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.
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.
What will this mean to the tenants’ security? With all this considered who stands to gain from this corporate deal? Is the interested party Genesis Housing, Notting Hill Housing or the confused tenant?
As obvious questions as these may seem to those making the deal, those who are only just becoming aware of the shifts in name, business practice, policy, and structure feel the need to start connecting the dots. In my hunt to bring this information forth, I searched Notting Hill Housing Group on the mother of search engines: Google. My reason being that I wanted to know if the business structure had changed from a ‘Trust’ to ‘Group’, at what point, if it made any difference and what that difference would mean to the beneficiaries of the trust and also who might the beneficiaries be? Trust, Beneficiary, ya know?
The screen grab above shows that there is no mention of a ‘Group’ and there is no ‘Trust’. What is this Group thing and where’d it come from? Other sources (online) show neither Group nor Trust, just Notting Hill Housing. In my confusion, I looked for a good old trusty Wikipedia page. After Wikipedia’s brazen digital panhandling I find only a few sentences of very flattering information about Bruce Kenrick: Notting Hill Housing (whatever’s) founder, who’s wonderful sentiment should have been immortalised but instead was abandoned and, has now decayed beyond recognition.
Seeing that there are few ways available to extract this standard but necessary information or even find whether they are simply registered as a Trust or another corporate body, I decided to call the principle. My call to the main office number was diverted to what must have been assumed to be a housing officer of mine. How rude! I find it quite insulting because it’s these same presumptions that take away the freedom of choice. Anyway, I hang up and try once again in case it’s a mistake. Same thing. I hang on and finally speak with a man who explains that my number is listed as being the housing officer attached to my number’s property tenant, and since it was diverted to her and she’s on leave it then got diverted to him and he merely answered to assist with tenancy issues. On discovering that it was not one of the thousands of housing issues, his advice was to go to the website and find the email of the relevant department to answer my query. As far as he knew Notting Hill has various departments, including property sales. Basically ‘NOTHING’.
Okay, there’s no way to get an official answer to my question.
I’m still confused as to who the beneficiary of this major action is and should rightfully be. Is it Genesis Housing with Notting Hill Housing Association or the tenant? Assuming it’s the tenant, will they enjoy a more personalised interaction? You know, repairs done within 48 hours, Anti-social behavior handled within a few weeks rather than a few years, honourable servicemen that take pride in their work and don’t run off before you’ve noticed that they’ve accidentally chipped your bathtub or leave your bathroom wall tileless with a promise to return to finish on Monday morning, to never EVER return. Maybe no more contracts terminated in the middle of major jobs. Will they now handle rodents with modern methods instead of the old Karma-ignorant, Tom and Jerry cheese traps and poison or maybe they might be honest about the state of their kitchen and bathrooms they supply and update them befooooore the appliances become dangerous, rather than patching up patches.
Please consider, these issues are just the cover on the menu before you even look at the main. These complaints are a book in itself. As extensive as they might be this is still only the account of a single household amongst many. Tenants have been known to wait six weeks to have a leaking boiler repaired, and that’s after being told that an emergency plumber had been dispatched. Admittedly we are talking about an NHH subcontractor (BSW heating) but you have to also wonder what kind of furtive deals they offer these contractors that tend to give no **** about the job they do, whether it’s done well or what time they turn up if they even appear at all.
Expansion & Original Mission
You don’t need too much of an imagination to know that by expanding into an even larger dysfunctional system it can only get worse. Tenants will be lost in a machine that’s getting further and further away from personally knowing who they are beyond a flat number and surname, instead placing them in an imaginary box to tick and satisfy their software. It appears that is their primary goal on the other side of the phone at the end of the conversation: To select one out of three options agreed under duress by a mute inert soulless product, meeting the absolute minimum requirement. They’re happy :-).
I feel no threat of slander or libel to state that the repair and maintenance services retched from Notting Hill Housing Group and Genesis are nothing less than an insult to the dweller. You could actually pick a tenant’s name out of a hat for their own personal account (anyone) and you would probably call us prophets. It’s pretty clear that their ideal customer would be one from war-torn parts of the globe who (sadly) would feel quite grateful for the subpar shelter provided.
Bruce Kenrick’s mission abolished
Since the NHH wish to steer our minds towards Bruce Kenrick’s original mission let’s see the legacy he intended to leave. It seems clear that, as a priest, he attempted in his book ‘Come Out Of The Wilderness’ to reach those that he felt the church had failed. His opening quote, and the book title, clearly reflects the words of the small voice that he wished to amplify by taking the church as a system of relief to the environment of the forgotten ones who could not reach their temple and receive salvation.
So much for Kenrick’s noble intentions. Let’s look briefly at the G15’s mission which, according to their website, states that: “We work closely with central, regional, and local government; with private and voluntary partners; and with our residents to improve the quality of life for Londoners”.
Doesn’t it look like it’s written in order of importance? and of course residents, as usual, are the hindmost priority. In light of this, the two housing groups couldn’t find a better time to reconsider their priorities and intentions as it becomes increasingly clear that their informed tenants do not want this. So much for the small voice and the tortured soul of Bruce Kenrick through his greedy inheritors. Maybe the concerns of the smaller voices will be brought out of the wilderness into the hearts of the shareholders. How beautiful it would be if Kate Davis, who surprisingly came from humble beginnings, found that feminine sense of nurture beyond her gynoid role and did a 360˚ turn showing that NHH really gave a …. about their original mission. Without the incredibly selfless efforts of Gem and the gang at LNHH to make your home in your community secure, it’s very DOUBTFUL.
Islamist terror in Paris, Islamist terror in London, and there are many factors driving the violence. Theresa May has chosen to tackle the issue with a consciously narrow programme called the Prevent Strategy. The government has considered certain factors, but others are not up for discussion. The result has been a decontextualized debate, and a Conservative victory in the polls in June will have implications for communities across the country concerned about the pull of terrorism.
It does not take forensic analysis to know that foreign policy, economics, family breakdown and the housing crisis are among the drivers of the political violence that has taken place in European cities.
Another key factor is that an individual or group eventually decides to commit a violent act. And this is the level at which the Prevent Strategy tackles the issue. As Home Secretary, Prime Minister May oversaw the implementation of Prevent, which provides training to public sector workers on how to spot signs of vulnerability to extremism, works with individuals at risk and provides a counter-narrative to nihilistic, hateful and violent philosophies.
Prevent is also very aware of its own vulnerability to criticism, and is keen to have respected Muslim community figures on its side. Systematic promotion, branding and getting out key messages are prevalent at their events and training courses. There is a Prevent message, and little space for manoeuvre around it. One community leader told me that when they raised foreign policy concerns with Prevent officers from the Home Office, they were met with the message “‘your point is noted’. But there is never a suggestion of anything changing. There is never any acknowledgement of Britain’s foreign policy mistakes”.
The Muslim Council of Britain is critical of Prevent, as it says the strategy only coordinates with groups willing to bite their tongues over UK foreign policy. The MCB has claimed that it will set up a parallel anti-terror programme carrying a simpler message: all violence is wrong. But only the government has adequate resources to tackle the very real problem of British people travelling to Syria to fight.
The community leader told me: “Prevent is like a budget overhead, there’s a sense that Prevent is where the money is to deliver community programmes, so let’s go with that”. Community groups receive help with their websites and social media and some funding for projects, in return Prevent has access to the grassroots and can engage with them on getting the Prevent agenda out to communities.
In some areas Prevent is seen as benevolent, in others it is seen as a hostile monitoring network keeping tabs on Muslims, harassing and stigmatising people and removing children from schools unnecessarily. Prevent has listed “empathy” with the Palestinians, criticism of foreign policy in the Middle East and criticism of Prevent itself as issues that needed to be “risk-assessed and managed” and that “may be regarded as extremist but are not illegal”. The scope for abuse of this power is broad.
Islamic extremism is the “main threat” identified by the Home Office and while Prevent officers are at pains to point out that they also take on far-right extremism, they do not acknowledge that takes place in a society in which the political and media establishment are anti-Muslim, and vilification of Muslims is a tool for power for Le Pen, Trump, May, Natanyahu and others. Theresa May being in ideological lock step with President Donald Trump, with his bombs, travel bans and racist rhetoric is the tip of a huge iceberg, but this is not on the agenda at Prevent meetings.
As well as not addressing many of the issues head on, the Prevent Strategy has the potential to be used to subdue communities and groups who have genuine grievances
Former Conservative Cabinet Minister Sayeeda Warsi has criticised Prevent and its narrow focus on ideology and Jeremy Corbyn called it “often counter-productive”. Under Labour it might change. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the government needed “to sell it to communities”.
The problem is that all the government does is “sell it”, a salesperson with an inferior product becoming yet more passionate about its virtue for fear of a serious, in-depth debate and the whole façade crumbling.
Theresa May will double down on Prevent if she wins the upcoming election. A strategy that is the equivalent of a plastic mouse trap placed next to a large, overflowing rubbish bin. It’s good to catch a few mice, but the wider problem is ignored.
As well as not addressing many of the issues head on, the Prevent Strategy has the potential to be used to subdue communities and groups who have genuine grievances. In this way, class is the issue. Foreign policy isn’t carried out to benefit the poor, but the oil and arms companies. The housing crisis and austerity impoverish and trap the poor, but they cannot be discussed in the mainstream because this would question the framework of the class-based system.
Islam itself offers an alternative way of thinking about human experience and dominant economic system and cultures in a continent in which many never enjoy the benefits of liberty and freedom.
The result of a narrow focus on immediate causes is a missed opportunity to really confront a terrorism that is growing and spreading across the planet. And the victims include innocent British citizens, in London, in Paris and beyond. The government doesn’t want this, but it is unable or unwilling to broaden its approach to tackle the deeper issues.
Last Friday evening following the repulsive terror attacks, we were careful to limit the news in our household, mindful of the fears that might awaken in our 6-year-old.
From Beirut through Paris, and in so many other regions, people were going about their daily lives when horror erupted. Accompanying death were traumatic, chilling sights and sounds imprinted on survivors and transmitted to onlookers near and far.
We began to weigh-in on what to tell a young child: whether to share or shelter her from the news that was, after all, not on our shores. The question of the location raised its head and merits some attention.
The continued pervasive coverage of France’s tragedy is neither surprising nor an insult to other countries or populations that have equally suffered. This is not a competition. In the UK the coverage of 7/7 was intense and on-going for months. Last year the October shooting in Ottawa, Canada saw international coverage but nowhere was this coverage more concentrated and extensive than in Canada.
Paris is an international city; one of the most visited and well-known even to those that have only toured it via films and books. This fact is precisely why coverage of the tragedy here in Canada is more intense than the coverage of similar attacks. Paris is a relatable, familiar location where many of ushave participated in the exact activities, in the exact locations where these events unfolded. Familiarity breeds curiosity. The 2013 Westgate Mall siege provoked blanket media coverage. There have been attacks before and since in Kenya however that assault occurred in an everyday familiar location– a shopping mall – riveting global interest. Paris belongs not only to the French but is a global outpost which many call “home” whether they’ve taken up residence or not. The population of Paris is not simply French but vibrant, massively multi-cultural; where Eid and Diwali are as well-known as Hanukkah or Christmas.
Comfort must overrule the cynicism in the perception of preferential coverage. If anything, the coverage of Paris shines a light on bias and can, if allowed, frame an understanding of life in war zones and build empathy towards refugees fleeing these exact horrors.
So, recognizing that media will be intense and pervasive, does one shelter or share with a child? We all make our own choices as parents but for me open discussion should rule. Parents, families, friends, aunts and uncles are best placed to open this sensitive dialogue even in a selective, imprecise manner. Children, even the very young, are acutely perceptive whether to a news report playing in their home, a magazine, newspaper or iPad story left open. A media-blackout at home cannot control what is overheard on the streets, schoolyards and playgrounds. Far worse than having this delicate, uncomfortable conversation is a child being burdened with almost incomprehensible information from another child who may have been exposed to the horrible details without an opportunity for follow-up and exchange. So we sit with our children and tell them that some people were hurt in Paris and that this has made us and the world incredibly sad. We light a candle and take them to a memorial if they need comfort. We start a dialogue enabling them to come back to us should they overhear disturbing news, have questions or fears. Together, regardless of age, we open that interchange, held in unconditional love: we fumble, we improvise, we speak; we simply do our best to ensure the communication is there for solidarity, empathy and reassurance.
Ivanno Jeremiah & Zubin Varla in Measure for Measure at the Young Vic. Photo by Keith Pattison.
The Nineteenth Century essayist, poet and literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise of Shakespeare. He once said of The Bard;
‘Shakespeare knew the human mind, and its most minute and intimate workings, and he never introduces a word, or a thought, in vain or out of place.’
I was reminded of Coleridge’s acclaim as I sat watching The Young Vic’s production of Measure for Measure last week. Even as Coleridge battled crippling opium addiction and debilitating episodes of self-doubt in life, he found joy and freedom in the world created by Shakespeare. He discovered a liberty from his own weak will, and a license to suspend his disbelief in order that he whole-heartedly enter into the dramatic world of the play unfolding before him. He said that incredible or fanciful work would break this spell and bring the ludic performance crashing down and that one must be able to give themselves over completely to the drama. And the writer he identified as the illusionist dramatist par excellence and most suited to this task was, of course, Shakespeare.
There were moments between Angelo and Isabella, Claudio and Isabella, The Duke Vincentio and Pompey et al, when discussions centred on the nature of human virtue, clemency and spiritual and corporal corruption, at such times it was as if I was watching and hearing a divine puppeteer interweaving all the thoughts and feelings of humanity, mixing the conflict between self-preservation and empathy, expounding the collision of desire and morality and underpinning all with a firm and sure depth psychology. Watching Shakespeare at these moments is a special kind of poetry, one that may grant the audience access to an exquisite divinity beyond their normal everyday human experience.
Joe Hill-Gibbins’ production of Measure for Measure is a rampant, cut-down, boisterous affair. The play moves along at a blazing comic pace, but as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, it never moves too far from the darkness at its centre. Vienna is a city overflowing with brothels, pimps and scoundrels. The Duke Vincentio tells his advisors he’s leaving the city and then disguises himself as a friar and stays within the city walls. He leaves Angelo in charge, an unbending guardian of morality who instantly closes all the city’s brothels and sentences Claudio to death for the act of fornication with Juliet, whom he has made pregnant. Isabella learns of her brother Claudio’s punishment and goes to Angelo to beg for clemency. During the course of their meeting the morally incorruptible Angelo begins to feel lust and desire for Isabella and tells her he will spare Claudio’s life if she should yield to him her virginity. Isabella then goes to see Claudio, tells him of Angelo’s advances and expects that he will face death with dignity. Claudio begs his sister to give herself up to Angelo to save his life, and she refuses as she doesn’t want to sacrifice her immortality, or Claudio’s in the afterlife.
Hill-Gibbins’ and Miriam Buether’s radical exuberant production and design gives us swirling images of blow-up dolls representing the vice and corruption of Vienna, a Kardashian-style sex-tape of Claudio and Juliet, and dazzling camerawork, backgrounded behind closed doors, to show us the dark, ever existing underbelly of a city crawling with debasement and debauchery behind its moral veneer. I’m a fan of this seemingly, de rigour use of camerawork, as it compellingly captures and enhances human emotion, intensity and intimacy. The cast is uniformly strong, with Paul Ready’s cloying, convincing, bureaucratic Angelo and Tom Edden’s turn as an evasive New York Jewish gangster-pimp Pompey, complete with spectacles, suit and baseball cap, my personal favourites.
This thoroughly enjoyable and vivacious production ends with a startling image of The Duke, played by Zubin Varla, not only telling Isabella of his intentions to marry her, but lining up the entire cast of the play in couples, in a desperately awkward and dreadful tableau. This creates a striking image, although the characters may be saved from hell, are they any better off in the strange, mixed-up relationships and marriages they end up in, where they may succeed or fail, and advance through life in an utterly muddled human procession?
My initial reaction to Angelo’s lack of tolerance for the business of prostitution and sex was to think how antiquated that attitude has become in the modern world. Sitting in a diverse cosmopolitan audience in a multicultural London, it’s easy to forget the patrician attitudes and intolerance that exist in other cities and regions. However, the ingenious presence on stage of a couple of dozen male and female blow-up dolls at times piled-high, at others waded through by the cast, and then thrown in discarded fashion upstage, started to put me in mind of a slaughter, the Holocaust perhaps? But then I settled on the fanatical nature of those purporting to represent Islam and calling themselves Islamic State. Intolerance to human desire isn’t antiquated or out-dated, it is a very real and evil threat. The next night that threat would be foregrounded once again in the shocking pictures and stories pushed in a vile centrifuge from the blood-soaked streets of Paris. Intolerance of people trying to live free lives, people in bars and cafes, enjoying rock concerts, massacred by those, identified over four hundred years ago by Shakespeare, who deign to impose their dogmatic views and calcified opinions on innocent citizens. Therefore, once again Shakespeare proves his genius. This thoroughly pagan Elizabethan playwright always manages to remain relevant and timeless in all ages, and how does he manage this? Because, as Coleridge had it, he knew the minutest and most intimate workings of the human mind. And no matter how much we may progress, technologically and scientifically, no matter how much we innovate and evolve, we are still Shakespeare’s humans; coiled and contradictory, floored and mistaken, emotional and desirous.
The Company of Measure for Measure at the Young Vic. Photo by Keith Pattison
In these austere times of high unemployment and cuts to essential services, the Somali community in North Kensington is probably better prepared than most to cope. They have, after all, been living with austerity and economic hardship for years.
A detailed report by Kensington and Chelsea Social Council describes Somalis in the borough as a ‘Community in crisis’, outlining the many problems to affect the London section of the Somali Diaspora. The problems identified range from high levels of unemployment to drug addiction, a lack of integration and low educational attainment.
Raising educational standards is identified as the key to improving integration and enhancing the lives and prospects of this and future generations of British Somalis.
Given the right conditions, Somalis will prosper. According to Abdullahi Ali, co-ordinator of the Baraka Youth Association in North Kensington, Somalis have a natural flair for entrepreneurship: “Somalis are naturally business-minded people. We put in long hours to make our businesses work. This comes from Somalia itself, where opportunities to get rich are limited and so feeding your family is the biggest motivation”.
One of the problems Abdullahi identifies is that this work ethic and aptitude for business has struggled to translate in to success in Britain, and the host country has not yet harnessed the skills of its Somali community. “We need to put ourselves out there more if we are to be successful” Abdullahi tells UDL; “Somalis need to focus more on serving every community in Britain, not just their own.”
Baraka Youth Association (BYA) has been aware of the needs of the community for the past decade and has worked tirelessly to help improve the lives of young Somalis and their parents. BYA’s activities include supplementary schooling for GCSE and ‘A’ Level students, English lessons, football coaching every weekend, gym and swimming sessions for children, as well as advice sessions and IT classes for adults. BYA takes groups of local children on an annual field trip to East Sussex and this summer is taking a group of young Somalis to Gothenburg, Sweden on the first leg of a youth exchange programme. The children have raised the money for the trip themselves.
BYA focuses on the twin goals of education and integration, helping young people to improve their grades and therefore their economic and social prospects. BYA also forms part of the Somali Network in Kensington and Chelsea, bringing together Somali organisations of all sizes to organise events and support each other’s work. The network held a successful joint conference on education in March.
This work, carried out mainly by volunteers, is set against a backdrop of hardship for the community. But, it needn’t be like that, according to Abdullahi Ali: “We provide role models for the younger generation through our mentoring scheme. We also help boost academic performance. But, we are also interested in pursing other ways forward, like supporting young people to undertake internships and scholarships”.
One of Baraka’s schemes is to facilitate Somalis taking up gardening in allotments; “Why not grow and sell our own fruit and veg?” says Abdullahi. “People will see Somalis in a positive light if we engage with them in business”.
When visiting supplementary classes and football coaching sessions, or visiting its office on Ladbroke Grove, the most striking thing about the Baraka Youth Association is that it is always looking outwards, striving to engage positively and encouraging its community to give to society in order to get more back.
For more on the Baraka Youth Association, visit it’s website here
For information on Baraka’s supplementary schools and free sports activities, contact Abdullahi Ali on 07949 727322.