Denis O’Flynn – 50 Years of Public Service

Denis O’Flynn – a life of Public Service

Denis was first elected to Havering Council in July 1971, in one of the by-elections caused by the appointment of Alderman following the Council elections in May. This was the Havering election which was won by Labour for the first (and so far… only) time. Denis joined the new administration at an exciting time, and was also part of minority administrations under Arthur Latham, Wilf Mills and Ray Harris.

Dave Ainsworth paid the following tribute;

“I first met Denis when starting work in Ford’s Dagenham Foundry.  Denis was a leading Shop Steward.  The Trade Union was “The Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (Foundry Section)”.   In time Denis successfully stood for election to become a full-time District Organiser, hence he became based at their Dagenham East Office.  Denis had a wide area to cover.

In time the Trade Union changed its name a few times, through amalgamations, so becoming the AEUW (Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers), then AMICUS and now UNITE.

It’s like turning a full circle, for only a couple of months ago UNITE opened its new office block ion Yew Tree Avenue, which is where the old May & Baker Works were – this office complex is also where Jon Cruddas MP recently moved his Constituency Office to.  You can see his old office from Unite’s new office.  Denis is highly active in UNITE as he’s Chair of the local UNITE Retired Members’ Branch.

Denis was a leading trade union shop steward in Ford’s Dagenham heyday before becoming a full time District Officer for the old Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (Foundry Section). Denis is now Chairman of a most active local Unite Retired Members’ Branch.  He’s held many other Community positions.  He’s so active that constituents of other less committed Councillors often turn to Denis with their concerns and problems.  He never turns anybody away – and makes his home phone number available in all publications.  

Denis is – without doubt – the most active Councillor ever to serve on the Harold Hill Estate.  He stood 4 times for Parliament, in Romford February 1974, when I was his Election Agent – then in same Constituency in October 1974. In 1979 Denis stood in Hitchin and 1987 for Upminster.

In Havering he was a highly effective Housing Chairman and twice served as Mayor with wife Maureen as his Mayoress.

Denis in full flow at a Havering Fabian meeting in 2018

Denis became a Councillor in 1971. Denis always was, and still is, a brilliant orator. He can quickly grasp situations, such as in his early Council days as he organised effective protests and demonstrations on Harold Hill about the dangerousStraight Road, when mobilising hundreds of residents to stage road blocks at two locations along what was dubbed “Murder Mile” by our local press. Soon after election he organised one of the most successful and best supported mass participation protests ever seen in Havering – and one which Denis is still proud of, to this day. The local press dubbed Straight Road as “Murder Mile” owing to many serious road accidents, some fatal.

Denis twice had his Council service broken.  Prior to our 2006 Council Elections he was disgracefully “stitched-up” in a curious selection meeting, where people were present who nobody knew – and to this day, have never been seen since.  Along with long-serving Wilf Mills R.I.P. he was deselected.  The Romford Recorder reported that Labour had ditched their two best drawing cards. Denis was then selected to contest Rainham & Wennington Ward, where he was unsuccessful.  However he continued supporting Labour and, along with fellow dumped local politician Wilf, ran weekly advice surgeries in St.George’s Church on Harold Hill – this despite receiving a Labour Party disciplinary letter instructing him not to, as he was no longer an elected Councillor.  Denis ignored that letter and carried on!  As did Wilf!  As for Heaton Ward – without Denis & Wilf – Tories won 2 of the 3 seats with only Councillor Keith Darvill remaining for Labour.  Ouch!

Denis also lost his seat in the 2014 Council Election when UKIP won 2 Heaton Ward seats, again with only Councillor Keith Darvill retaining his seat.  However Denis was back in our Council Chamber in 2016 after a really hard fought by-election with numerous candidates, caused when Councillor Philip Hyde (ex-UKIP and then “Independent”) resigned.

Without doubt Denis has been the most active Harold Hill Councillor ever seen. So much that residents from all parts of the Borough contact him when, at times, their own elected Councillors aren’t so active.  Denis never turns anybody away.  He’s always made his home address and personal telephone number available to all, on campaign literature and in directories.

Denis has twice served as Mayor with wife Maureen as his Mayoress and currently holds a Council position – this being The Havering Champion for the Armed Forces.  Denis, along with Wilf, was a protagonist in securing a Harold Hill War Memorial and commencing a well-attended open-air service each Remembrance Sunday.

We will never see his like again!

Dave Ainsworth

Denis is keen to point out that the “Made in Dagenham” film on the equal pay dispute under states the support for the women from the male trade unionists. Denis was very supportive and did all he could to support the cause, and was not unique in this.

Denis did not seek re-nomination for the Council Election in May 2022 and so will end his time on Havering Council and once again become an honorary freeman of the Borough. We wish him well in what we hope will be a long and happy retirement and look forward to seeing him at future Fabian meetings where his wit and humour are always welcome.

Romford Labour Party Food Bank Collections

FOOD BANK AT ROMFORD LABOUR HEAD QUARTERS

Prospective Labour Candidates for the St Albans ward Jane Keane and Hope Mendy have begun a Food Bank Collection point at Saffron House on South Street. The collection is open every Saturday from 10am-2pm, although they are happy to collect donations if people are unable to make the trip

“We started the collection to give back to the community” Hope commented “Over a decade of Tory austerity has sadly meant there’s a real need for food banks. Even in a relatively wealthy area like Romford. After we publicised that we were going to be donating, we heard from another Food Bank that they would appreciate donations as well, so we’ve begun donating to them too. It’s a real issue. 2.5 million people used foodbanks over the past year.”

Through the terrific generosity of residents, Jane and Hope have been able to deliver over 80kg of food to local food banks. In addition to collecting food, they also collect toiletries and pet food.

Hope (left) and Jane await your donations,

“The reception from the locals in Romford Town, particularly in our ward has been warm and generous. We’ve even seen some regulars pop by!” says Jane “Although this isn’t the only community project we have embarked on. We’re also planning on setting up a Gardening Club along with arranging Historical Walks and Assisted Dog Walking. If anyone would like to get involved, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.”

Hope Mendy and Jane Keane

Labour Homelessness Campaign

At our meeting on the 18th of May, we were joined by Andrea Gilbert of the Labour Homelessness Campaign. The campaign has its origins in 2018 and was formed partly as a reaction to the number of rough sleepers in Westminster, which at that time exceeded the number in the rest of the capital.

Rough sleepers in particular are amongst the most vulnerable of those seeking temporary accommodation. Many risk being moved on and fined 100 pounds under the Ancient Vagrancy Act, which remains in place.

The campaign also deals with squatter’s rights, aims to end homelessness and is lobbying on the Homelessness bill.

One of its activities during the General Election was to ensure that rough sleepers were signed up to vote, and in Wandsworth alone they were able to ensure that around 100 Rough sleepers were added to the electoral register.

The pandemic has exposed the inequality aspects of homelessness and highlighted some of the problems. The Government policy of “Everybody in” has shown it is possible to end rough sleeping if the funding is available.

With over 3,000 people moved into hotels in an effort to reduce the risk and exposure that would have followed if they had they remained on the streets. It also exposed some inconsistencies in terms of the numbers. For example, in Wandsworth there were 25 Registered. Rough sleepers, but in reality the number turned out to be 140. Similar numbers are reported elsewhere in the capital.

One of the activities during the Covid campaign has been to ensure that those rough sleepers are vaccinated as well, as they are a particularly vulnerable group

As funding provided during Covid lockdown is withdrawn, an increase of rough sleepers is already occurring.

In addition, those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF)[1]  increase the numbers requiring housing, employment and many of these have been relocated into hotels during the pandemic as well.

One of the issues LHC are currently campaigning on  is the ability of government to deport rough sleepers from non EU countries, which seems remarkably callous. The campaign are linking with unions such as Unite in order to develop new policies and are currently campaigning to reach the 100,000 signatures required in order to have a parliamentary debate on the deportation procedures.

The policy of moving people out back out of hotels at the end of Covid to see more people return to the streets and the funding that was provided previously has proved to be a sticking plaster. Homelessness is often a result of a multitude of issues such as

  • Addiction \ Dependency,
  • lack of employment,
  • disability.
  • LGB TQ

all leading to potential breakups of existing family relationships and people becoming homeless as a result.

So the links with other issues are important and the outreach teams that deal with these issues need to be multidisciplinary as a result.

The long term solution is building more affordable housing on which a great deal of lobbying has taken place of various parliamentary groups with little or no response. In particular the. Labour Party is undertaking a review of policies at the moment with no known announcements in terms of how it can address these issues due in the near future.

The LHC is campaigning  to ensure that these  issues are taken seriously as and when the new manifesto  is developed ahead of the next election.  This policy should include ensuring support for all rough sleepers, including those currently with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).

 Homelessness within Havering has doubled over the recent years (according to the Samaritans), while Havering has a homeless strategy, this is seen as something that needs further development.

The policy of building homes has to cut through the NIMBY attitude that is prevalent within the borough, and other parts of London. This is not easy; during the discussions afterwards while all were in favour of more house building, many had been involved at some stage in ensuring that development within an area close to them was rejected.

Houses that are built they need to be fit for purpose and in the right location.

Housing will remain a big issue for the party locally and will be a key component of the next Havering Labour manifesto.

We thank Andrea for an interesting discussion and will no doubt revisit many of the subjects raised again in the run up to the Borough elections.


[1] a matter discussed  when Stephen Timms MP visited last year- see newsletter 43. 

Councillor Keith Darvill statement on behalf of Havering Labour Group

Keith Darvill

The Havering Labour Group want to see the COVID-19 pandemic defeated and for us all to return to the new normal as soon as possible, however, the primary consideration must be to save lives and keep people safe.

This week, parents have a very difficult task in making the judgement as to when their children should return to school. While Head Teachers and School Governors are particularly concerned about how compliance with social distancing requirements will work, as the degree of risk and challenge varies depending on the design of each school. There are many other factors including the provision of personal protection equipment, infection control and cleaning to name a few.

So it is our view that parents should not feel pressured to return their children to school. We encourage them to confidently liaise with Head Teachers and School Governors before making any decision, this will allow them to carefully consider the risk assessments that are being carried out in their child’s school.

We should recognise that schools have been open throughout the lockdown supporting children of key workers and caring  for the most vulnerable youngsters. We know that all teachers have the well being of their pupils as their paramount responsibility  – and we praise them for their public service and commitment.

So as we move forward and are at the early stages of recovery, albeit that the risks of the virus returning in force must not be overlooked,  caution and safeguarding must be of the highest priority. Key factors in this decision-making process include the size of classes [ maximum 15 per class] and importantly, organised dropping off and collection of children at school gates to facilitate compliance with social distancing requirements.

Some parents will decide to keep their children at home until they perceive a lower degree of risk. Such parents should not be fined for their child’s non attendance, nor should it be entered on their absentee record. Those children remaining at home during the phased opening should be supported by home learning packages, including online teaching which in our view can be assisted where possible by the council’s education department. Some progressive councils are supporting parents with the provision of devices so that children can access the virtual learning packages now available – Havering should consider such support.

Finally more support should be given to those running nurseries and other “Early Years” settings. These, mainly small businesses, face the some very difficult challenges and -do not appear to be receiving support from the government or Havering Council,  yet they provide essential service benefitting young children and parents. Similar risks face this sector and whilst public attention is focused in the challenges facing schools we should not overlook nurseries and and those who run them.

Keith Darvill

Leader Labour Group Havering Council