Community Matters, North Kensington 2019

‘A female-led mini-festival to highlight and celebrate the role women in the community played during and after the Grenfell Tower fire!’ As Tom, editor of Urban Dandy, had said: “they were the ones who stepped up and held the community together”. 

Sitting in The Tabernacle, planning WeCoproduce’s project for a free gig as part of the “Trauma Matters” event, I remembered Dawn, a mother of three, born and bred in North Kensington. 

As an upstanding member of her community, Dawn, among many other locals, quickly answered the immediate cries for help that government was ignorant of. Converting every available space into emergency refuges, donation points, improvised but functioning healing centres; in an outpouring of kindness and an overwhelming wave of support from residents abandoned by their council. North Kensington was standing tall. 

Emotional and mental stress have been known to cause the heart to work harder. Dawn suddenly passed away less than two months after the fire, from a cardiac arrest.

Two years on and Kinetic Minds, a local collective led by the talented composer Andre Louis opened this eclectic female-fronted night, as a tribute to Andre’s late mother, Dawn.

The performances were by women who all live in two worlds, heads in the sky but feet on the ground; women who are outspoken and engaged in good causes, with a love of sharing knowledge and healing sounds; intelligent and creative in thoughts and actions.   

From the grace and elegance of folk singer-songwriter Helen McCookerybook, to the captivating Desta Haile, a soul-jazz-reggae singer; North Kensington was standing tall. 

From the conscious and atmospheric trip-hop artist Ishani, to the most urban classically trained “Avant-Gardist,” the Grime Violinist, North Kensington was standing tall.

From the uplifting and infectious Judi’s Rhythm of Jazz to the late vibrant jazz singer Yazzy, North Kensington was standing tall.  

All different in styles, genres, origins, and ages but all the same in being empowering and strong role models who reminded us that everything we do just connects, whether it’s through music, words or actions. 

by Woïnkpa

R.I.P. DAWN RENAULT 28/07/1967 – 08/08/2017

This article was first published by We Coproduce CIC



Gabor Maté, Trauma Matters, North Ken 2019

It was a surreal moment for me; Lancaster West estate was where I first encountered Dr Gabor Maté’s teachings on trauma, addiction, mind-body health and parenting. Years on, I meet Dr Maté on Lanc West for a mini tour of North Kensington: through the estate, up Blenheim Crescent, across Ladbroke Grove and Portobello and to the Tabernacle, where Gabor was speaking at the day-long We Coproduce event Trauma Matters.

My meeting with this mentor was even more unreal as this was 15th June 2019. The previous night the community had walked in silence, in our thousands, to honour the dead on the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire; a dignified, unified response to a horror and injustice which had seen no arrests.


We Coproduce, based in Hammersmith, intended a neighbourly gesture for the Grenfell anniversary and flew-in this remarkable expert to the most traumatised community in Britain. When asked to engage the North Ken community, I asked Jane, CEO of We Coproduce, “What’s the aim?”

“To get individuals to become aware of their trauma”.

Good answer, because North Kensington had been bought off inundated with money and ego. Here was a thoughtful organisation we – myself and the local artist Woïnkpa – could work with.

Trauma from a huge-scale disaster starts to manifest two years after an event; it is what we carry inside ourselves. So many local people had filled the vacuum left by the council and national government; mindful of those who had lost everything, or everyone, the trauma was suppressed but easily triggered.

I met Gabor near the foot of the burned-out Tower, the plan to equip him with some understanding of the neighbourhood before speaking on such an emotive day.

The injustice and the slow, sure return to the business-as-usual imposition of grinding poverty on this outwardly vibrant neighbourhood darted around in my mind as I tried to capture it in words. Gabor cut through; looking up at the Tower, he said, “I bet those responsible don’t live in housing like this”.

Stopping me short as I started to explain local dynamics, Gabor asked me “What was your role after the fire?” This set the tone for the day.


Gabor was entirely present as we walked and talked, curious about me, my travels, my thoughts. He would stop, look me in the eye and tell me about his trip as a medical doctor to Gaza when he had “cried for two weeks straight’,” or about the treatment of the indigenous population of Canada

Gabor’s assured presence on the street flowed seamlessly into the packed event at the Tabernacle; challenging audience members to go deeper, unapologetically interested in the reality and truth.

During breaks, he was surrounded by people seeking one-on-one advice and sat offering the same perfect attention.

For those immersed in the recovery of a community, the Trauma Matters event was a reminder that healing starts with us. Gabor’s unerring eye contact betrays an aching vulnerability and uncanny ability to use words to stir our compassion and wisdom.

We Coproduce had carved out a space for these qualities – vulnerability, compassion, wisdom – to be present in the neighbourhood that needed it most, at the time we needed it most.

This article was first published by We Coproduce CIC

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles


Why Parental Power is the Key to Adolescence

‘Adolescence’ – from Latin, ‘Grow to Maturity’.

British society has developed in ways that have elongated adolescence. Once a phase lasting a few years, it now stretches from the onset of puberty well into a person’s 20s. During the early years of adolescence, many parents opt to let go, to encourage ‘independence’ or because their child seems to have more fun with their peers. But adolescence is no time to relinquish adult-child bonds, it is a time for adults to claim their position as the key players in their children’s transition to adulthood.

Role of Adults in Adolescence

Our children begin life 100% reliant on us, gradually becoming more independent, before experiencing a dramatic lurch forwards in adolescence. The adolescent appears to want to separate from the adult, and this signal is often mis-read by parents who respond by letting go altogether. While they need to separate at times, they also need a safe home base of attachment to return to. In adolescence, our children are not just learning independence; they also need the qualities of adaptability and integration. These three qualities, detailed below, are nature’s demand of them, the ultimate goal being maturation, the basis for happy, healthy adulthood. To succeed in this challenge, adolescents need parenting figures as much as they did during their infancy.


To become independent, adolescents need to push away from their adult attachment figures. But to be able to individuate with confidence, they also need the adult to act as a safety net, unthreatened by their child’s engagements with the world. The parent’s unconditional positive regard – acceptance and support that does not depend on approval of behaviour – is what a child needs to become independent. A child without this will lack the confidence to go forth into the world and will remain preoccupied with his primary need, attachment.


Strong adult attachment is a lightning rod when upsetting events inevitably happen. To develop the metaphor, while a strong parent cannot prevent the lightning strikes of painful events, a secure attachment grounds the electricity safely, preventing explosions and fires that are inevitable when emotional pain goes unrecognised and a child feels alone or unsafe in the world.

A secure attachment enables an important life lesson to be learned: painful things happen but we are safe in this world, accepted and treasured. From here, the adolescent learns that she can adapt to circumstances and embrace life with the confidence that comes from not being alone.


To develop depth and perspective, adolescents must absorb and integrate the many conflicting signals they are bombarded with. Children experience one emotion at a time, mature people can handle multiple. Adolescence is the time that this transition should occur. As with developing the body’s muscle tone, intellectual and emotional development requires contrast and conflict, push and pull; the brain learns problem-solving by considering different solutions. To develop the muscles required for independence, adaptability and integration, the adolescent needs some help…

New Role, Same Power

When an adolescent sees that the changes they are manifesting do not threaten her adult attachment, she makes an executive decision: changing the adult role from Parent to Advisor. This new role sees the adult become the adolescent’s mentor and confidant, a guru who can deftly enable the adolescent to fill the internal void that appears so dramatically in adolescence. In Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s stellar online course, Making Sense of Adolescence, the developmental psychologist repeatedly states the importance of providing adolescents with writing material. This facilitates and encourages the necessary phase of narcissism. By writing, they explore and express what is emerging; in a space just for them. Into this space, they gradually emerge as vibrant individuals.

The Advisor’s job description also includes enabling the adolescent to rest; to allow space for their tender emotions to emerge; to skilfully tease out of the adolescent what is bubbling up inside. Rather than pushing back when the adolescent begins to exert themselves (often crudely and rudely) the adult shows strength, the self-assuredness of an individual able to hold and govern space for someone they love.



The most basic human need is for attachment. If the adult does not proactively make themselves available, the adolescent finds attachment elsewhere. They attach to peers or online communities where none of the nurturing actions mentioned above are available. An adolescent abandoned to the peer group or the internet will not fulfil nature’s plan for adolescence: maturity. 

What is unhealthy – peer attachment – can appear to be healthy. The peer-attached adolescent can present as confident and strong; you do not see them struggle with overwhelming emotions because they have been suppressed. In contrast, the adult-attached adolescent is often a mess. Less preoccupied with maintaining their cool, their emotions are on display, along with their awkwardness and angst. Awkward teens can become successful adults, but many parents intervene and sabotage this route to maturity, believing their children are happier and more independent with their friends or online.

This entirely modern phenomenon of peer-orientation is encouraged in a culture that pushes children and adults apart. Adults often work long hours in high stress or precarious jobs; meanwhile, adolescents have an instant connection to each other using technology. The culture has been largely stripped of its traditional reverence for the wisdom of elders, and adults in popular culture are generally figures of mockery. Developmentally, this all contributes to the disaster of people remaining trapped in adolescence, unable to emerge fully as individuals.

The alternative to peer orientation and arrested development is attachment parenting. Secure attachments to safe adults help in obvious and subtle ways, from decreasing the chances of bullying (perpetration or victimhood) and sexual promiscuity to providing a basis for a young adult to emerge and fulfill their potential in a turbulent world.

The power needed for successful adolescence lies with us, we just need to grasp it.

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

This article was first published by Attachment Parenting UK 


Writings from the Roots – North Kensington Zine

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.

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.”


Business Profile: Seeds for Kids

This feature was written for, and first published at, Portobello Business Centre – Success Stories

Raffaella small picture

Raffaella Cappello is the founder of Seeds For Kids, a unique Kensington-based company specialising in healthy food education for children.

Sitting down with her in her kitchen, amid bowls of glorious-looking fruit and vegetables, Raffaella explained that the name Seeds For Kids holds a double meaning: ‘Most of my food is plant based, so it comes from seeds: and to plant a seed is to grow something that lasts.’

What does Seeds For Kids do?

‘We provide food education for children and families. This can be through one-to-one bespoke lessons in a private nutrition consultation, looking at medical and dietary requirements. I design bespoke menu plans, starting with people’s likes and dislikes. This approach takes six months and I see the client at least twice a week. If I see something is missing, I provide bespoke nutritional courses. Continue reading

Business Profile: Leafwild

This feature was written for, and first published at, Portobello Business Centre – Success Stories…

Art from Leafwild website

Anna Parfirenko is the owner of Leafwild, a fresh, healthy and aesthetically pleasing café on Ladbroke Grove. I met Anna at the peak of the Tuesday morning rush, when the café is filled with multi-lingual chatter, and over coffee she told me of how it all began and her plans for the future…

What does Leafwild do?

‘Leafwild is a concept: an organic, gluten-free, vegetarian café, all about clean eating with no refined sugar. We have a holistic approach based on mindfulness and openness: we are for healthy eating and healthy drinking. And we are for animals. I wanted it to be vegan but that proved too difficult, so we’re in-between the vegi and vegan crowds. We have had to start serving fish and chicken to keep business coming in and we also sell eggs. We care a lot about the coffee. We use a local London company, Beanberry, to supply our organic coffee. Continue reading

No Lions in England


UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s latest offensive remarks triggered fresh calls for his sacking. But Johnson’s attitude is not exceptional. His callous comments on Libya are indicative of a mendacity towards the Middle East and North Africa that runs deep in the Conservative party and the UK’s wider political establishment.

At a fringe event for business people at the Conservative party’s annual conference, Johnson outlined his belief that Libyan city Sirte has the potential to emulate Dubai. He claimed to have met of “a group of UK business people, some wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte…all they have to do is clear the bodies away”. Johnson chuckled at his own wit. Continue reading

14/7/17 One Month On: A Catalogue of Conservative Failures

Warning: this article contains distressing information about the Grenfell Tower fire.

One month on from the Grenfell Tower fire that incinerated scores of people in West London, destroying lives and traumatising a community, there is no sign that the Conservative national and local governments have learned lessons in compassion and competence. 

As North Kensington marks the day, the community faces an appalling truth: For the UK national government the council of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the politics of class war take priority over the provision of restitution, dignity and justice.

Empty homes

Treatment of residents on the Lancaster West estate, of which the tower is a part, has been unacceptable for many years. I was a resident there until 2014 and was glad to leave as it appeared that the council was presiding over the estate’s managed decline. Many others have now been forced to leave in the most horrific circumstance.

Government statistics show that Kensington and Chelsea has 1,399 vacant dwellings (3 October 2016 figure) at its disposal. This number will shock but not surprise the population of North Kensington as we wait for decent homes to be offered to Grenfell survivors.

While others around the UK may express bafflement at this, the mismatch between means and delivery is a daily reality in the richest borough in the country. 1,399 empty properties comfortably outstrips the needs of the Grenfell survivors.

There has so far been no suggestion from government that these properties will be used to help deal with the unprecedented disaster and only 14 families had been rehoused at the time of writing.

In addition to its housing stock, Kensington and Chelsea boasts a budget surplus estimated at £300 million but on the ground, little has been done for the victims. The official opposition Labour party have noted the stark contrast between what they are told by Prime Minister Theresa May and the credible information given by people in North Kensington, detailing the many failings of the official response.


High ranking council officials and politicians have stepped down since the fire. None stood down willingly, but only when forced to by pressure from central government. The policy is clear: Do as little as possible until the pressure begins to tell.

There is a lack of initiative and imagination, widely understood in North Kensington to be a lack of humanity. A potential flashpoint will come on the 19 July when the council is scheduled to meet. The campaign group Justice4Grenfell has demanded that the prime minister disband the council cabinet. This is unlikely to happen by the 19th, and the Conservative cabinet will be in for a hostile reception.

One reason for the hostility will be the election of Elizabeth Campbell as the council’s new leader, a politician so out of touch that she has never been in a high rise flat, and in a radio interview would not be drawn on whether the council would use its budget surplus to provide decent housing.

Plus ça change – the more the Conservatives tinker, the more apparent it becomes that nothing substantial will change and the litany of insulting moves grows.


Parliament’s long summer holiday begins next week and it seems that the Conservatives want to kick Grenfell into the long grass of their rural constituencies. But there is no long grass in which to shield their deficiencies in West London. 

There is a power in the raw truth around the Lancaster West estate. But the purveyors of truth have a number of problems: Firstly, they are a traumatised population; secondly, survivors are scattered around West London, without ways and means to coordinate, and thirdly there is a lack of reliable information, brought about by the collapse of the council as a functioning authority.

What paltry official information is being provided is not trusted.

In to the power vacuum have stepped voluntary and community organisations and individuals with talents and experience to offer. Therapists are active in the area, but they are organised by volunteers, not the authorities. 

Stupendous amounts of money has arrived in the form of charitable donations, but there is no evidence to suggest the money, clothes and food are reaching the intended targets. The government was happy for charities such as the Kensington and Chelsea Foundation to take up much of the slack, having received millions in aid money for Grenfell. The Foundation alone has received £4.5 million in donations, but how effective is this if victims still cannot realise their most basic need: shelter?


The fetishisation of the Grenfell victims and survivors has been going on for weeks. They are a means for the wealthy to feel good, rather than people with needs, rights and wishes.

The moulding of their victims in to charity cases by the council and their supporters appears to be taking place with both the perpetrators and victims only dimly aware of it. Simon Cowell of the X Factor, who lives nearby, got in on the act with a quickfire charity single, which has had 6.5 million hits.

Six million singalongs but just 14 homes provided. Charity is important but is no match for the serious delivery of government responsibilities. As the hot summer wears on, especially as Notting Hill Carnival arrives, an explosion of resistance in North Kensington is possible.

The lack of governance has been accompanied with the lauding of the community. On day one this was perhaps pertinent, now it is irrelevant as the dignity of the community is at stake. Platitudes for the people are a safe way for people to feel good without threatening the social order.

In North Kensington, so vibrant compared to the south of the borough, community has been harnessed for use as a colourful backdrop to the daily lives of the rich.

Keep praising us, but we know we’re not at Glastonbury enjoying peace and love, we’re in North Kensington, our neighbours don’t have homes and our children are traumatised. 

The context of the Grenfell Tower was brutal class war, waged by the very rich against the less well-to-do for many years, documented by Grenfell residents among others, and there is no hiding from this fact. The Grenfell victims are being treated in a way that the Conservative politicians would never accept for themselves.

Starting point

After one month, it is appropriate to acknowledge that the starting point for all campaigns and all calls for justice must be that the hundreds* who perished cannot be brought back.

At times it is surreal to think of the blaze and the horrors, as if we are waiting for somebody to change the channel, or to wake us from the nightmare and give us a reassuring hug. But that isn’t possible, the awful memories cannot be erased, and the people and the area will never fully recover.

From such a starting point, the community can stay united and seek justice. It can also seek change, in housing, immigration and the social cleansing long since underway. 

The Conservatives know this and are playing the long game. There will be no sea change in any of these areas while Theresa May can still desperately cling to power. 

While £1 billion was delivered by Downing Street to the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland a few miles from parliament, the victims of an entirely preventable disaster are waiting for more crumbs to be thrown. This is austerity taken to an extreme.

Disaster austerity

Labour has an opportunity to distinguish itself. In the Grenfell Inquiry debate on Wednesday, the government was on the back foot, with Labour MPs questioning why the Grenfell victims must go on suffering when such straightforward solutions are available. 

The relevant Labour shadow ministers, for the Home Office, Justice and Housing, have set out that if Labour comes to power, all victims will be re-housed in Kensington and Chelsea, relief payments made with no impact on potential future benefit claims and an unambiguous immigration amnesty with indefinite leave to remain guaranteed would be offered.

All of this would be a welcome change. But as we mark a month since the disaster began, we must also mark a month in which Conservative power has wreaked so much damage in North Kensington and caused so much unnecessary additional trauma, to the victims, survivors, their families, the Lancaster West estate, every single local schoolchild and every adult living nearby.

So much of this upset and trauma could have been avoided had the national and local governments responded in a way that was commensurate to the scale of the problem. 

Whether the cause of the total failure in humanity from the Conservatives is political, pathological, a reflection of their incompetence, or a combination of all three, the fact is that they remain in power. And while they are, North Kensington must endure its most arduous time.


This article was originally published by The New Arab on July 14th 2017

*The death toll was not known at this time and it was widely believed that well over a hundred people must have died.

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles