Urban Dandy Meets Westway Trust

“To bring high street chains in to the area would be commercial suicide”

Our burgeoning blog has been full of reports of high levels of gentrification anxiety in North Kensington recently. London in 2015 has seen a new strain of hypergentrification take hold, one in which the victims are expected to stand impotent and mute watching their communities being transformed in to something different in which their needs are not met, but those of other, wealthier, groups are. Fears abound that North Kensington is going the same way as Brixton.

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In this climate, The Westway Trust published its proposals for the mile of land stretching under the brutal A40 which dominates and darkens the area from Acklam Road down to the riding stables at Latimer Road.

Westway Trust's initial design
Westway Trust’s initial design

Westway Trust are custodians of the mile, entrusted with making it work for the benefit of the local population. But the community group Westway23 has accused them of an “abuse of power” and an intention to betray the area by accelerating the gentrification process.

We wanted to put W23’s concerns to the Trust and give them a chance to give their point of view. We also wanted to explore the context in which the changes will be made and look at the limits imposed on local people by global forces.

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We sat down with Phil Dibsdale, Senior Development Consultant of Westway Trust, who is heading the Trust’s programme of changes. Phil explains that he is born and bred in the area and remembers watching from his bedroom window as the Westway was erected.

Phil was joined by Martin Oxley, Head of PR and Communications. Our questions were plucked from our articles on the Westway23 protests, as well as some that arose in conversation:

Q1. Will you build ‘tired, top-down developments that could be anywhere in the world’?

WT: ‘We hope not. We hope to avoid that. Of course, we have to abide by building regulations and standards to ensure safety. We also have to work with TFL, who have a vested interest in what we do. But we’ll ensure that what we build has lots of uses, including on the Acklam site, which is currently underused.’

Angel Lewis @ Urban Dandy: ‘With Acklam, I grew up with it being a hub of hip hop, parties and graffiti; bands came up there who went on to be big. I went to the US for a few years, and when I came back, it was fenced off’…

Q2.  What became of Acklam Hall and the playground? Are the fears expressed of a repeat of this history justified?

WT: ‘The playground was closed for health and safety reasons.

Acklam village is not commercially viable, Monday to Friday. It only has a license until 9pm and no sound proofing. The skate park, which is very successful, creates noise that bounces off the motorway and the timber structures. It has a negative impact on its neighbours.

We want to see live music at Acklam. Our current plans for Acklam are to have four bays:

  • One will be used for market storage,
  • A second will be a shop unit,
  • The third, which will be one and a half units, will be for community and cultural events, a white cube where you can do anything,
  • The fourth will be similar to what is already there.

We want to protect our tenants in the shopping arcade. They will move across to Acklam while we refurbish the arcade. Then they can choose whether to stay there or return to the arcade. With the new arcade design, all the shops will have an outward-facing front. Currently, business is poor because very few people explore inside the arcade’.

Urban Dandy: Will rents increase?

WT: ‘Rents will resume at current levels, but we will introduce a profit sharing system to help Westway Trust recoup its outlay.

In the past, things have happened organically, but it needs to be organised with a business plan. There have been a lot of white elephants over the years.

But this is not about taking a capitalistic approach. All the money is reinvested in the community. Of our 120 tenants, only one, Sainsbury’s, is a big high street chain, and it brings in a lot of money’.

Urban Dandy: But isn’t a Waitrose going up right opposite Sainsbury’s?

WT: ‘The council controls that building’.

UD: What they were saying on the Westway23 protest was: “What’s happening within the language is what was happening when Acklam Hall was closed. Words like ‘regeneration’ should be a warning to the community.” That’s the most specific thing I have heard: it’s the same language again and they lost those two venues previously, so are the fears expressed legitimate?

WT: ‘Obviously I wasn’t around then, so I can’t comment on what was said back in those days but obviously what replaced those things wasn’t properly built buildings they were for temporary uses and made without a strong business plan. That won’t happen this time’.

Q3.How aware is WT of the social cleansing going on locally? Do WT’s plans include anything that will offset it and help unify the community?  

WT: ‘There are limits to what Westway Trust can do. We maximise the number of opportunities we can give to local people. We are creating 200 jobs, we’re keeping local businesses going and we have an apprenticeship programme.

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The area was actually originally built for the gentry, with those big Victorian houses but then became a poor area. There is a recognition that demographics are changing in the area again. Demographics are always changing and we have to serve everyone in the community’.

Q4. How will local people be involved, aside from attending consultations?

WT: ‘Westway23 were invited to meet with us but didn’t turn up. They can be involved, but we will listen to the ideas generated by the consultations’.

Urban Dandy: You mention invites to the community to take part in the planning process; are you taking steps to attend and become part of the community’s groups and events?

WT: ‘Our Head of Culture and Partnerships is Lynda Rosenior-Patten and she is very active attending events, meeting people and organisations in the community. We have lots of partnerships with local groups and we use as many channels as we can to gage opinion.

If we were private developers, we’d have started the building already. But we have a democratic governance structure which means that community groups are represented. Westway23 were encouraged to sign up’.

Q5. Which groups are your priorities?

WT: ‘Our priorities are the people most in need and supplementary schools. The original area of the Trust was to benefit Kensington and Chelsea as a whole, but I think everyone can see that it is the North of the Borough that receives all of the benefit.’

Q6. Why didn’t you consult the community before drawing up the original plans?

WT: ‘From 2011 onwards we held consultations to establish the tone and parameters of the changes. There has been a lot of consultation and we then chose to put something out there, rather than just a blank sheet of paper. It was the culmination of four years of consultations’.

Urban Dandy: It can seem quite cold, as a resident, to receive a document with artists’ impressions of the plans. It’s easy to feel indifferent about it.

WT: ‘If people are just angry or against us, they can’t have that influence they want. We have spoken to hundreds of people and our Cultural Manager is talking to people with heritage in the local area.

Dialogue has to come both ways.’

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Q7. What kind of feedback have you received?

WT: ‘A huge range. From the traders’ survey, we saw that people are desperate for change. Although not all of them filled out the survey’.

Angel Lewis @ Urban Dandy: There is a perceived division between the trust and the local community; if that division is bridged it may feel more like one organisation. Myself, looking at your brochure, I don’t feel included in this, it appears done, dusted and complete.

WT: Well you’ve got to be in it to win it, you’ve got to have your say and this is your chance to have your say.

Tom @ Urban Dandy: I went to a public meeting with the Kensington Aldridge Academy and they wouldn’t answer any questions in a straight forward way, and people were getting angry – they felt that they were being given spin instead of answers, what has been coming back to you from the public? 

‘There’s been a huge range of feedback from people saying “why haven’t you done this already?” particularly the traders and local business owners, to people saying “don’t do anything, absolutely leave it alone”.

Over the last nine months with seven months’ of consultations going on, most people have recognised there is a need for improvements and that the market needs to be supported. But they are mostly concerned with keeping the character of the area. It’s difficult, it’s evolved over 100 years so when you try to build something with that character from scratch it’s not easy, but if we can build something with the look and feel of Portobello then it should evolve and people will grow to taking it on board.

The last seven months’ of feedback has proved to us that there’s consensus for change locally’.

Q8. Will flats for the rich and retail units for the middle class be built?

WT: ‘It depends what you mean by rich. There will be 12 flats built to be sold at market rate. This is for financial reasons, Westway Trust raises money for its community projects this way.

As for the shops, they will all be really small. To bring high street chains in to the area would be commercial suicide. People can go to Westfield to get all that stuff’.

12 affordable units is not going to change the tide of affordability and won’t make a great amount of difference to the area. They will look like what is already here. If it were the development on a large scale, like 250 units, then it would.

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Q9. How do you feel your ability to fulfil your original mandate is being affected by gentrification and capitalism?

WT: ‘Westway Trust has to represent the whole community democratically. We have programmes to target those most in need. The public realm should make everyone feel safe and welcome.

But there are limits. Health and safety regulations have sterilised children’s play areas and brought about a lot of banality. There’s less sense of adventure’.

Urban Dandy: And gentrification?

WT: I don’t feel constrained by it, it’s one of those waves you can’t stop unless you have government intervention. Gentrification makes my job more of a challenge, and I recognise that for local people it is a real threat’.

Q10. The idea of a ‘village’ is not popular with Westway23 and it does seem a bit tired – any comment?

WT: We found some references to the area as a ‘village’ in documents written 20 or 30 years ago. It was only ever a working title for consultation purposes and it definitely won’t remain’.

And our time was up, we had to vacate the room for more meetings. A conversation that could have run all day ended, but as we packed up we had time for one more question to Mr Dibsdale: ‘Do you still live in the area?’

His reply: ‘I don’t. I can’t afford it to be honest’.

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Phil Dibsdale. Regeneration and property development
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Martin Oxley. Interim Head of PR & Communications

by Tom Charles with Angel Lewis

@tomhcharles  @urbandandylondon @Iam_Angellewis

The Wisdom of Truth.

What is Truth?

I’d like to think that our expression on UDL (I loved UDL) is often in the spirit of truth that compels the uttering of facts regardless of the consequences. As you may know, the job of a scribe is just that; Similar to a court reporter, to witness, record and express just what it ‘IS’ without alteration regardless of the influence of the surroundings. This is even at a time when most can’t and won’t see beyond their fear and contribute emotionally in the hope of thwarting the consequences of REALITY.

To do this work is a gift that the inner relief felt to be a reward worth every ounce of pain endured. At times though, I well wish I didn’t have what I call mild Tourette’s syndrome. It’s like a shield for the murderers of truth and their shortsighted ways. Some even liken the truth to a two-edged sword but often the casualties of its wrath invested in the injustice of their scheme while covering their eyes, acting as though that awful day would never arrive.

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Because of its damaging effect on lies you can see why there are sayings like; ‘… you can’t handle the truth, the truth will set you free’ and ‘the truth is bitter to taste but sweet to swallow’.

The foundation of truth is firm and unbreakable, whereas lies are on shaky and temporary ground. Some scriptures use beautiful metaphors using other species, animals, and states of being even though the point is most often missed.

Take for instance the condition of a spider making a home out of its web. It is merely a matter of time until it is fractured or destroyed, having to start over, again and again. But more importantly, few consider the stresses that the spider lives to endure, not knowing if the next disrupting vibration is an attack, potential food or just simply the wind. This parallels the fear of a deceptive scheme being penetrated when living a lie.

It takes little imagination to know that a creature/spider can never really rest since, at any moment, there will be an unpredictable disturbance.  It and its abode may be gone in an instant or carried to a new location just because somebody got their face in their business. The spider’s home is external and that is precisely the point; like the self-inflicted stresses that words, from outside of the true self, create on the traducer – always on edge expecting an attack at any moment. Words such as ‘rest assured’ do not exist in that un-reality. Such a weak foundation is without a centre or any true support, merely existing in a 3-dimensional delusion that holds as a temporary space-time moment, marking only a half relevant event in time similar to a tattoo.

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If I were religious at all I would strongly suggest Tehuti of Kemet, more widely known as Hermes or Thoth of Egypt, to be UDL’s patron saint and every organisation for that matter. The god is known to record whether or not a feather will outweigh the heart of the object passing from life to death. This is in order for it to become a contributing part of the cosmic family from its organic state, onto the ethereal and back again.

Most living organisms adhere to such because, in innocence their language remains pure, straightforward and static. Yet humans…oh humans…some are most comfortable with performing word acrobatics, not for entertainment purposes but to twist the pure words and change the nature of actuality with verisimilitude.

tehuti weighing

If it’s not poetic it is a lie.

Yet truth is not a word for an over-active ego that would use the sanctity of the audible symbols or ‘ spell-ing’ to conquer and defend a point without care or concern for our shared cosmic justice. No, truth is for the wise and the mindful. One may see truth as more of a preservation of the soul or a stargate rather than a way to wax the ego, knowing that, beyond the exoteric eye, there is the unseen eye that becomes manifest as judge, not at the beginning of the issue but at the end or what we can call the transformation, just as it is portrayed in the Book of The Dead.

The idea of a subjective truth is more western dribble, a breeding ground for lies, transforming the heart to impedimenta sinking the Soul to a base 3-dimensional return, where the gift of words are no longer there to use, giving meaning to the statement ‘lost for words’.  You can just imagine a gazelle observing two human mouths chattering away staring puzzled with a feeling of familiarity. He reminisces, having this cosmic déjá vu moment, before being gorged by a local predator that also speaks a foreign language where each sound means only one thing, death!

For the poor animal it would take multiple life cycles to understand the subtleties of our verbal communication which may well have been the preserver of its life, but we, having the privilege of this communication, this gift of sound, we choose to abuse it. Yet within all of this thankfully some do see a gift, the gift of a psychological bridge to reach all amongst the other animals. If the Jungle community could intellectualise with their peers, maybe they may see a reduced rate of mortality over time, for being able to verbalise and rationalise each creature’s basic needs, emotional direction and concerns in the most intricate detail. Yet here, this man with all of this ability and potential stands disconnected and abusive towards the beautiful gift of word communication and uses all this as a weapon for his egotistical needs.

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I have to recognise that my deep love for music and poetry stems from experiencing this pure expression of truth, we are like poeticians, standing by what we have felt. In historical religious doctrine, you will find subtle allusions to the poets and artists of old. Clearly, we were despised for speaking the unadulterated language of the heavens; Metaphor. That’s the realm where there is no debate, it just is and it is known by it’s consistent, resounding results in all colours, platforms and dimensions.

Though this does contradict man’s philosophies, man’s opinions and their academic collections that are really nothing but recycled shrapnel from the purity of the dead poet’s message regurgitated.  And so the poets were demonised and faced with a few choices–be silent, change the message, or die. So here we are some silent, some transformed and some dead.

Even at a time of desperation and gross, terrific, political turmoil, words of truth are still for sale. But the voice will return only when elevated thought can rise up to the top-floor beyond interruption from the selfish ego and it’s continuous pressing to join the party on the journey up, and so return to earth with unadulterated sound vibration.

Maybe there’s a Karmic link that justifies Maat’s weighing of the heart with Tehuti’s taking acount. Maybe (I say with full knowledge) the incarnate is received through the justice of its own past actions in respect of living truth. It could be that there is a pecking order based on this honesty and we lose what we have abused. Or maybe it’s all random and conflicting like earth beliefs and there is no cosmic pattern?

In respect of all that, here is an interesting and passionate challenge that happened last year. Richard Boyd Barrett a TD (Teachta Dála) for the Dún Laoghai Irish parliament has (what appears to me) an inward experience and incredibly releases about 60 years of history in just about 6 minutes of poetry, brandishing the truth and putting everything on the line.

I warn you, some may want to cover their ears and effectively continue the warping of the unrestrained heavenly chords but one way or another the impact of truth being aired, regardless of the consequences, lightens your load.

 

 

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By Angel Lewis Twitter @Iam_Angellewis

Could have, should have, didn’t. UPDATE

It’s almost a year since this touching article spewed out of me. I don’t mean to offend when I say it almost takes another artist to understand what it means to have to exorcise that thing that’s running around inside your head. It’s like an emotional release that can almost claim to be the main reason you resumed sleeping deeply again.

Still there were lingering thoughts regarding why the sad event happened. Even among the community that suffered the losses, there were questions, hunches, blame and rumours. The painful  story was expressed already and as the flowers have dried and the caskets have been filled and buried it makes no sense for me to personally revisit the event in any detail, so here’s how The Guardian puts our questions to rest.

Photograph: Reuters
Press Association Tuesday 20 October 2015 12.51 BST

Shelley Christopher denies two counts of murder and one of attempted murder by reason of insanity.

A woman killed her partner and their four-year-old daughter to prevent the world being taken over by vampires, a court has heard.

Shelley Christopher, 36, was mentally ill when she stabbed 42-year-old Richard Brown 29 times and her daughter Sophia six times before inserting wooden objects into their bodies.

Christopher also attacked another child and put a pencil in her body, but despite her injuries, the girl survived, prosecutor Crispin Aylett QC told jurors. She cannot be identified.

Christopher, of Notting Hill in west London, went to a mental health unit in north Kensington in February, two days before the killings, and told staff that someone was out to get her. She refused pleas to stay at the unit and went home.

She is on trial at the Old Bailey on two counts of murder and one of attempted murder, which she denies by reason of insanity.

Opening the trial, Aylett told jurors: “I’m afraid that this is a distressing case which you will find both terrible and tragic. Ms Christopher was later to tell a psychiatrist that, on the day of the killings, she had received a signal instructing her to kill her family in order to prevent the world from being taken over by vampires.

“The signal had come from a lightbulb in the ceiling. She had done – or tried to do – what she was told. After she had attacked each of them with a knife, the lightbulb had told her to put something wooden into each of their chests in order to stop them from becoming vampires.

“That Ms Christopher must have been mentally unwell at this time is borne out by the findings of the doctors who examined the victims. From Richard’s chest cavity, the pathologist recovered part of a child’s paint brush. The pathologist who examined Sophia’s body retrieved part of a pencil.”
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A psychiatrist concluded that Christopher, who is now in a secure hospital, had been suffering from a psychotic illness, most likely paranoid schizophrenia, at the time.

Aylett told jurors that when a defendant enters a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, it was for them, not a judge or psychiatrist, to decide the case on the evidence.

Police found the bodies of Brown and Sophia when they went to the family home on 27 February, days after the killings.

They discovered Brown in the bath and Sophia in bed with a towel over her face, the court heard. Her chest had been covered with coloured plasters and a plastic flower was placed in her right hand.

Social services alerted officers after Christopher attended St Mary’s hospital with the injured child the day before. When doctors operated, they removed a 6.5cm-long broken pencil from the child’s chest.

After her arrest, Christopher told a psychiatrist the colours red, orange and green had become significant to her, with red meaning that she or someone in her family was going to be killed.

She said she had left the mental health unit at St Charles hospital before her assessment was complete because she thought there were vampires there.

On 19 February, she said she had received an orange signal instructing her to kill in order to prevent the world being taken over by vampires. First, she attacked the surviving child, by strangling and then stabbing her with a plastic flower and a small knife.

When Brown arrived with Sophia and asked what was going on, Christopher said: “You’re one of them. You’re a vampire.” She then stabbed him repeatedly in the chest.

She told the psychiatrist that Brown’s eyes had changed colour and he had tried to bite her with his fangs. According to her account, Sophia cried out “no mummy!” and when Christopher asked her if she was “one of them”, the girl replied “yes, I am mummy,” so she stabbed her too.

Aylett told jurors that if they agreed with the assessment, Christopher would receive a hospital order and return to the secure unit where she would remain “for some considerable time to come”.

The case continues.

Article from The Guardian 20th October 2015

KPH

    

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Enticingly on the street corner she stands

this old Victorian lady of the night

yet all who enter these doors

venture into another time and dimension

where those that imbibe

unwittingly star in their very own play

as we seek to save our KPH

iconic symbol of a bygone age

 

Before social cleansing and gentrification

fuelled the rage of this band of brothers,

sisters, fathers, mothers, lifetime friends,

part-time lovers, black, white, rich, poor

those that have lived outside the law!

 

Like Shane or John Wayne we’ll stand for what’s right

Johnny Cash’s man in black, the band plays tonight !

But this is no Alamo or Custer’s last stand

our community diversity culture never figured in your plans

as you seek to destroy what you fear and don’t understand

you redevelop our estates, pubs, kick us out of our homes

but your money can never buy our spirit heart n’ soul

the true vibe of the Grove

 

© MC Bolton

How Local Businesses see KPH

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Photo by Angel Lewis

You will have already read our blog about the predicament facing the Kensington Park Hotel and what it means for the local area.

We thought it would be interesting to follow this up by gaging local reaction to the news that KPH might soon be closing to make way for flats for the rich. Rather than stating the obvious (that the public supports KPH and opposes the building of more luxury homes,) your intrepid dandies set out to ask local businesses what they thought.

Methodology: We asked everyone, indiscriminately and inclusively as long as their business was situated a stone’s throw from the KPH…

 

  • Music Village (we can throw a long way).

Receptionist: ‘I’m not from the area, nobody in here is’

UD: ‘What? Nobody? About 50 people have passed through the reception area since we’ve been here’

‘Nobody’

UD: ‘But what do you think about the fact that a local music venue is closing?’

‘                                                               ‘

An inauspicious start, but we headed north, away from their mirrored windows, closer to KPH…

  • Fish Monger

‘They should let it run, it’s a good place for music. They bring lots of people, they should keep it open’

‘It’s a charming venue. The area is much more diverse now since they improved it’

‘It’s a shame especially because they spend lots of money here, the KPH buy from here’

‘If they become a chain they will buy elsewhere not from local shops’

UD note: Chain being the pertinent word as this would break many links in the chain of supported stores.

  • Dry Cleaners

‘They are our customers, he uses our services’ (her colleague looking on curiously)

Why?’ (distressed now) 

‘What’s happened?’

We explain

‘Oh no! That’s a shame, it’s a very nice place. I know the staff working there, I go there a lot. I never go to the other pub, this one is friendly, everyone is going there, why they want to close? I think it’s not a good idea.

UD: ‘Why do you like it so much?

‘It’s just KPH’

‘I would like to live in this area because it’s nice; rich people live here, poor people live here, it’s very nice, it’s not like this everywhere’

  • The Bank

(Staff member expressed surprise when we informed him, bearing in mind you don’t normally go to banks for a chat about local goings on, but we’re just UD and we had to seek that balance) 
‘You mean Mr.Powers (sic)? The Mean Fiddler? I’m local to the Mean Fiddler so I know him’ (What followed was all positive but off the record so the iron eagle doesn’t swoop on this friendly soul)

  • Furniture shop  

‘It might be closing? I didn’t know, but good I’m happy. The manager keeps parking on our premises without asking. So I don’t go there. Well, I went there once, but not any more’

‘Compared to the way it used to be its a lot better, the clientele is better. He should just ask and I would probably say yes if he has the decency but on a business level it’s a conflict of interest. If rich people move in they might buy furniture from me. We’re a mid-range furniture shop’

‘On the broader picture, I’m completely opposed to this sort of thing, it affects communities and it’s not good for society. It’s always nice to have a local pub and it’s sad to see this type of thing happening’

  • Estate Agents John D. Wood & Co

‘We go there for drinks a lot, I didn’t know that it might be closing. He turned it all around. That’s a shame, it’s been there for such a long time. It was a mess before he came in and did what he did’ 

‘We now go there and that’s testimony to what he has achieved’  

‘Yeah it’s right in the area and we go in and say hello to him. It should stay, well those are my thoughts. It’s such a shame, what’s happening in London’

(At this point I must say, it seems to sound a little scripted but in truth these are the unadulterated views of the local businesses surrounding the venue)

  • Local Chip shop 

‘I don’t personally drink but it’s sad if it’s going, it’s bad enough having a Cafe Nero over there (pointing), it’s a bit like an extension of Holland Park and not Ladbroke Grove. Like all of these coffee shops, there’s no unique coffee shops anymore, there’s no authenticity’

‘I grew up in this area, now I travel here for work and the area is changing, it’s all for rich people now’

  • Local Betting Shop

 ‘Huh? I’m only here covering for the day’ (Okay, moving on swiftly)  

  • Estate Agents Bective Leslie Marsh

(Now here’s a surprise) ‘We weren’t aware of that…I’m stunned, I didn’t know’

(A suited, authoritative looking character stands up and takes over the conversation)

‘Great music venue upstairs. I’ve been to some great gigs there. I thought it was listed as a place of community value. If people realised what was really going on they’d be gutted. 

The problem with this area is you can’t go out and drink because it was all built by the methodist church back then. If people knew what was going on….gutted. If there’s a petition going around, I’ll sign it’ 

‘Yeah I’d be happy to participate. Y’see, Golborne Road end is more community and the Portobello end is now more sanitised. We’ve seen that reflected in property prices; rich people moving to the area now want to live on Golborne instead of Portobello because they see it as authentic. The community is what gives the area its value. The property value is actually based on the community’

‘It will be sad to see it go’

  • Post Office/News Agent

Business is good while they are there, I can sell my cans to their customers for £1.00 while they are there charging £4 a pint’ (smiling)

‘I didn’t know they were closing. It’s improved a lot’

  • Florist

‘I didn’t know (UD note: nobody knows) – it’s a great pub, but it’s what’s happening everywhere’

‘The music is great. It’s weird, to hear classical music played that loud. At first, we had no idea what was going on (laughing) but it’s a great pub’.

UD: ‘The council is assisting the speculators in taking it over’

‘That’s no surprise, they would have got rid of us if we weren’t just the ground floor. Everything in this area will be flats soon’.

 

 

By Angel Lewis and Tom Charles

Of The Community and For The Community…

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…that’s how Kensington Park Hotel and its proprietor, Vince Power could be described. But the continued existence of this much-loved pub and music venue are under threat from the wave of gentrification sweeping West London.

Sitting in the KPH with my fellow Dandies early one morning was an experience not obtainable at Café Nero over the road. In the upstairs Grove Theatre, a sense of 150 years of history pervaded and stimulated conversations about life, politics, love, incarceration, slavery, music and more. By the time our host, Mr Power, arrived, we were fully absorbed by the ambience of the theatre’s vintage arm chairs, the old photographs and the Beethoven blasting out from the bar downstairs.

On that night was Plurabelles, a performance exploring the evocation of women in James Joyce’s writing, priced at £5. Coming soon might be a luxury penthouse flat for the rich, as speculators seek to acquire KPH and turn a quick profit.

Kensington and Chelsea council talks a good game about preserving the bohemian character of the area, but the council has stripped the KPH of its status as an “asset of community value” on the technicality that the title had been applied for by supporters of the pub, known as KPH United.

Power has found himself embattled. In court, the speculators SWA Developments, in the judge’s words, used the “kitchen sink method”, utilising every conceivable legal method and technicality, to try to force through the sale.

SWA now own the freehold, so KPH’s best hope for survival is to obtain listing as an English Heritage building. Power sees the best case scenario as the pub being bought by the community, which would keep the freehold safe. Without such a move, even if KPH survives in the short term, the speculators will start circling again soon enough.

Power’s legal battle has forced SWA to back down on its plans, revealed in court papers, to change the ground floor “from a public house to another commercial use” but of course this is no guarantee that what replaces the KPH will be anything other than more sanitary gentrification in an area fast losing its charm.

Sitting with him in the bar downstairs, it became clear that profit is not Power’s driving force. In fact, Power had the aura of a Laotian Buddhist monk, speaking with a knowing compassion that cut through ego and put his guests at ease.

As we sit, Power chats easily about politics, society, the local area and music. Having lived between Kilburn and Ladbroke Grove for 50 years, he believes passionately in the multi-cultural London that KPH is a part of. He stated “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in London. It’s this mix of people that gives children an understanding of their fellow human beings”.

As he held court, Power broke off now and again from the KPH story to make observations on politics or on passers-by. He seems to understand how all things are connected. At one point he stopped what he was saying and pointed at three women wearing hijabs over the road, holding an animated conversation as they rooted around in their handbags. “I bet those ladies have got some stories to tell” he says. He reflects on gentrification and the destruction of inclusive communities, drawing a straight line between a society in which some people have no sense of belonging and the decision of some Londoners to travel to Syria to join ISIS. And this connects to the UK’s planning laws, which he describes as “so wide that they’re written for the developer” with loopholes that allow investors to evade the building of social housing.

But Vince Power is no nostalgic romantic, he has made things happen throughout his career. The transformation of the KPH has been remarkable and he has balanced the need for change with preserving the pub’s inclusivity. Down the road is a mental health day care centre and Power is happy to welcome its patients for their lunchtime drink, unlike some local landlords. Prior to the KPH, Power made his name running the Mean Fiddler, Benicàssim among other festivals, as well as organising the Sex Pistols’ Finsbury Park reunion. Locally, Power had Subterranea and the Ion Bar, which is now Sainsburys Local.

Vince Power at the KPH on Ladbroke Grove. Photos by Angel Lewis.
Vince Power at the KPH on Ladbroke Grove. Photo by Angel Lewis.

KPH is a viable, profitable business with great potential. Unlike SWA’s plans for the building, it works. The only access to the rooms upstairs is through the pub, so how it can be changed in to flats while maintaining a public house downstairs is a mystery yet to be explained by the speculators.

The few remaining venues like KPH generate much of the interest in the area that attracts the tourists and investors. They represent the area’s last stand against the imposition of an arid future. The area’s qualities are traded on to make money, but once they’re gone, the value they provided will be gone too. In this way gentrification destroys the thing that was used to attract people in the first place.

By Tom Charles

No Trust in Westway Trust? #3

“Spaces for creativity, spaces for spiritual enlightenment, spaces for cultural celebration…”

Westway23’s demonstration on Portobello Green, 5th July. Credit: Zute Lightfoot
Westway23’s demonstration on Portobello Green, 5th July. Credit: Zute Lightfoot

Parts one and two looked at the Westway Trust’s initial proposals for the space under the Westway and Westway23’s response. But, what is Westway23’s positive vision? I spoke to Toby Laurent Belson, Artist/Designer/Organiser at Westway23, aware that the Westway Trust’s approach won’t be challenged effectively without a credible alternative.

“We want wellbeing through healthy minds and bodies that can fulfil Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’. Also spirituality and a connection to the earth and a larger purpose. We want opportunity. Break all of that back down to concrete ideas and you have spaces for creativity, spaces for spiritual enlightenment, spaces for cultural celebration, spaces for education, spaces for socialising, spaces for health, spaces for innovation, spaces for the development of people in ways that do not limit their potential. All of it led by and initiated by people who are hardly ever given the reigns to such things”.

How does this contrast to what is happening at the moment? “This area – the Westway Trust and the council – sells itself for a dollar amount on the image of diversity and creativity. Yet those who are actually responsible for that image struggle to survive, let alone prosper”.

So what will work instead? “Let’s have a can-do attitude. A ‘Why Not?’ outlook for our people that extends further than tired, top-down developments that could be anywhere in the world.

The 23-acres of the Westway has always been there to fulfil the wants and needs of the local people and it has been kept away from them”.

To this end, Westway23 has organised itself in to five sub-groups: Marketing, Fundraising, Legal, Research and Alternative Vision, with members designated to each based on their area of expertise or profession. As well as lobbying on behalf of the community, Westway23 told Urban Dandy that it “is supporting community members and organisations currently facing challenges on, and in many cases eviction from, the 23 acres as a direct result of Westway Trust’s actions”.

On the fifth of July Westway23 held a demonstration attended by hundreds of people who marched along the route of the 23 acres. Children mixed with drummers, flamenco dancers, artists, teachers, bohemians, normals and Martin. This followed an earlier march to Holland Park Opera House, beneficiary of millions of pounds of public money, despite it being a loss maker.

Westway Trust's initial design
Westway Trust’s initial design

Westway23 are active, drumming every Sunday on Portobello Green (weather permitting) and with regular Wednesday evening meetings at the Venture Centre. Keep up to date here: http://www.westway23.org/.

Metres away from the Westway on Ladbroke Grove, the KPH pub is under threat from private developers/speculators who want to build more flats for the affluent. Meanwhile, across the borough, children are being displaced in to insecure, inadequate temporary accommodation miles away as government cuts to local government budgets are deepened. Many families earn their poverty in insecure, under-paid jobs. In these circumstances, people rely on their culture to provide attachments and a sense of identity, worth and shared values; a sense of belonging.

Under such pressure, uncertainty and insecurity define the economic, political and family life of communities. It is appropriate that people look to the custodians of the 23 acres, the Westway Trust. But how will they respond? Their updated Portobello Village proposals are fresh off the press, see here and Urban Dandy has requested an interview. Watch this space.

By Tom Charles

No Trust in Westway Trust? #2

Part two, “Community isn’t something you can just use as a colourful backdrop to your daily activities”

Westway23’s demonstration on Portobello Green, 5th July. Credit: Zute Lightfoot
Westway23’s demonstration on Portobello Green, 5th July. Credit: Zute Lightfoot

(Read part one, in which we explained what’s going on and how and why Westway23 was born, here).

Westway23 states that they are not opposed to change along the 23 acres of land set for upheaval under plans drawn up by the Westway Trust. Their protest isn’t against change, but against incongruent change implemented without due consideration for the community. Acting chair of Westway23 Niles Hailstones told me, “They (the Westway Trust) say ‘we had to do something’ – this is a disrespectful comment. They should have talked to the community at the beginning. It’s an abuse of power by the Westway Trust and the council”.

But the Westway Trust is big on celebrating the local community, I point out. “People put on clothes that say ‘community,’ but community isn’t something you can just use as a colourful backdrop to your daily activities” Niles responds, “look at the ‘About Us’ page on the Westway Trust website, look at the photo, does that represent the Westway Trust management team?”

Photo from http://www.westway.org/about-us
Photo from http://www.westway.org/about-us

No.

I asked Niles how the area is changing more generally; “This area was known for its political and social conscience, everyone was in the same boat. Now, there’s millionaires living next to people signing on”.

Westway Trust states that it was “formed out of protest” but Westway23 points to their track record as concerning. “Look at Acklam, where Westway Trust started,” Niles tells me, “Acklam Hall, the playground – these were in the original mandate, but they no longer exist. They used the same language to get rid of them – ‘regeneration,’ ‘development’”.

“An era of music was born at Acklam that continues to enrich the area. This shows how resourceful we are. But they only see resource as meaning money, they don’t value our resources. We have access to resources that they can’t attract, like people who will agree to contribute to something worthwhile”.

“There’s an ideology behind all the plans – retail, private flats, office space are top of their list”.

On such gentrification, Sylvia Parnell of the Portobello Café Society states that “it’s what’s happening everywhere: people imposing their ideas on a community”.

Niles agrees: “They think they know better, it’s part of the colonial attitude. Gentrification refers to the gentry. The gentry is a class. So it’s not just about money, it’s a class battle. The elite got rich out of the enslavement and exploitation of African people and resources. That’s going on to this day and it’s flippant to think that it isn’t connected to everyday life”.

Westway23 is switched on to the dangers it perceives in gentrification, wherever it appears. Toby Laurent Belson, Artist/Designer/Organiser for the group explains how he sees the problem: “It’s a loss of diverse human cultures being able to stay in a place and exist with a sense of freedom and agency. It goes without saying that if people cannot feel comfortable, emotionally, socially or materially, then they will leave”.

And, how about our area specifically? “Here, it’s being exacerbated by the local council’s apparent mission to socially cleanse the area. We have traditionally had a great mix of people, many of whom belong to a socio-economic class at the lower end of the spectrum. Current planning intends quite clearly to alter the demographic with a programme of “regeneration” which means knocking down current social housing stock, replacing it with new buildings that will typically see the loss of open space, loss of community facilities and denser populations in what is already the most densely populated borough in the country. The resultant housing stock is likely to contain the usual mix of shared ownership and market rate properties – out of the reach of anyone on less than 70k annual salary. Social housing will be replaced with smaller units that many families will be unable to practically relocate to”.

Picking up on Niles’s point about class battle, Toby views what is happening as “a direct attack on our communities, wrapped up as ‘economic viability’ by those who do not live day to day with the realities of life in the Grove. Or Shepherds Bush. Or Brixton. Or Hackney and so on…” Westway23 is actively engaged with other, like minded organisations in these areas, he tells me.

“The wonders of our diverse and genuinely special community – and others across London – simply cannot survive in an authentic manner because we are forced to adapt to this economic juggernaut”.

And, in the face of such an economic force, how does he rate the performance of the Westway Trust?

“The Westway Trust has failed to provide any permanent or outstanding use of any space to celebrate and support the community. We actually see closures of art spaces and community children’s centres. We see inaccessible, dead space and 20-year services threatened with eviction. We have a sprawling sports centre that was bought with Lottery money; we have a monolithic and moody structure across 23 acres that has never been properly utilised as a space for the creativity that is inherent within its local population. And a specific section of the community – one that has given the area much of its magic – now has countless stories of marginalisation and outright discrimination”.

“What is worse….this has been the situation for over four decades”

Tom Charles for Urban Dandy London @tomhcharles, @urbandandyLDN

Part Three, on Westway23’s positive vision, coming soon

No Trust in Westway Trust? # 1

Part one, “This is hypocrisy, this is ironic

5th of July Westway23's demonstration underneath the Westway. Credit: Zute Lightfoot
Westway23’s demonstration underneath the Westway, 5th July. Credit: Zute Lightfoot

Portobello Road, its market and a long stretch of land crossing Ladbroke Grove and Acklam Road has become the subject of much debate as a result of plans for changes to the area published by the Westway Trust. The Westway Trust became responsible for a mile / 23 acres of land under the Westway when the dual carriageway 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 and darkens the areas underneath it.

Of the area under scrutiny, the Westway Trust says: “The markets only operate for three days a week and, outside of those days, areas like the canopy space and Acklam Village do little to contribute to the local area.  Acklam Village is hoarded-off and is not accessible to the community from Monday to Friday”.

This is the economic thrust of the Trust’s argument for change, but they are insistent that any changes will not overturn the unique character of the area. Their plans are called ‘Destination Westway’ and include a major proposal for the ‘Portobello village’ – on Portobello Road, where it meets Cambridge Gardens.

But, there is significant opposition to what the Westway Trust has so far proposed. The founder of a 38 Degrees petition against the plans, Chris Sullivan, says that the “last esoteric, bohemian part of West London” is under threat. With creeping gentrification in the area, the Westway Trust’s plans may be a step too far, and community with a very clear sense of self is reacting.

The organisation Westway23 has called for a new consultation process, complaining that the “plans have been developed without proper consultation with the local community and threaten to add to the already negative effects of gentrification on the local area”.

As a result of the community’s reaction, the Westway Trust’s plans are now on hold and an apology appears on their website for the fact that the images of people in their designs didn’t represent the community (they were all white.) They are also at pains to stress that the designs were not intended to be final.

But, despite their attempts at assuaging the community, other recent developments in the area mean that the Westway Trust aren’t taken at their word. The Westway riding stables have effectively been given their marching orders by the Trust who refused to pay for the required improvements. And Maxilla Children’s Centre / Nursery has been closed, its services picked up elsewhere in North Kensington. Westway Trust have been blamed by some for the Maxilla closure, but this seems to have been more the decision of the council who were unwilling to provide assurances about funding despite earlier informal agreements.

A recent release of funds for a community grants programme has been viewed by a number of people I spoke with locally as Westway Trust’s attempt to improve their public image. The same people were critical of how difficult it is becoming to work with what they see as an increasingly corporate organisation.

Amid the upheaval, the Westway Trust has been advertising for a new chair and has engaged two recruitment firms to help them, and so are currently making decisions without a leader. “How much money have the squandered recruiting a chair?” wondered Niles Hailstones, acting chair of Westway23, when I met with him on Portobello Road. He told me how Westway23 was born:

“I challenged the illustration (the initial artist’s impression drawn up by architects Stiff + Trevillion) – they hadn’t included any black people so I offered to facilitate a genuine community meeting. They didn’t get back to me within two weeks, which was the time scale I’d set, so when I contacted Westway Trust again, I was introducing them to Westway23”.

Sylvia Parnell, of the Portobello Café Society, one of many people who stopped to greet Niles as we talked, told me “the Westway Trust wouldn’t let us see the minutes of their meeting about the proposed changes so Niles took the lead, as he was already engaged with the Trust on issues of concern”.

On the Westway Trust, Hailstones is critical of their actions and their approach to the local community: “They always feel that they know what’s best for us because they’re in a vacuum. On the one hand they can be seen as having a colonial perception – that’s unavoidable if you look at the history of slave ownership which has deep roots in Kensington and Chelsea. And on the other hand, the public are accustomed to a system of servitude, where they play a secondary role in the conversation”.

A substantive take on gentrification is at the heart of Westway23’s approach, along with an instinctive urge to protect the local area. Niles continued: “What we’re seeing here is a super imposition of a culture and perception from outside imposed by people from outside the area…like this idea of a ‘village.’ The Westway Trust held their community festival right next to the area they aren’t representing. This is hypocrisy, this is ironic.

“The biggest component of this has been irony. They are supposed to represent the community, but these changes were all decided without our knowledge”.

Part two coming soon @ Urban Dandy London

Tom Charles

Adam

With trousers too short , shoes too big

hair cut short like a fading wig

slowly he left the asylum gate

scars on his arms, still deeper in the heart

years of abuse had torn his soul apart

shuffling along, thousand yard stare

shell shocked, wounded beyond repair

like a rusty old bicycle or worn out leather chair !

Yet once a young boy, his mothers pride and joy

but ended up in care, an old man’s toy

passed around like a party game parcel

those that used abused still safe in their castle

a broken life, a fractured mind, but more unkind

all that look away- selectively blind ………………………………………..mark  bolton 2015