Rev’ Patrick Forbes and the Ministry of Mad Ideas
The Ministry for Mad Ideas
Patrick Forbes and his family (Annette and young son Stephen) were amongst the First Families to move into Coraline Walk (no 4) in Thamesmead in the late 60s. Patrick moved to Thamesmead to take up the post of curate at the William Temple Church and later became team vicar of Thamesmead, a role similar to that of a community chaplain taking a lead on community development. In an oral history interview conducted in December 2020, Patrick said of the role; ‘I became Team Vicar — with special responsibility for community work….I called it the Ministry for Mad Ideas’.
Patrick Forbes in the community radio studio — Thamesmead InSound
‘Everything for worship in a couple of supermarket carrier bags.’
In the same oral history interview Patrick and Annette recalled arriving in Thamesmead to find nothing there. ‘There was nothing here then. I think the surgery operated out of a portacabin … everyone had to go across the railway line for shops.’ Although challenging aspects of this early period were recalled with some fondness. Prior to the building of the Church of the Cross and St Paul’s Ecumenical Centre, ‘for worship we used an old people’s club room…behind Coralline walk [we] looked back on those days with a great deal of affection. It only cost us a pound to rent it for an hour on a Sunday and we could take everything we needed for worship in a couple of supermarket carrier bags.… a sort of mobile church, but it worked.’
Like landing on the Moon. Without a life support system.
In the absence of shops and general community infrastructure one of Patrick’s first initiatives was the development of a community newsletter as a way of making sure the residents had a voice and were able to communicate effectively. The very first newsletter Mesmedaath (an anagram of Thamesmead) was published in 1969 — typed by hand and then photocopied and distributed to the earliest residents.
In this, the third copy of the newsletter, (left) topics covered include the issues with the GLC, children’s play areas, damp (a theme that appears in many future newsletters) the Wives Club, dentists and the Thamesmead Community Association Meeting amongst other things. Also referenced is the preview of the Thamesmead 1970 film which can been viewed here.
One of the first copies of the Thamesmead community newsletter initially called Mesmedaath. This was hand-typed, copied and distributed in Feb 1970
Later Mesmedaath was replaced by Insight, a newspaper printed by the Kentish Independent. The first issue (right) was distributed in May 1970. Stephen Forbes — just two and a half at the time — is pictured on page four.
Page three features an interview with Helga Trotsken, a German minister for the Protestant Church of Germany, working in Thamesmead at the time. Her interview talks about the lack of colour in area, ‘Sometimes I travel to London. I see colours, some painted houses. Colours have not been planned for Thamesmead.’ This theme of the planners and their vision for Thamesmead versus the residents and their views was still keenly felt by Patrick even in 2020. Of the GLC and the rejection of the idea of colour and resident involvement in decision making, Patrick was indignant, ‘they [the GLC] didn’t bloody live at Thamesmead.’
Insight Newsletter May 1970. Issue 1
Another of Patrick’s initiatives was a community radio station. Initially Patrick had been keen on exploring the idea of community television but it transpired the licence and cost would make the idea impossible. However, community radio was an option and on hearing that there was a deadline at the Home Office, who were looking for ‘Six idiots, fools, to apply’ [for community radio licences], and that the deadline was the following day Patrick dropped everything and submitted an application. ‘Six months later to my horror I got the license…and I thought oh ****.’
Initially called Thamesmead InSound the station received funding from the Queen’s Jubilee Fund for the initial equipment and start up. Run from a small office in the church the station played a critical role in community communication in Thamesmead.
Early in the station’s infancy Patrick was a real driving force taking much into his own hands. In his oral history interview he recalled remedying the issue of echoey acoustics by cladding the walls with cork tile — fixed with a petroleum based adhesive. It was only after a fire officer visited the following week that he realised how lucky he was not to have blown the church up.
Newspaper article covering the launch of InSound. Pictured are (left) Jaqui Knott, Maureen Barnes and Patrick Forbes. Note the picture caption incorrectly identifies Jaqui and Moreen.
I thought, maybe on reflection, God is in favour of community radio.
Perhaps one of the most enduring legacies of Patrick’s many projects and initiatives was and is Trust Thamesmead. ‘I had the wild idea that a place like Thamesmead needed some organisation set up legally, the basis of which would be to find ways of encouraging people to dream wild dreams and then the trust would then help those dreams to birth.’
Set up as a company and a charity the Trust secured support from an initiative run by Nat West Bank to provide financial expertise. As as result, allocated to the Trust was an experienced financial manager, ‘Eddie Symonds who knew all about money and forms and tax….all that stuff that I knew nothing about.’
A review paper looking at the first eight years of Trust Thamesmead, the progress made and projects supported as well as a list of affiliated groups in Thamesmead at time of publication.
One of the Trust’s first projects, supported by Eddie, was the conversion of the spaces under Harrow Manor Way — the area inhabited by The Link and Thamesmead Gym today — a waste area, in Patrick’s opinion likely only to get clutter with ‘rusty bedheads’ or worse. Securing financial support from a job creation scheme and ‘beg, borrowing and appealing’ for materials the Trust converted the area into three spaces and awarded them to three community groups — the Football Club, Art Club and Good Neighbours scheme for furniture storage.
Later in 1979 the Trust appointed a full-time member of staff Mary Chambers giving the charity dedicated community engagement and fundraising capacity.
Although there were many projects raised by the Trust perhaps the most notable is Thamesmere Swimming Pool. Following a feasibility report (called SPOT Swimming Pool for Thamesmead, named after the community campaign by the same name) £1.4m was grated to the Trust by the GLC.
Above is a report of the period 1976 – 1984 covering this and some of the other achievements of the Trust in its earliest years.