Mark C Bolton November 2021
Colin Hall, the Marmite headteacher of Holland Park School will retire at the end of this academic year having led the school for 21 years, a third of its history. Outstanding Ofsteds and the best-paid head in the country, but Hall leaves with a tarnished legacy. Just down the road from the school is Kensington Town Hall, where those who have overseen the council’s deficient response to the Grenfell Tower fire are still comfortably in positions of power. Hall’s reckoning contrasts with RBKC’s Taylor-Smith, Campbell, and Quirk, who have sailed through on a wave of spin with no media pushback against their running of the richest, most unequal local authority in the country.
News of resignations and appointments at Holland Park have been arriving in parents’ inboxes. The big one was provided, using death announcement vocabulary, by newly installed chair of governors Jane Farrell on 29th September:
Among the other resignations was former head of Lehman Brothers and major donor to the Conservative party, Michael Tory. Nominative determinism now exhausted, it seems that HPS will embrace a more centrist liberal inclusive philosophy with Farrell as chair of governors and the new New Labour-supporting Bercows representing the parents. The major turning point for the HPS old guard was an article in The Guardian last month by Fiona Millar, wife of Alistair Campbell.
There are obvious dots to be joined but there might be nothing more to this new centrist liberal power theme at HPS than coincidence. After all, the articles in The Guardian and The Times were served up by a highly organised campaign by former pupils and staff determined to expose what they call a “culture of humiliation.”
Two investigations are underway at the school, one independent and one by RBKC. Expect much to be added to the list of alleged abuses brought to the public’s knowledge by the Former HPS collective.
Yelling at children through a megaphone is both strange and abusive, as is sending the naughty children to the adventure playground on Southern Row so the mock Ofsted inspectors didn’t have to see them, and so is putting up ‘Wanted’ posters of unknowing children for their ‘Grade Ds in all subjects’.
The audio of a teacher screaming at children, recorded this month, is grim, but apparently the norm, and when this is considered alongside Mr Hall’s propensity to deliver long assemblies on the subject of himself, even to sixth formers on their final day, it suggests not just an abuse of power, but also an understanding among pupils and staff the power being abused is absolute and unchallengeable. From a distance HPS is surreal and eccentric, but if you’re there every day it’s real and normalised.
Still, these revelations alone, if they had happened in a more ‘normal’ comprehensive not on inner London billionaires’ row, would not have been enough to arouse the interest of The Guardian. Mr Hall is a complex headteacher, and plenty of parents like him and his approach, the way he sets about instilling high standards (at least aesthetically) for students. Will The Guardian follow the story as it moves on?
And what of The Guardian‘s silence on RBKC’s ongoing, very public failings? Holland Park is one of the schools that suffered from the entirely avoidable fire at Grenfell Tower, and Holland Park families continue to suffer under the local council also facing accusations of failure to meet its duty of care.
The difference? Perhaps RBKC’s 13-strong crack team of PR spinners pulling the wool, enabled by an establishment media staffed by journalists who consider the social order of Kensington, the haves and the have nots, as natural, or, at best, an opportunity for virtue signaling.
More detail on that another time, but it’s clear that The Guardian and the other establishment outlets have the power to tip the balance in certain situations, and there is enough evidence that RBKC has betrayed the Grenfell victims repeatedly and deliberately to justify serious analysis by the nation’s media.
Hall’s retirement was announced the same week that the Pandora Papers revealed that Kensington is home to billions of pounds worth of property owned by tax dodging members of the one percent. If I was aiming for power via Keir Starmer’s Labour party I probably wouldn’t want to piss off potential donors like Michael Tory by empowering North Kensington residents who might demand more democracy or even devolved power locally.
The Guardian gave a platform to the once voiceless of Holland Park School. That is good. But they don’t challenge other unaccountable power nearby.
The previous leadership of RBKC fell because they disrespected the mainstream media, trying to lock them out of a council meeting, something the government knew was a no-no. The despised social cleansers, Paget and Mellen, were made to resign and the pressure on the Tories eased. Their heirs at RBKC have been untroubled by an indifferent, ignorant media…
by Tom Charles @tomhcharles
If you held me in your arms for eternity
That would not be time enough!
For you are the sweet fragrance of petrichor after the rain…
Everything about you was unpolluted, pure
There’s no falsehood in your being
Snatching my heart for your own
Yet I felt no pain or loss
For it was always yours
Ordained from the beginning
Not by chance or fate, but by nature’s mighty power
The apex of colliding dimensions…
A gentle touch of your hand just enough
To cause creation to stop and wonder
Is perfection once more again about to be created?
Oh! Great Mother Earth
Take me in your arms
Show me how this world should be…….
M C Bolton September 2021 @MarkCBolton1
Four years and three months of trauma have unfolded since the Grenfell Tower fire which claimed the lives of 72 people in London’s North Kensington. Those with the power to facilitate justice and recovery have chosen alternative courses of action, victimising residents while protecting their own narrow power interests. So, it is unsurprising that the final betrayal looms.
The Government seems as though it is on the brink of disregarding the bereaved, survivors, wider community, even the notion of the sanctity of life, in deciding the fate of the Grenfell site, without consulting those most affected.
A leak to The Sunday Times a fortnight ago broke the news that the tormented structure is to be “torn down” due to unspecified “safety fears”.
The leak came from “senior Whitehall sources” who described the plan to fell the Tower as a “fait accompli”, making a mockery of the Government’s own Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission which has worked to “ensure that the bereaved families, survivors and North Kensington residents lead decision-making on the long-term future of the Grenfell Tower site”.
There is resistance locally to the Tower being taken down. Not just because there is no expert consensus on it being unsafe but, more importantly, many among the bereaved consider it to be the burial ground of their loved ones; a sacred place.
This latest insult to the victims is no anomaly. From the outset, those with power have cynically contradicted their own performative pronouncements of ‘change’ to deny the victims the means to rebuild our tight-knit community.
A month after the fire, newly installed Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) Leader, Elizabeth Campbell, used the word “change” 11 times in a speech to survivors. At the same meeting, one of those survivors pleaded with the council: “I beg you, do not play a game with us. I beg you, do not tell us lies. I beg you, do not waste our time.”
But Campbell’s claim of change has not converted into action and the desperation of the community has endured.
Theresa May also promised action when she was Prime Minister, with new homes to be offered to survivors within three weeks of the fire. RBKC’s 1,200 long-term empty homes, 9,300 second homes, and 6,000 homes owned by companies registered in tax havens were not utilised. Instead, the council – overseen by the Government’s Gold Command and Grenfell Taskforce – made survivors endure excruciating waits to be rehoused, often offering inappropriate flats.
Sajid Javid, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary at the time of the fire, declared in its aftermath: “The legacy of Grenfell can and must be a whole new approach to the way this country thinks about social housing… It demands nothing less.”
In 2018, RBKC followed suit, stating that the Lancaster West estate, the site of Grenfell Tower and a target of RBKC’s rapacious social cleansing before the fire, was to become a “model for social housing in the 21st Century”. By 2020, this vision had been downgraded to “a model 21st Century improvement programme” with the estate receiving no more money per property than other estates in the borough.
With the local authority missing in action when the Tower burned, the local community stepped in to provide emergency support and relief. Yet, in 2018, with local children suffering from trauma, RBKC cut £1.1 million from its youth services budget. Gold Command and the Taskforce made no intervention. The Government was silent again when, that same year, RBKC attempted to sell-off one of the area’s last remaining community centres, Canalside House – only stopped by a grassroots campaign.
The council scrapped its Grenfell Scrutiny Committee in 2019 following a ‘consultation’ attended by 15 people. Attempts to democratise life in the borough have been blocked by the local Conservative Party, that dominates the wealthy central and southern areas but has no mandate in the north of the borough.
While the streets around Holland Park – a mile from Grenfell Tower – have flats that sell for £10 million, North Kensington is sliding backwards across a range of indicators. A Moroccan man residing there can expect to live for 20 years less than white British man in the south. Infant mortality has risen alarmingly in the north since the Conservative Party’s austerity campaign, the 2009 rate almost tripling by 2019.
In this context, the local and central Government’s response to the fire has been little more than public relations spin. It has safeguarded its authoritarian grip over this borough of obscene wealth, royals and oligarchs but has done nothing to empower those so devastated by the Grenfell atrocity.
Taken individually, each betrayal can be rationalised as a mistake. Taken together, they represent the systematic abuse of the Grenfell victims.
North Kensington is now a neighbourhood frozen in time, at the exact moment when 24-hour news crews departed the scene in 2017. Lives have continued, further elections have been fought, but the trauma is still lodged in our bodies. We cannot undo what happened, and we are still waiting for justice.
Those with the power to improve our lives have only worsened the torture by repeating the soothing ‘change’ mantra, calculated to ensure that whatever is offered to the community by way of empowerment remains illusory, superficial and, ultimately, humiliating.
With all other attempts by the community to engage with the Government having ended in frustration, the Grenfell Tower Memorial Commission represents the last hope of controlling the legacy of Grenfell.
With 10 representatives from the community (five next of kin, three former Grenfell residents, and two Lancaster West residents) the Commission’s stated aim is to “develop a community-led vision for the memorial” which will then be implemented by the Government.
Staffed and run by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities), it has been handicapped from the outset.
The Memorial Commission has suffered from the inevitable consultation fatigue of RBKC’s four years of ‘community engagement’. Just 17% of Grenfell households and 4% on the rest of the estate voted to elect the community representatives.
No checks and balances on Government power exist. On the fate of the Tower, the Government is the strongest player.
At a Memorial Commission meeting this year, I advised the co-chair and the community representatives to review the terms of reference as a matter of urgency. Without decision-making power, their function is merely to facilitate the Government and council with a masquerade of ‘consultations,’ ‘change’, and ‘community-led’ ‘co-design’.
The Sunday Times story exemplifies that power imbalance. By undermining the community’s ability to decide, the Government is stripping us of our most basic dignity.
Primarily, it has not explained the ‘safety concerns’ that exist in relation to the Tower and why, if they are so serious, the children of Kensington Academy are back at school in the shadow of the structure. It is understood, with second opinions gleaned from other architects, that at least 10 of the 24 floors of Grenfell Tower could be preserved and incorporated into a fitting memorial.
There is plenty of discussion in North Kensington about the fate of the Grenfell site. The community should be empowered to decide how to honour those lost, rather than being hamstrung by the machinations of government.
Differences of opinion on this personal and sensitive issue exist, but there is also an apparent consensus on the site becoming green; a place of nature and tranquillity, open to everyone, a symbol of hope, peace and dignity.
As well as being the UK’s most traumatised area, North Kensington is the country’s most polluted, dominated by the A40 Westway flyover, which was imposed on the local population in 1970 and causes one in 12 local deaths with its pollution. An immersive experience of nature, using the Biofilic design movement, would facilitate reduced anxiety and depression, would be welcomed in this concrete jungle.
Why not be ambitious? Smaller cities than London have shown what is possible: Singapore’s solar-panelled Supertrees; Paris’s rooftop urban farm; and, perhaps most presciently, Milan’s Vertical Garden, built in a tower block.
There is no shortage of imagination and inspiration here in North Kensington. But to create something impressive and effective as a memorial, an empowered local community is a prerequisite. We need a safe space to implement the will of the people – without leaks, games, spin, insults and pain. If we are disenfranchised yet again, the memorial will be insufficient to honour the scale of the loss and pain.
There must be no “fait accompli” regarding the way we, as a community and as a nation, honour the victims of Grenfell. The site must never become a reflection of establishment control; devoid of imagination and empathy, a symbol of class war and indifference.
The legacy of the Grenfell Tower can and should be a break with the past and become a green sanctuary representing the vibrancy of North Kensington.
By Tom Charles @tomhcharles
Photo by Melanie Juno Wolfe / North Kensington Community Kitchen
This article was first published by the Byline Times @BylineTimes on 23rd September 2021
I knelt in submission before the throne of grace
Guarded by two veiled women of Truth
Sisters of purity, staring deep into my soul…
Feeling pity for this wounded man
whose heart bore the scars of many battles…
Mercy and Love surely were their names
They both stood in silence
Looking without judgement at this corrupted man of flesh…
Wisdom beyond their years, yet without age!
Harbingers of light
Shining into humankind’s hidden depths
Enabling my eyes to see true beauty once more
Each glance filling my heart with Hope, with Love
Making demons shudder-Angels weep…
Granting me God’s favour, mercy, kindness…
So softly walking into my spirit
Setting me free, as slowly they depart
These majestic-regal-spiritual beings
Who have seen, who know life’s secrets
Yet still remain clothed in humility
Leaving me quietly weeping
Knowing they have my heart for eternity…
M C Bolton July 2021
I am just a simple man
in the most complicated of ways
With a basic thinking complexed mind
that’s often led astray
I worry about the things I cannot change
Don’t change the things I can!
Just a complicated simple man that’s never had a plan…
Just get by day to day
always grateful for my pay
Yet it is my freedom that I truly crave
Delude myself everyday
that I am not the system’s slave
knowing deep down that is a lie
I just don’t see the chains!
For I am the world’s most simple man
on the road again…
Maybe a little complicated, mixed-up, mad?
Aboard my train of pain
I know deep down inside my soul
There’s a regular bunch of guys
very slowly drowning
as they swim against the tide
Writing poems of nonsense
When their brains are fried……..
M C Bolton, @MarkCBolton1 June 2021
Meet Phil Bickley, owner of Tonic, the classic menswear shop on Portobello Road. Phil sat down with Urban Dandy just after his shop’s twentieth birthday as retail opened up again. He explained how Tonic started and became a Portobello mainstay, what inspires the shop, the impact of Covid on retail, and how some major currents in British history and culture have shaped his personal story…
What is Tonic about?
Tonic is about quality, understated clothing for quality, understated people. It is socially and environmentally responsible, anti-mass production, clothes with value, established names and up and coming new brands.
What explains your longevity?
We were 20 years old in November. We offer classic labels and designs and value for money.
Three months closed in the first lockdown, then another month, and on – how do you cope?
Now that’s a question!
Two days before lockdown we photographed every item in the shop, bit rough and ready. Then in the first one to two weeks of lockdown, I was editing and adding stock then I started to put down my thoughts on retail and Tonic and its place in the community.
I sent these thoughts out in the next few weeks as emails to my customer database and through social media. The response from customers was emotional, it touched me the response we received, and the support. It helped me understand how much the shop means to our customers…retail is much more than the transaction.
Tonic isn’t just about selling stuff, it is a place, an attitude, a place people like to come and hang out, talk about the world, society, community, politics, music, football and sometimes clothes. Now and again they like to buy….
I started to come in once, then twice a week, sending out online orders and delivering orders that were close enough by hand. It was good to see people. The neighbourhood was very quiet, people appreciated me delivering by hand, sometimes I’d take two sizes of something that had been ordered so the customer could try both and decide which was better, this went down well.
We were able to access some of the government support. I’m not a fan of any Tory government, never will be, but their initial response on the financial side was good, it was decisive, considered and timely. Everything else though has been terrible!
And, in my own experience, I know there’s many with not such a good experience in lockdown.
What is the future of fashion retail and the high street?
Retail will never be the same again. The pandemic has accelerated what was already happening, people shopping from home and high streets dying. For retail businesses to survive, in my opinion, they need to be open and honest. Look after people, be nice. Sell good quality at honest prices, be true to a vision, whatever that might be.
How did you end up down here, establishing yourself on Portobello?
In 1989 I went to Hillsborough, going to footy and clothing was my thing in my later teens, I was in the Leppings Lane end with a group of friends, unfortunately, three of them didn’t make it home. At 18 years old it was tough to deal with something like that. In the 80s there wasn’t much support in how to deal with something like that. Later that year I decided to leave, maybe it was running away, I’m not really sure to be honest, I think you were expected to deal with things differently then.
Anyway, I was working in the Post Room of the Girobank in Bootle, Liverpool, and they gave me the opportunity to go and work in the London office as junior junior office assistant. It was my ticket to a new life. I moved to London not knowing anyone but gradually found my feet, found friends, worked in Greece, found rave culture, which was probably the natural next step to an ex-football going fashion lover…
Then after working in clothes shops in Soho I decided to go back into education, I managed to talk my way in to doing a fashion degree at London College of Fashion. Then I went on to work for Paul Smith in London and Nottingham. Then I had a buying role at The Moss Brothers Group, and from there I went on to roles buying for the Hugo Boss UK stores, then developing own-label ranges for the Cecil Gee stores. That is where I came up with the concept of Tonic. 20 years later, here I am.
With you being so directly affected by the atrocity at Hillsborough, there’s an obvious parallel with the Grenfell atrocity. What are your thoughts on how the community can interact with the ongoing injustice?
I grew up in Liverpool and my dad was a fireman. There would be fires in flats all the time and they were put out, they didn’t spread. Estates were built in conjunction with the fire brigade. What happened at Grenfell Tower was so different from this and it would be a disgrace if the families are made to wait as long as the Hillsborough families did for justice.
I see the similarities, the fact that minorities and marginalised communities are demonised, the misdirection from the media. With Hillsborough, it was The Sun demonising people from Liverpool, but the reality was that there were fans from all sorts of places at Hillsborough that day.
I just really hope they don’t have to wait so long but I’m concerned for them as it seems the same tactics of delay and demonisation are being used against the Grenfell families and local community.
By Tom Charles @tomhcharles @urbandandyldn
We just received the above image from a former Lancaster West resident. The image shows an official RBKC notice announcing that the council has designated 14th June, the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, as the date for the first of a series of fire alarm tests in one of its properties.
Four years on from the horrors of Grenfell, with no justice, widespread trauma and a PR-heavy change programme at the local council which has been ignored by the national media but exposed as a sham on this blog and elsewhere, RBKC is still finding new ways to be incompetent and insensitive.
On and on it goes….
I stare into the sun
Longing for your shadow
to pass over me
Filling my cup once more
with the elixir of Love…
Your purity too much
For such tainted eyes to bear
Feeling so vulnerable – yet so safe
in the graceful gentleness of your presence
Kneeling in humble submission
to the Queen of my soul…
My sword thrust deep
into the desert sands of time
your veil of modesty and dignity
caught by the cool evening breeze
revealing such hypnotic perfection
that has caused kings
to wage war to win your favour
I who have served you
through many ages – dimensions
seen empires rise
seen empires fall
Finally catching a glimpse
of Paradise on Earth
In the eternal beauty of your face
Forever capturing my heart
M.C. Bolton May 2021 @MarkCBolton1
The Tower Block is Grenfell Tower.
The Housing Stock is the 9,000 residential properties owned by Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC).
And the two Double-Barrelleds are Nicholas Paget-Brown and Rock Feilding-Mellen, former leaders of RBKC and key players in North Kensington’s recent history.
Until March 2018, RBKC managed its 9,000-strong housing stock through an arms-length subsidiary company misleadingly named Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) – read more about KCTMO here.
RBKC’s leaders had ultimate responsibility for KCTMO including scrutinising the company to ensure it met its duty of care to residents. Following the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, RBKC folded KCTMO (and its 3,500 outstanding repair jobs) back into the council and increased the role of another council subsidiary company, Repairs Direct. RBKC gave Lancaster West, the site of Grenfell Tower, a separate estate management organisation, W11, although it remains in the gift of the council.
Those with lived experience of KCTMO, including me, know it behaved like a “mini mafia who pretend to be a proper functioning organisation,” going after “any residents who have the temerity to stand up to them.” RBKC’s leadership chose not to take action to improve the TMO’s approach to residents.
In 2010 the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took power with a zest for austerity that was taken up by RBKC. Since that election, life expectancy in Golborne ward, North Kensington, has dropped six years, one of many statistics to lay bare the inequality of Kensington.
RBKC and KCTMO used banal bureaucracy to victimise residents who opposed their policies in the years before the fire. At the head of this was Tory council leader, Nicholas Paget-Brown.
- Nicholas Paget-Brown
Paget-Brown was a career politician, holding various roles in the Conservative party including local councillor from 1986 until 2018 and RBKC leader from 2013 until 2017.
His stated ambitions for North Kensington were modest: “I would like all residents to be proud of living in Kensington & Chelsea and I want to contribute towards the regeneration of parts of the Borough where there is still a need to ensure that people have opportunities that will give them the best start in life.” This, alongside platitudes about improving parks, gardens, and museums, indicated Paget-Brown’s comfortable position as leader of RBKC. His blog, his local newspaper columns, and his utterances in conversation could be reduced to one sentence: ‘Everything’s alright, you can trust the Tories.’
The most unequal borough in Britain? Paget-Brown was not a man intent on change. Continue reading