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 here: North_Kensington_Writings_1and 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.”
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…
The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) was responsible for running the Lancaster West estate, including Grenfell Tower, in North Kensington. This year, its responsibility for Lancaster West was terminated following the Grenfell Tower fire of June 14th 2017, which killed 72 people. But what is KCTMO? Has it really ceased to exist? And why do these initials provoke such antipathy in North Kensington?
A Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) is traditionally a small, tenant-led group that takes over some of the landlord management responsibilities and oversight for an estate from a local authority. Of the 200 TMOs in Britain, the KCTMO was distinct in being an Arms-Length Management Organisation (ALMO) and therefore, by its very design, not representative of residents. KCTMO was created to directly take over the council’s management of its social housing, rather than to provide representative oversight.
The KCTMO story takes place against the backdrop of Conservative party predominance over the Kensington and Chelsea council. This was no different in 1996, when the council feared it might lose control of its social housing stock, which was subject to a compulsory tendering strategy from national government. To maintain its control, the council created the KCTMO, with its management team of 20, including, initially, 13 residents. In the plan, KCTMO would take control of the borough’s 9,000 social housing properties, but for major works (costing over £400,000, such as the Grenfell Tower refurbishment) liability was shared equally with the council.
In 2002, to access the Labour government’s Decent Homes funding, KCTMO became an ALMO, reducing the number of tenants on its board whilst maintaining the TMO designation in its name. By the late 00s, serious issues were emerging. An independent report in 2009 identified “substandard” repairs and a need for major works, recommending the Tory council take a greater role in monitoring KCTMO.
In response to the alarming report, newly appointed KCTMO chief executive Robert Black pledged to build trust between the TMO and tenants. But this did not come to pass.
In 2013, when I lived on the estate, the Estate Management Board at Lancaster West was wound up. There were “terrifying” power surges at Grenfell Tower and plans for the Kensington Academy secondary school and new Kensington Leisure Centre, next to Grenfell Tower were not received enthusiastically by residents, the sense being that KCTMO and the council were out of touch with, and even dismissive of, residents’ voices.
People in North Kensington have been raising health concerns since the Grenfell Tower fire. Following Friday’s news that ‘huge concentrations’ of toxins have been found in the soil around the tower, fellow local bloggers, THis Is North Kensington – THINK, have some more concerning news for local residents, which they have shared with Urban Dandy…
On Friday, The Guardian reported that Public Health England have not acted upon a report of early findings by toxicology expert Dr Anna Stec showing huge concentrations of potential carcinogens in the air and the soil around Grenfell Tower. Prof Stec has urged PHE, the Department of Heath the Police and RBKC to organise tests on local residents so health risks in our local North Kensington community can be assessed properly. Read about it here
Many of us here have long held these concerns, and they appear to be validated in Prof Stec’s early findings. Sadly, we can’t exactly say we are surprised – local residents have been voicing very real anxieties about health here for well over a year – concerns that have mainly fallen on the deaf ears of our government, Public Health England and our council.
We could remind them of the cyanide gases released by the burning insulation from the Tower in the fire, of numerous local residents calling for soil and water and cladding to be tested on countless occasions since the fire, of people from Grenfell Tower suffering cyanide poisoning after the fire, of the “Grenfell cough” which is no figment of peoples’ imagination in North Kensington (several locals had respiratory problems after the fire), of the burnt cladding and insulation that landed in people’s homes and gardens up to a mile away, or of this post of ours from August last year:
Public Health England were delayed in their responses at the very least, relied on air quality tests alone (again ignoring residents’ concerns) and flat-out refused to investigate the rest of the environment surrounding Grenfell Tower. Many concerned local residents at public meetings were dismissed by PHE – utterly shameful.
We sat at one meeting where one of them was saying that the air and soil here were perfectly safe and made out that we had nothing to worry about. It is bad enough that they refuse to take our concerns seriously, but they really should at least now listen to the concerns of a world-leading expert….
It also appears to many of us in our community that there have been concerted efforts on the parts of both this government and the leadership of our council from day one to minimise what has been a not just a local but a national disaster – shame on them.
We warn RBKC, Public Health England and the government that failing to act upon this is in itself a neglect of duty of care at the very least.
Local Labour Notting Dale Ward councillor Judith Blakeman has also constantly raised concerns over this and she informed us that she has also again raised these matters with RBKC.
Some might remember Sir Derek Myers, former joint Chief Executive of both RBKC and Hammersmith and Fulham. He stepped down, coincidentally – or not – enough at the same time Sir Merrick Cockell quit as leader of our council. Back in 2013, The Guardian published an interview with Myers in which he downplayed this council’s then-policy of negotiating the purchase of properties in Peterborough and then relocating local families there (Peterborough’s then Conservative MP Stewart Jackson condemned this at the time and said: “This is about social cleansing in Kensington and Chelsea. It’s about getting rid of people they don’t want in their borough, who are on benefits, who they have a responsibility for – to house – who are statutorily homeless.”)
Well, talking of homeless people, after his departure from the Rotten Borough, Myers then ended up chair of the board of trustees at Shelter until resigning last year alongside then trustee of Shelter, Tony Rice, who was also chairman and sole shareholder of Omnis Exteriors – who allegedly sold the Grenfell cladding – disgraceful.
But if last year’s news was shocking enough, some readers might be wondering why we are bringing all these old revelations up. We remind them that Sir Derek Myers’ “home” now is on the board of PHE.
We will also remind people of the Notting Barns South Masterplan, obtained by the Grenfell Action Group under the Freedom of Information Act and that Derek Myers was chief executive of this borough at the exact same time these plans, which proposed the demolition of Grenfell Tower, were drawn up.
No, we are not going into “conspiracy theory territory”, but Myers’ involvement with PHE certainly raises more than a few red flags here. His Guardian interview finishes with the line “like all natural leaders, where others see a problem, Myers sees an opportunity” – make of that what you will…
THINK believe it to be a real conflict of interest for Sir Derek Myers to be in such a position given his former role at RBKC and we say that it is time that he takes the “opportunity” to resign from Public Health England now.
We also say it is time for the government and the council to take the very real concerns about our health raised by residents, local councillors, health professionals and toxicology experts seriously and to act upon this immediately.
As things stand it appears to us that some in authority have not learnt anything after Grenfell; about listening to this community and its concerns and acting upon them responsibly. And we are less than reassured with the very important matters of our health, our environment and our futures being their call.
Our community has been painted as work-shy immigrants, sub-letting; it could not be further from the truth; we were eloquent, hard working…we deserve to be respected
Urban Dandy is a North Kensington-based blog. It was born on the Lancaster West estate where the Grenfell Tower still stands. That estate, North Kensington and all of us who live here were forever changed on June 14th 2017. Our articles and poems from the aftermath of the fire can be found by clicking urbandandylondon.com/tag/grenfell-tower/ . We hope that all of our pieces on Grenfell convey some of the heartbreak experienced here in North Kensington, provide some context for the reader as well as serving as a tribute to the community we are proud to be a part of.
The Limits of Politics in the Shadow of Disaster
At al Manaar last week, Jeremy Corbyn focused on his ‘Another World Is Possible’ message. The visit to North Kensington was part of the strategy of taking Labour to the heart of communities to build grassroots support and pick up campaign volunteers. On both these macro and micro levels, Corbyn is underestimated by the media.
But in North Kensington, these are not our primary concerns. World peace and another world being possible don’t seem that important when there is no sign of justice for the crime at Grenfell Tower, when the Conservative council easily won the local election and when the survivors’ treatment has been appalling, surreal and bureaucratic.
Corbyn’s speech at the mosque was pleasant enough, but whoever wrote it failed to linger on the any specifics about the community response to the Grenfell Tower fire, the only positive in the nightmare. Where were his personal recollections? What are the implications for how another world could be moulded based on the collective efforts we saw here last year?
The situation in North Kensington is not one that powerful politicians can pay lip service to before heading back to the Commons or City Hall. It asks fundamental questions of how we deal with an appalling man-made disaster and how we see the future of this society.
Perhaps the words of Sadiq Khan, like Corbyn’s, are a tacit acknowledgment that London is over for many people who cannot thrive in a punitive property market. Nowhere is this more stark than in North Kensington. Where are the fresh ideas, beyond a call for survivors to be treated a bit better within the failed system?
The Labour leaders should feel free to use their power to speak and act against the Conservatives and their deadly policies. Unlike the community, these politicians have a platform and a voice, but if Labour cannot seize the moment in North Kensington, then rather than creating false hope, they should leave it to the locals and focus elsewhere instead.
We were abandoned…
It was the community that offered sanctuary to us
Ed, Grenfell Action Group
Big green hearts are in contrast to the derisory RBKC Council, the TMO, Theresa May and Sajid Javid. A desperate, grasping, corrupt political elite and their bureaucratic quislings.
What can be said about those whose symbols are on every lamppost, estate entrance, whose dead eyes stare out from the free newspapers? The Tory council just a human shield for Theresa May, the TMO likewise for the council.
How do we tell our children that their rulers are hateful? It might be better to tell them: ‘Look at what you did last year, at how you supported each other’ or ‘Look at the community you are part of’.
Naughty schoolboys, written off by the system but handing out water to distressed people long into the night, kindness everywhere. The purity of children – their big hearts in contrast to their presumed superiors. Unity not an empty slogan to be manipulated and used as a tool for power, but as real as it gets…
“Men aren’t gonna talk about it. They want to fix things, so they’re repressing their emotions.”
Rajaa Chellat, counselor for the My Shepherd therapy service.
Women led us on June 14th 2017, at Acklam Village and some of the other centres for relief, women led and men followed
We men want to fix or protect, but we can’t bring back 72 people, we couldn’t protect them…
On June 14th 2018 in North Kensington, just like last year, all we’ll have is each other.
On becoming leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council a month after the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, Elizabeth Campbell promised change. In a brief speech to fellow councillors and victims of the fire in July, Campbell used the word ‘change’ eleven times. Considering Campbell’s own role in the council’s sustained asset strip of North Kensington, the words were never convincing. But they were rendered meaningless in January when the council tried to sell a vital community building to property developers to build flats for the rich. In failing to push through the sale, the Conservative council now looks weaker than ever.
Early this year K & C council were moving full steam ahead with their plans to sell Canalside House, home to numerous local charities, community groups, small businesses, and a hub of support for victims of the June 14th fire. Plans to sell the historic building on Ladbroke Grove and move its residents to a wholly unsuitable replacement on Latimer Road were put on hold following the fire, after resident organisations pointed out to the council that they had been filling in the gaps vacated by the local authority in providing emergency relief work and supporting the North Kensington community.
How do we know about the plans to sell? A council scrutiny committee meeting was filmed and posted online (the Canalside section starts after two hours). The details are in this Urban Dandy article.Continue reading →
Less than eight months on from the Grenfell Tower fire disaster and Kensington and Chelsea Council’s money grab in the North Kensington community is back in full flow. Canalside House, one of the last remaining spaces utilised by charities, the voluntary sector, small businesses and other local enterprises, is to be sold to property developers. The decision raises questions about whether the Conservative council has learned any of the lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire, which was the culmination of years of neglect, indifference and wilful ignorance by the local authority. In the run up to the crucial local elections in May, the decision to sell Canalside represents a calculation by the local authority that the local population will be apathetic as one of the community’s last assets is stripped.
Canalside House, less than a mile from Grenfell Tower, is home to almost 20 organisations, most of which have played a direct and ongoing role in supporting the community in the aftermath of the unprecedented fire on Lancaster West estate on June 14th. In the absence of a serious local authority response to the disaster, local organisations and their volunteers stepped into the void left by the Tory council. The council is widely believed to be responsible for the 71 deaths and incalculable trauma in North Kensington.
Kensington and Chelsea has a large number of charities, but it is a borough that needs them, owing to the grotesque levels of inequality and high levels of poverty, much of which is concentrated in North Kensington. Canalside House is one of the main hubs for community organisations, serving hundreds of local people.