What’s Going On at SPID?

By Ivor Flint and Joseph Rodrigues

SPID (Social Political Innovative Direct) Theatre is in a nationally renowned, charitable theatre company based at a community space beneath Kensal House, a social housing block on Ladbroke Grove in North Kensington. SPID works on other estates too, on participatory youth performance projects aimed at regenerating community spaces. In summer 2019, SPID was awarded almost £2.5 million in funding to refurbish its Kensal House headquarters. Some Kensal House residents have opposed the refurbishment and SPID’s landlord, Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC,) appears set to block the renovation…

We are writing on behalf of the residents who support SPID Theatre’s refurbishment of Kensal House community rooms, as shown in our film. SPID is a mixture of residents and professionals who use local roots and national profile to champion high-quality community theatre on council estates. We are lucky to have had them here on our estate for fifteen years, making interactive youth shows which advocate for social housing.

Restoring and improving Kensal House estate community rooms is a dream we’ve shared with SPID ever since we asked them to run the neglected space. Four years ago they started fundraising for what we see as incredible plans. By June 2019 they finally confirmed an award of funding of £2.4 million from the London Mayor, the National Lottery and five other non-council funders. When RBKC refused permission – first for planning in Sept 17th 2019, and then for landlord’s consent December 31st 2019 – we took action at Kensington Town Hall.

The Appeal

It had been a tough day, mopping up leaks in Kensal House, an estate riddled with flooding pipes that force residents into temporary accommodation, despite our appeals to our council landlord to fix them.

Shivering in the shadow of Kensington’s town hall, it was a relief to be allowed in to appeal at planning committee. But once the hearing started, our ‘SPID stands for solidarity’ t-shirts felt flimsy and cold. ‘Helena Thompson is not a resident,’ said the first to speak against us. This opened the floodgates for others to attack SPID’s artistic director.

The sad fact is that here in North Kensington, infighting is rife. Thirty-one months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, the total absence of any justice is traumatising and re-traumatising the area. It suddenly matters how ‘local’ you are – with different factions competing for status while survivors, bereaved and affected local people continue to absorb insults from the national government. Here, Residents’ Associations are set against each other as if they are rivals. Here, leaders of faith and managers of community spaces are punished for working with the ‘wrong’ groups’. Mental health and trauma are the elephants in every North Kensington meeting room, yet RBKC imposes austerity including in its mental health budget.

The borough’s planning department had bowed to an onslaught of local objections which painted the charity we know and love as cutthroat, outsider property developers. Those who appealed to speak for SPID were cut off after just two minutes. We closed our eyes, and waited for the axe to fall…

Objections

The chair summarised the objections. He understood the concern over the extension into their communal garden. But in reality, changing the garden’s layout would not reduce it as the extension occupies one-tenth of the garden, with all green space to be replaced by extending the greenery. He listed the benefits: a new community space; investment that only a charity could secure; free activities for young people. As the councillors slowly raised their hands, the final vote swung things in our favour. In the silence, time seemed to stop.

We remembered all the changes SPID had been asked for and made. The escalating jealousy over the chance of investment, the endless objections to everything, from disabled access to building works. We were relieved, but we also felt loss, for the love that North Kensington estates had always stood for.

SPID’s youth, advocacy and living history work are all about that fellowship. They champion social housing for the unique way it stamps community itself into architecture. This is where the union of people and place and time is most sacred. And this is what we stand to lose if we let the community divide and destroy itself at the time we most need to be strong.

We will always stand by SPID, and be forever grateful to the people who do the same. We are sorry for the misplaced frustration they’ve suffered, for the bullying and false accusations. We share their passionate conviction that community investment in social housing benefits everyone. But SPID have shown us that suffering a hate campaign does not have to mean reciprocal hating.

RBKC – Slum Landlord?

And now we have a new challenge and we are prepared to stand with them and to stand firm. On the eve of 2020, the council decided to deny landlord’s consent because of objections already addressed at the town hall – the plans have listed building consent, and support from Historic England, and cannot be altered again without losing funding.

For no benefit, RBKC’s decision to withhold sacrifices everything. It means the community rooms will continue to deteriorate and become unsafe as Kensal House and SPID’s shared heritage continues to decline – with frequent leaks, ancient electrics, no disabled access, and blocked fire exits. Kensal House residents will no longer receive investment to spend on improving their neglected homes and the communal benefit for the whole estate will not materialise.

There will be no additional space available when the hall is booked, and local people will be deprived of paid work placements, new jobs, and free business mentoring. Local youth will be deprived of free drama, heritage, sports, filmmaking and homework clubs. In short, an area that is suffering a £1.1 million cut to its already insufficient youth provision, is about to spurn a substantial financial injection.

The prospect is heart breaking. After 15 years of fighting for investment in social housing, SPID had raised unprecedented funding from the Mayor and the Lottery, with no help from RBKC. The theatre even pledged their own reserves towards improvements for the whole of the estate. SPID asked the council to invest at the same time by finally doing their statutory duty and bringing all of Kensal House up to standard. Instead, RBKC rejected a timeline to fix the estate’s leaks and vetoed the urgently needed refurbishment.

Residents For Refurb was set up with support from SPID’s Estate Voices program to challenge this decision. We believe that if the council listened properly to North Kensington residents, they would have fixed the chronic leaks on the whole estate, consulted with the thousands of local residents who use the space each week, and granted consent for the urgently needed refurbishment. There is a petition to restore the dignity Kensal House community rooms deserves by finally giving this crumbling building and local young people a future.

RBKC’s dithering and lack of leadership over SPID suggest a strategy of divide and rule by the council in this proud community. Millions of pounds can fall by the wayside and there is no formal process available for the tenant to challenge the landlord. There is however a deadline of 31st January for us to persuade the council to reverse its denial of consent.

As it stands, the future direction of SPID theatre and Kensal House is dictated by how RBKC feels, politically. Their claims of wanting to improve North Kensington appear hollow and their track record of overseeing managed decline does not give us cause for hope. But we will continue to push for positive change in North Kensington. Will this council, for once, show some leadership?

 

Ivor Flint and Joseph Rodrigues are residents of Kensal House

Residents for Refurb: residentsforrefurb@gmail.com

 

 

Writings from the Roots – North Kensington Zine

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Art by Toby Laurent Belson

Urban Dandy features in a new Ezine, curated by Toby Laurent Belson. This first edition brings together the words of local writers, campaigners, film makers and artists to reveal the context in which the Grenfell Tower fire took place.

The Zine represents some of the best of the North Kensington community: creativity, diversity, openness, unity and defiance…above all a commitment to life in the face of forces that work against it.

The Zine is an ideal primer for those who want to learn more about this unique area, as well as a timely reminder that the Grenfell Tower atrocity did not occur in a vacuum, but in the context of policy decisions and systemic attitudes towards the population of North Kensington.

As the struggle in North Ken continues, Writings from the Roots will stand as a testament to the enduring spirit of the people of this area who continue to face down injustice and insults from the same forces that were at work long before 14th June 2017.

 

Some words of introduction from Toby Laurent Belson are below. You can open a digital version of the Ezine hereNorth_Kensington_Writings_1 and print copies are available at local libraries (Ladbroke Grove & Kensal), the Venture Centre, Acklam Village, Henry Dickens Community Centre and the Taberncale, where there will be an official launch on Saturday 15th June at 6pm.

Over to Toby:

“It has been produced to respond to a couple of specific things:

1 An acknowledgement that the strong online presence and platforms of our grassroots activities are not always matched by offline efforts (albeit for good reason given the next level of resource and commitment some of these outcomes require).

2 To make clear that there are strong and established networks in this community. Just as in the 60s and 70s, where the People’s Association and their centres acted as a gathering space for a multitude of autonomous groups or All Saints Road was a space of Black communiity resistance. Things are connected.

3 To publish a piece that (amongst others) will act as a marker. Having done various research over the years, the value of published works and outstanding ephemera has become clear. And the need for communities and individuals to produce their own stories and present their own narratives has also become clear. We need more books, more zines, more leaflets, more posters, more songs, more films, more artworks, more exhibitions, more talks, more libraries and more archives. We have the skills in and around the community to do it all.

This is a further development of the ‘North Kensington Healing’ artwork produced for the ‘Shifaa (Healing)’ edition of the Khidr Collective zine released in January 2018.

https://www.khidrcollective.co.uk/product-page/khidr-collective-zine-issue-two-shifaa

In continuing to explore the nature of this part of my home, West London, roots are discovered that go further out and further down with an endless diversity of trunks, branches, blossoms and leaves that make more and more sense. It’s amazing and I encourage everyone to keep on contributing and cultivating to this healing, this culture, this freedom.”

 

Westway Trust CEOs & Bay 20 Exclusive

In 2018, Urban Dandy was the recipient of an apparent leak regarding the Westway Trust. Emailing anonymously and identifying themselves only as “someone recently connected with the Trust” the whistle blower presented us with a “summary of events” that allegedly led to the Trust’s 2018 CEO appointments, its decision to allow the BBC to build at Bay 20 for the DIY SOS Grenfell specials and the overlap between these two stories.

A bit of background…

What is the Westway Trust?

The Westway Trust (formerly North Kensington Amenities Trust) is responsible for one mile / 23 acres of land under the Westway section of the A40 in North Kensington, crossing Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove, passing close to the Grenfell Tower and ending at Latimer Road. This custodianship began when the Westway was opened in 1970. The Trust’s remit is to ensure the land is used for the benefit of the local community as compensation for the concrete eye sore that dominates, darkens and pollutes the areas underneath it.

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photo from Westway 23 website

Westway Trust’s relationship with the local community is a complex one. The Trust provides vital services, including spaces for charities and supplementary schools. However, there is rancour among many local residents at aspects of the Trust’s work and approach, some of which has been covered by us, see the links at the end of the article. The Westway Trust is currently undergoing a review by the Tutu Foundation following claims of institutional racism.

What is Bay 20?

Bay 20 is one small section of the land under the A40 in the care of the Westway Trust and had remained undeveloped by the Trust. The space was once used by Carnival Industrial Enterprise as a steel pan yard; highly skilled musicians would make and tune pans, maintaining important local heritage and offering apprenticeships. This was abandoned by the Trust who inserted an art installation: a bleached-purple moonscape, which remained the only inhabitant of Bay 20 for over a decade.

The BBC built two community spaces on Bay 20 in 2018: one was the Dale Youth boxing club, a replacement for the facility destroyed in the June 14th 2017 Grenfell fire; the other a community centre and meeting space, to be run by a community operator, not the Westway Trust due to its historic inability to secure the confidence of the local population. The building work and subsequent grand openings were subjects of the BBC prime time programme, DIY SOS. There were serious concerns raised about the BBC’s involvement at Bay 20 including over the light tone of the programmes and the fact that community land was being used to replace a gym lost in an entirely preventable fire. See the links at the end of the article for more.

Bay 20’s close proximity to Grenfell Tower and the fact that it lay unused made it an attractive choice for the BBC to tell a Grenfell-related story.

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Bay 20 before the BBC development

Who leaked the stories to us?

Our Mr/Ms X said that for legal reasons (Westway Trust has confidentiality agreements with staff and trustees) they could not go on the record with what they called their “summary” of events.

We had no way of verifying X’s credentials, but we checked the information with another person “recently connected with the Trust” and they responded that “this guy is so right!!”

X told us: “I have been connected with the Westway Trust for a number of years, I was appalled by Angela McConville the last CEO of the Trust and further appalled, that when she left she was given a glowing endorsement by Alan Brown (Westway Trust Chair) and a hefty chunk of her bonus – allegedly £12k.”

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A Westway Trust AGM, photo from Westway 23 website

There is more background on Angela McConville’s time at Westway Trust here.

Allegations

X presented us with some allegations against the Westway Trust:

  • The Trust conducted a CEO appointment process that was deliberately closed and “directly connected” to sealing a deal with the BBC for Bay 20
  • Of the two members of the four-person Westway Trust Executive Team who argued for an open CEO appointment process, one left with immediate effect while the other was being “performance managed” out at the time of the leak. The other two executive members are now the joint CEOs
  • The BBC wanted maximum value for its ‘Grenfell special’ and so made two programmes rather than the usual one, leading to a halving of the potential space used for the new community centre

Closed Process

X told us:

“Many hoped both inside and outside of WT that there would be a chance of a new approach, fresh ideas and a fresh beginning (a promised CEO selection with an open process at last December’s (2017’s) AGM – this promise was recorded by Westway 23) – Many were completely devastated to understand very recently that the WT chair and board, with the aid of the interim CEOs, had decided to undertake a “closed and secret internal process” to appoint (from interim role to permanent) as joint CEOs.”

The joint CEOs appointed in 2018 were Mark Lockhart and Alex Russell., 

X: “Mark Lockhart (at WT for 25 years), was involved from one bad administration to the next. Alex Russell – who Angela McConville recruited and personally mentored – is from a professional private sector Communications Consultancy and was hired to gain the upper hand in the comms war (as Angela saw it) with the Community.      

“The Westway Trust Chair and the Westway Board (not including the community trustee who completed her resignation in protest at such a closed process) decided against the promised “Open and Inclusive Process” of CEO appointment, and instead decided to pursue a closed campaign to appoint long serving Mark Lockhart (who knows where the bodies are buried!) and Alex Russell. They are both seen as a safe pair of hands who will not make any radical changes at the Trust.

“Post Grenfell and with the BBC DIY/SOS sniffing around the area for a Grenfell branded project, the BBC proposition for Bay 20 was seen by the two interim CEO’s as a “gold-plated opportunity” to make their role’s permanent (within a closed system of appointment and with an absence of competition), by rapidly developing a site that had remained dormant for some 47 years. Thereby impressing their paymasters and appointers on the Board and giving Alan Brown an immediate good news story – much needed after his glowing endorsement of Angela McConville’s tenure.

“The interim CEOs seized upon the BBC need for the DIY/SOS light entertainment show and threw their full energy behind the Bay 20 project, diverting WT resources to make it happen, they wanted success and to impress at all costs…to show the Board that they could deliver a development (any development) and that’s why there was no community consultation.

“Unfortunately, this ambition was at all costs, they conceded on point after point to the BBC and encouraged the BBC to stick with the project despite very mixed community sentiment, they ploughed on, not listening to the displeasure of their own staff and the doubts of other stakeholders – that this project was not representative of the Community, was in bad taste and could be seen as exploitative of the Grenfell disaster. They sold out the land (and community) in a heartbeat (for their own self-promotion), land that had been left unused and wasted by the Trust for the last 47 years.”

Departures

X: “There were four members of the Trust Executive Team, including the two current CEOs, the other two Executive Directors advocated strongly for an open process. One has now left (by immediate agreement), the second one is currently being performance managed out the door…”

BBC Role

X: “The BBC wanted to get their money’s worth and make “two (DIY SOS) programmes,” the interim CEOs gave them two buildings – one for each programme. That explains the curious design – two buildings with a big road through the middle which serves no purpose but to make two TV programmes for DIY SOS. No matter that the one third of the site is not developed and could have been used to “double the size of the Community Room building” (does this really make best use of a charity asset?) – the BBC demanded, and the Trust CEOs willingly gave, to keep them from walking away. This would be Mark Lockhart and Alex Russell’s crowning project, one that would surely confirm their permanent CEO appointment and keep the process closed to competition and safeguard the Trust from change. 

“The CEOs also willingly signed-off all the building contract “defects liability” clauses to allow Galliard Homes (the builder) to leave them completely free of any responsibility on putting right defects over the first year of operation despite knowing that the building was being thrown-up in double quick time. Galliard Homes now have no liability to come back and put defects right! Defects will be paid for out of the Trust’s coffers – No matter! – continue building…’we need to impress.’

“The builders built the overhang too low – no matter – let’s build round it on Maxilla Gardens – screw the environment to build over some of the grass on Maxilla Garden.  No consultation or community publicity for this additional planning submission…”  

X ‘s Summary

X gave his/her summary: “This is a very sad story…leaving the Community unconsulted and exploited again! And the Grenfell legacy “exploited” to serve an ambition of becoming a CEO of the Westway Trust – it’s ironic that for 47 years Bay 20 remained a wasted asset, despite community representations and then when it really suited those in power it was all hastily made to happen!  

“It is a clear example of how secrecy and one bad decision leads to another and another….           

“BUT it worked! The Westway Trust Board and Chair now has two new permanent CEOs appointed in a closed process and in the most terrible fashion.

“This is all terrible, however there is a bigger story of how a ‘closed CEO process’ gives rise to many a bad decision, concealment of the Truth and was actually a “key driver” of WT getting into bed so quickly with the BBC DIY SOS, concealing bad decisions and arriving with the peculiar, inefficient design of two buildings and the curious internal road that takes up a third of the site…..very wasteful”.

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Left to right: Bay 20 Community building; gap; Dale Youth boxing gym
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Inside the Bay 20 Community Centre

Westway Trust Response

Charles Howgego, spokesman for the Westway Trust responded to X’s claims:

On the allegation that the Trust conducted a CEO appointment process that was deliberately closed and “directly connected” to sealing a deal with the BBC for Bay 20:

“This was not the case… there was never any discussion about how the BBC project would impact the making of those appointments…the Board of Trustees would never make an appointment based on one project such as the BBC build, a project with no guarantees until it was built particularly given the voluntary basis on which people involved were working.

“During this time Mark and Alex also impressed the board with the strategy they put forward of community first, of openness and responsiveness, and it was felt that was what the Trust needed to mend relationships with some parts of the community, and to create an organisation that works with and for the community – an approach that has seen some notable developments already:

  • The commissioning of Tutu Foundation’s institutional racism review
  • The establishment of the Charity Purposes Community to oversee community benefit in our projects
  • Change in approach to property development making it more community-determined
  • A new staff council to democratise decision-making
  • A new Equalities Working Group and a new focus on equality and diversity training
  • Establishing a steering group of local people to run the Bay 20 community centre (who will shortly appoint a local operator)
  • All grant making now devolved to local people”.

On the claim that the the two non-CEO members of the four-person Westway Trust Executive Team who argued for an open CEO appointment process left because of the CEO recruitment process:

“It is true one member of the executive team felt disappointed by the Board’s decision and resigned a month after. It is absolutely not the case that another person was being performance managed – that second member of the executive team left the organisation when roles were reorganised around current activities and the new strategy, and they declined to take on one of the new positions created.”

On the BBC’s making of two ‘Grenfell special’ allegedly ‘halving’ the space used for the new community centre:

“The BBC approached us with proposals for building a boxing gym and a community centre. There was never a proposal on the table to build one big community centre that was then halved.

“The BBC approached the Trust in September 2017 and we engaged with the community throughout November. The BBC wanted to move at a faster pace than we would have liked but it was decided that a community-run community space and a new home for Dale Youth Boxing Club would be an amazing opportunity”.

Profound Change

The Westway Trust told us: “The Board has sanctioned a programme of profound change in the Trust’s approach to its work, which is an ongoing process. The Trust’s constitution is being reviewed next year as part of this new approach and will create further change.

“The Trust has been accused of a lack of transparency and this has been a key driver in the changes undertaken by the new leadership team. Openness is now one of the Trust’s operating values and it is encumbent on all Trust staff to be open, to engage and consult wherever possible”.

 

Links to Previous Westway Trust and Bay 20 Stories

Relationship with the community:

Part one

Part two

Part three

Part four

Urban Dandy interview with Westway Trust regarding Portobello Development

Bay 20:

Part one

Part two

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Change at RBKC? Case Study 1

In July an independent review of Kensington and Chelsea Council’s governance was concluded and the council adopted twelve recommended “principles of good governance” . To assess how the council has fared in applying their new democratic principles it is worth considering an ongoing example: Canalside House, the North Kensington community hub currently under threat of “demolition” by the local authority. Is there any evidence of a change of approach to the local community?

The Review

The Centre for Public Scrutiny, experts on effective decision-making, were commissioned to carry out the independent review, which was funded by the Local Government Association. RBKC welcomed the subsequent report and adopted “12 principles of good governance we should embed in the council.” The 12 Principles are bespoke, designed specifically for RBKC to act on its claims to want to “change” following the Grenfell Tower fire. Continue reading

The Curious Case of the Council & Canalside

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On becoming leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council a month after the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, Elizabeth Campbell promised change. In a brief speech to fellow councillors and victims of the fire in July, Campbell used the word ‘change’ eleven times. Considering Campbell’s own role in the council’s sustained asset strip of North Kensington, the words were never convincing. But they were rendered meaningless in January when the council tried to sell a vital community building to property developers to build flats for the rich. In failing to push through the sale, the Conservative council now looks weaker than ever.

 
Early this year K & C council were moving full steam ahead with their plans to sell Canalside House, home to numerous local charities, community groups, small businesses, and a hub of support for victims of the June 14th fire. Plans to sell the historic building on Ladbroke Grove and move its residents to a wholly unsuitable replacement on Latimer Road were put on hold following the fire, after resident organisations pointed out to the council that they had been filling in the gaps vacated by the local authority in providing emergency relief work and supporting the North Kensington community.

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How do we know about the plans to sell? A council scrutiny committee meeting was filmed and posted online (the Canalside section starts after two hours). The details are in this Urban Dandy article. Continue reading

Lloyd Williamson Open Day

With the ever increasing take over of North Kensington real estate by the socially detached, we’ve seen learning facilities invade our community that are not even close to home-grown.

Not so with The Lloyd Williamson Schools. It’s probably the most local private school in the area with most students living within a mile or two of the school. On observation, it seems to express more of an interest in the teaching of ethics, cultural diversity and also, equipping the students to tackle the changing world, with an entrepreneurial spirit of open-mindedness.

I find their strict mobile phone rule fascinating. As insignificant as it may sound, I can say with confidence that you will never see anybody neglecting one and other distracted by a mobile phone, neither staff, parent or student. I don’t think the reason needs an explanation. For those who realise the distraction that devices have been on children and adults, you will be thankful for this little policy in your child’s surroundings, rest assured. The unique way that kids of all ages gender and race interact is very Montessori-ish, though it is not a Montessorri school.

 

Lloyd Williamson open days Wednesday the 14th March (10am to 7pm) and Friday the 16th March (10am -3pm).

 

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