DIY – Do It Yourself – “The activity of decorating, building, and making repairs at home by oneself…avoids the difficult relationship between householder and professional decorator”
SOS – Save Our Souls – An international code signal of extreme distress
The harassed North Kensington community is facing up to 14th June 2018, the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people and traumatised thousands more. Desperate for change, North Kensington remains under the yoke of the disgraced Conservative council after the May 3rd local elections. And now, more troubling developments: The BBC DIY SOS team is in town filming the “Grenfell community” for the lightest of light entertainment programmes, and the people of North Ken are once again trying to mitigate what could become a mess; Will they succeed?
The situation now
Bay 20, under the Westway dual carriageway and near the Grenfell Tower, is undergoing a rapid building development for the DIY SOS programme. The BBC have secured donations to pay for the Dale Youth Boxing Gym, lost in the fire, to be rehoused at Bay 20, alongside new community spaces, meeting rooms and a café. The building work begins on 15th May and the grand opening is slated for 28th May.
The Westway Trust (formerly North Kensington Amenities Trust) is the custodian of the 23 acres of land under the Westway. For nearly half a century, the Trust has operated with the remit of ensuring the land under the Westway is used for the benefit of the community hit by the imposition of the brutal concrete structure that pollutes and darkens North Kensington. Westway Trust is looking to appoint a management team and a dozen people to form a scrutiny committee to oversee Bay 20. Having effectively saved millions of pounds in getting a free building, the Trust will subsidise Bay 20 to ensure its survival and ongoing viability.
What could be the problem? North Kensington gets a new building, gratis; the boxing club is rehoused; the BBC gets to make DIY SOS. Everyone’s a winner, right? Well, the Westway Trust wins and the BBC wins, but for many in North Kensington, there are issues.
- The BBC. DIY SOS, replete with sentimental, uplifting human stories, appears to be the opposite of what coverage of the Grenfell Tower fire aftermath would naturally be. Plucky underdogs overcoming the odds to cheer up the nation at prime time is not reflective of North Kensington in 2018. One year on from the fire, with 72 dead, no arrests made, with many survivors still housed in inappropriate accommodation and the Conservative council setting its sights on more community assets, the feel-good angle is hard to fathom.
- Westway Trust. Given the tarnished reputation of the Trust locally, they know they cannot be seen to manage Bay 20 and are advertising for local groups to run the space. The workshops to inform potential managers about Bay 20 will be held less than a week before the unit is declared operational. At a meeting between the Trust, the DIY SOS production team and community organisers last week, four demands were put to the Trust and the Beeb:
- That the Grenfell DIY SOS episode not be aired on, or close to, the one-year anniversary of the fire;
- The community be given ample time to formalise Bay 20’s management structure. The decision-making structures should be robust from the start to ensure that real power is delegated to representatives from the community, whether this is through the proposed ‘steering group’ or another mechanism;
- The elected community representatives are given time to secure further funding to make the community centre a sustainable resource;
- There should be sufficient planning time to address the needs of the whole community and establish an appropriate mission statement for the building before it is opened.
As it stands, the Trust is pressing ahead with a rushed job to get Bay 20 open, responding to the needs of a couple of community organisations among the many who are also desperate for more space. Westway Trust has fudged its Bay 20 communications so far: consultations have been of limited use, with key decisions already being agreed ahead of meetings with the community. Locals need to be given real power if they are to take ownership of this building, which has been presented as a gift to the area.
A lack of interest in the 12 Bay 20 steering committee positions led to the Westway Trust pushing committee membership with a light workload to attract more people. This means that the committee is likely to be toothless, deterring serious, experienced applicants and bouncing accountability for Bay 20 back to the Westway Trust’s headquarters.
The initial proposal of the Trust was for Bay 20 to house some of the community spaces lost on the Lancaster West estate last June (Grenfell Tower is on Lancaster West. The spaces lost were the boxing club, two community rooms, the estate management office, a nursery and a playground.) This is how it was explained to Lancaster West residents. But it was explained to the wider community very differently, and the free-for-all that could ensue to claim management and usage rights of scarce space and resources could further fracture a community that is in a period of recovery.
Bay 20 already has its place in the Westway Trust’s chequered history. The space was once used by Carnival Industrial Enterprise as a steel pan yard; highly skilled musicians would make and tune pans, maintaining important an local heritage and offering apprenticeships. This was abandoned by the Trust who inserted an alleged art installation, an inaccessible, mysterious bleached-purple moonscape, which has remained the only inhabitant of Bay 20 for over a decade, puzzling many a passer-by.
- Divide. The tone of the Community/BBC/Westway Trust meeting last week was archetypal of the way in which North Kensington has been handled before, during and since the fire. Straight-talking people with in-depth knowledge and appreciation of local history and culture were treated as obstacles to the smooth functioning of things. The BBC Television Studios sign was visible through the window at the meeting, a reminder of its place in the community, but there seems to be little equality when it comes to decision making, where class-based anxiety dominates.
The perception of ‘difference’ is even more egregious in the case of the Westway Trust. The Trust is based under the Westway, in the heart of North Kensington, was used as the headquarters for disaster relief in the aftermath of the fire, and is staffed with a good number of hard working, community-minded people. But the Trust’s leaders have made decision after decision that has marginalised the very people they are meant to serve. It is a farce that they cannot be seen to manage ‘their’ building at Bay 20, but they are still reluctant to offer the community sufficient time and space to arrange an effective management structure.
There were some positives to come out of the meeting. Action points were agreed: The BBC will issue statements confirming that the broadcast date has been moved to avoid it being anywhere near 14th June and clarifying the procedures and management of Bay 20. They also agreed to consult with the community on the tone of the programme before broadcast to ensure sensitivities are respected. They further agreed to take more ownership of the project, especially on communications. This means there is less chance that Auntie and the Trust will pass the buck either way.
The BBC’s positive noises would be more reassuring if they had not announced the day after the meeting that Prince William has been added to the Grenfell DIY SOS show…difficult to see how the presence of a man who lives in a palace in extreme privilege will add an appropriate tone in the shadow of Grenfell.
As for the Westway Trust, they agreed to a public meeting, probably to be held at The Tabernacle, so that North Kensington can be informed and have its say on its modest bit of land at Bay 20. Will they follow through on this an facilitate genuine community leadership?
The North Kensington community faces a salvage job to clean up what is already a messy situation at Bay 20. The conceit of the BBC that they can plonk an ugly new building near Grenfell to cheer up the community, in combination with the Westway Trust’s oddball hands off/on logic, is an ill-timed wrecking ball.
In the background lurk the local and national governments. Why is the community losing some of its meagre space to a boxing club that was destroyed by an entirely preventable fire? The council and national government are surely liable to foot the bill and put in the hours for the building of a new boxing gym, just as they are liable for housing and compensation for survivors and Lancaster West residents. Where is the investment and where are the reparations for North Kensington?
A small island of charity in a sea of inequality. With Bay 20, the Grenfell response has gone beyond charity is now entertainment. A microcosm of the national picture, intensified in inner London. The local community must keep speaking truth to power and demanding more control if the dignity and future of North Kensington are to be preserved.
To truly save your souls, North Kensington, Do It Yourselves….
By Tom Charles @tomhcharles
Thanks to Andrea Newton and Maymuna Osman
Definitions of DIY and SOS from OED online
Westway Trust’s Bay 20 info: http://www.westway.org/bay20