Why Write

Now & again, we are invited to deliver writing workshops for young people. Here’s what I like to tell them…

I tell them that the aim of the workshop is for them to write skilfully, to express their ideas creatively and with confidence. We encourage them to take ownership of their English language; it belongs to them, not their teachers, schools, or exam board.

Why does writing matter?

Because people think with words, vocabulary is very important; it allows us to understand ourselves, each other, and our world. And all jobs require communication, from applications to emails, to writing reports, and blogging – a way with words boosts your chances of success in any career.

We always emphasise that we are not there to judge them. We aren’t following the national curriculum. We are genuinely curious about what they have to offer. Usually, blank faces look back but some grasp this concept of creativity for self-expression and liberation. Writing is largely a self-taught discipline; anybody can develop a style that works for them, with enough practice.

Impact

Words can be used for various reasons – to hurt, inspire, inform, lighten, uplift, and connect. People without words are frustrated and angry, they feel impotent.

We go through the different types of writing: Journalism, report writing, news reporting, opinion pieces, essays, dissertations, and other structured styles, as well as more freeform approaches: Blogging, prose, poetry, email, and text.

To have an impact, structure is always important. You can learn the rules of writing to break the rules of writing.

Who are you?

Choose your tone. It will depend on the type of piece you are writing and how you relate to the intended reader. A blog will be different from an essay – Will it be chatty? Authoritative? Confrontational? Whatever it is, keep it consistent within the piece.

Who are you? Experiment with personas that give you a clear voice – Are you authoritative? If so, so speak with authority. Do you have expertise? You are an expert in being you, so write about yourself, what you have experienced, what you think.

Who is your audience? Classmates? Family? North Kensington? England? People in other countries? A potential boss? A teacher? Tailor your writing to impact them without losing your authenticity – we are all multiple personalities anyway; your voice as a writer is never your only voice but it can be an empowering voice for you. If you feel empowered by your voice, you can be sure other people will feel that power too.

Don’t assume knowledge: Presume the reader knows very little, but also presume that they are intelligent and will understand what you are saying if you present it effectively. Don’t be shy about explaining things as if the reader is new to the subject. Many people won’t know where Ladbroke Grove is, so add ‘West London’ – cover the information so the flow isn’t interrupted. 

What impact do you want to have? What animal do you want to be, as a writer? A bee is beautiful – pollinates, creates honey – but it can also sting and be a pest to those lazing in the sun.

We always say, show off your skills. Whether it’s a teacher, a casual reader, a potential employer, friends on social media, you want them to be impressed. Whatever you write represents you: you want to compete, to impact others, your voice deserves to be heard.

Specifics

Planning is vital. Once you have brainstormed successfully, you can’t go far wrong. For a very structured piece, make a proposition, provide your evidence 1, 2, and 3 then restate your proposition. More freeform pieces also need structure otherwise the reader switches off.

What’s your hook? What is the piece based on? An opinion? A fact? A recent event? Find something to build around. Acknowledge counterarguments but be clear in your argument – conviction is more readable than doubt. Use your research and planning to work through your doubts

If in doubt about structure and coherence, check that your introduction and conclusion match – they’re not identical twins, but siblings with a strong resemblance. If they are more like strangers, ask yourself again: what do I want to say?

Depth is important – make an argument, then back it up. If you’re giving an opinion or expressing a feeling, explain it. Don’t skip over your thoughts and feelings – they are interesting and valuable.

Use an active voice – ‘Alex threw the ball’, not ‘the ball was thrown by Alex.’ Vary your sentence lengths and openers to keep the reader engaged and control the rhythm.

One thing primary schools get right is the Five Ws and How? – Who, what, where, when, why, and how – have you given the reader this info? If so, you’ve written well.

Proofread till you’re happy – is your voice clear? Have you used powerful adjectives? Have you been accurate, honest, and clear?

Use a catchy title, especially if you’re writing for online publications.

Check your punctuation – some national curriculum skills are useful here, although the net impact of the curriculum on young writers is negative, producing fearful children shamed and rewarded into conformity.  

Express

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or to experiment. Everybody’s style is unique – there’s no right or wrong, but there are guidelines to help you express yourself. Finding your voice is not easy – not many people do it, but those who do are liberated. It can be part of you becoming who you are, maturing, being successful, and living life fully.

 

by tom Charles @tomhcharles

art by Junior Tomlin @juniortomlin https://juniortomlin.com/

INITIUM NOVUM

A calmness entered my soul

Just briefly I was complete

Everything made sense

Feeling that inner peace 

Of refusing to fit in or go with the flow

I was right all along

The never ending war inside my head

Slowly rescinding as I accepted defeat…

Knowing I just had to be me

Taking risks-Putting it all on the line

No fear of rejection 

For there is truly nothing to reject

Being human wanting to love

To be intimate-To care

Sharing a moment in time 

For reasons I know not…

Gentle touches-A stolen kiss

Yet everything is slipping away

A landslide of the heart

Swaying like a reed in the breeze

Reaching out-Reaching inward

To feel-To grab

Hanging on to the thin thread of hope

Falling backwards into space

Beyond time-Towards darkness…

Then comes the bright piercing light

Blinding-Cleansing my soul

As I am born once more

Trying to hold on 

To my knowledge my experiences

But it’s all slipping away

Slowly slipping away

Knowing nothing once again……..

M C Bolton, July 2022

Awareness Alone

She was flying at speed, with no sense of fear. Kaleidoscopic rainbows of colours were rushing past her with excitement, an eager playfulness that she found contagious. She looked down and saw hills and valleys beneath her, she saw ploughed and fallow fields and the microscopic activity of lives being lived. She looked up and witnessed the stillness of the stars. There was a never-ending depth to them when viewed from this angle, like brushstrokes to the infinite. She looked ahead of herself and into the oncoming colour, she felt a reassuring calmness within the speed. 

She had always been a rebel, quick to play the devilish advocate of the opposite and contrary, quick to assume the role of the antagonist committed to playing the counterpoint. For so many years she had been the one trying to rush others onwards. She had called it passion. She had judged most of life as a drudgery, a flattening bore of responsibility and restraint. She had seen those surrounding her, family and friends, even strangers who’s path she would cross, as needing shaking up, waking up into the pure potentiality of a life lived in full glory. She had made herself a nuisance without any sense of shame. Pushed forwards with the wholehearted belief that she was following a higher cause, the lifetime commitment of an awakened truth-seeker, desperate to both inspire and be inspired. The counterpoint to what she perceived as inertia had always been movement, a dragging and a thrusting, a call to arms proclaimed by an individual rushing onwards at speed. Now that she was flying at speed, she found herself playing the counterpoint again. Only it wasn’t the inertia that she had always imagined it to be, the counterpoint to speed was actually stillness. 

She was still, while flying at speed. And with the stillness came a calm contentment. Strangely familiar, like a friend from the past that one struggles to recognise at first. That moment before the spark of reconnection lights the fires of your heart. The squeal of delight, the lightening of spirit, the widening of the eyes. It was as if every cell in her body was pulsating with the eternal light of the stars above. She could feel everything with expanded awareness, the entirety of her body, as well as the vistas above and below. The wind was her too. The way it rushed past with eager delight. Every colour was a world of its own, a doorway into a past moment of her life. Red and orange, blue and green, yellow and fuschia, purple and pink. She had been all these colours and more and she had retained their stain as an imprint upon her soul. The fibres of her being stored the memory of how she had been, and her past being had shaped her even more than she realised. 

Her subservience to ideology and principle had left its residue. It had been corded to her for so long and during any time of cording there will be a continual osmosis, unconscious assimilation and the creation of baggage. It wasn’t enough to cut the cord and be done. That idea was born of impatient irresponsibility. There were dues to be paid, reparations to be gathered, uncollected baggage waiting to be reclaimed. She would have to suffer the kickbacks of her former trigger-happy self, and when they came, as they surely would, she would have to resist the temptation to re-cord herself to her former ideas and principles as a method of self-defence. For such a method would place her finger back on the trigger, it would result in more shots, more death and destruction, the creation of even more baggage, further dues to be paid, further reparations to be gathered. An endless cycle of birth and death, pleasure and pain, an almost continual suffering. 

She would have to stay clam, retain a connection to stillness. And her unofficial counterpoint training would help; because in a world of continual change: new creations, physical death and decay, emotional rises, psychological shifts, developing thoughts, ever-reactive senses, the only counterpoint is that which never changes. That which is consistent. 

Awareness. 

Her Awareness. That within, which is aware of all the changes, the senses and thoughts, feelings and beliefs, all the fluid identities of the surrounding world. The ‘I AM…” that connects itself to different things in order to complete the trailing sentence and experience itself in absolute totality. If she could remain connected to the knowledge that in truth, given a long enough timeframe, she is only that awareness and nothing more, then she would probably be alright.

She continued to look ahead. The confluence of different colours had merged into a fixed point of light. Colours continued to exist in the periphery, but her attention was so concentrated that she didn’t notice them. She was beginning to know something beyond colour and form, separation and difference. She was still aware of what was below her in the fields and the valleys, she could even feel the sadnesses and joys of those who ploughed them. They fell into her like a pebble to a lake, causing a splash and a ripple that settled into calmness and transparency, security and rest. She was becoming aware of the source and the sauce. The source of it all, as distinct from the separate sauces of life, the different tastes and fancies. She was beginning to connect to this perennial awareness. Something singular and alone, but far from feeling lonely she felt more accepted and connected than she ever had before. And no sooner had she smiled to herself in self-satisfied satisfaction, than she awoke to the warm daylight of a summers morning, the rest of her household fast asleep. Her day just beginning.


by Palmer Golden

photo by talib

RBKC’s North Ken News: Real Eyes Realise Real Lies

North Ken News is a Kensington & Chelsea Council magazine, delivered to thousands of residents in the borough’s less affluent wards. Ill-conceived and half-heartedly produced, it typifies a local authority lacking the ambition to truly change following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Background

In January 2019 Kensington & Chelsea Council (RBKC), after holding ‘Creating Stronger Communities Conversations,’ produced its Grenfell Recovery Strategy, saying the document “demonstrated a strong desire” on the part of local residents “to shape recovery directly, building on the existing strengths and talents of communities.”

The aspirations RBKC identified in its consultations with locals included:

  • RBKC enabling “stronger community leadership”
  • RBKC tapping into “existing skills and networks” and
  • “The need to improve Council communications to all North Kensington residents”

North Ken News, along with other mass distribution puff pieces, are RBKC’s responses to the frustrations raised about the council’s communications. These publications amount to little more than public relations for a disgraced local authority. A true provider of grassroots news and analysis, the blog THis Is North Kensington, has summarised North Ken News as “PR self-analysis of the supposed Grenfell Strategy.”  

Context Continue reading

THE PARTING

I dropped anchor

Watching her slowly sail over the horizon

Knowing we would never see each other again

A small tear formed in the corner of my eye

Where it stayed

For the stoicism within my soul

Kept it from rolling down my cheek…

I knew I would miss her

We had fought so many battles together

At times against each other

She was brave good and true…

Capturing my heart upon my first gaze

Knowing it was doomed from the start

I still entered willingly

Laughing inwardly at my foolishness…

Yet what a journey

For a brief moment

We were both truly alive

Living dangerously -Without fear of tomorrow

Caring, sharing, touching each others’ spirit

Even praying together one time

Feeling the Love of God

Descend on us like a dove

But even that was not enough

For religion, tradition, duty calls

What should have pulled us together

Tore us apart!

I held on briefly-Still do

Believing that what God ordained-Brought together

No man could separate!

This world, this often cruel sea

Not made for the likes of us

As we both sail into the mist of time…

I will never forget you

For you are like the cool Summer breeze

That blows through my hair

I know it’s you

Just passing by

Just saying hello!

Just saying Hi !

A wry smile cracks upon my face

I truly love you still

Yet you can never hold the wind….

M C BOLTON MAY 2022

photo by TC

RBKC has bins

Norland Ward in Kensington & Chelsea is 0.2 miles from Grenfell Tower. In a rational political culture, local politicians seeking election in that ward on Thursday would express support for the victims of the Grenfell fire and solemnly vow to address the worsening economic and social inequality that characterises North Kensington. But in the Royal Borough, pushing policies of injustice and inequality can guarantee you a safe seat, as the Tory candidates make clear in their campaign literature.

We previously looked at Kensington & Chelsea News, the local Conservative Party’s main election propaganda, which sets out their key policies: bin collections, borough-wide parking permits, clean air, low council tax, saving the local police station and money for parks. While some of these pledges are contradictory and some are probably fibs, they are accompanied by the biggest profanity of all; council leader Elizabeth Campbell claiming that “continued support and meaningful recovery for the communities most affected by the Grenfell tragedy will be at the heart of everything we do.”

North Ken Censored

The election propaganda for Norland Ward is more of the same, talking up the threat of a Labour-run council, promoting absurd policies and ignoring residents in the north of the borough. Even though Norland’s boundary reaches into North Kensington, there is no mention of Grenfell or the poverty that plagues the area.

The Conservative candidates, Stuart Graham and David Lindsay, have ultra-safe seats and plenty of political space to express any conscience or vision they possess. They instead follow the council strategy of studiously ignoring North Kensington. They state they are “committed to standing up for the residents of Holland Park and Notting Hill,” omitting North Kensington completely.

The Norland campaign literature is aimed squarely at those who already live in comfort. In the irrational borough, this group is attended to slavishly: “We need a council that has a record of standing up for residents and delivering more while costing less.” Continue reading

Review: Kensington & Chelsea News

The latest propaganda from the Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives comes in the form of a glossy A3 publication with the tagline, Community News. The Spring 2022 edition of Kensington & Chelsea News has the look of a free local newspaper but is a campaigning leaflet for the Tories ahead of next month’s council election. Its mix of policy pledges and class-conscious signaling makes clear the council’s priorities five years on from the Grenfell Tower fire. We read and analysed it so you don’t have to.

Page One

‘K & C News’ bucks the trend in these dark times by starting with a feel-good story titled “Café Society is here to stay.” The article features reassurances that locals can still object to pavement licenses being granted if noise is an issue. Even more reassuringly, K & C News informs us that Café Society will operate “from Sloane Square to Westbourne Grove,” skidding to a halt just before it gets to North Kensington. This geographical description could be a mere rhetorical flourish to name two upscale streets popular with the rich Tory voter base. Or it could be more sinister; the first signal to K & C News’s readership that the north of the borough is of little concern to the council.

The next headline is also good news but comes as a bit of a shock: “South Kensington saved by local campaign.” In my ignorance, I hadn’t known that South Kensington, the richest area in the country, faced an existential threat. The detail is that London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, wanted there to be a big glass building there, but heroic local (Conservative) councillors thwarted his plan. South Kensington was rescued from the jaws of Khan back in November, but this newspaper is campaign propaganda to remind core Tory voters and donors that the council remains devoted to them. For those who follow the politics of RBKC, particularly its public relations approach to the five years since the Grenfell Tower fire, it is interesting to be able to read a document that sets out their true priorities, however dressed up in deceit they might be…   Continue reading

The Kind Man

I sit amongst empty tables 
Where the walls sweat history
Knowing my haunting will return
They come for me
Demons, accusers of shameful acts of passions release!
Maybe I am not the man I seem?
A cursed wretched being of sin…
Yet I know God’s grace
His mercy new every morning
Forgiving-Restoring-Loving…

Like the Great Gatsby
My mystery lies in secrecy
Of a tormented tortured soul…
Constantly carrying around  this old sack of bones
Occasionally gnawing on them to ease my pain…
The hurt of hidden sadness
Buried deep inside my heart
Night-time an escape from the falsehood I portray
Death awaits me with ultimate patience 
For his is the long game…

Like a stage door Johnny
I stand to catch a glimpse of the world’s most beautiful woman
Forever holding this same red rose as a futile gift…
Rejection engrained upon my soul
Cast aside, my kindness too much to bear!
Trauma slicing through body parts
Discarded like butcher’s scraps to wild dogs 
They feel no pity, it’s just tradition…

Everything now lost!
Nothing left for me
Like Saul, I will fall upon my sword
Journeying to a better place
Where I will wait for you….


M C Bolton February 2022
pictures by TC

RBKC: Flattening The Curve

“We’re going to review the review” – Kensington & Chelsea Council, 15th February 2022.

Those were the words uttered by a council officer two minutes into last night’s public meeting on the imminent closure of North Kensington’s main recovery centre for victims of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, The Curve Community Centre.

‘Reviewing the review’ was not what the assembled residents wanted to hear with the loss of a community asset only weeks away and no plan in place to rehouse The Curve’s services, delivered by around 20 local community groups.

A hundred meetings along the same lines have taken place since 14th June 2017: Council officers with no decision-making power try to play for both sides and fail; they nod in agreement at residents’ complaints; they say ‘we’ll take this back to the leadership team’ and they get out, another box ticked.

Some residents reassure them, ‘we know it’s not your fault…you’re just doing your job…we know you don’t have any real power…’

But if they don’t have real power, where does that place us in the hierarchy? Five years on from an atrocity that shocked the nation, North Kensington is stuck in trauma and the only thing that has enjoyed any “recovery” is the council’s power over us.

Loads of Buildings?

There are “loads of buildings available” in North Kensington to replace The Curve said the other council officer, without adding that there is little to no chance that a council renowned for its asset sweating will offer up a new community space. It was only political pragmatism on the council’s part that saved North Kensington Library from being turned into a private school and our college from being replaced by ‘luxury’ flats.

Under Kim Taylor-Smith, its property developer deputy leader responsible for Grenfell recovery, RBKC wanted to sell Canalside House, another community asset, months after the fire.

In terms of numbers of buildings, essential for local organisations to gain a foothold in both fundraising and recovery, the loss of The Curve next month will put North Kensington back to where it was in 2017. Bay20 was built on community (not council) land by the BBC, but Grenfell Tower was lost, with its playground, green space, boxing gym and nursery. In terms of increasing North Kensington’s community spaces, the council is in deficit.

But none of this was mentioned by the two council officers, typical of another feature of RBKC’s community meetings: the recent past goes down the memory hole, the focus is always ‘moving on’ with opportunities to ‘help decide,’ ‘influence,’ ‘co-design,’ ‘oversee’ and so on.

Steering Committee

Last night’s meeting was intended to be the start of setting up a steering group to then establish a Community Trust to “oversee” the £1.3 million that remains in the budget allocated to The Curve.

The Curve, rented from its private owner by RBKC in the aftermath of the fire, will close in March, with the council then having four months to return it to its original state before the lease expires.

Most questions put to the council officers went unanswered, including:

  • What will happen to the residents who currently use The Curve every day?
  • Will the council provide budget for a building that can then be run by the community as an independent base for recovery and income generation?
  • Can the survivors who attend The Curve every year on the anniversary come this year, the fifth anniversary?

One question that was answered was ‘Why wasn’t this all done last year if you knew it was closing in March?’ The answer: ‘Covid’.

All of these anxieties would have been avoided if RBKC had acted on a proposal from The Curve’s board of governors in 2019 setting out a vision for the centre’s future, which combined a community hub (akin to The Tabernacle), a world-class trauma recovery centre and training in industries of the future for young local residents, all at The Curve, which would have been secured on a 50-year lease on favourable terms. To say this detailed proposal by the supposed governors was rejected would be misleading; it simply wasn’t regarded as a real thing by the council, the words didn’t register.

It would have been popular and empowering; hence it could never see the light of day.

Image from Frost Meadowcroft’s brochure

Last Night’s Meeting

Eloquent exasperation and untreated trauma poured out of the attendees, every single intervention a valid, well thought out point. The council officers were forced to go rope-a-dope for the duration. As ever, they had not been sent to the northern outpost of the royal borough for a serious meeting between equals. The officers represented a council with a monopoly on power and has spent tens of millions in such a way as to guarantee no diluting of that mix. This level of chaos on RBKC’s part cannot be accidental.

The archaic council system does not work, with officers taking notes back to the Town Hall to legitimise decisions already made by politicians with no democratic mandate in North Kensington. It is a system that meets a common-sense suggestion like opening The Curve up for survivors on the Grenfell anniversary with a ‘computer says no’ response.

We continually look for creative ways to carve out some independence that would enable real recovery. The council has been assiduous and successful in blocking all our attempts so far.

The agenda of the meeting was ignored, except one item, ‘End of meeting’.

Behind a partition, a group of primary school aged children sat doing their homework as the meeting played out. They looked anxious, absorbing the trauma of their families and neighbours, a perfect snapshot of five years of RBKC’s approach to Grenfell recovery.

If this was the children’s lesson in how the world works, it could not have been any clearer. Ordinary people are abused and disempowered. Another, smaller group tries to soothe the people and “manage expectations” on behalf of a third group. This third group remains unseen by the children. But the children will surely know the third group as their enemy…the ones who shut the doors to their community centre and who blocked every attempt at real recovery for North Kensington.      

REST IN PEACE FRANCIS O’CONNOR – a true artist who exposed the con artists. Read a fitting tribute to Francis here.

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

After the Flood, the Nightmare…

I have moved home seven times since Monday the 12th of July 2021 when Ladbroke Grove was hit by what the media called a “Biblical flood.”

As I evacuated myself that day, I had no concept of the bureaucratic Kafkaesque indifference and incompetence that has replaced the duty of care and professional standards of my landlord, London & Quadrant.

As my North Kensington exile began, I had no idea it would be an ordeal that would push me to TOTAL exhaustion. I also had no idea that my landlord housing association would be so ambivalent about what happened to me.

July 12th: The Flood

I had been working overnight and got back to my home, a basement flat on Ladbroke Grove at 8am that day. To try to regulate myself back to normal hours, I carried on with my day rather than going straight to bed. By 4pm I was hungry but chose not to go out for food because of the heavy rain that had started outside. Instead, a nap on my sofa.

I slept for an hour and a half and when I woke, I was out of it, that jet lagged feeling of being in-between conscious and unconscious. There was silence, aside from the comforting sound of rain outside.

As my eyes began to focus, I thought “Wow, this is beautiful, the floor is reflecting the water falling on the window…”

I watched the watery floor for a while, not even realising yet that my curtains were closed, so no refection was possible.

I stepped down from the sofa – splash – and jumped back up at the immediate discomfort of my toes touching the cold water – “aaaargh” – the shock – “what the fuck? It wasn’t a dream!!!!! Aaaaaaargh… This is real water” I shouted. And that’s when, sitting on my sofa barefoot, the beautiful dream and floating sensation turned into a nightmare.

“Where is this water coming from?” I asked myself, confused.

Barefoot and scared of being electrocuted, my phone not nearby, for ten minutes I was paralysed. The only way out was to put my feet in the water. After what seemed an age of interminable considerations and careful scanning of my surroundings, I stepped into the water and headed for a cupboard where I knew I had some wellies.

The rain coming in under the front and back doors, I wandered around trying to save things, removing appliances from danger, my possessions floating around me. My panicked inventory took me to my bedroom. I stopped in the doorway and my wooden table floated past me, for a split second, watching this scene, I was back in my surreal dream.

The only dry place in the flat was the bathtub, which I started using as a storage unit.

My face was soon wet with tears, my moment of despair stopped short when I saw my neighbour coming down the stairs at the front. “You too?” he asked, ”don’t cry, we’re ok, it’s only material things, we can replace all this. We’re OK, it’s the main thing.”

We went to check our other neighbours and realised the flooding was widespread. 999 and the fire brigade couldn’t come – “too busy” – the first of many occasions when help wasn’t forthcoming.

London & Quadrant

This is the name of the housing association, L & Q, who bought their stock from Notting Hill Housing Trust back in the day. I had lived in the flat since 2009. I called the L & Q emergency number but got what I learned would be the usual response when somebody needs something: tried to get me off the phone…but she also heard the sirens in the background, and said “don’t worry you’ll be booked into a hotel. Somebody will call you back with the booking information.”

My powerlessness had begun.

“Somebody will be with you in the next four hours.”

“When?”

“Within four to five hours but We don’t know. It might be longer…”

Portobello

I filmed my flooded flat and sent it to a friend, a stall holder from Portobello market, where I had been working over the weekend. Why him? Because he was always bragging about Polish people being construction experts. He offered to come over. “Great, thank you so much” and I’m not sure why, still in a state of confusion all I asked him was “bring apple juice and bin bags.”

He was proactive, getting the water out, but I was half working, half paralysed with indecision/confusion. The rain stopped. He got all the water out, from six inches to almost none.

When the electrician arrived, he took photos and told me “we’ll pass it on, somebody will come tomorrow.”

At 9:30pm details arrived about my new home: Marylebone Travel Lodge, for three nights.

At midnight I was still in my flat salvaging. I stayed, frozen with the trauma, watching the sky for more rain, till 4am when I packed my plastic bags and headed to Marylebone.

July 16th

L & Q call me: the Tenancy Management Officer wants to talk about my request to move to a new flat. This is not a request I made because the flood, but three years earlier. I was granted a transfer then and after ignoring me all that time, they were suddenly in touch asking me to fill out the same forms I had already filled and sent back 18 months ago. They decided now was the time to get into the administrative process of moving…at the exact moment when I needed them to help me in the emergency. But as annoyed as I was, and not knowing whether to laugh or to cry, I thought “great! yes, let’s do this now, please do the transfer now, since I’m technically homeless. Let’s get things moving.”

From that phone call, my life has been at the mercy of L & Q, its maintenance team, its rehousing team, its other team whose names I can’t remember. L & Q…

Uncertain Days

Marylebone Travel Lodge was extended for a few days, and Eddie from the Maintenance Team, wanting to do good in this world, was helping me. He was determined to help me, a decent human being watching another in a difficult situation. Eddie had the technical skills and knowledge to quickly and efficiently resolve the issue in a practical manner, but he was still unaware at this point of the administrative chaos and infinite meetings he’d have to go through to actually start the work.

On Ladbroke Grove, Eddie took photos. In Marylebone, I made friends with the hotel receptionist, useful because it was she, not L & Q, who told me whether I’d have a roof over my head, day by day, and if my booking was being extended.

I was back at work too, partially on location and partially “from home”, the latter being made almost impossible with the internet at the Travel Lodge (£3 a day for an insecure and unstable public/not confidential network); L & Q’s 45-60 minutes on hold phone line wasn’t helping my career.

Late July

Ten days on, no internet, no fridge, no food vouchers, nada, no L & Q direct phone or email.

Only one thing for it…I went crazy at them. The result: they gave me my birthday present: an email address for my rehousing officer so I could make my first complaint against L & Q.

Reply from L & Q: Complaint received, and they’ll be in touch. Another email from L & Q: ‘Customer’ satisfaction survey.

Conversations with L & Q follow a pattern. Them: “I’ve asked my accommodation booker to find you more suitable accommodation, a one-bedroom flat.”

Me: “Why don’t you just transfer me to a new flat and save money on hotels?”

Them: “I can only offer you a new flat if the maintenance team say the repair work will take more than six months.”

At this point, it will apparently take two weeks for me to be home again. It’s always two weeks. I will soon get to understand the how long two weeks is.

Back and forth I go to Grove, letting people in to the flat to take photos.

On the 28th July, 3:30pm, I am offered a one-bed flat in Earl’s Court. One hour later, this has inexplicably changed to a studio flat.

On the 29th, with no idea if I had a bed that night, I email L & Q at 9:45am, telling them I have to vacate my hotel room by 12. They tell me the studio flat is booked for a week, and I’ll have a one bedder straight after. I presumed this would be for the duration of the repair work. How wrong I was.

5th August

Finally, a decent place to stay – stylish, has a kitchen, and INTERNET! I can work from home…

L & Q sent a decontamination team to the Grove. Working night shifts, on location, but I am there to let them in. I’m hopeful, optimistic, excited even…a decontamination team getting involved, maybe in two weeks, I’ll have a home again.

But of course, the decontamination team had the appointment time of ‘the afternoon’ and when they finally arrive (from Wales!) I opened the door expecting to see something like the Ghostbusters, a decontamination team coming to sanitise and disinfect sewage and water damage, known to be toxic, but am met by a man with a bucket and mop.

Surveying the wreck of a flat, he declares “I don’t know what to do.”

“I bet you don’t” I think, “I too have a mop and a bucket and already extensively used it in the property.”

L & Q haven’t told him about the damage. He leaves, back to Wales, without doing anything, except taking photos.

A week passes and I am moved from the studio flat to the one-bedroom flat originally promised but my booking remains insecure, only extended for a week at a time.

My key contact is still not anybody at L ‘We care about the happiness and wellbeing of our customers’ & Q, but is the receptionist at my new accommodation, who informs me that they are fully booked from 26th August, but that they (the hotel staff, not L & Q who are possibly busy analysing their many photos of my flat, seeing who captured the damage most artistically) are trying to rearrange things so I can stay.

On the 26th, I call L & Q. I give the rehousing officer there his colleague Eddie’s email address so they can coordinate their work. I’ve become a project manager. The flooring in the flat on Ladbroke Grove is removed to reveal polystyrene, which cannot be decontaminated, so the floor is to be replaced.

1st September

I call L & Q. 45 minutes on hold, and then I am told that only one person on the team can possibly help me, but they are on annual leave. I email and am told that my current accommodation cannot be extended beyond the 7th, but that I will then be given accommodation until the end of the repair works.

I reply: “Why do I have to move again? I am working…”

They reply: “The reason is: you can no longer stay there, they’re fully booked”

They offer me a studio. I remind them that I had predicted this would happen. But of course, the person I warned (a true representative of L & Q) probably has no interest in my situation, certainly not enough to raise the issue with a colleague who might later be called on to do something for the ‘happiness and wellbeing’ of a customer, or a tenant, as I like to think of myself…

But the tenant is the last thing that matters to L & Q, we are chess pieces (specifically, pawns) being moved at their convenience, not human beings who they have a responsibility towards.

I’m pissed off. I want to stay in Earl’s Court and am working with the real people on the reception to try to make it happen. As my departure approaches, I’m in denial. I can’t really face another move at somebody else’s lazy, indifferent discretion.

3rd September

I’m offered a place in London Bridge “for the remainder of your decant” but we all know what that means by this point. I refuse and they reply: “It’s only seven miles away” from Ladbroke Grove.

I’m then offered a place in St Christopher’s Place, West End. I take it, preferring it to the 14-mile round trip to let people take photos of my ruined flat.

6th September

A lot of phone calls later and I move again. I must be out by 12, but the new place won’t be ready till 4pm. L & Q start booking overlapping accommodation, so I officially have two flats for a day, paid for by…L & Q’s insurance? Their tenants? Customers…

9th September

My belongings on Ladbroke Grove are to be put into storage.

13th September

ACE Removals call me to say they will bring boxes to pack my stuff. They ask for a video of my flat so they can evaluate how many boxes to bring. I send one, but there’s no reply from “high quality” ACE. They don’t do any of the things they said they’d do.

20th September

ACE call me, angry and aggressive. As I hadn’t heard from them, and was working, I had presumed the removal job was off. I had emailed L & Q that ACE hadn’t confirmed.

“Award winning” TSG Gas also give me grief, twice standing me up when I travel to Grove, waiting in the contaminated flat to let them in to do a gas check.

21st September

I hear that I will have to move again in five days, to James Street, West End. There’s no news on the decontamination of my Ladbroke Grove flat.

Once my things are in storage, they’ll be stuck there till I move back home. How long will it be until I get my belongings back? I know their “two weeks” deadline could take me beyond winter. Shall I keep my winter jackets with me?

I email L & Q asking for a longer-term solution and complaining about the removal man’s abuse, criticising the gas company. Exhausted and close to burnout, but still confident in my ability to argue.

24th September

I am offered a ‘L & Q private apartment’ and my belongings being stored in another vacant L & Q flat. Again, I’m told I’ll be there for the duration.

30th September

James Street won’t be renewed, I’ll have to leave on 4th October.

1st October

I’m offered studio flats in Vauxhall and Covent Garden, but I have collected more of my things so need a bigger space and to be closer to Grove. The weekend arrives, it all goes quiet.

4th October

All, packed, dressed up and nowhere to go. Emails to L & Q: ‘I have to check out in two hours, where do I go?’

My anxiety rises, I call, 45 minutes on hold…

’For anything else, press zero’ – I press zero, I ask to speak to somebody about my situation. They transfer me. There are two rings and the line goes dead.

I call back and speak to six different people, they all tell me I’ve come through to the wrong department (reception.) The L & Q receptionists are irritated and start shouting at me. The call ends.

Call seven and I speak to a functioning human, Corinne, who is keen to get things sorted. 30 mins before checking out, I get a call from L & Q telling me: “You can stay in Covent Garden for a week while we sort things out.”

The L & Q culture of rudeness is getting too much. I want to cry. I get a cab to Covent Garden, knowing it’s only for a week max.

5th October

I’m offered a place in Hammersmith. Phew. And maintenance work at Ladbroke Grove is due to last four weeks as the radiators have detached from the wall.

8th October

My Hammersmith phase begins.

14th October

I request an update including how long it will be till I can go home. No reply.

26th October

I again request an update. No reply.

2nd November

I email again asking for an update, adding that I had popped to Ladbroke Grove and found that my front door had been left open by L & Q.

I add: “I have moved seven times, and I do not wish to move again, this is causing physical and mental strain.”

3rd November

I email: “My temporary accommodation will end soon – what is happening?”

12th November

I send an email compiling my various unanswered questions.

15th November

And I ask for an update, again.

This time, a reply from L & Q: ‘I’ll let you know on the 16th where you’ll be living on the 17th

With L & Q it’s always the eleventh hour, or it isn’t done, or you’re ignored.

16th November

Email from Eddie at L & Q: ‘I will meet with my colleagues and update you in due course.’ Due course!

My booking in Hammersmith is extended to “the beginning of December.” I am still there.

30th November

Email:

“Hi Miss H, Hi Eddie,

Tomorrow is the beginning of December and I was not specified a precise date for the end of my booking but could you kindly give me an update of the work in progress and extend the booking accordingly if necessary.

Many thanks.”

L&Q reply:

“Hi Miss W****,

The current hotel booking expires on 17th December 21, @Eddie are you able to provide an update on the works?

Thanks.”

14th December

Email to L & Q:

“Hi all (Cc: Miss H – Rehousing Team + Eddie maintenance),

Just a reminder that the booking expires in 3 days (please see email below) Please advise accordingly.

Many thanks.”

– L&Q reply:

“Hi Miss W*****,

I do not have any updates on the repair works however, I have extended your hotel stay for 28 nights to cover the Christmas period and New year. Your extended booking ends on 17th January 2022.

Thanks”

15th January

At 20:39, an email from Eddie. He’s happy to tell me the work has started and he’s expecting it to last for…guess…two weeks!!! Rejoice.

He has a feeling we may be close to completion…. I can’t help laughing, I’ve been told two weeks since July! Eddie is professional, efficient and compassionate, but even with these qualities, he can’t overcome a chaotic L & Q system.

I find out from the receptionist at the hotel my booking was extended for another four weeks.

18th January

I miss a call from M****, newly in charge of the open complaint I made years ago regarding harassment I suffered from my neighbour (antisocial behaviour, stalking, invasion of privacy in the form of opened mails, peeping through my bedroom window, rubbish thrown outside my bedroom window). The complaint had previously been closed without the complainant being informed.

20th January

M**** calls to ask me how I am doing; she means well and is really trying to help but has also been caught in the web of an overcomplicated system.

I’m confused because it seems so pointless, she knows it, I know it. She can’t offer me a transfer as that falls to a different department; she is aware I’m being decanted, temporarily solving the harassment issues but still must call me to keep the complaint open! Are you still following?

24th January

I’m drinking a glass of Prosecco at my temporary home in Hammersmith, after a long day of work, although I’m not sure what I’m celebrating because I’ll have to follow up with L&Q soon regarding the end of my temporary accommodation booking coming up soon, admin / complaints / transfer request from years ago, advancement of renovation / philosophical questions like “Do we really know how long two weeks is?” but let me unwind and pretend everything is normal, just for a minute…

Tenants are customers in London in 2022. Duty of care and professionalism are indifference and incompetence. Two weeks is now indefinite. Justice is nowhere to be seen. I raise my Prosecco to the other flood victims of 2021 – those who didn’t have the strength to speak up, those left rotting in contaminated properties and those waiting for their two weeks in a hotel to end –  I hope they haven’t suffered the double disaster of the flood and London & Quadrant…

By ‘Miss W’

@urbandandyldn