I've tried the bin in the cemetary in Lindsay Avenue only to find it empty.

Fortunately the ice has thawed slightly allowing us to clear outside the house without it.

Keep up the good work


James said...

I quite agree that in an ideal Country residents would take responsibility for clearing the pavements outside their home (indeed it is their legal responsibility in parts of America). However, it is the fault of Government legislation that people do not do this.


In much the same way that you could get fined for passing through a red light to let an ambulance get past, or be prosecuted for defending yourself against an intruder in your home, you could be sued for attempting to de-ice pavements if someone then slips over.

“If you do nothing you cannot be liable. If you do something, you could be liable to a legal action.”

Of course all three of the situations are completely undesirable, but until the law is adjusted and we lose this "compensation culture", not many will be willing to put their necks on the line.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to, if it weren't for the fact that by taking action I would be making myself personally liable should anyone slip/trip and hurt themselves.

It is a shame, and a sad indictment of society today - but we live in litigious times and I for one am not willing to pay compo for some chump spraining a wrist.

Adrian Short said...

Well done for being proactive and gritting your streets yourself. It's also good to see that you had a hand from a few people.

A moment's thought tells us that we don't pay our council tax to have every street and pavement in the borough gritted and cleared every time it snows, though I'm sure someone could work out how much we'd have to add to our council tax to make this possible.

Provided people can get the grit (a story in itself) there should be no shortage of people able to help. There are 2.5 million unemployed people in this country for a start, let alone the vast numbers of working people who really could spare the time if they really thought it that important.

Bear in mind that some people are literally trapped at home by the ice and dare not venture out, while others will inevitably and sadly suffer falls and injuries that may permanently rob them of their mobility and independence.

An hour or two with a shovel once or twice a year really isn't too much to ask.

Adrian Short said...

Regarding the possiblity of being sued if you grit a street and then someone injures themselves, the very same John McQuater of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers completely contradicts what they were quoted as saying in the Telegraph (as quoted above) by what they said in the Guardian.

Full story here.

Italiastar said...

Well done to everyone who cleared the pavement - I was joined by someone else in my road - only another 100 odd to go ;).

I'm not a legal expert (and maybe we have one in our leafy suburb who could comment) but surely one would have to prove negligence, as opposed to a paving stone which slips easier than others (This applies to the new ones that have been laid in my road, uneven paving (lots of that here)or just the weather. If a person has taken all reasonable precautions, ie. cleaned it properly and used council supplied grit, I cannot see a problem - in fact I cannot see how anyone could slip on it either, so lets stop worrying and start clearing or well never achieve anything.

Worcester Park said...

I was expecting people to bring up the possibility of being sued for not clearing the snow/ice properly.

Let us remember, however, that there is a distinction between the letter of the law and the spirit/interpretation of it.

Of course personal injury legislation states that if you do something that causes another person to injure themselves then you can be held liable - but the interpretation of the law and how a court would view it is something quite different.

Let's say, for argument sake, that a member of the public were to give First Aid to someone injured in the street and were inadvertently to make their injury worse. The courts would (provided that person was not a paramedic, doctor or somebody in a position to know better) look sympathetically on the situation.

I would like to think/hope that the same would apply to anyone who was publicly spirited enough to clear the pavements outside their property.

Of course the H&S arguments were at the back of my mind as I was breaking sweat scattering grit and sweeping away the snow, but if we all roll over and give in to the H&S panic merchants then we are as good as condoning the very culture we bemoan.

Meantime I will continue to do my bit. The satisfaction I got from doing my bit and the knowledge that the elderly residents next to me could make it safely out of their flats far outweighed the Daily Mail concerns about being sued.

Kathie said...

In the absence of any information from Sutton Council or anyone else from government, I was not aware that residents were allowed to help ourselves to grit from the yellow bins. Without the information in WPB, I would have done nothing, as I assumed that anyone "raiding" the grit bins would be arrested! However, I did my bit for the local community today and cleared the snow from the pavement and road outside my house and gritted about 100 yards of pavement in my road. On the subject of being sued for personal injury, Vanessa Feltz spoke to a lawyer on BBC Radio London who said that it would be highly unlikely that anyone could be sued for negigence if they cleared the snow from their path/road in London.

Rick said...

Like Kathie, I was under the impression that the grit bins contained council grit, exclusively for council use - I suspect this is a common misconception, so thanks for putting us right!

However, now the word is out, I wonder how long it will be before an 'entrepreneur' empties every one and leaves a note in each, saying the contents are for sale on eBay?

Bear said...

My husband cleared both a pathway to our house and the pavement outside it and we used salt to keep it clear, however because our nearest grit bin is some way away, and without a car, we were not able to do much else. No-one else in our road had cleared any of the pavement, which has been quite dangerous in places. I am surprised that the council are not responsible for at least gritting the main and most used roads and the main street pavements.
I am all for helping ourselves but I also expect a certain service for the amount of money paid to the it true they sold the council owned gritters some years ago and now won't pay the contractors?

Adrian Short said...


The council have been saying for some time now that residents are not just permitted but encouraged to help themselves to the grit bins to help clear *public* streets/pavements. They could perhaps have been even more vocal about it but they've hardly made a secret of the fact, either on their own website or quoted in the Sutton Guardian.

Eg in today's cold weather update: "Residents have a vital role to play during extremely cold weather and we would encourage those who can, to make sure their neighbours (especially the elderly) are safe and well, report any empty grit bins to our contact centre and use these bins to grit the pavement outside of their home if they wish."

The updated link to my info on the legal situation whether you could get sued for gritting your own pavement is here.

BenjyP said...

Can I sue myself? I slipped over due to the poor job I did of clearing my own path, however the job I did on the pavement was considerably better and my back still hurts from the shovelling!

axlrocky said...

unhappy with the inept local services provided by sutton council? - get off your bums and vote this year at the next election rather than letting the usual low turnout mean that we get stuck with Burstow and the loony liberals for another 5 years!

Anonymous said...

Praise thee, Worcester Park blogger: gritter of our pavements, saviour of our small traders, unbiased reviewer of our restaurants.

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