I don't doubt that Cllr Onuegbu cared for her electorate as people, and certainly before she became ill, she was often in attendance at local community events and meetings. For whatever reason, however, she did not feel it necessary to resign her seat when she became too ill to carry out her duties, and this situation persisted for so long that it prompted complaints to the council about her lack of attendance, enhancing the general feeling of disenfranchisement in Evelyn ward.
Evelyn ward’s relationship to Deptford is rather like Deptford’s relationship to Lewisham, but magnified by ten. Largely made up of vast swathes of housing estates interspersed by industrial land, and on the outer reaches of the borough, sandwiched between the watersides of Southwark and Greenwich, it has lain forgotten for many decades. But as the industrial land is gradually hived off to be developed for housing, and existing residents see very little benefit coming back to their communities, the level of discontent has been rising, council decisions are being more closely scrutinised and regularly challenged by residents, and new groups have formed to promote the interests of the forgotten corners of Deptford.
Little wonder then that the forthcoming by-election has prompted an independent candidate to throw down his hat alongside the usual suspects. Scott Barkwith, who is standing under the banner of Independent Evelyn, has been a very active member of the Deptfordfolk group (Friends of Deptford Park & Folkestone Gardens) since its launch, and wants to challenge the borough’s largely supine approach to representation.
Clearly with Labour having a huge majority on the council there's a limit to what an independent councillor (or a councillor from any opposition party for that matter) could achieve borough-wide, but on a local level it would be refreshing to have someone who would assist local groups in campaigning for improvements in the ward in addition to turning up at community events and pursuing casework on behalf of individuals.
It's a very short period of time for any independent candidate to build up sufficient recognition across the ward - but with voter turnout likely to be low, perhaps Scott's existing profile as a local campaigner will be enough to see him through?
From the field of six candidates, Scott is one of only two who actually live in the actual ward - no great surprise there as few of our elected representatives have done so over the years and neither of the incumbent councillors do. The other resident candidate is Joyce Jacca who is representing the Labour Party - for once Labour has put up a candidate who is known and active locally, perhaps responding to the discontent that has been voiced over recent months. Joyce is on the photo above, which is the one that Lewisham Labour chose to accompany its announcement, although they failed to point out which of the women on the picture is Joyce (she's front left if you can make her out!).
Two of the other candidates are fairly well-known in Deptford - one not necessarily for the best of reasons.
Ray Barron-Woolford is standing as candidate for People Before Profit - despite the fact that he seems to think the creation of a parish council is the only way that Deptford can become glorious again. On the surface, his many initiatives suggest he is a tireless local campaigner, but it's hard to banish the suspicion that the main purpose of his heritage festivals, parish council, food bank, books and so on is purely for his own self-promotion, considering the amount of time he spends bragging about his many achievements.
When he stood for a council seat in New Cross ward in 2014, Vice magazine did a great piece on his political background, revealing that he'd crossed the spectrum from one side to the other during his 'career' as a politician.
His campaigns always highlight his 'good works', and rarely mention his day job, which is running an estate agency - formerly Housemartins, now relaunched as London & Country (we'll come to that in a minute). When he does mention it, he claims it as 'the UK only social enterprise estate agency' (sic), whatever that means. In practice it's a private company limited by shares, and with a single shareholder, Ray Woolford.
He claims that his estate agency funds his 'charitable' work, although again there is no proof of that. The 'We Care Food Bank Charity' is not a charity at all, it has no charitable status (the website has been claiming 'charity number applied for' ever since it was launched) and in fact it is not even a registered company.
Similarly the locally-infamous Deptford Heritage Festival was claimed to be a fundraiser for his local good works, but no proof of that was forthcoming. After criticisms of the first festival and presumably some scrutiny of where the money went, he published a vaguely-worded page about festival costs, with promises of more information to be published once ticket agency payments had been made. No further details were forthcoming.
To get an insight into the tangled business affairs of Ray Woolford you only have to start digging around at Companies House. Under his various monikers (Raymond David Woolford, Raymond Barron-Woolford) and his multiple registered correspondence addresses in London, Oxfordshire and Bristol, he's held offices at quite a few different companies, from the famous 'Come the Revolution' cafe in New Cross Road which came to a sticky and sudden end to a short-lived four-month stint as an officer at the 2000 Community Action Centre in 2015.
His first estate agency - Housemartins Estate Agents, which was founded in 1999 - ran into trouble a couple of years ago. First signs of this were a year ago when Ray applied for his (wholly-owned) company to be struck off the register. Had his application succeeded, any outstanding creditors would have received nothing. But an objection was received, and subsequently it became clear that he'd had some kind of tangle with the Austrian Olympic Committee. In January of this year, following a petition to the High Court in Bristol from the solicitors of the aforementioned organisation, an order was made to wind the company up. The mind boggles as to what shenanigans preceded this - presumably some kind of disagreement relating to rental accommodation provided during the 2012 Olympics? - but when Ray is involved, preposterous is the new normal. Hence 'the UK only social enterprise estate agency' has now been relaunched as London & Country.
You can follow Ray on Twitter, but he's quite twitchy with the blocking button so do be sure not to challenge anything he says.
The other name that people might recognise locally is the Green's candidate Andrea Carey Fuller, who's been involved in setting up the Deptford Neighbourhood Action group and getting the neighbourhood plan off the ground. She's probably better known in New Cross though, rather than Evelyn, as most of her attention has been focussed on Tidemill.
And what a road sign to choose for your photo shoot. I had to look it up to find out where exactly it was in Evelyn ward. Don't worry, I'm sure there's nothing significant in the choice.
Finally the Lib Dems have a candidate, Lucy Salek. In the last by-election their candidate polled slightly higher than the Tories and Ukip, who were neck and neck.
It will be interesting to see what happens. At the last full council elections the Labour councillors were elected with comfortable majorities of at least a thousand votes each. But this is a by-election and turnout at the last one in Evelyn (when the winning candidate was deselected after just three months) was so pitiful that if it's repeated, anything could happen.
In the by-election of May 2013 just 16% of the electorate could be arsed to go to the polling station. The Labour candidate polled 978, and People Before Profit's candidate (not Ray this time) came second with 404. The others trailed with just over 100 each.
The choice of several credible, locally-known candidates could potentially split the Labour vote and may make the final result a lot closer. But having a stronger choice might also motivate more people to vote.