Trying and failing to social distance in Woolwich

A number of people have contacted me recently highlighting how they’ve found it increasingly difficult to social distance in Woolwich over recent days as numbers in the town centre increase.

Are we seeing the lockdown failing here? I’ve now been (yes it was essential) and it was certainly busy. I was a bit taken aback even when told to expect a fair few people.  But we have no idea and whether people could be making essential trips. That wasn’t really the issue. It’s how design changes could be made to assist people. There’s places where wide roads could see a lane close to permit more space to pedestrians:

Narrow paving and wide road

Some work is being undertaken in parts of London such as in Hammersmith and Fulham:

It could be that authorities that already place importance on improving streets for pedestrians have an embedded culture and structures in place to act. Hammersmith & Fulham, for example, already allocate very large sums each year towards improving streets including £20 million from parking income and £9 million from developer income. In Greenwich borough it is zero from each this year:

H&F annual spend

But it’s not design but businesses failing to allow enough space for pedestrians. Photos sent show areas where keeping distance was nigh on impossible.

Woolwich New Road

This area has always been poor for pedestrians.

A long standing issue – pedestrians peer out to see if safe to cross

The same old problems with displays and advertising boards are making it impossible to now give space to passing people. I’m reliably informed the council’s new wardens were patrolling and did little.

Weeks ago the authority stated they were warning people. If they did then not here – or at least are not being listened to. One photo sent to me highlighted a guy on crutches who had to navigate through:

Clutter makes it hard for wheelchair users and those with buggies and prams at the best of times let alone now.

Then there is Powis Street. An obstacle course of litter doesn’t help people keep their distance. This was after Iceland closed and footfall fell but hardly great when busy with shoppers:

Street design in the area also pushes pedestrians closer together:

Pedestrian obstacles

Why there’s raised areas around trees I’m not sure. There used to be lighting embedded into paving. It wasn’t really maintained then removed (sound familiar in Woolwich?).

So anyway, considering there’s a pandemic going on the town appears pretty busy even before adding in obstacles from businesses and narrow paving. For me a month of pretty successfully giving people space at shops and in general was blown apart in half an hour.


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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

24 thoughts on “Trying and failing to social distance in Woolwich

  • I’ve posted numerous times about the problems of high density housing – cramping too many people in high rise flats, with no gardens, no provision for infrastructure etc – now people are maybe beginning to open their eyes!
    I feel sorry for those who do not have the ‘luxury’ of a back garden – I can’t believe we now consider a back garden a luxury!!!

    • My kitchen window overlooks a square and during these past sunny days, I have only seen one family in their garden. My neighbour two doors along has been sitting in a chair on the pavement. Mind you, their garden is a waste site full of weeds and a dilapidated shed.

      I would have loved a garden as I wanted a cat, but my money just could not extend to a ground floor flat.

  • Absolutely HK it must be really difficult living in a high rised flat with children and no garden in an high density development of which we are seeing more and more of around the Borough.

    Amenities and infrastructure in the Borough is abysmal when you consider the amount of new homes built and the growth in the population in the Borough with many hundreds of homes still to be built.or under construction.

    Social distancing is being ignored in and around Woolwich with the new wardens taking little or no action. Sadly this could also be why some communities could be seeeing a higher rate of Covid-19 cases.amongst them which is a really sad during this very difficult time.

    Please please please adhere to social distancing rules and stay at home except for absolutely essential journeys,

    Please keep dsafe and well out there.

  • Wow, what mean! Lol, your observations are a bit too many to go into one by one and pull apart. I live in Woolwich, btw, and have done for over 30 years. Sorry, I must have missed you being elected town spokesman, probably on purpose, now I think about after reading the drivel. Who actually are you, btw?

    • I’m guessing this is directed at me? Feel free to go through them all one by one. I’d like to hear what is justifiable about not taking action to assist social distancing during a pandemic that is killing people at a hospital half a mile away.

      As for the rest, not sure what to say. No one should have an opinion on anything or highlight issues eh? I’m guessing you’re not a vulnerable person who deals with trying to navigate areas. Good luck if ever in a wheelchair and need to get about.

    • Hi Stephen,
      You are entitled to your view and I defend your right to express it, just as I defend everyone else’s right to express their view on this blog.
      I’ve lived in the borough for the majority of my life (almost 40 years), living in Plumstead, Charlton and now Blackheath (not the nice part unfortunately, lol).
      Unfortunately i’ve seen the Woolwich go to the dogs over the years and the council have contributed to that due to various policies and lack of enforcement (ie parking enforcement, blocking of payments with signs. HMO’s etc).
      People are rightfully frustrated!

  • I think we are seeing the lockdown failling in Woolwich. Sadly knowing what the area is like I am not at all surprised by this.

    So I would say to everyone please do not think that the social distancing rules do not apply to you as they clearly do. This also means only going out once a day for shopping or excercise unless travelling to and from work only.

    No one is exempt from this.

    • We have no idea and everyone could be doing essential shopping. I deliberately didn’t highlight individuals as I have no idea why people are out. Instead I was focusing on how to make the streets safer through short-term design changes, and also how business could help by ensuring public space is clear.

  • The pavements should not be used to display advertising boards or the stock of any particular shop. The stock should be displayed inside the shop. The whole Woolwich area looks messy and the shop keepers/owners should be held responsible for the areas immediately outside their premises. Just a little walk in the evening passed these so called butcher shops shows how dirty is the pavement as the owners often dispose the ice etc. right outside their shops.
    Filthy procedures… Haven’t we learnt from Wuhan?

      • A good article. I have stopped going into Woolwich and just get online delivery. I got fed up of no-one on the pavement or in the shops respecting social distancing.

  • The sooner the Spray Street development happens, the better.

    • That doesn’t solve underlying issues. Business now could be made to keep public space clear and buildings in good condition. Spray Street could quickly fall apart if some do not care.

  • Murky, Having lost a few people to Covid-19. I agree with CDT we need to follow the advice set out by the Government, Public Health England and the World Health Organisation which is exactly what CDT said.

    Otherwise the covid-19 virus will continue to be spread resulting in even more loss of life.

    Staying at home can help to save lives and help the hard working NHS staff and other key workers out there risking their lives on a daily basis.

  • Isn’t it the local authority at fault here? Lacking any direction to limiting shopkeepers obstructing the pavement! Lack of fines handed out and a decaying public realm with no or limited or temporary action to upgrade.

    A credible change must happen.

    • Hi Ashley,
      I would agree, but I would be against the the council fining anyone until they get their own house in order when it comes tom obstructions – they are just as guilty with their ‘street furniture’ so I would find it unfair for them to punish/fine others of which they are guilty of.

      They definitely need a good town centre manager who can think holistically, have a good mix of shops, clean up the area, liaise with all the shops regarding signage/shopfronts etc. Some of the shop fronts and state of the buildings leave a lot to be desired!

    • The problem here is how it will be perceived. The majority of shoppers and shopkeepers alike are black or Asian. As a minority myself I know only too well how some local councillors would pounce on it saying that minority stores are being unfairly targeted and its discrimination against ethnic/underprivileged shoppers. Same for the lack of enforcement along Plumstead High Street: some busybody will paint it as persecution of a ‘struggling minority shopping district’ rather than equally applied enforcement.

      Greenwich Council is too inwardly focused on its ambition to get out of the Centre and realise how much they’ve let things slide.

      • I agree with you Charles (i’m a ‘minority’ too)!

  • I absolutely agree HK, Sadly good Town Centre Managers is something that Greenwich Council have lacked for years and years now for their three main Town Centres of Woolwich, Eltham and Greenwich. I would also include Plumstead High Street in many of these shops are in need of refurbishment.

    I have mentioned this several times over many many years on various sites and in letters to the Council and local MP’s all to no avail not even a reply,

    • Agree With Both HK and Graham. We do need Town Centre Manager and a strong sense of leadership and direction to make our Town Centres better.

  • I agree with you Charles.I also agree the we do a need a Town Centre Manager to work closely with existing businesses and encourage new businesses our Town Centres to make our Town Centres much better and indeed safer.

  • ** That we do need a Town Centre Manager – Sorry **

  • Greenwich council has completely abrogated its responsibility towards the public realm and civil order. It should not matter the ethnicity of the shopkeepers. The rules are for everyone to apply and nobody can make a special case. Before anyone prejudges me, I too am the child of immigrants.

  • I think it’s causing people a lot of distress when they go out for genuinely essential reasons and struggle to stay 2m at all times because the street is simply too crowded, at every hour of the day. I’m becoming quite frightened of going out to buy food now because no matter how hard I try I cannot keep the full distance from absolutely everyone at all times, there are just too many people sharing a narrow space.

    It doesn’t help seeing loads of news headlines calling out “selfish people flouting lockdown rules” and feeling like you’re being judged as part of that group. It’s definitely unfair to condemn people facing this challenge as if they were the same as those having parties and picnics.


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