The Curious Case of the Council & Canalside


On becoming leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council a month after the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, Elizabeth Campbell promised change. In a brief speech to fellow councillors and victims of the fire in July, Campbell used the word ‘change’ eleven times. Considering Campbell’s own role in the council’s sustained asset strip of North Kensington, the words were never convincing. But they were rendered meaningless in January when the council tried to sell a vital community building to property developers to build flats for the rich. In failing to push through the sale, the Conservative council now looks weaker than ever.

Early this year K & C council were moving full steam ahead with their plans to sell Canalside House, home to numerous local charities, community groups, small businesses, and a hub of support for victims of the June 14th fire. Plans to sell the historic building on Ladbroke Grove and move its residents to a wholly unsuitable replacement on Latimer Road were put on hold following the fire, after resident organisations pointed out to the council that they had been filling in the gaps vacated by the local authority in providing emergency relief work and supporting the North Kensington community.



How do we know about the plans to sell? A council scrutiny committee meeting was filmed and posted online (the Canalside section starts after two hours). The details are in this Urban Dandy article.


An Executive Decision was issued by the council: Canalside was to be sold to developers to build flats, none of which would be social housing or realistically affordable for most people.

In addition, the move, which was instigated in 2016 by the sleight of hand of disgraced former deputy leader of the council, Rock Feilding-Mellen, was an existential threat to most of the Canalside residents as they would be unable to operate in an absurd hot-desking arrangement, in a small building, away from decent transport links. 

The 2018 decision to sell Canalside represented a resumption of long-standing policies of asset-stripping community resources and properties in North Kensington. After a short post-fire hiatus, the council’s true agenda was back: a shock doctrine for a community reeling and traumatised.

At the January committee meeting, the council, represented by Deputy Leader Kim Taylor-Smith, Councillor Matthew Palmer and Director of Corporate Property, Richard Egan, told a series of lies to try to push the sale through. They lied about having consulted residents, they lied about the residents’ feedback, they lied about the state of the building. They closed ranks and derided the whimper of dissent from the Labour councillors present as “a banal conversation”. Drawing on vast reserves of conceit, they huffed at the tepid opposition, they puffed at the questions, but they could not blow Canalside House down…or strip it from the community and gift it to property developers. Behind the bluster, something was wrong, something had changed.

Divine Right

The three men at the council meeting displayed the presumption of divine right that Conservative Party toffs love to lord over their supposed inferiors. The bullying tactics they employed were as chilling to observers as the decision itself.

Following a tyrannical templete: they attempted to achieve something clearly against the interests of the population; behaved as if it was in the interests of the population; ridiculed any opposition to the plan; hung on to the last possible moment; then when the diabolical plan was no longer politically viable, abandoned it and stated that there was never any intention of doing it really, claiming that they are in fact wholehearted, community-minded folk just like you ‘n’ me.



How did these people survive, politically, the national disaster of the Grenfell Tower fire and their botched response? They were propped up by the desperate minority national government, no doubt. But these individuals, remarkable only in their unremarkableness, have clung to power in Kensington, despite being apparently responsible for a political agenda that wrapped Grenfell Tower in highly flammable material in pursuit of profit, threatened legal action against residents who warned of the fire risk, and then left the community itself to marshal the emergency response.

What makes these well-to-do politicians want to stay in what is, ostensibly at least, pubic service? The answer may be that they are broken people, empathy driven out of them first by the private education system, then by a fanatical belief in capital and wealth. Kensington became a goldmine, rather than a community. To retain a sense of self, and to maintain their positions of power, which come with lucrative spin-off careers, these politicians are required to tell lies to their constituents on behalf of the people they truly serve: the obscenely wealthy, often referred to as the one percent. The council of Kensington and Chelsea are the class enemies of most residents the borough, certainly those in North Kensington.

Before we are accused of descending in to a speculative polemic, let’s get back to what is not up for debate…

How the Sale was Stopped

The residents of Canalside House and the Kensington and Chelsea Social Council wrote to the councillors expressing their unanimous rejection of the plans to sell the building and relocate residents. On the evening of Thursday February 8th, Urban Dandy published the story, detailing the objections of the residents and exposing the deceit of the council. The article was soon disseminated by local activists and there was a furious online response from the local population.

2018-02-09 Joint CH Statement

Overnight, the council did a 360. High level meetings were cancelled; concerned people of power expressed their alarm to RBKC, and soon anybody involved was receiving emails like this:

I don’t know where they got my email address from, but the message was understood: stop telling people the truth. The propaganda I received came as a relief. Canalside was no longer being sold and the council publicly committed to its refurbishment. The building’s virtues were extolled by the same local government that had, so recently and so avariciously, written it off.

Dandies 1 Tories 0 
So, the lies told to try to force the sale of a vital community asset were followed by lies so transparent as to lead concerned local residents to ask what is really going on. Why don’t they just state that they would love to sell off North Kensington’s community spaces but politically it is no longer viable? A whole community, seen as heroic by many after the response to the Grenfell fire, is being fobbed off with press releases and propaganda. They are trying to ‘manage’ us and our expectations. But we are not to be managed…

If Urban Dandy and a few committed community organisations can scare the Tory council into abandoning a multi-million pound property plan, think what North Kensington can achieve if it speaks with one voice. The council’s conceit was exposed: not only do they lack the talent and vision to run the borough, but they are also seriously wounded, politically, and now is the time to make demands and set an agenda for creating a thriving North Kensington for us and our children. Now is the time for vigilance and reckoning.

While the community has been forced to put in the hours to save Canalside, demand justice for Grenfell and hold the council to account, RBKC’s cabinet has continued to waste their lives in service to a rapacious agenda they probably cannot even identify, so profoundly internalised has it become. It is known to many as neo-liberalism, and it is deadly.

The local council and the Tory media want to “regain the trust” of the North Kensington population, but that is an unrealistic and ultimately meaningless goal. The issue is not trust, it is power. The Canalside capitulation tells us two things about the Conservatives in Kensington:

– They cannot be trusted
– They are weak and scared of your power

Kensington and Chelsea council have repeatedly claimed to have changed tack following the Grenfell Tower disaster. The community has called their bluff, and we have our collective foot on their neck. They can be booted out of office at the local election on May 3rd if enough people register to vote.

Perhaps, in a desperate late attempt to cling to power, the council leader will invoke the concept of change another eleven times. For her it is an abstraction, a word to be used to manipulate and deceive. For the North Kensington community, change is something we need and it is now something we now hold in our hands.


By Tom Charles


Thanks to Jen

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


RBKC Council Selling Vital Community As$et

By Urban Dandy


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.


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

Group – Whoop!



Art by Angel Lewis for Urban Dandy Meditation


We’re in an atomised society, but you’re not an atom, you’re a social, interdependent human. So, with the demise of the extended family system, the weakness of the nuclear family system and the rise of the lone individual consumer system, finding community is necessary.

Where’s your group? What’s your group? Who’s got your back when you’re down, out or lonesome? We whittled matters down to one question and asked it to a load of Londoners. One respondent told me that the breakdown of the family system is “actually against natural law as it leaves most people desperate and stressed with feelings of redundancy, unworthiness, detachment at the cost of a feeling of separation rather than attachment” – well put.



The Question

The question was the same to each person: “What do you get from your group that you wouldn’t otherwise have in your life?”

Agathe told me about her meditation group:

“Whenever I walk in to ‘our’ room I am enveloped with a feeling of welcoming and acceptance. A feeling that I have a place there, so it’s a sense of belonging…a feeling of support from others. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling, how I’m meditating, those in the group do not judge me and often they can also relate to me. I know this because we talk openly about things that matter to us and that we wouldn’t talk about so easily to others. What a treasure and comfort it is to be able to talk about who we are, to be able to connect – in an unstable and constantly changing world – to our unmoving and unmovable self in a safe and supported environment. What we have in our group is friendship based on truth and compassion”.


Antonio talked about group psychotherapy:

“We are very interested in each other’s pain, we become kind, loving and compassionate…Without the group I would be less accepting, less tolerant. I’ve learned acceptance and tolerance in my group”.


Alice participates in a variety of groups – addiction recovery, yoga, employment:

“Connection – identification and closeness to people with who I share a common bond and/or interest (the purpose of the group). Group participation takes away a layer of separation between people, and brings those who might not otherwise socialise together under a common purpose or interest. Groups remove the superficial reason for separation – gender, age, race etc. between people.

From this connection stem opportunities for intimacy, the sharing of thoughts, ideas and where appropriate feelings, which, in my experience, reinforce the sense of connection between people… From intimacy stem a whole load of emotions – hope, excitement, sadness, fear, love – all of which ultimately result in a sense of fulfilment – the acknowledgement that I am alive and living”.


Martin talked about his family:

“I feel that being part of my sibling group gives me a support and a feeling of value. Inside the family, because we are totally familiar, there is an awareness of the full capacity of my commitment the group. So, when help is required I am asked only what I am capable of. I feel happy to be of service and have a sense of value because I am useful to great people that matter to me. To me, the family group is a symbiotic relationship that feeds everyone involved and expands the spirit. Groups outside of this can feel contractual and draining, without the end feelings of voluntary service. I imagine the difference between receiving a letter from a friend in need and a letter from the tax office. One group leaves you feeling useful”.


So the key to success could be getting as close to a healthy family dynamic as possible…


Jason: “I’ve been going to men’s groups for the last three years”:

“The feelings I get within them are a mixture of frustration, challenge and at times a sense of deep connection. On the whole, they are something that nurtures my soul, rather than just banter or goal-orientated back slapping.  

One is a Ritual Group. Men who come here are looking for deeper or spiritual exploration to see their life anew. Men are part of the group, but somehow go beyond it, going into a deep personal space, which may or may not be shared.

Usually a key function of all these groups is a talking circle. Or more accurately a listening circle. Men take turns to speak without interruptions. The intentions are to be lean of speech, talking from the heart and only saying what is most essential. There is no direct feedback. This would shut down and close off what the speaker is going through.

This is the most important thing we can give to each other, to be heard. Only I am in a position to help myself, and I know more about my problem than any of you. Advice is useless. Empathy is useful.

Sometimes it’s powerful and enough to hear someone talking about their own story instead of talking about mine directly and seeing the parallels to find solutions. Hearing their struggles can sometimes help me find strength in managing my own tribulations.

With women in the group, unconscious power structures come into the dynamic, which is not useful for heart speaking.

In support groups, I am usually challenged on my intentions and thoughts. Men will actually say to my face that they think I am wasting my time, or avoiding important decisions based on what they know of me. Very useful; who in the world actually tells us what we need, due to fear of offence or because they can’t be bothered?

In the support group I currently go to, we initiate each other and de-initiate each other, challenging ourselves on why we are entering or leaving the group, what we offer to it. We have a charge circle, putting out into the open things we feel are uncomfortable about each other, and what they in turn say about us. We take turns to lead and give each other feedback on our leadership. We spend time in nature as a group.

Above all, men’s groups give me a chance to be brotherly towards other men, in a deep and caring way. A form of love which is not idealised or sexualised. Something plain and solid like a shaker chair”.


The Dalai Lama

(no quotation marks, this is me writing, not him) When DL first visited the United States in 1979, he was shocked to hear how much self-loathing was implied in the questions he was asked by his audiences. He attributed the self-hatred to the alienation brought about by the dominance of the nuclear family system, in contrast to the traditional extended family in India and Tibet.



A retreat into a world of one is a safety blanket but the atomization of our culture is shaping our ideas and attitudes about ourselves. How do we habitually see ourselves? Dignified and noble? Or very negatively? From nagging pessimism about our value to the depths of darkness and loathing, my thoughts are often turned against myself.

A disconnection between the internal and external is exposed and hope lies in recognizing and nurturing the internal. This cannot be done alone. Where is your group in 2018?


Urban Dandy Meditation will take place for the first time on Thursday 15th February, 7:30pm in the Library, downstairs at Essex Unitarian Church, 112 Palace Gardens Terrace, Notting Hill Gate, W8 4RT.

Free meditation class for the North Kensington community, learn/practise transcendental meditation, there will be readings of literature and poetry, information, discussion…All faiths/no faith, come as you are, everybody welcome,

For more info please call zero7884182408   

Happy New Year? From RBKC


The new year began with no justice for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. National media coverage has faded, with the initial outrage at the failings of the state becoming a whimper. But in North Kensington, it’s different. Grenfell dominates the local landscape and mindscape, and people are still hard at work supporting survivors and holding the community together.

We spoke to one such person, Rajaa Chellat, an integrative counsellor who is working in a collective of therapists under the name My Shepherd.

“This kind of trauma has never hit a community like this before”

The Work

The group provide support for survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire and affected local residents. The sessions are held at the offices of local charity Making Communities Work and Grow, and group therapy is also provided every Monday morning at the offices of the Westway Trust. The service is funded by West London philanthropists and this has recently been boosted by local authority money.

We asked Rajaa what the motivation of her and her colleagues is. “We saw a gap in provision early on, a lack of emotional support from the authorities, and this is an ongoing issue”.

Three weeks from the day of the fire, which killed 71 people, Rajaa and her colleagues we able to offer desperately-needed therapeutic support. The My Shepherd team includes an art therapist, a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) specialist and an American therapist whose son was killed in gun crime in the States.

“This needs to be long term,” Rajaa told us, “I’m passionate about it. This kind of trauma has never hit a community like this before”.

Personal Story

And the disaster has hit Rajaa hard. Members of her family occupied two flats in the tower. Those on the ninth floor escaped, but five relatives on the 21st floor did not and were all killed. These were Rajaa’s uncle, his wife and their three children.

Rajaa lives opposite the burnt-out tower, surely the most sickening sight in Britain today. It is visible through her window, and to protect her child the curtains stay closed at all times.

Rajaa’s passion for helping others has been her way of coping with the enormity of the situation: “I’m adamant that we keep this going because you would never expect this to happen in the UK in a building like that”.

“The whole community has PTSD”


On June 14th as the tower burned, the Moroccan ambassador was on the scene. The king of Morocco promised to pay funeral costs for the victims’ families, and has been good to his word. Rajaa contrasts this with the less straightforward conduct of Kensington and Chelsea council.

The therapist told Urban Dandy that those engaging with the My Shepherd service have no trust in the local authority in Kensington, that there has been no serious change in the attitude of the council as the months have passed.

Rajaa describes the council’s approach: “It’s ‘let’s shut them up and not deal with the emotional side.’ But I think it’s time to open Pandora’s box. This is what the council’s missing, they’re not thinking of emotional trauma: The whole community has PTSD”.

More money is needed for therapy, says Rajaa, along with better organisation of NHS services, which are all over the place, geographically.



Anyone looking at the Grenfell situation knows that housing policy is the key issue. Before and after the fire, attitudes to meeting the most basic need of a human being have been decisive. Rajaa agrees: “The survivors are spending too long in hotels. On top of that, people who lived in the tower and people who lived in the walkways (the low-rise blocks on the Lancaster West estate) are being treated the same, but the tower survivors should take priority”.

All the residents of Lancaster West have been affected, not just by the trauma of witnessing the fire close up, but also by the loss of a reliable gas supply ever since. All residents are now entitled to social housing and relocation, if they want to leave Lancaster West. How long this takes, where it will be and how secure it will be are all council policy decisions.

Of the people living in limbo that she has spoken to, Rajaa told Urban Dandy: “They don’t want to live in hotels, but they don’t trust the council when they offer posh flats in Kensington. They wonder whether council tax will go up. These things aren’t explained properly. My auntie, who was on the ninth floor, took one of the posh flats; she’s a teacher, she’s well-educated and has a stable income, but for those that have less economic independence, and without strong English, they’re scared to take new places”.

“Some people have been offered properties that are too far away, out of the borough, away from home. People feel genuinely trapped in the system, they’re in fight or flight mode. They’re just dealing with the practicalities now, they tell us: ‘I can’t deal with my emotions at the moment’”.

And what is prolonging the resettlement of the victims? “The authorities aren’t willing to give empty homes to the community.”

The borough has 1,200 long-term empty homes, 9,300 second homes as well 6,000 homes listed as owned by companies registered in tax havens. So, the real estate is available, but hasn’t been utilised for Grenfell survivors, and there has been no suggestion by either local or national government that the unused homes will be requisitioned.

“Drugs, alcohol and suicide will be the issues in 2018”


The My Shepherd therapists are in a unique position to predict what 2018 will bring. And Rajaa’s assessment is grim: “Drugs, alcohol and suicide will be the issues in 2018”.

“People lack an understanding of trauma and the vocabulary to think about it and care for themselves. They say: ‘I’ll deal with it once the practicalities are sorted out’ – but the practicalities are a nightmare. And trauma can hit you whenever. It’s only going to get worse in 2018 unless we deal with the emotional side”.


Things get even more dismal when the conversation narrows to men and their experience of the disaster. “Men aren’t gonna talk about it. They want to fix things, so they’re repressing their emotions.” So, men aren’t attending the counselling sessions on offer, and are emasculated by waiting for homes and justice, now a perpetual strain over which they have little or no control.

North Kensington

The North Kensington community will gather for another silent walk on 14th January to mark seven months since 71 lives were lost and many more scarred forever. And what of North Kensington, where Rajaa was raised, and where she contributes so much for so little material reward? She and her colleagues take the approach: “It’s not about religion, it’s about humanity. It’s about what you give. You ask: ‘what can I give?’ We will never not be on offer and the group is ongoing”


Interview with the Leader of K & C Council

Urban Dandy was keen to ascertain the views of the leader of the council, Elizabeth Campbell, who had vowed to do things differently when she took over the post in July, after the previous leadership was forced to resign. We were curious about whether she could see this trauma outside the political prism of caution, maintenance of power and press release wordplay. Who is running the council in the borough’s hour of need? An emotionally shattered community deserves the respect of some obvious questions being answered…

But despite initially saying she was “happy to try and answer” our questions, the council leader failed to confirm that she would speak to us.


On Sunday, the local community will gather near Grenfell Tower for its slow, silent march to honour those who died. Among those paying their respects will be many people like Rajaa, who have found the strength to nurture life in the shadow of death. There will be many schoolchildren who have witnessed more than they ever should. Activists, campaigners, neighbours, philosophical people…thinkers questioning who benefited from Grenfell not being safe, from the lousy treatment of the survivors. Asking what ideology can be so far gone that it cannot change course in the face of such horrors as Grenfell?

As writers, our only duty is to tell the truth. As politicians, their plan is to not give the game away. Hence, swerving the interview with Urban Dandy.

Our questions were about a series of political calculations that have been made: The calculation that the people in the tower were worth the fire risk in order to save some money; the calculation that there is less political damage done by not rehousing people properly; and there is much more to be gained by selling off North Kensington’s public services than by investing in them.

Another calculation made was: that it is better to ignore us than answer our questions.

All in the name of ‘regeneration,’ labelled by others as degeneration, gentrification, degradation, humiliation…

2018 begins where 2017 left off: Those marching silently in North Kensington represent life and dignity. Those hiding from scrutiny and justice represent a power system that stands for something very different.

Happy new year, from RBKC


Rajaa Chellat can be contacted at 07960776445

Rajaa’s colleague, Dr Sara Alsaraf can be reached at


A timeline of the Grenfell disaster is here

Previous posts on gentrification and housing policy can be found here, here and here


By Tom Charles @tomhcharles