Community Heroes series — Week 7. Andy Stem & Noreen Meehan.

This week the focus for SE19 Made my day is ‘Volunteering in the community’. Which ties in nicely with my next heroes… I am really happy to be featuring two people who have given so much time and commitment to SE19 and who continue to do so.

I believe (and I’m happy to be corrected here), that they were paramount in getting the community vibe flowing in SE19 and have inspired many others to do the same.

This year is a big year for them and they are counting on us to join in, help where possible and volunteer. So, our joint heroes this week are Noreen Meehan and Andy Stem; Festival Director and Fathership of the Crystal Palace Overground Festival!

1.Tell us a little about you and how long you have lived in the area?

Noreen: I have lived in Gipsy Hill since 2003 but came here as a child with my parents to visit friends who lived on Crystal Palace Park Road. We lived in Hamsey Green near Sanderstead before moving to Ireland when I was 7 and I was born in Croydon, so I have come full circle!

Andy: I have lived in Crystal Palace for over 35 years. I discovered it when I used to travel from East London to see the athletics, in the time of Seb Coe and Steve Ovett!

I own Bambino Curiosities Emporium on Church Road which has been open for 30 years now. It was a children’s clothing shop before I came along. People called me Andy Bambino and I was kindly allowed to keep the name!

2. What is your involvement with the Crystal Palace Overground Festival ?

Noreen: I have been the Festival Director / Instigator in chief since 2011.

Andy: I have been involved from the beginning and managed it myself until Noreen joined us. I volunteer two days a week for the festival as a member of the board, in addition to running my shop. Noreen works full time, as well as managing the festival!

3. Where did the idea for the festival come from and how did you get it to where it is now?

Andy: In 2006 a Croydon Town Center Manager and a few enthusiastic shopkeepers organised the first festival, and I took up the challenge and built it into an annual event. Mainly to create some local fun and unleash local talent!

Noreen: I got involved when Andy asked me to help run the festival. We decided we wanted to do a park event to make the festival more accessible to more people and the Westow Park event was born.

The first park event took place in August 2011 the weekend after the riots across London, including in Croydon which was a real shock to the community. It was a place for our community to come to be together after such a horrible event and it has continued as such since then.

The festival grew and grew, the park event attracted more people, we extended the dates to ensure that everyone could organise their own event during the festival dates and we publicised it for them through our extensive marketing platform.

It is designed to ensure that people feel empowered to participate and to celebrate our very special home Crystal Palace.

From 2011 to 2015 we have grown our team and the extent of the program, with funding from the Arts Council, Heritage Lottery Fund, Film London, Big Lottery and Croydon and Lambeth Councils. We also raise funds from local businesses supporting the festival, stalls and bars and fundraising activities. The festival is not cheap to put on and for the past 10 years a great deal of the costs have been borne by our fantastic volunteers who do such much to make it happen; from marketing to fundraising to stewarding and much much more.

In 2016 we took a year off as we had outgrown our park home of Westow Park and we needed to plan for a move to Crystal Palace Park and the future as a sustainable organisation. We recruited new trustees for our board and started fundraising for the 2017 festival. We are deep in planning and fundraising now and are looking forward to a fantastic festival week from 12 to 18 June with our flagship park event in Crystal Palace Park on 17 June.

We look forward to welcoming our community and many more people from across south London to be part of the festival whether they are volunteers, supporters, participants or simply visitors to the many festival events.

3. There is a strong sense of community here, what or who, do you think has contributed to making this such a vibrant community?

Noreen: Volunteering is a massive boost to our sense of community and I think that is a key factor; as all community groups are run by volunteers who give us a huge amount of time and contribute positive energy and thinking. They ensure that lots of engaging and community focused activities happen in Crystal Palace. Many of our volunteers for the festival tell us how much they enjoy giving something back to their community and more than that, they meet new friends, feel part of their community and connected to their neighbours.

Andy: without a doubt, the people. It is such a warm and supportive community, always willing to lend a hand.

4. Tell me about an act of kindness that you have seen or experienced?

Noreen: The Salvation Army in Crystal Palace is amazing — Lorraine is often on Facebook asking for help to support people in need. They turn no-one away and are truly inspirational.

5. Part of the campaign is to encourage people to make and share a simple everyday act of kindness, what will yours be this week (apart from the small matter of organising the festival of course)!

Noreen: Talking to homeless people and not walking by.

Andy: I’ll continue to be involved in the community and carry on working towards the festival this year.

If you would like to know more about volunteering for the festival click here or email

You can also join Noreen and me, live on Twitter this week, for a Tweetchat. Thursday 9th March 8–9pm. It’s an hour of informal chat around the subject of the festival and volunteering. Please join us to find out more about this year’s festival and how you can get involved.

Simply go onto Twitter on the day, find my page @ Se19mademyday or search #SE19chat and follow and join in the conversation from 8pm!

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