North Kensington: Urgent Awakening to Reality

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Published with permission: “People have got to take this seriously x”

 

When prime minister Johnson announced new measures and recommendations aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus last night (Monday 23rd) I thought the message was clear: the government will maintain certain freedoms, but we all need to do our bit – if we don’t, then harsher, more dictatorial measures are inevitable. I thought this would be widely understood, but judging by what I saw on Ladbroke Grove today, I was completely wrong. Without an urgent awakening to reality, our remaining freedoms will be lost and we will be on full lockdown. And in these surreal times, we might need to rely on the most unlikely sources to help us through.

Socialism is Here

Overwhelmed by crisis, Johnson and his cabinet mutate daily into Britain’s first socialist government, exercising extensive state power in the face of COVID-19. The Tories are now adopting policies unthinkable to them a few weeks ago such as nationalisation and increased social security. Capitalism as we knew it is over, sweeping emergency socialist policies prop up the economy and society – austerity is gone. 

But this is no social democracy. It is a country in a state of emergency in which the now all-powerful government have spent so long waving flags while cutting back essential services – nurses, doctors, police –  that they have left us all enfeebled.

North Kensington

Given that the health service is teetering on the brink, it is all the more important that citizens do their bit to stop the spread of a virus which has killed 87 people in this country in the last 24 hours alone.

I headed for Ladbroke Grove Sainsburys (the big one) this morning, expecting queues, restricted numbers in the store and all manner of measures to ensure social distancing following Johnson’s announcement. I braced for a lengthy visit, but it was no different to any other day: no queue, no system, no layout changes, no gloves or masks for the staff, just Sainsbury’s making money hand over fist.

Worse, the customers were not observing social distancing at all. The elderly mixed with the very young, people blocked aisles, chatted or reached across to grab something from a shelf. I zig-zagged, tried to anticipate, to swerve, trapped in a game in which nobody else knew the rules.

I found the manager smoking outside and told him he needed to change things urgently. It was immediately clear that this was a man not paid to think or take initiative, no matter the crisis. Orders are given down from above and are followed. The result is that his Sainsbury’s Superstore an incubator for coronavirus. 

The manager said there is a message about social distancing “on the floor as you walk in” and that messages were going out “now and again on the tannoy”.

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The government needs to take over the supermarkets and guarantee the safe distribution of food. Johnson’s advice to order food online makes no sense. The supermarkets have no delivery slots available and many, like Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury’s, don’t provide a Click & Collect service.

People will die as a result of social distancing not being enforced in buildings run for shareholders’ profits. If you think this is alarmist, you haven’t read our previous blog from Madrid.  

RBKC Role?

If the government does nationalise the supermarkets or take over food distribution, it is likely it would delegate supervision of this to local councils. For many in North Kensington, this would be a prospect to stir trauma. Before, during and since the last crisis in the area (Grenfell), the local authority has proved itself to be insensitive and incompetent in its dealings with residents. 

As it stands, Sainsbury’s and the rest are breeding places for coronavirus, unwilling to take the government’s lead to protect us and relying instead on customers – many of whom are ignorant to the seriousness of the situation – to enforce social distancing. Unlike the corporations, Kensington and Chelsea council is a public body, bound by law to its duty of care to its residents.

As unpalatable as it may seem now, RBKC could be the better bet if a more stringent lockdown is announced. Aside from venues for funerals, food shops would be Britain’s last functioning public spaces. This would present the council with a huge responsibility and the chance to finally get it right during a time of crisis in North Kensington. 

 

By Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

North Ken in Limbo

North Kensington is in a state of political, legal and emotional limbo. How and why? Here are summaries of some of the stories already published and the arguments already won….

This article contains references to the 14th June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.

Two Significant Events 

After the initial post-fire outpouring of grief, energy and hope, things have slowed to a crawl in North Kensington. The most significant developments have been with the Conservative leadership of the council (RBKC); its survival and consolidation of power.

Neither of these things was inevitable, with RBKC having to make promises of “change” to stay in power, then having to break the promises to prevent the dilution of its power in the north of the borough.

 

 

 

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Two More 

Two things will happen soon which could impact the current unsatisfactory and traumatising deadlock in North Kensington: The first is on October 9th when Kensington Labour party Councillors launch a People’s Convention in a bid to undercut RBKC’s business-as-usual approach.

This push for a greater say in decision making for Northern residents will be ignored by the Council, who will kick any devolution proposal into the long grass when Labour and groups of residents persist. Expect RBKC to employ its tried and tested bureaucratic mechanisms, outlined in detail in our previous article.

The Labour-led campaign for modest devolution is augmented by other moves aimed at balancing RBKC’s power with a more prominent role for residents.

Lynton Crosby-style tactics of calculating the absolute minimum they need to appear to be doing to pacify the population have carried RBKC this far. But their latest recovery gimmick, a gameshow-style decision-making process to distribute Grenfell-related funds, has only added to the sense that the local authority is unable to act in the interests of residents they hold in contempt.

Along with the devolution push, the upcoming findings of the Tutu Foundation’s investigation into alleged institutional racism, and the selection of a new Chair, at the Westway Trust could revive the sense that North Kensington is an area still alive with the ability to force justice and political change in the face of entrenched power structures.

The second upcoming event is the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry in January 2020. Phase two will consider the design, refurbishment, fire safety and management of Grenfell Tower. It will also look at how the authorities communicated with residents, the immediate causes of the fire and the response to the fire by the relevant bodies.

The ability or otherwise of this phase of the Inquiry to move towards genuine justice will go a long way to determining whether North Kensington will ever be given the space it needs to recover from its collective and individual trauma.

While we wait for events to unfold, here are some truths that have been laid bare by our scrutiny of RBKC’s post-Grenfell performance so far:

1. The Tories Do Not Want to Change

The Kensington Conservatives will not change their approach any more than they have to. That much is evident from their performance since June 2017.

The post-fire Kensington Tories were smart enough to promise change. Without that promise, they might well have been removed or put into special measures by the national government. But the council’s record before the fire was so abysmal here in North Kensington that their piecemeal approach to change since has fallen woefully short of satisfying anybody.

Some people split hairs about RBKC’s performance over the past two years and identify some individual Tory Councillors or Council officers who at times appear sincere. This is probably more a reflection of how unbearable it is for some to acknowledge the reality of an uncaring culture operating within an indifferent system. Can it really be that after 72 deaths and widespread trauma, that there is no real change to either the rules or the power balance? Rather than face the harsh reality of the answer, some choose the palliative of picking out hopeful signs of potential change.

The Tory promise of change was followed by political maneuvers to deny this change actually happening, highlighted on this website over the past two years, see the links below. The logic for this is that there is more incentive for the Tories to not change than to change. To alter the power balance, even a little bit, would dilute Tory power in Kensington and might set an ideological precedent for other downtrodden areas to demand their own devolution and liberation.

On an individual level, these Councillors’ future careers as property developers, consultants (to property developers) and politicians (representing big capital – including property developers) hinge on their loyalty to one class at the expense of another. No horror changes this equation.

So while the people of North Kensington are retraumatised by unmet promises, RBKC has been able to get back to business-as-usual, with enough superficial ‘change’ peppering their work to satisfy the national government (represented by the implausibly meek Grenfell taskforce) and to convince themselves that they are doing good deeds on behalf of the ungrateful hordes.

2. Post-Grenfell Systems are Structurally Weak

RBKC cannot be persuaded or pleaded with to change. They could only be coerced by a rigorous system of checks and balances, so they avoid such a system. As we detailed in our investigation, How RBKC Subverts Democracy to Prevent Change, the policies put in place following the worst fire in Britain since World War Two lacked an implementation mechanism – it was left to the goodwill of Councillors with vested interests in keeping the status quo.

The Conservatives in Kensington Town Hall have manipulated the political system to avoid scrutiny. This is outlined, blow by blow, in our article. To do this was a political choice made by Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, her deputy Cllr Taylor-Smith and a host of highly-paid RBKC officers, starting with chief executive Barry Quirk and including many under him who have been complicit.

Nationally, the Conservatives need the Council in place. And at this point, Labour doesn’t see Grenfell as a big vote winner. Where is their outreach? Where is their mayor?

3. Trauma is Being Perpetuated

People in North Kensington have engaged with the process but have been re-traumatised and exhausted by their efforts being met with a lack of tangible change. They might not know what change looks like (revolution, devolution, evolution…), but they know what it isn’t.

A lack of seriousness when it comes to delivering change in North Kensington has left us in this purgatory, unable to move on. There is no argument about where the blame lies for this failure. 

Attention now falls on political and legal efforts to deliver change and justice to a community that deserves both.   

 

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

Related previous articles:

Trauma: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/05/20/trauma/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.1: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/02/08/rbkc-council-selling-vital-community-aset/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt. 2: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/03/16/councilcanalside/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.3: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/10/02/rbkc-bites-back-canalside/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.4: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/12/07/canalside-curiouser/

‘Change’ @ Canalside House pt.5: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/11/07/change-1/

‘Change’ @ Lancaster Youth: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/01/31/change2/

‘Change’ @ The Curve: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/03/18/curve/

‘Change’ @ KCTMO: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/11/16/kctmo1/

RBKC Scrutiny 1, GU: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/07/19/scrutiny-1/

RBKC Scrutiny 2: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/07/19/scrutiny-2/

RBKC Scrutiny 3, Administration Committee / Scrapping Grenfell Scrutiny: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/07/20/scrutiny-3/

RBKC & Toxins, THINK post for UD: https://urbandandylondon.com/2018/10/17/grenfell-air-myers/

Unholy Trinity – RBKC, TMO, WT: https://urbandandylondon.com/2019/02/05/unholytrinity-2/

All Grenfell-related articles: https://urbandandylondon.com/category/grenfell/

 

 

 

Business Profile: Leafwild

This feature was written for, and first published at, Portobello Business Centre – Success Stories…

Leafwild
Art from Leafwild website

Anna Parfirenko is the owner of Leafwild, a fresh, healthy and aesthetically pleasing café on Ladbroke Grove. I met Anna at the peak of the Tuesday morning rush, when the café is filled with multi-lingual chatter, and over coffee she told me of how it all began and her plans for the future…

What does Leafwild do?

‘Leafwild is a concept: an organic, gluten-free, vegetarian café, all about clean eating with no refined sugar. We have a holistic approach based on mindfulness and openness: we are for healthy eating and healthy drinking. And we are for animals. I wanted it to be vegan but that proved too difficult, so we’re in-between the vegi and vegan crowds. We have had to start serving fish and chicken to keep business coming in and we also sell eggs. We care a lot about the coffee. We use a local London company, Beanberry, to supply our organic coffee. Continue reading

RBKC Bites Back @ Canalside House & the Community

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The council of Kensington and Chelsea has revived its plan to get rid of North Kensington community asset Canalside House and replace it with flats. The resurrection of the plan will be viewed by many as signalling the explicit return of the council’s long-standing policy of asset-stripping North Kensington. Will it be third time lucky for the council? 

What is Canalside House and Why Does it Matter?

Opened in 1929, Canalside House is an integral and much-loved part of the North Kensington community, serving many hundreds of local people each year, including hundreds of children, the disabled and other vulnerable groups. It is ideally located at the north end of Ladbroke Grove, with excellent transport links. It continues to play a vital role for people in West London, including with its role as a hub for Grenfell recovery and support.

Background Continue reading

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

Bay 20 Latest – Establishment Chaos

DIY – Do It Yourself – “The activity of decorating, building, and making repairs at home by oneself…avoids the difficult relationship between householder and professional decorator

SOS – Save Our Souls – An international code signal of extreme distress

The harassed North Kensington community is facing up to 14th June 2018, the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people and traumatised thousands more. Desperate for change, North Kensington remains under the yoke of the disgraced Conservative council after the May 3rd local elections. And now, more troubling developments: The BBC DIY SOS team is in town filming the “Grenfell community” for the lightest of light entertainment programmes, and the people of North Ken are once again trying to mitigate what could become a mess; Will they succeed?

Hooray
Screen grab from the BBC DIY SOS website here

The situation now

Bay 20, under the Westway dual carriageway and near the Grenfell Tower, is undergoing a rapid building development for the DIY SOS programme. The BBC have secured donations to pay for the Dale Youth Boxing Gym, lost in the fire, to be rehoused at Bay 20, alongside new community spaces, meeting rooms and a café. The building work begins on 15th May and the grand opening is slated for 28th May. Continue reading

RBKC Council Selling Vital Community As$et

By Urban Dandy

 

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Canalside House on Ladbroke Grove

 

 

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.

Context

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.

Backstory Continue reading