My story starts in a prefab in Berthon Street in Deptford in 1965. According to my mother, I am at least the fourth generation of my family to come from Deptford. Both the Maslins and the Longs, my mother’s family, were well known in the community. As I get older, I realise how much my life has been shaped by my parents, George and Pat, and the choices they made.
They did not have the best start in life when they were born in the 1930s. My father was the cause of a shotgun wedding that was not happy and broke up acrimoniously after the War. My mother’s father was an itinerant Irish Labourer whom she never knew. My parents met at the local church, which was the Princess Louise Institute, became the Shaftesbury Christian Centre and eventually the Bear Church, in Frankham Street. They spent their whole lives in what they would have described as Christian service, running the church services and engaged in all kinds of activities for children and young people. Although both my parents died about five years ago, I am still coming across people in Deptford and New Cross who knew my parents and who tell me how they helped them. When I first was selected by the local Labour Party to be a candidate in the local elections, someone came up to me after the vote and told me, with a big smile on his face, that the only reason he voted for me was because I was the son of Pastor George Maslin.
When my parents were children and then young people attending the church, their leaders were a previous generation of children from Deptford who had, through hard work and aspiration, done well in their jobs and careers so that they could afford to buy their own homes and move out of Deptford. They would then commute back to the church to carry on working in the community. This generation of church leaders were examples to my parents. They showed that it as possible to have a different, better life from the one they knew. They showed them what self-improvement looked like. They gave them confidence to aspire to achieve more for themselves and for their family. Being in the church gave them optimism. So the ambition of my working class, Daily Mirror reading, Labour-voting parents was to better themselves by buying their own home and moving out of Deptford, whilst continuing their work in the church. Unfortunately the need to move to better accommodation came quicker than they had expected.
When my Mother was giving birth to me, I nearly died, but, thanks to the NHS in the form of Greenwich Hospital, I survived. However, I was always ill as a baby. My health was not helped by the fact that we lived in a prefab. Prefabs were very badly insulated which meant that they were freezing in the winter. Our poor housing culminated in my getting pneumonia. I was lucky to survive. After I recovered, the local doctor, Dr Whatman, told my parents that if they did not move to somewhere better, I would never be in good health. So my parents scraped together what they could, and just managed, with the help of a mortgage from Lewisham Council, if you can believe that once upon a time such things existed, to buy a small house in Crofton Park.
From there, my brother and I went to Stillness school and then on to Brockley County, a small boys’ school on Hilly Fields, now occupied by Prendergast College. I remember that while I was at school I had a sense of optimism about the future. I believed that if I worked hard I could go to university and get a good job. My parents would say that they did not get a good education. My father passed the 11 plus and could have gone to Addey & Stanhope or Askes’, like some of his church leaders whom he admired so much, but like so many of his generation, his parents would not let him go because they could not afford the uniform and did not see the point of it anyway. Although an avid reader and excellent preacher, his lack of what he believed was a proper education weighed on my father his whole life. Their experience meant that my parents highly valued a good education and consequently gave me every encouragement they could. So they were delighted when I won a place at Cambridge to study Economics, although they did not let it be known, as to them this would have been showing off. To them, ‘showing off’ was frowned upon as this could lead to pride and, to them, pride came before a fall.
My parents taught me, by example, what a privilege it was to serve others. So my plan was to become a Church Minister. I was very active in the Christian Union at University and then worked for a Mission Organisation in Senegal for a year. I then worked in the City for a couple of years to get some business experience which I thought would be useful. I left to help set up Revival Café and Hales Gallery in Deptford High Street in 1992 in a derelict shop that the Shaftesbury Christian Centre owned, as I was interested in urban renewal, economic development and the role that the Church could play in this. By the time the recession of the early 1990s came along Deptford had been suffering from economic decline for many years. Fortunately for us, it meant that we could get some help from the government to start our business. It is still going today, over twenty years later, in bigger and better premises in Shoreditch, but we could not have done it without the help of the Church in Deptford and assistance from the Council and the government.
After we started our business, I tried to help improve the area by becoming involved in the Deptford High Street Traders’ Association, Deptford City Challenge and the Deptford Business Development Association. Whilst I was working in these organisations, I was approached to stand for Labour in the 1998 local elections in Lewisham. I have been a Councillor for New Cross and Deptford ever since.
In truth, my background did not fire me with a burning ambition to succeed. Yes, I remember working hard at school to go to a good university, but my parents’ example taught me that worldly success can come at a high price and you can be satisfied and fulfilled with a decent job, a loving marriage, a healthy family and a home of your own. This will provide the sound platform for you to serve your community and help others to enjoy these things and make your life good. My parents chose to serve others through the church. I chose the Council because I realised that I was, as a neighbour said to Alan Bennett, ‘not a patch on your Father’!
My work on the Council has been driven by two principles. The first is, ‘whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your strength’. The second is to use your power to improve the lives of ordinary people, whose hopes, dreams and aspirations are, more often than not, simple, modest and ordinary. This is probably not the most inspiring political call to arms. It is not a well-crafted, intellectually rigorous ideology. It does not generate catchy slogans. But decent street lighting, well-kept parks and properly maintained streets are likely to mean more to residents than leaflets through their door telling them about ‘The Big Society’.
Whilst it would be a privilege to be Lewisham’s next Mayor, it would also be an onerous responsibility. Despite Labour’s better than expected showing in the recent General Election, austerity for local government continues. The Council has tens of millions of cuts still to make on top of the hundred plus already made. I feel I can meet the challenge of providing leadership at this very difficult time. I believe that political colleagues, while perhaps disagreeing with some of my views and approach, are sure that I can do the job. I am standing in this contest to give people the opportunity to back me.