“This Council – its policies, its leadership, its senior people and its culture – has changed.”
Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, Leader and Barry Quirk, Chief Executive Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, March 2020
Since June 2017, Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) has claimed to be undergoing a culture transformation. This website has shown that this assertion is untrue; that public money has been spent to thwart resident empowerment, while austerity spending cuts have been imposed on vital services. Two strategies used by RBKC to frustrate North Kensington’s development have been manipulation through public relations and divide-and-rule of the community. We tackle both here, exposing the PR con using contributions from local people who have stayed faithful to the ideals of community through three traumatic years and have come together to produce this piece.
In this article, we update our challenge to RBKC over its claims to have changed following the Grenfell Tower fire. Since June 14th, 2017, we have presented an evidence-based rebuttal to the council, revealing a fraud perpetrated against residents by RBKC before, during and since that crisis. Not once has RBKC disputed our criticisms with evidence. While we have provided real-life examples of serious failings, the council’s response has been to parrot their ‘change’ mantra.
This update was planned before the Coronavirus had impacted daily life so severely. Many people have been quick to predict that positive political, economic, social, philosophical and cultural transformations will spring from the crisis. We believe that only unified, grassroots action changes things and that adversarial journalism is indispensable in this.
RBKC’s Change Policy
By Tom Charles
The Conservative leadership of RBKC lives in an altered reality. On the ground: no change; in their press releases and public utterances: change. It seems that truth is not important, careful PR management is. RBKC remains intractable in this approach, typified in the quote above from the leader and chief executive of the richest local authority in the country. Over the past three years, we have published the following stories, exposing the lie of Campbell and Quirk, two functionaries for a rotten council that needed root and branch change…Continue reading →
Writing about life in Kensington sometimes creates friction with Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC), the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Association (KCTMO) and the Westway Trust. The three constitute what has been referred to locally as the Unholy Trinity.
Roles & Responsibilities
RBKC is the local government, responsible for provision of many public services and dominated by councillors from the Conservative party, which retained control of the Town Hall by winning the local election in May 2018. For years the political leadership of RBKC has been dominated by moneyed property speculators who have sought to sell off North Kensington’s public assets, such as its library, youth club and college.
KCTMO is an Arms-Length Management Organisation and was given control of the borough’s 9,000 social housing properties from 1996. It was taken in-house, back to RBKC, after the Grenfell Tower fire; KCTMO staff now work in the same roles but use council, rather than TMO, email addresses. KCTMO is being maintained as a legal entity at a high cost to residents so that it can participate in the Grenfell inquiry.
The Westway Trust is responsible for ensuring the mile of land under the A40 flyover in North Kensington is used for the benefit of the local population who suffer from the noise, darkness and pollution imposed by the Westway.
Power & Mortality
The three institutions form a power establishment in the north of the borough. Between them they have the keys to properties and can move families out of London; they hold the purse strings for many charities, small businesses and community projects. Senior positions at all three tend to be held by people with a capitalistic approach and a natural class bias for maintaining the status quo.
History has shown that their agendas overlap and, on their watch, Kensington is “the most unequal borough in Britain,” not an abstract fact: here in North Kensington we men live for 22 years fewer than the wealthier men in the south of the borough.
Writing in Kensington and possessing a modicum of socio-economic or political consciousness requires awareness of how the trinity impact the population.
It is important to explain the phrase Unholy Trinity as it is a pronoun for three paradoxical institutions. All three are significant local employers: the council has well over 2,000 staff; KCTMO over 200 and Westway Trust approximately 100 (these figures do not include casual or contracted-in workers). They also provide vital services, sometimes effectively. Within each of the three organisations are fine and noble people, but the Trinity have not only failed to alleviate chronic poverty but have added to the misery in North Kensington.
Despite the misery, they carry on. The council has weathered the political storm after the Grenfell fire, mainly by playing silly and propagating corporate waffle about ‘change’ and ‘stronger communities’. Nobody in North Ken believes it, but they have no way to reject it. The government’s taskforce that oversees RBKC on behalf of the Home Secretary offered only token criticisms in its latest report which was a whitewash serving only to veil RBKC’s ineptitude. The property parasites of RBKC have proved ignorant and unteachable when it comes to the rich culture and dynamic potential of North Kensington making them less useful to the area than his fleas are to a dog.
KCTMO has been absorbed into the council, along with thousands of outstanding repair jobs it couldn’t carry out, despite £11 million a year of public money. And the Westway Trust’s 2018 keystone cops AGM was a mess, with allegations already carried over from previous years going unanswered. Every establishment, profiteering instinct of the decision-makers within the Unholy Trinity leads them to mess up big time in North Kensington and it is not possible to shame them into improving.
Many staff members at these institutions are comfortable with constructive criticism of their big bosses, and often agree, but others get jittery when local writers consistently, accurately identify the seriousness of the failings and when the finger of blame points steadily at those whose doctrines have done so much damage to the people they are paid to serve.
Lancaster West – Urban Dandy
Urban Dandy started off in 2011 covering art, music, local businesses and whatever else we felt like talking about. Jen, Angel and I were always philosophical, ear-to-the-street, socially and politically conscious types though.
The blog was conceived on Lancaster West estate, which probably set in train the trajectory Urban Dandy has taken. In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, in a climate of rage and truth, no issues were raised about our comments on the local power system. Now, in the post-Grenfell world, it’s different; people have adjusted their minds to circumstances that would have been unthinkable before 2017. Being sensitive to the times, it was inevitable that if we kept writing we’d come up against the Unholy Trinity.
The Masque of Empathy
It is painful to write but what we see now in North Kensington is a gravy train about to smash into the buffers. Profiteers motivated by personal gain, not limited to the business or political classes, have cashed in on tragedy. Integrity has been trumped by fear of missing out, not helped by the panic-stricken local authority almost literally throwing money (£400 million and counting) at the community, to maintain the established order, rather than investing in people to transform standards of living and create opportunities.
Financial corruption in the third sector, corruption of the minds of those who are first to proclaim their piety, adds to the corruption so obvious in the upper echelons of the council and KCTMO. The perversions possibly peaked with the presence of the leader of the council on the monthly silent walk for Grenfell. Her deputy feels relaxed enough to poke fun at those who attend council meetings to demand justice. Eighteen months is an infinitude in politics.
‘Change’ at RBKC amounts to a masquerade of empathy for which they are sent on training courses, funded by residents.
The Masque of Anarchy
Back to the blog, and when Mark joined us, we had London’s greatest poet, the perfect foil for news stories and the op-eds. Philosophical, social and poetic. Perhaps something is stirring in England, but in Kensington, the Royal borough, the Unholy Trinity still decides the life chances of many families and the council has a democratic mandate for power.
What to do? Blogging, or citizen journalism, is the fourth estate in this borough. Temporarily, Urban Dandy is the only show in town outside of the social media echo chamber. We hope we won’t be alone for long though: others cannot be matched for their assiduousness; and one local blog takes the fight to the Unholy Trinity almost daily.
Rage, though it manifests in our words, was never the purpose of Urban Dandy and it won’t chew us up. The power system endures because it was designed to, that is a fact of life but we remain philosophical, knowing that big doors swing on small hinges.
The second centenary of the Peterloo massacre is marked by Joyce Marlow’s brilliant, authoritative book. Making use of all that was published in Lancashire and across Britain at the time, she tracks the fear among the ruling elite of revolution in England and the spirited, non-violent call for dignified living conditions in Manchester that was turned into a massacre of its own people by the British army. The book also tells the story after the massacre as the population is subjugated by the state’s control of the courts, parliament, media and arms. In 2119, we hope historians researching the atrocity in North Kensington find our blog and recognise an honest account.
Stepping back and renewing is the early year theme of the poetry, articles and art on the blog, as we mop up the chaos of 2018 and look forward.
The anarchy we glimpsed in Summer 2017 has given way to the old order, and it is a great sadness that an alternative system for North Kensington has not been established. A mechanism to enable the community to make its own decisions in its own interests, which briefly seemed possible, is not even discussed any more. Squabbles and petty ambitions dominate North Kensington while the privileged, dividend-collectors at RBKC relax, bloated by their success.
Like any logical article, even a stream of consciousness comes full circle. In this case back to the Unholy Trinity. We’ve ignored the murmurs of discontent about our work and started 2019 with an insider account of alleged Westway Trust corruption and a serious look at the abuse of the word ‘change’ by RBKC. We’ll write whatever we feel like writing about and might step back from covering North Kensington’s Unholy Trinity quagmire. But stepping back means having a better view of the whole picture, and their injustice will remain on our radar…
As reported previously, the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) were commissioned to undertake an independent review of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) in July 2018 following the Grenfell Tower fire of June 2017, in which 72 people died. The CfPS made a number of recommendations which the council voluntarily agreed to adopt, including twelve recommended “principles of good governance.” We put RBKC’s adherence to their principles to the test with the first case study: the North Kensington community building, Canalside House. RBKC was found wanting, but will they fare any better as we look at Lancaster Youth Club?
The main criticism of the CfPS independent review is that it provides very little in terms of effective tools to hold the Council to account…It seems the Council heard these critics and responded to say, “the council recognises that it (sic) essential to put these principles into practice.”. However, the story of Canalside House (where community groups were told their building would be demolished and turned into luxury flats) demonstrated that RBKC are really struggling to stay true to their word on this.
The council has a plan of action. Unfortunately, it seems to involve demolishing a lot of buildings purposed for community use. Canalside House was not the only community space at threat of closure. Lancaster Youth Club, located by the crossroads of Ladbroke Grove and Lancaster Road, neighbouring two private schools (Chepstow House and Notting Hill Preparatory,) the historic North Ken library and the bohemian 19th century pub the KPH (now sold to property speculators,) was also threatened with demolition two years ago. Lancaster Youth Club is not far from Grenfell Tower in the north of the borough and a real asset for young people in an area where community space is at a premium.
In 2017, the council proposed that the Youth Club be demolished (sound familiar?). According to RBKC: ‘the building whilst generally fit for purpose, is not energy efficient and is relatively costly to run for its size.’ The demolition of Lancaster Youth Club did not occur in 2017 as plans for regeneration were put on hold after the Grenfell Tower fire. The space has lay empty ever since and Deputy Leader of RBKC, Kim Taylor-Smithrejected refurbishment work that would have made the building operational again.
At the same time, the community has increased its provision to meet demand and community space is needed more than ever. EPIC, the Community Interest Company currently commissioned to run the centre, have had their contract extended until September 2019 when the Council will announce all newly commissioned youth services in the borough. Meanwhile, dust is left to accumulate at Lancaster Youth Club and workers do not know what will happen to the space or if their jobs are safe, but we are told to not be so cynical as the council has a plan.
The youth review, painstakingly carried out during 2018, claims that “young people were also involved in co-designing youth services” but it is expected that ultimately RBKC’s offer will be derisory due to the local authority’s commitment to austerity. Already it is clear that there will be very little space afforded to North Kensington’s young people, many of whom live in acute poverty in overcrowded accommodation[i].
The Strategy for Redesign and Implementation of Youth Services states that the new youth offer ‘will consist of two main youth hub sites; one in the North of the Borough (Lancaster Road area), and one in the South (in Chelsea Riverside ward) and five youth club sites.’ Reading between the lines, it seems Lancaster Youth Club might be re-purposed as a youth ‘hub’ and is perhaps safe from demolition for now, but the real question is why young people, residents and community groups have not been kept in the loop? Why is the council not abiding by the principles it promised to adopt not just in theory but in practice?
A reminder of the principles:
“Connecting with Residents”
“Focusing on What Matters”
“Listening to Many Voices”
“Acting with Integrity”
“Involving Before Deciding”
“Communicating What We Are Doing”
“Inviting Residents to Take Part”
“Being Clearly Accountable”
“Responding Fairly to Everyone’s Needs”
“Working as Team”
“Having the support we need” (not relevant here as it only applies to internal RBKC issues)
In the case of Lancaster Youth, as with Canalside House, RBKC has willfully ignored its principles of good governance. CfPS offers no useful mechanism for ensuring change in the council’s approach.
The national government’s Independent Grenfell Recovery Taskforce, made up of four members, who report directly to Home Secretary Sajid Javid, similarly have no power to insist upon real change. They appear unaware of the 12 Principles, which do not feature in its latest report, which is little more than a whitewash, focusing on procedure rather than people. It fails to mention the Lancaster Youth Club or Canalside House, let alone discuss the needs of those who benefit from the services provided at each.
When the issue of the youth review was raised with a Taskforce member by the governors of The Curve, he responded by suggesting that North Kensington should be grateful that there is a youth service at all. The Curve is another community space that seems likely to be either abandoned by the council or expected to limp on with severe budget cuts in 2019.
This from a council that has spent in excess of £400 million on its own political survival since the fire. Now they are secure, will they deliver on any of the promised change? Or is North Kensington in a new phase of austerity and impoverishment?
Have the principles been put in to practice? Has change arrived? No.
*The author who submitted this article to Urban Dandy asked to remain anonymous to avoid any prejudicial attitudes being shown towards her community-based organisation by RBKC councillors or staff.
Some edits and additional information by Tom Charles @tomhcharles
“In the heart of the Urban Dandy is the fate and the conflict of the bohemian, to become preoccupied with the things he/she shuns – materialism and money” (About Us)
Descriptions like this can be traced back nearly two centuries when the word ‘Bohemian’ was first used to define those who didn’t fit the mainstream, bourgeois view of respectable living.
Mid-nineteenth century bohemians were those associated with alternative lifestyles and world views, engaged in the arts, writing and philosophy. They were united in their rejection of bourgeois, materialism trivia and sentimentality. What was respectable to the bourgeois was, to the bohemians, banal.
The thinker Alain de Botton describes the “martyr figures” of the bohemian value system as those who “sacrificed the security of a regular job and the esteem of their society in order to write, paint or make music, or devote themselves to travel or to their friends and families”[i]
By favouring sensitivity over worldly attachment, bohemians found themselves destitute, unable to reconcile themselves to spending their time and energy in service of a job they loathed to secure comfortable material lives. They looked elsewhere, forming their own subcultures and alternative movements.
But while mainstream society has its status symbols (peerages, job titles, awards, bling etc.) the bohemians’ status is attained through social skills, poetry, choice of reading material and company kept.
In the 1800s, society reported only bourgeois achievements and alternative heroes were seldom seen. The bohemian response to this freezing out was to try to shock respectable society out of its complacency. The Dadaists and Surrealists provided alternative voices to the prevailing narratives of social conservatism and fear of difference. Similarly, the Beat poets challenged a culture dominated by those who believed society offered a just reward system.
Bohemians tend to gather in ghettos, a survival instinct and economic necessity. Inner city areas with low end rent have been the focal point, potential havens of freedom, liberation and creativity.
All well and good, but any Bohemian must operate within the laws of the land. And so, the fate of the bohemian is still to become preoccupied with what is ostensibly shunned: money and material comfort.
In North Kensington, a wind chill factor of poverty blows in. Over half of the Borough’s children attend private schools, while 41% of their peers live in poverty. Boho? Many of those who had enjoyed a degree of material comfort and predictable security can no longer rely on this. And the society is more atomised and less community-based than ever. The future is uncertain.
Under an entirely unnecessary sham economic policy called ‘Austerity’, brutal class war is being waged. For those leaving university with five figures of debt, fulfilling their life’s purpose and building a community that enables people to realise their own individuality is not an option. Neither is debt slavery an economic benefit to the country; it is a deliberate, class-based political decision.
The result is best articulated by Oscar Wilde: “There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor”[ii].
The confusion of the value of a human with the monetary value of what they possess has led the majority into tedious, demoralising work in a bid for respectability. Wilde said that our society has been constructed on such a basis “that man has been forced into a groove in which he cannot fully develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him – in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure and joy of living”[iii].
And this is the dilemma of the Urban Dandy; it is what is inside them that enriches life. But they must live outwardly. And that is why, in our hundredth post we declared our intention:
“Identifying with the downtrodden, the poor and the dandies, the human, those who won’t back down and those that capitulate under pressure”.
A final warning: Beware of the word Bohemian now. It has been bastardised, called Boho…Tory Bohemia
Been the king of Notting Hill, Lord of Ladbroke Grove
Seen new money flooding in, pretentiousness exposed!
All about the bag you hold, label inside your clothes
Even though it’s daddies cash you wanna be boho!
Without a picture painted, book or verse
A modern day hippy – but in reverse!
The queen of hearts has marked your card
Like me seen through the looking glass
Oh! Alice dear you’re lost in space
What’s really happening to this place
But Alice dear -don’t you understand
For most of us it’s not wonderland!
Poem by MC.Bolton, 2015
[i] Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety, Penguin (2005), p. 280
[ii] Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, in The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, p.1180