How Local Businesses see KPH

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Photo by Angel Lewis

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…

 

  • Music Village (we can throw a long way).

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’

‘Nobody’

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…

  • Fish Monger

‘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.

  • Dry Cleaners

‘They are our customers, he uses our services’ (her colleague looking on curiously)

Why?’ (distressed now) 

‘What’s happened?’

We explain

‘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’

  • The Bank

(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)

  • Furniture shop  

‘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’

  • Florist

‘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’.

 

 

By Angel Lewis and Tom Charles

Of The Community and For The Community…

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…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.

Vince Power at the KPH on Ladbroke Grove. Photos by Angel Lewis.
Vince Power at the KPH on Ladbroke Grove. Photo by Angel Lewis.

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.

By Tom Charles

No Trust in Westway Trust? #2

Part two, “Community isn’t something you can just use as a colourful backdrop to your daily activities”

Westway23’s demonstration on Portobello Green, 5th July. Credit: Zute Lightfoot
Westway23’s demonstration on Portobello Green, 5th July. Credit: Zute Lightfoot

(Read part one, in which we explained what’s going on and how and why Westway23 was born, here).

Westway23 states that they are not opposed to change along the 23 acres of land set for upheaval under plans drawn up by the Westway Trust. Their protest isn’t against change, but against incongruent change implemented without due consideration for the community. Acting chair of Westway23 Niles Hailstones told me, “They (the Westway Trust) say ‘we had to do something’ – this is a disrespectful comment. They should have talked to the community at the beginning. It’s an abuse of power by the Westway Trust and the council”.

But the Westway Trust is big on celebrating the local community, I point out. “People put on clothes that say ‘community,’ but community isn’t something you can just use as a colourful backdrop to your daily activities” Niles responds, “look at the ‘About Us’ page on the Westway Trust website, look at the photo, does that represent the Westway Trust management team?”

Photo from http://www.westway.org/about-us
Photo from http://www.westway.org/about-us

No.

I asked Niles how the area is changing more generally; “This area was known for its political and social conscience, everyone was in the same boat. Now, there’s millionaires living next to people signing on”.

Westway Trust states that it was “formed out of protest” but Westway23 points to their track record as concerning. “Look at Acklam, where Westway Trust started,” Niles tells me, “Acklam Hall, the playground – these were in the original mandate, but they no longer exist. They used the same language to get rid of them – ‘regeneration,’ ‘development’”.

“An era of music was born at Acklam that continues to enrich the area. This shows how resourceful we are. But they only see resource as meaning money, they don’t value our resources. We have access to resources that they can’t attract, like people who will agree to contribute to something worthwhile”.

“There’s an ideology behind all the plans – retail, private flats, office space are top of their list”.

On such gentrification, Sylvia Parnell of the Portobello Café Society states that “it’s what’s happening everywhere: people imposing their ideas on a community”.

Niles agrees: “They think they know better, it’s part of the colonial attitude. Gentrification refers to the gentry. The gentry is a class. So it’s not just about money, it’s a class battle. The elite got rich out of the enslavement and exploitation of African people and resources. That’s going on to this day and it’s flippant to think that it isn’t connected to everyday life”.

Westway23 is switched on to the dangers it perceives in gentrification, wherever it appears. Toby Laurent Belson, Artist/Designer/Organiser for the group explains how he sees the problem: “It’s a loss of diverse human cultures being able to stay in a place and exist with a sense of freedom and agency. It goes without saying that if people cannot feel comfortable, emotionally, socially or materially, then they will leave”.

And, how about our area specifically? “Here, it’s being exacerbated by the local council’s apparent mission to socially cleanse the area. We have traditionally had a great mix of people, many of whom belong to a socio-economic class at the lower end of the spectrum. Current planning intends quite clearly to alter the demographic with a programme of “regeneration” which means knocking down current social housing stock, replacing it with new buildings that will typically see the loss of open space, loss of community facilities and denser populations in what is already the most densely populated borough in the country. The resultant housing stock is likely to contain the usual mix of shared ownership and market rate properties – out of the reach of anyone on less than 70k annual salary. Social housing will be replaced with smaller units that many families will be unable to practically relocate to”.

Picking up on Niles’s point about class battle, Toby views what is happening as “a direct attack on our communities, wrapped up as ‘economic viability’ by those who do not live day to day with the realities of life in the Grove. Or Shepherds Bush. Or Brixton. Or Hackney and so on…” Westway23 is actively engaged with other, like minded organisations in these areas, he tells me.

“The wonders of our diverse and genuinely special community – and others across London – simply cannot survive in an authentic manner because we are forced to adapt to this economic juggernaut”.

And, in the face of such an economic force, how does he rate the performance of the Westway Trust?

“The Westway Trust has failed to provide any permanent or outstanding use of any space to celebrate and support the community. We actually see closures of art spaces and community children’s centres. We see inaccessible, dead space and 20-year services threatened with eviction. We have a sprawling sports centre that was bought with Lottery money; we have a monolithic and moody structure across 23 acres that has never been properly utilised as a space for the creativity that is inherent within its local population. And a specific section of the community – one that has given the area much of its magic – now has countless stories of marginalisation and outright discrimination”.

“What is worse….this has been the situation for over four decades”

Tom Charles for Urban Dandy London @tomhcharles, @urbandandyLDN

Part Three, on Westway23’s positive vision, coming soon

No Trust in Westway Trust? # 1

Part one, “This is hypocrisy, this is ironic

5th of July Westway23's demonstration underneath the Westway. Credit: Zute Lightfoot
Westway23’s demonstration underneath the Westway, 5th July. Credit: Zute Lightfoot

Portobello Road, its market and a long stretch of land crossing Ladbroke Grove and Acklam Road has become the subject of much debate as a result of plans for changes to the area published by the Westway Trust. The Westway Trust became responsible for a mile / 23 acres of land under the Westway when the dual carriageway 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 and darkens the areas underneath it.

Of the area under scrutiny, the Westway Trust says: “The markets only operate for three days a week and, outside of those days, areas like the canopy space and Acklam Village do little to contribute to the local area.  Acklam Village is hoarded-off and is not accessible to the community from Monday to Friday”.

This is the economic thrust of the Trust’s argument for change, but they are insistent that any changes will not overturn the unique character of the area. Their plans are called ‘Destination Westway’ and include a major proposal for the ‘Portobello village’ – on Portobello Road, where it meets Cambridge Gardens.

But, there is significant opposition to what the Westway Trust has so far proposed. The founder of a 38 Degrees petition against the plans, Chris Sullivan, says that the “last esoteric, bohemian part of West London” is under threat. With creeping gentrification in the area, the Westway Trust’s plans may be a step too far, and community with a very clear sense of self is reacting.

The organisation Westway23 has called for a new consultation process, complaining that the “plans have been developed without proper consultation with the local community and threaten to add to the already negative effects of gentrification on the local area”.

As a result of the community’s reaction, the Westway Trust’s plans are now on hold and an apology appears on their website for the fact that the images of people in their designs didn’t represent the community (they were all white.) They are also at pains to stress that the designs were not intended to be final.

But, despite their attempts at assuaging the community, other recent developments in the area mean that the Westway Trust aren’t taken at their word. The Westway riding stables have effectively been given their marching orders by the Trust who refused to pay for the required improvements. And Maxilla Children’s Centre / Nursery has been closed, its services picked up elsewhere in North Kensington. Westway Trust have been blamed by some for the Maxilla closure, but this seems to have been more the decision of the council who were unwilling to provide assurances about funding despite earlier informal agreements.

A recent release of funds for a community grants programme has been viewed by a number of people I spoke with locally as Westway Trust’s attempt to improve their public image. The same people were critical of how difficult it is becoming to work with what they see as an increasingly corporate organisation.

Amid the upheaval, the Westway Trust has been advertising for a new chair and has engaged two recruitment firms to help them, and so are currently making decisions without a leader. “How much money have the squandered recruiting a chair?” wondered Niles Hailstones, acting chair of Westway23, when I met with him on Portobello Road. He told me how Westway23 was born:

“I challenged the illustration (the initial artist’s impression drawn up by architects Stiff + Trevillion) – they hadn’t included any black people so I offered to facilitate a genuine community meeting. They didn’t get back to me within two weeks, which was the time scale I’d set, so when I contacted Westway Trust again, I was introducing them to Westway23”.

Sylvia Parnell, of the Portobello Café Society, one of many people who stopped to greet Niles as we talked, told me “the Westway Trust wouldn’t let us see the minutes of their meeting about the proposed changes so Niles took the lead, as he was already engaged with the Trust on issues of concern”.

On the Westway Trust, Hailstones is critical of their actions and their approach to the local community: “They always feel that they know what’s best for us because they’re in a vacuum. On the one hand they can be seen as having a colonial perception – that’s unavoidable if you look at the history of slave ownership which has deep roots in Kensington and Chelsea. And on the other hand, the public are accustomed to a system of servitude, where they play a secondary role in the conversation”.

A substantive take on gentrification is at the heart of Westway23’s approach, along with an instinctive urge to protect the local area. Niles continued: “What we’re seeing here is a super imposition of a culture and perception from outside imposed by people from outside the area…like this idea of a ‘village.’ The Westway Trust held their community festival right next to the area they aren’t representing. This is hypocrisy, this is ironic”.

“The biggest component of this has been irony. They are supposed to represent the community, but these changes were all decided without our knowledge”.

Part two coming soon @ Urban Dandy London

Tom Charles