2020 Vision: RBKC & North Kensington

“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.

Background

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.

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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

Frenzy in Kensington

For Emma…

 

That’s that: a centre-left government led by Jeremy Corbyn to end austerity and change British society has not materialised. Across the country frenzied efforts were made to stop the Conservative victory, but there were few successes. The debate about why Labour lost so spectacularly is raging, but here in Kensington identifying the culprits is simple. 

First a quick word on the mainstream media. Their assiduous, relentless smear campaign against Corbyn worked alongside Brexit to fatally undermine his chances. The media’s point of departure for the whole campaigning period was set entirely by the right wing; Corbyn’s moderate investment proposals were such a threat to the establishment that a he was faced with a wall of infantile bullying and anti-intellectual posturing which denied the public any serious discussion of Labour’s manifesto. Absurdities such as Corbyn being defamed as an antisemite in a conspiracy involving the whole of the media, all sides in parliament and so-called religious leaders, had a real impact on voters ill equipped to deconstruct the lie that was presented to them every day with such certainty.    

The political establishment is breathing easier now thanks to the surreal sight of Conservative MPs in impoverished Northern, Midlands and Welsh constituencies making their victory speeches in the early hours of Friday morning. While they were doing that, Kensington was faced with the much more familiar sight of a Tory candidate winning in an area that is one of the richest, albeit most unequal, in the world.

Lies

The Labour incumbent, Emma Dent Coad, lost her seat in a whirl of Liberal Democrat lies and the collective amnesia and ignorance of the more well-to-do in the constituency.

In one of the most egregious campaign lies of 2019, a variety of tactical voting guides advised those wanting to block Boris Johnson and/or Remain in the European Union to vote Liberal Democrat in Kensington. This was despite the Lib Dems coming a distant third in Kensington in 2017 with 12 % of the vote.

Those urging tactical voters to opt for the Liberal candidate, former Tory minister Sam Gyimah, included getvoting.org, Remain United and the pathologically anti-Corbyn Guardian newspaper. Their voting advice was based on the lie that only Gyimah could defeat the Conservative candidate, Felicity Buchan.

On the doorsteps, Labour canvassers like me were faced with naïve voters who intended to vote for the Liberals purely based on this lie and their anti-democratic wish to overturn the 2016 Brexit vote. Floating voters who were told by honest Labour canvassers that only Emma Dent Coad could beat the Tories were eyed with suspicion, having already being canvassed by the Lib Dems.

 

Result
screengrab from the BBC

 

Grenfell

Away from the tower blocks, in the richer houses of North Kensington, the simple Revoke-Remain message, the fact that Gyimah is a Tory at heart, ambivalence over the devastation of the Grenfell Tower fire and the disinformation campaign against Corbyn and Labour resulted in a split vote and a huge increase in the Liberal Democrat share.

Votes for the Liberals in Kensington almost doubled from 4,724 in 2017 to 9,312 in 2019. Labour lost by just 150 votes and the Liberal Democrats once again succeeded in propping up Tory austerity and denying North Kensington of an MP who has fought tirelessly for justice for Grenfell.

The Kensington campaign, which was kick-started by Sam Gyimah making the bizarre and entirely false claim that Dent Coad shared some responsibility with his Tories for the Grenfell fire, should raise questions about the sincerity of the Liberal Democrats as a party. Was Remain ever really their priority? Or is stopping even moderate socialism their true creed?

Kensington is a complex place. Class divisions here are so profound that even fanatical remainers will vote against their own interests rather than see somebody like Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. They want one of their own.

In contrast, the run-down estates were dominated by Labour voters.

And what of Grenfell? This issue also fell into class patterns. On the doorstep, Liberals said it ‘could’ve happened anywhere’ and Conservatives described campaigns for justice as a ‘load of bollocks’.

They did not trust Corbyn to lead the country, yet were unable to articulate a specific objection to Labour’s manifesto.

Defeat

In the frenzied last days of campaigning, with the polls showing Labour just ahead in Kensington, scores of volunteers converged on the area to try to push Emma over the line. Up and down tower blocks, undeterred by the rain, they were greeted by voter after voter who said that Labour was their choice.

These voters knew Emma would take their struggle for justice to the highest levels of power and they hoped Corbyn could revolutionise their lives by opening up education and housing and protecting the NHS. Some elderly Labour voters probably saw this as their last chance to secure a dignified end to their lives.

But their votes in Kensington were in vain, thanks to the mendacity of one party. The election frenzy over, North Kensington is once again unrepresented in parliament, just as it is disenfranchised in the local authority.

This time, in this constituency, it is clear who takes the blame: the illiberal and undemocratic liars of the Liberal Democrats.  

 

by Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Kensington Election 2019: Come Unity

(Warning: this article contains references to the Grenfell Tower fire and videos made in the aftermath of the fire)

 “It is a fact that any rich man…has less to fear from Fascism than from…Democratic Socialism”

George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn.

The UK will elect a new government this week; a chorus of 66 million voices joined in an electoral expression of hope, hate or fear the outcome of which will profoundly affect every single one of us. All constituencies have their dramas and idiosyncrasies but surely none matches Kensington as a symbol of the choice and future at stake.

Untitled

December 12th 2019 will be a defining moment for Kensington, a constituency dramatically snatched by Labour for the first time in 2017 when Emma Dented the Unwritten Coad of Tory rule in the Royal Borough.

Emma Dent Coad

But Dent Coad’s sliver of a majority (20) did not lead to the transformation of North Kensington’s fortunes, its inequalities exposed just three days later by the Grenfell Tower fire. In 2018 the Conservatives cemented control over the borough, comfortably winning council elections and imposing the harshest of austerity measures, motivated by their radical Tory ideology. Youth services alone suffered a devastating £1.1 million cut.

Divide and rule is the other pillar of this Tory strategy in North Kensington. People reeling from undiagnosed and untreated disaster trauma brought on by the Grenfell Tower fire are now expected to compete against each other in gameshow style funding applications.

Amid these hostilities, some of us have turned on one another, multiplying and proliferating the distress within the community. Recovery is impossible with the current mix of bureaucratic control left in the wake of the Grenfell fallout alongside an NHS that is in crisis and on the verge of being surrendered to a fascistic corporate takeover.

The Tories, at a local and national level, have sought to distract and detract from the Grenfell fire. Motivated by a mix of guilt and shame at their culpability, they have pursued business-as-usual, relying on the population to settle their frustrations by turning their anger on those most vulnerable in our society. In North Kensington it is often females who take the brunt of people’s rage.

The one (political) beam of light has been Emma Dent Coad, local Councillor and Member of Parliament. For two and a half years, empowered by the North Kensington community, she tirelessly fought for justice for the victims of the Grenfell fire at the highest levels. From supporting traumatised individuals within the community to taking on the Conservatives in parliament, Dent Coad has represented North Kensington with extraordinary steadfastness and grace, carrying the determination and spirit that represents the very best of North Kensington.

We all remember the breath-taking unity that anchored and comforted our community in June 2017; Emma is the defender and custodian of our unity at the highest levels of power in this country. She will never betray the dead. It would be an act of collective self-harm to lose her.

The Tao of Corbyn

Emma Dent Coad is an ally of Jeremy Corbyn. The ongoing full spectrum hate campaign levelled at this man in the last few years – even as the shameful racist debacle of the Windrush scandal unfolded – is unprecedented. For media, from the Daily Mail to The Guardian, to round on one person with such constant vitriol while some of his own MPs jostled for prime position to undermine their own party, to the detriment of each and every service we in the UK hold dear.

But cowards flinch and traitors sneer, as they say, and Corbyn stands this week as the closest the UK has been to genuine transformation since Thatcher, and the closest to a positive transformation since Atlee. Surrounding the Labour leader is a team far superior to the management class promoted by Ed Miliband and New Labour. They have out manoeuvred all opponents on Brexit; something for which Corbyn has yet to be given credit.

Corbyn galvanises people to act on their nobler and best instincts. For decades he has met and impressed campaigners all over the country; calling the UK government to account on key issues and always on the right side of history – South Africa, the Chagos Islands, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and more. Many that Corbyn campaigned alongside are now the avant-garde in a Labour party that has come a long way towards shaking off the Blair era with its Thatcherism and war crimes. No mean feat.

Yet the full spectrum of the media still refuses to respect Jeremy Corbyn. By perversely portraying strengths as weaknesses, the media strives to sew enough doubt in people’s minds that rather than selecting a manifesto that demonstrably preserves and improves the lives of tens of millions they might choose a manifesto would devastate as many while enriching only the most elite.

Door knocking in Kensington, it is alarming how many voters have been affected by this propaganda; stating that they will vote Green or Liberal Democrat and unable to explain what they find objectionable about Labour’s platform. Some say they will vote Conservative “to get Brexit done” – what folly, or perhaps fascism. In Kensington, only Labour can keep the Tories out…

Do these voters see the pattern?

Corbyn is an anti-racist campaigner. They smear him and Labour as antisemites.

Corbyn campaigns for peace. They call him a threat to national security. Or a Czech spy. Or terrorist sympathiser. It doesn’t matter how ludicrous; they just keep attacking.

Corbyn is solution focused. They call him reckless. Ask yourselves who benefits when the British people fund military manoeuvres, prop up multi-nationals and bail out banks?  Why are such expenses deemed reasonable yet to spend the same on our nurses, children or the elderly is labelled reckless? And who loses out when government supports education, the NHS, our very communities and daily lives?  

Corbyn is however rarely attacked for being a socialist, a label which means little to most of the population. His political philosophy is not seriously analysed as that draws attention to it and highlights its undeniable benefits for the vast majority of the UK. Instead, they attack his admirable qualities – not one but two international awards for peace – in order to distort and suggest that a better world is not possible. They bombard the news consumer in an effort to protect the tiny minority interest of the wealthiest hoping voters dissociate, separating their politics from their daily lives.

Corbyn’s unbending resolve throughout this hateful and relentless propaganda underlines his leadership ability to focus calmly, with a measure, on improving people’s lives. This alone marks him out less a socialist and more a spiritualist or humanist and one able to navigate the most difficult of negotiations or dissent. This marks him out as one who embodies our North Kensington communal cry following the Grenfell horror: “Come Unity”. The Labour leader has brought this rallying cry and its qualities to the heart of British politics.

You do not need to be confused about the alternatives. Their record is clear from their non-response to the Grenfell Tower fire. The Lib Dem candidate in Kensington is a former Tory minister who should be persona no grata in North Kensington following libellous accusations against Dent Coad over Grenfell.

In a system in which the current leaders gain no benefit from community and caring, there is a tremendous fear – as demonstrated by the media throughout this campaign – of an alternative whereby community, the NHS and our most vital services come before their own narrow personal wealth. This is why they seek to destroy Corbyn, because by extension, his vision is the most unacceptable policy to them.

Vote

It is impossible to fulfil your potential without the security of a home, functioning health service and education. Limiting these very services creates a void filled by irrational hatreds and demagogues. A decade of Conservative and Lib Dem austerity in Kensington has opened up a vast chasm of inequality. They want you to blame each other. Don’t. Vote to put all of this to right. Vote for you, your future, your health, your children.

Vote for Emma Dent Coad in Kensington, get Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street, and protect our future.

Vote for Emma Dent Coad and vote for justice for Grenfell,

Vote for anyone else and we all lose.

 

 

By Tom Charles & Jennifer Cavanagh

@tomhcharles @jannanni

For all those who travelled to support us on 14th June 2017; for those who have travelled to Kensington to campaign during this election; it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. The true spirit of the Grove…

For a more detailed analysis of the Kensington candidates, see the articles published by our friends and neighbours at THINK: https://thisisnorthkensington.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

RBKC Scrutiny #2

The second in a series of posts about scrutiny of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC)…

Watercolour of Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall by the architect Sir Basil Spence.
Copyright: the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Libraries (RBKC Libraries)

Since the June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, North Kensington residents,  campaigners and writers have attended RBKC meetings to challenge the local authority, bear witness and watch for any signs of a return to business as usual. The latest meeting revealed a local authority losing its credibility, and possibly its grip, on North Kensington. Continue reading

Change at RBKC? Case Study 3: The Curve

This article contains information about the Grenfell Tower fire that readers might find distressing.

0_curve

Change is essential in North Kensington, an area of London still reeling from the Grenfell Tower fire, where 72 people were killed on June 14th, 2017. The trauma inflicted is only now starting to manifest in residents. On becoming leader of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC) a month after the fire, Elizabeth Campbell promised “change”, invoking the word eleven times during a brief speech to survivors. She had the right idea – people wanted change – but has her council delivered? Of all the opportunities RBKC has had to make good on its promises, surely its own Grenfell recovery site, the Curve, is one where it would not dare to fail. But have they failed? It is a complex case study, and one in which I am personally involved.

What is RBKC’s Change Policy?

For years prior to the Grenfell Tower fire, people in North Kensington were routinely ignored, even when attempting to raise serious concerns about fire safety. Previously, to assess whether any tangible change to this pattern of willful neglect had been made, Urban Dandy used RBKC’s official policy, 12 Principles of Good Governance, as the yardstick. In the cases of Canalside House and Lancaster Youth Centre, it was clear that the policy had not translated from theory to practice. You can read about the two examples and the twelve principles here and here.

Facing widespread criticism and calls for commissioners to replace them in 2017, RBKC hired the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) to carry out an independent review of the council. RBKC welcomed CfPS’s subsequent report and adopted “12 principles of good governance we should embed in the council.” The 12 Principles were bespoke, designed specifically for RBKC to act on its claims to want to “change” following the fire. The council’s leadership were to be held to account on this by its Executive and Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee. Papers to date reveal talk about listening forums and citizens panels, but nothing in the way of challenge or scrutiny from the Labour-led committee. 

What is The Curve?

The Curve Community Centre is a building rented at commercial rates by Kensington and Chelsea council. It was obtained shortly after the fire at Grenfell Tower. The Curve replaced the Westway Sports Centre as the focal point of the council’s response. It still provides essential services for survivors and the bereaved including housing support, post delivery and counselling. Additionally, it hosts workshops and classes and offers space for community cooking and other gatherings. The Curve has three principal sets of users: survivors and the bereaved; residents of Lancaster West estate and the wider North Kensington community.

The Curve sits on Bard Road, just behind Freston Road, by what was once the self-declared Republic of Frestonia. Nowadays the area is characterised by poverty, a high density of social housing and large national business’ headquarters; the Westway flyover runs nearby, and from the Curve’s windows visitors can look across the A3220 to Westfield and the old BBC Television Studios.

 

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From the outset, and probably inevitably, the Curve has been a controversial issue. Being council-run, it has naturally been scrutinised by local residents who have lived through the Grenfell atrocity and its aftermath. RBKC’s actions at the Curve can be taken as approximate indicators of where the council is, politically.

2018

In early 2018, RBKC decided to appoint an independent Board of Governors “to ensure that the Curve is accountable to the local community” and to be “critical friends” of the Curve’s management team as well as “to contribute critically and substantially to the public’s perception of the Curve” (The Role of Governor of the Curve, 26th February 2018).

I was appointed governor in May 2018, and quit in February 2019, but will try to give the public some perspective on the Curve: its place in North Kensington, the council’s approach to it and why I had to leave.

Governors’ Vision

From a North Kensington perspective, the Board of Governors has been notable mainly for its silence, a point of frustration to many local people wondering what has been going on at the Curve. The building is, after all, for the public and the Board is supposed to represent them. The Board spent its collective time and energy over the winter devising an alternative vision for the community centre, one that would take control of the building away from RBKC.

The governors’ vision was of the Curve being transformed into a fitting legacy for North Kensington, a space that would be congruent with the rich and diverse culture of the local area. Specifically, the governors proposed the Curve to be split into three areas of work: high quality, expert trauma therapy; skills training for jobs of the future for young people (in the technology, gaming, sports and culture industries) and a welcoming, safe living room environment for those wanting to drop in. Something roughly akin to the Tabernacle but for the West end of the borough. The plan initially called for the Curve to operate separately from RBKC as a charity, although the council would be expected to do its bit by providing the rent, which it could secure long-term and at a discounted rate.

If the vision was adopted, obvious issues would remain, including the Curve’s location, which is considered unattractive and unsafe by some residents. The building, its lighting and signage would need to be beautified if the Curve were to be transitioned from a community centre run by a distrusted local authority to a beacon of recovery, culture and opportunity. Challenges, certainly, but not insurmountable ones, if RBKC could grasp the potential of both the building and the local population and make resources available to help something happen.

My perspective was that North Kensington is in desperate need of public spaces and we should keep the Curve and make it work for the community. The poverty of the area is compounded by a scarcity of space. Many children live in appallingly overcrowded accommodation, with no space to do homework or relax, let alone learn new skills or prepare for success in their adult lives. One 11-year-old I have worked with lives in a two bedroom flat occupied by 11 (eleven) people of ages ranging from toddler to pensioner. Why? Because the council does not build the housing that would enable people to live in dignity. Community centres offer these children what they need: space. To RBKC, such public spaces are wasted opportunities better handed over to property speculators or private schools. I hoped I could help to secure another public space for the area…

RBKC’s Vision

The council has its own visions for the Curve and none of them are expansive. One RBKC vision sees budget cuts that would be applied to staffing, services or both; another sees the Curve closed, possibly as early as July 2019. RBKC has indicated there is some scope for changing what is on offer to the public at the Curve, but budget cuts are not conducive to transforming people’s life chances.

Such is the political landscape in early 2019. RBKC are no longer feeling the pressure from Downing Street and there is no appetite to push forward and invest in North Kensington’s potential. Austerity, the euphemism for impoverishment, is the real legacy, and North Kensington is the last place in Britain it should be imposed. It was RBKC’s devotion to austerity that led to them ignoring North Kensington’s residents for so long.

Last year, Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, after a fact-finding mission to the UK, said that child poverty levels were “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster” in the world’s fifth largest economy. He said the government had caused “great misery” with its “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies. Projected figures suggest that the number of additional deaths caused by austerity policies in the UK between 2009 and 2020 will be 152,141.

Nowhere was the 2010 shift to austerity taken up more enthusiastically than Kensington Town Hall and nowhere is the injustice more obvious than here in North Kensington. But this is what the Curve’s Board of Governors are being maneuvered to acquiesce to. The final straw for me was a meeting in February with Robyn Fairman, Executive Director of RBKC’s Grenfell Team, to present the governors’ alternative vision. Fairman seamlessly absorbed the vision into the council’s austerity plan. Not for one moment did RBKC’s representative entertain the idea of a breakaway from the local authority. There was no hint of imagination, no sense that the community might take the lead, that it might know better than senior councillors what the area needs…

Why I Quit

This kind of absorption into the council’s existing plans barely registers as a problem any more; from the massive cuts of the RBKC youth review, to Canalside, to the Curve, RBKC is comfortable and complacent. We have come a long way since summer 2017 when the people of North Kensington responded heroically to the fire at Grenfell and the idea that we would be left powerless was unthinkable. Even a Board of Governors genuinely representative of the diversity of the area has been side-lined, reduced to the role of ‘advisers’ to a service-cutting Tory council, and certainly not ‘governing’ anything.

This was the limit for me and I handed in my resignation the day after the Fairman meeting.

Problems

The problematic dynamic between the governors/wider community and RBKC didn’t appear suddenly at the meeting with Robyn Fairman. Disquiet has simmered since summer 2017, and chaos is to be expected in the aftermath of a disaster so shocking that it made headlines worldwide. In such chaos, serious commitment to principles (of good governance) are needed. But this is lacking with RBKC.

The Curve cannot contain the entropy, as trauma manifests and fights its way out of people in a setting ill-equipped to address it. One drama after another has beset the Curve’s management. At board level, resident steering groups that were promised for us to work alongside on day one still have not been created, undermining the governors’ credibility and effectiveness. Meanwhile, RBKC has sat back, their every move orchestrated by communications officers with their corporate jargon.

Oversight of RBKC is undertaken by Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s independent Grenfell Taskforce who have reported back to Javid in fairly glowing terms regarding the council’s progress towards “change” since the fire. In none of their three reports to date have they used the words austerity or poverty – suggesting less an independent group and more an establishment cover-up. What is omitted is far more revealing than what is included in such reports: no mention of Canalside House, which the disgraced council tried to sell; no mention of Lancaster Youth Centre, left to rot by the council. No library, no college, no context…

Perhaps the idea is to narrow the scope of any scrutiny so that RBKC leaders can convince themselves they are changing. Certainly the long pause in the Grenfell Inquiry does not help. While in legal limbo, pursuing serious change might look like an admission of guilt by RBKC. It is not just business-as-usual with the council, there is a kind of forced joviality to the tone of their communications, inappropriate for a local authority apparently implicated in the Grenfell fire.

The result is an uneasy marriage between RBKC and local people who engage with them. With a functioning inquiry, if the possibility of guilty verdicts being handed to RBKC or TMO staff were less distant, or if the public could hear the evidence and start to understand the political background to the fire, it would curtail the council’s phony change agenda. The imposition of austerity would be harder to get away with and feel-good reality TV shows showing the resilient Grenfell community would be considered in bad taste. With some legal clarity it would not be possible for residents engaging with the RBKC change agenda to remain apolitical.

The council, who claimed to have “no intention of defending anything” at the inquiry, but then did just that in their opening statement, have to maintain the illusion that they are changing. They have to maintain it in their own minds at least, even while every political instinct they possess takes them back to the same policies and same approach as before 2017. Their inability to change has been exposed in all three case studies we have looked at and there is nothing substantial they can use to refute the damning evidence.

Change at RBKC?

There is no change in approach. Over £400 million has been spent on Grenfell ‘recovery’ – but who has recovered? The Conservative leadership. Meanwhile millions in cuts are imposed on North Kensington. As a governor at the main recovery site, using up more public resources, I saw the jig was up – there is no partnership, there is no change. I fear the Curve’s Board of Governors has sleep walked into being a tick box exercise for a highly ideological local authority who hide their true intentions behind well-paid bureaucrats and well-meaning residents.

Change at RBKC? No, they are still committed to austerity, and all that it brings, in North Kensington.

 

Tom Charles @tomhcharles

 

 

Westway Trust CEOs & Bay 20 Exclusive

In 2018, Urban Dandy was the recipient of an apparent leak regarding the Westway Trust. Emailing anonymously and identifying themselves only as “someone recently connected with the Trust” the whistle blower presented us with a “summary of events” that allegedly led to the Trust’s 2018 CEO appointments, its decision to allow the BBC to build at Bay 20 for the DIY SOS Grenfell specials and the overlap between these two stories.

A bit of background…

What is the Westway Trust?

The Westway Trust (formerly North Kensington Amenities Trust) is responsible for one mile / 23 acres of land under the Westway section of the A40 in North Kensington, crossing Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove, passing close to the Grenfell Tower and ending at Latimer Road. This custodianship began when the Westway was opened in 1970. The Trust’s remit is to ensure the land is used for the benefit of the local community as compensation for the concrete eye sore that dominates, darkens and pollutes the areas underneath it.

westway protest
photo from Westway 23 website

Westway Trust’s relationship with the local community is a complex one. The Trust provides vital services, including spaces for charities and supplementary schools. However, there is rancour among many local residents at aspects of the Trust’s work and approach, some of which has been covered by us, see the links at the end of the article. The Westway Trust is currently undergoing a review by the Tutu Foundation following claims of institutional racism.

What is Bay 20?

Bay 20 is one small section of the land under the A40 in the care of the Westway Trust and had remained undeveloped by the Trust. The space was once used by Carnival Industrial Enterprise as a steel pan yard; highly skilled musicians would make and tune pans, maintaining important local heritage and offering apprenticeships. This was abandoned by the Trust who inserted an art installation: a bleached-purple moonscape, which remained the only inhabitant of Bay 20 for over a decade.

The BBC built two community spaces on Bay 20 in 2018: one was the Dale Youth boxing club, a replacement for the facility destroyed in the June 14th 2017 Grenfell fire; the other a community centre and meeting space, to be run by a community operator, not the Westway Trust due to its historic inability to secure the confidence of the local population. The building work and subsequent grand openings were subjects of the BBC prime time programme, DIY SOS. There were serious concerns raised about the BBC’s involvement at Bay 20 including over the light tone of the programmes and the fact that community land was being used to replace a gym lost in an entirely preventable fire. See the links at the end of the article for more.

Bay 20’s close proximity to Grenfell Tower and the fact that it lay unused made it an attractive choice for the BBC to tell a Grenfell-related story.

bay20-westway-21
Bay 20 before the BBC development

Who leaked the stories to us?

Our Mr/Ms X said that for legal reasons (Westway Trust has confidentiality agreements with staff and trustees) they could not go on the record with what they called their “summary” of events.

We had no way of verifying X’s credentials, but we checked the information with another person “recently connected with the Trust” and they responded that “this guy is so right!!”

X told us: “I have been connected with the Westway Trust for a number of years, I was appalled by Angela McConville the last CEO of the Trust and further appalled, that when she left she was given a glowing endorsement by Alan Brown (Westway Trust Chair) and a hefty chunk of her bonus – allegedly £12k.”

the_trust
A Westway Trust AGM, photo from Westway 23 website

There is more background on Angela McConville’s time at Westway Trust here.

Allegations

X presented us with some allegations against the Westway Trust:

  • The Trust conducted a CEO appointment process that was deliberately closed and “directly connected” to sealing a deal with the BBC for Bay 20
  • Of the two members of the four-person Westway Trust Executive Team who argued for an open CEO appointment process, one left with immediate effect while the other was being “performance managed” out at the time of the leak. The other two executive members are now the joint CEOs
  • The BBC wanted maximum value for its ‘Grenfell special’ and so made two programmes rather than the usual one, leading to a halving of the potential space used for the new community centre

Closed Process

X told us:

“Many hoped both inside and outside of WT that there would be a chance of a new approach, fresh ideas and a fresh beginning (a promised CEO selection with an open process at last December’s (2017’s) AGM – this promise was recorded by Westway 23) – Many were completely devastated to understand very recently that the WT chair and board, with the aid of the interim CEOs, had decided to undertake a “closed and secret internal process” to appoint (from interim role to permanent) as joint CEOs.”

The joint CEOs appointed in 2018 were Mark Lockhart and Alex Russell., 

X: “Mark Lockhart (at WT for 25 years), was involved from one bad administration to the next. Alex Russell – who Angela McConville recruited and personally mentored – is from a professional private sector Communications Consultancy and was hired to gain the upper hand in the comms war (as Angela saw it) with the Community.      

“The Westway Trust Chair and the Westway Board (not including the community trustee who completed her resignation in protest at such a closed process) decided against the promised “Open and Inclusive Process” of CEO appointment, and instead decided to pursue a closed campaign to appoint long serving Mark Lockhart (who knows where the bodies are buried!) and Alex Russell. They are both seen as a safe pair of hands who will not make any radical changes at the Trust.

“Post Grenfell and with the BBC DIY/SOS sniffing around the area for a Grenfell branded project, the BBC proposition for Bay 20 was seen by the two interim CEO’s as a “gold-plated opportunity” to make their role’s permanent (within a closed system of appointment and with an absence of competition), by rapidly developing a site that had remained dormant for some 47 years. Thereby impressing their paymasters and appointers on the Board and giving Alan Brown an immediate good news story – much needed after his glowing endorsement of Angela McConville’s tenure.

“The interim CEOs seized upon the BBC need for the DIY/SOS light entertainment show and threw their full energy behind the Bay 20 project, diverting WT resources to make it happen, they wanted success and to impress at all costs…to show the Board that they could deliver a development (any development) and that’s why there was no community consultation.

“Unfortunately, this ambition was at all costs, they conceded on point after point to the BBC and encouraged the BBC to stick with the project despite very mixed community sentiment, they ploughed on, not listening to the displeasure of their own staff and the doubts of other stakeholders – that this project was not representative of the Community, was in bad taste and could be seen as exploitative of the Grenfell disaster. They sold out the land (and community) in a heartbeat (for their own self-promotion), land that had been left unused and wasted by the Trust for the last 47 years.”

Departures

X: “There were four members of the Trust Executive Team, including the two current CEOs, the other two Executive Directors advocated strongly for an open process. One has now left (by immediate agreement), the second one is currently being performance managed out the door…”

BBC Role

X: “The BBC wanted to get their money’s worth and make “two (DIY SOS) programmes,” the interim CEOs gave them two buildings – one for each programme. That explains the curious design – two buildings with a big road through the middle which serves no purpose but to make two TV programmes for DIY SOS. No matter that the one third of the site is not developed and could have been used to “double the size of the Community Room building” (does this really make best use of a charity asset?) – the BBC demanded, and the Trust CEOs willingly gave, to keep them from walking away. This would be Mark Lockhart and Alex Russell’s crowning project, one that would surely confirm their permanent CEO appointment and keep the process closed to competition and safeguard the Trust from change. 

“The CEOs also willingly signed-off all the building contract “defects liability” clauses to allow Galliard Homes (the builder) to leave them completely free of any responsibility on putting right defects over the first year of operation despite knowing that the building was being thrown-up in double quick time. Galliard Homes now have no liability to come back and put defects right! Defects will be paid for out of the Trust’s coffers – No matter! – continue building…’we need to impress.’

“The builders built the overhang too low – no matter – let’s build round it on Maxilla Gardens – screw the environment to build over some of the grass on Maxilla Garden.  No consultation or community publicity for this additional planning submission…”  

X ‘s Summary

X gave his/her summary: “This is a very sad story…leaving the Community unconsulted and exploited again! And the Grenfell legacy “exploited” to serve an ambition of becoming a CEO of the Westway Trust – it’s ironic that for 47 years Bay 20 remained a wasted asset, despite community representations and then when it really suited those in power it was all hastily made to happen!  

“It is a clear example of how secrecy and one bad decision leads to another and another….           

“BUT it worked! The Westway Trust Board and Chair now has two new permanent CEOs appointed in a closed process and in the most terrible fashion.

“This is all terrible, however there is a bigger story of how a ‘closed CEO process’ gives rise to many a bad decision, concealment of the Truth and was actually a “key driver” of WT getting into bed so quickly with the BBC DIY SOS, concealing bad decisions and arriving with the peculiar, inefficient design of two buildings and the curious internal road that takes up a third of the site…..very wasteful”.

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Left to right: Bay 20 Community building; gap; Dale Youth boxing gym
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Inside the Bay 20 Community Centre

Westway Trust Response

Charles Howgego, spokesman for the Westway Trust responded to X’s claims:

On the allegation that the Trust conducted a CEO appointment process that was deliberately closed and “directly connected” to sealing a deal with the BBC for Bay 20:

“This was not the case… there was never any discussion about how the BBC project would impact the making of those appointments…the Board of Trustees would never make an appointment based on one project such as the BBC build, a project with no guarantees until it was built particularly given the voluntary basis on which people involved were working.

“During this time Mark and Alex also impressed the board with the strategy they put forward of community first, of openness and responsiveness, and it was felt that was what the Trust needed to mend relationships with some parts of the community, and to create an organisation that works with and for the community – an approach that has seen some notable developments already:

  • The commissioning of Tutu Foundation’s institutional racism review
  • The establishment of the Charity Purposes Community to oversee community benefit in our projects
  • Change in approach to property development making it more community-determined
  • A new staff council to democratise decision-making
  • A new Equalities Working Group and a new focus on equality and diversity training
  • Establishing a steering group of local people to run the Bay 20 community centre (who will shortly appoint a local operator)
  • All grant making now devolved to local people”.

On the claim that the the two non-CEO members of the four-person Westway Trust Executive Team who argued for an open CEO appointment process left because of the CEO recruitment process:

“It is true one member of the executive team felt disappointed by the Board’s decision and resigned a month after. It is absolutely not the case that another person was being performance managed – that second member of the executive team left the organisation when roles were reorganised around current activities and the new strategy, and they declined to take on one of the new positions created.”

On the BBC’s making of two ‘Grenfell special’ allegedly ‘halving’ the space used for the new community centre:

“The BBC approached us with proposals for building a boxing gym and a community centre. There was never a proposal on the table to build one big community centre that was then halved.

“The BBC approached the Trust in September 2017 and we engaged with the community throughout November. The BBC wanted to move at a faster pace than we would have liked but it was decided that a community-run community space and a new home for Dale Youth Boxing Club would be an amazing opportunity”.

Profound Change

The Westway Trust told us: “The Board has sanctioned a programme of profound change in the Trust’s approach to its work, which is an ongoing process. The Trust’s constitution is being reviewed next year as part of this new approach and will create further change.

“The Trust has been accused of a lack of transparency and this has been a key driver in the changes undertaken by the new leadership team. Openness is now one of the Trust’s operating values and it is encumbent on all Trust staff to be open, to engage and consult wherever possible”.

 

Links to Previous Westway Trust and Bay 20 Stories

Relationship with the community:

Part one

Part two

Part three

Part four

Urban Dandy interview with Westway Trust regarding Portobello Development

Bay 20:

Part one

Part two

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Grenfell & Not Just the Air that we Breathe

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…

 

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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:

https://thisisnorthkensington.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/grenfell-the-rotten-borough-and-the-terrible-mismanagement-organisation-now-is-the-summer-of-our-discontent/

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.

https://grenfellactiongroup.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/notting-barns-south-masterplan.pdf

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.

 

Tower block fire in London

By THINK for Urban Dandy

@THisIsNorthKensington

 

BBC DIY SOS WTF?

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The construction of the Westway dual carriageway over North Ken. Photo by Laing (we think); from K & C Libraries Local Studies Archive, more at Old Notting Hill/North Kensington Facebook group 

“(The BBC) agreed to consult with the community on the tone of the programme before broadcast to ensure sensitivities are respected”

As you read this, the BBC DIY SOS Big Build team are hard at work, rapidly erecting a new boxing gym and community spaces at Bay 20 under the Westway dual carriageway. The project will be broadcast on BBC One across two programmes: one on the Dale Youth boxing gym which was destroyed in the Grenfell Tower fire, and one on the other spaces being created, which include a cafe and meeting rooms. The BBC identified the need for effective community spaces in North Kensington, and the Westway Trust, custodians of the land on behalf of the community, have gratefully accepted the free building. There has been much disquiet about the project, summed up in our previous article here.  Any project implemented by the state broadcaster BBC and the distrusted Westway Trust would inevitably be greeted with caution. But when the project has been inspired by the entirely preventable, man-made disaster at Grenfell, the stakes are raised further. It is not yet clear that the BBC has its heart or head in the right place to be bulldozing its way into the North Kensington community in the name of light entertainment. Read on…  Continue reading

Writing/Poetry Workshop with Local Children

 

During half-term, Urban Dandy delivered a writing and poetry workshop to children at North Kensington charity Baraka Community Association. Eighteen children from local primary and secondary schools attended and explored methods for self-expression through writing short articles and poems.

As it was the 14th of the month, children considered memories and feelings evoked by the Grenfell Tower fire, eight months on. The group mind mapped their experiences during and since the fire. They then shared their memories of that day and how they have seen it affect their community, from the surreal experience of attending school on the 14th June to how people coped over the long summer.

Producing a piece of writing, the young people were free to choose their subject. Many went for Grenfell, but others wrote on other aspects of their lives. In both cases, the focus was on expressing ideas and feelings from their own experiences, rather than conforming to ideas about what they should write.

As the workshop was designed to be off-curriculum, the children heard about finding their voices, how to have a real impact, identifying a ‘hook’ for their pieces and writing for an audience, not a teacher.

London’s finest poet, Mark Bolton, then explained the process of writing poetry, and his own poetic journey. He read out his first ever composition, followed by the much more recent Aisha and the Sea, which was written in the aftermath of the fire.

Inspired and encouraged to open up, the kids then set about writing their own poems, and the workshop ended with everybody reading out loud what they had produced.

A number of the children took their work away to develop it and complete it. We hope to be able to publish a few pieces on Urban Dandy soon…

Writing workshop 6

 

By Tom Charles

 

Thrown Into The Wilderness

 

 

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Come Out The Wilderness – Bruce Kenrick, Fontana Publishers

 

It may or may not be something that caught your attention but if you live in Notting Hill, there is a conflict going on in your neighbourhood that’s similar to a tug of war and it’s been going on ever since the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June. Although technically the issue was alive way before the fire, the events surrounding the tragedy seem to have exacerbated the situation. It appears at first glance to be the community’s reclamation of property from the corporate real estate community killers, but it’s more accurate to describe it as the community trying to hold on to their right of abode and seeking some kind of guarantee that their landlords give a …(explicit)… and actually want them there.

While you sleep, groups of regular people like you that do not own property in London are awake at ungodly hours printing flyers, writing letters, emails, creating banners and appealing to any government official that will listen to them to secure YOUR homes. That is of course if you are a tenant of Notting Hill or Genesis Housing.

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Out in the grind

Forces

Two of the largest housing associations in the country, Notting Hill, and Genesis, both members of the G15 (an amalgamated group of UK housing associations), have decided to join forces merging their tenancy obligations into one big soup. On tacitly agreeing to this with no disclosure of the pros and cons underlying the merger, tenants are pretty disgruntled. Why? Well, to start with they have not consented to it and feel marginalised in such a major move. Also, there’s a resounding feeling that their acquiescence plays a large part in them moving this forward in a swift need-to-know only basis. The suspicious manner in which this is being executed raises questions as to the legality of it all especially in the way it was sprung on the community right after the fire. Continue reading