After our recent interview with Westway Trust, this conversation took place:
Tom (slapping table with hand): “I think we’ve written as much as we can about this Portobello redevelopment. Let’s move on…”
Angel Lewis: “Yeah, there are so many topics we can write about, (gazing in to the distance) the whole human experience is open to Urban Dandy…”,
9th November, two days before the Westway23/Westway Trust public meeting at the Tabernacle, text message Tom to Angel Lewis: “WT have now pulled out saying they couldn’t guarantee the safety of their staff”.
Reply: “Seriously? Or are you kidding?”
Reply: “That’s what a guy handing out flyers just told me”.
We were forwarded an email exchange between the parties that confirmed that Westway Trust had decided not to participate, one of the reasons being cited was indeed the “well-being” of the WT staff, and they had instead suggested meeting a small group from Westway23 in order to provide more detailed responses to their concerns. No explanation for the sudden security concerns was given, nor was an apology.
Toby Laurent Belson, Artist/Designer/Organiser at Westway23 told Urban Dandy: “It is a degrading statement for them to make. I am personally insulted by the suggestion that any member of the Westway Trust would be unsafe in the midst of a community meeting I have been a part of organising, taking place at one of this area’s most venerated and well-run venues. I have attended countless meetings in this community in which I have only ever seen a put-upon community respond to issues with consideration and passion”.
He explained that W23 still received no apology. “Neither myself, nor any other member of Westway23 or its supporters, have received any reasonable explanation, let alone an apology for it, despite clearly communicating the distress it has caused”.
We asked Councillor Pat Mason, who is the Labour Group’s representative on the Westway Trust board, what he made of the no-show decision and whether it was symptomatic of a deeper malaise at the Trust. He told us: “I advised the trust Chair and Chief Executive to attend the Westway23 Tabernacle public meeting, saying they should not operate in a vacuum without the input of local people and without giving people the right to ask questions, scrutinise their actions, and to suggest what strategies the trust should follow for the future.
“Unfortunately, they decided not to attend because they are locked into the belief that local people should be commenting on and suggesting improvements to the trust’s proposals and strategies, rather than accepting that local people do not support what they are doing and have a completely different vision for their area. So any kind of strongly-voiced opposition to what is being proposed is experienced as unpalatable by trust directors”.
“This disconnect with the community is a historical problem born from the hijacking of the trust by Kensington & Chelsea Council from its inception and used as a vehicle to advance Council regeneration policies and to prevent real community representatives and groups, who were always branded as trouble-makers, from managing their own assets and making decisions beneficial to their communities.
For several decades, the trust has been run as if it were a castle bordered by a moat and peopled by the Council’s grandees who have ingrained their philosophy of neo liberal top down decision-making on the organisation which is a hard mould to break. The trust now has less Community representatives and elected Councillors, and more professional appointees on its board than it had a year ago. It was set up to go down the corporate route and that process will continue unless the local community backs up its wish for an alternative vision with real actions”.
Westway Trust send Urban Dandy this statement: “We took the difficult decision to withdraw our attendance from the meeting organised by Westway23 as we believed attending would not lead to constructive outcomes. It is unfair to expect someone to attend a meeting not knowing who is presenting alongside you, what the agenda is, who the audience is, who is facilitating or how it will be managed.
Having a community meeting is very positive and we support the principle, if you know the details and what to expect. We were informed about some of the details of the meeting from the Press ahead of being told by the organisers. There was always an air of mystery to the meeting, which did not encourage staff to feel confident about attending.
Westway Trust regularly liaises with more than 70 local groups and working with a small group of leaders, who have proposals to discuss, has proven to be the most productive way to make progress. We remain keen to have a meeting with a group representing Westway 23 at their earliest convenience.
We are committed to working collaboratively and positively with all local groups, including Westway23, and want to encourage those that attended the meeting on Wednesday to bring forward their ideas for improving the estate so that we can find a mutually beneficial approach.”
W23’s Toby offers a different route forward: “At some point an organisation set up to consider and listen to the community must do just that. It cannot continue to play politics and bury its head in the sand as people’s lives are threatened ever more seriously by economic and environmental realities. It cannot continue to treat people as idiots on the subject of their own lives.
Wounds, injuries, pain and injustice do not disappear through ignorance or denial. They only bury deeper and spread wider. Without beginning a fundamental process of healing and reparation, the damage simply continues down through generations. In my opinion, that is what we are seeing here and a genuine healing process is what Westway23 have been set up to assist our community in going through. We are trying to be open and honest and shine a light on uncomfortable truths that will hopefully reveal a better, healthier, more nourishing future. I hope the Trust can come around to being a part of that future and put the skills they do have behind those of the local community”.
13th November email, Tom to Angel Lewis: “I’ve written it up, but what would be a good way end to the article?”
Reply: “I dunno…we can say anything, we’re Urban Dandy…”
“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.
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 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.
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.
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.’
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.
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’.
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…
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’
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…
‘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.
‘They are our customers, he uses our services’ (her colleague looking on curiously)
‘Why?’ (distressed now)
‘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’
(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)
‘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’
‘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’.
…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.
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.
“Spaces for creativity, spaces for spiritual enlightenment, spaces for cultural celebration…”
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.
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.