The case for the offence

The case for the offence

(It's a long one but, it's got games attached in the images if you need some entertainment to go with your mini-essays)

The plans released by the Westway Trust still loom large in my mind. They were a painful and striking slap in the face. They woke many people up from the illusions that were harboured around who was in charge of this valuable and vital piece of land. A space that has had a huge impact on the lives of thousands who have lived in its proximity.

I'm one of many who has grown up breathing some of the dirtiest air in London. In my case living next to a large and always busy roundabout, fed by a slip road that wouldn't exist if not for being fed by a six-lane motorway cutting through North Kensington. It is a fact of poverty throughout the world (regardless of whether you live in a developed or underdeveloped nation) that those with less income, live with more pollution. Closer to roads, further from parks. Closer to industrial hotspots, further from clean, open spaces.

The very specific plans for the regeneration of the Westway around Portobello Road were produced by a board and executive that was itself very specifically produced. The Trust had undergone a change in its governance and constitution in 2014 that virtually nobody knew about.

It was led by a man called Ken Scott. Somewhat ironically he was one of only a handful of non-White board members that have ever sat on the Trust's board of Trustees. And by all accounts it seems he was engaged simply to push through the change in direction of the Trust.

Another of this rarefied non-White club, Fatai Towolawi sat with him, as a Member Group Trustee, along with other Member Group nominated Trustees, Cynthia Dize, Mary Roser, Mary Gardiner, Ruth Hillary and James Caplin.

Property and finance man, Mike Jones, had been co-opted onto the board since 2009. Labour councillor, Pat Mason, had joined in 2012.

Around them all were a cadre of Conservative councillors, whose terms in office were enough to make your eyes water (remember, a typical term is 3 years).

  • Joanna Farquharson since 2007 - seven years.
  • Fiona Buxton since 2002 - twelve years.
  • David Lindsay since 2002 - twelve years.
  • Peter Wilson since 2000 - fourteen years.
  • Terence Buxton (*who remains as an adviser to the board of Trustees*) since 2000 - fourteen years.

In addition, Tim Davis had been on the board for five years since 2009. And RBKC's anointed slitherin king of regeneration, Rock Fielding Mellen, had been in place since 2011.

This was a dominant North Kensington community organisation controlled by the South. Of the 16 Trustees who sat around the table at the time of the constitutional change, ten were gone within a year of the change.

Who could argue that clearing the board of decades-long Conservative domination was not progress for the local community? There is no need for speculation. The judgement must be based on some reasonable understanding of the motives behind the change and the outcomes that could then be seen with our own eyes. For the motives, you only need look at the policies of RBKC. They scream regeneration, regardless of community impact.

As for outcomes, from 2014 the Trust was controlled by the arrogant and free-spending Angela McConville. The Trust had signed off on the Destination Westway (Regeneration) Strategy.

  • Maxilla Nursery was closed.
  • The Flyover venue was closed (Inn on the Green having previously been forced out).
  • The Popup Cinema was closed.
  • The Stables were effectively closed.
  • Bay20 remained derelict and ignored.
  • The skatepark was under constant threat.

Joanna Farquharson briefly took over as Chair before being replaced with a former investment banker with a convenient blind spot for Racism.

The new Openly Recruited Trustee positions brought in a new domination - that of property and finance - and continued to leave community interests or even viewpoints in the cold.

Not a single thing about this "progress" had the local community's interests at heart, in any more than the most superficial, rhetorical soundbite fashion. You know, that way that people do when they're making all of the decisions....and you're paying all of the consequences.

However, given the time even the most finely tuned and well-resourced tyrannies - No matter how well spoken or supposedly highly educated they are - will make mistakes.
Sometimes, the worst possible mistakes.

The Whitewashed artists impressions that were rife pre-2017 were effectively advertisements for their hopeful clients. They were created to be distributed in magazines and newspapers, websites and industry periodicals, to send a clear message of who these land owners were hoping to draw in with their developments. They typically had 0-10% non-White faces (The Trust managed the lower end of that spectrum) in a city made up by 40% BAME people. They were about as blatant a piece of Institutional Racism as you could hope to see. A 1950's American Dream-style aspiration of wealth, leisure...and Whiteness. In 21st Century London.

The proliferation of these drawings seems to have been a scandal that passed everyone by. And for that reason it stands as a monumentally powerful statement on just how insidious modern racism can be. 

For all the policies and rhetoric telling us of unabated progress, there are things that alert us all to another truth.

Things perceived as outliers to those less affected by a certain kind of oppression, are recognised by those who are most affected for the drop in the ocean that they really are. Daily subjugation briefly made visible for others to see, to be just as briefly shocked by. The candid blurtings of a Hollywood actor; The off-camera ramblings of a Sky commentator or BBC presenter; Sneakily filmed outbursts on public transport; Open hostility toward established British citizens; Exponential increases in foodbanks; Deaths from punitive sanctions; The deaths of at least 72 people in a West London tower block.

The aspirational whitewashing of one of London's most culturally distinctive areas?

Some are seen. Some are not. All are felt. All are experienced and so so much more.

The status quo will accept change if it is slow. They may even call it "profound". But, let's be clear. The change instructed by and carried out by the status quo, will always (I would appreciate knowing of any examples that are not) be to the advantage of the status quo in one way or another. The status quo, in both moral and very often legal terms, is absolutely unable to make decisions that weaken its position.

Hence RBKC released control of the Westway Trust into the hands of people it had confidence would carry out its wishes even more effectively.
Hence it unleashed the arch regenerator Angela McConville upon us and backed her up with an old school banker and multiple property and finance experts.
There was no intention of it being a more community-minded organisation. Never. Any progress in that direction has come about largely - if not exclusively - through direct community action.

You show me a change or improvement in the Trust over the past four years.... and members of the local community - in particular those connected to Westway23 - will show you the emails, events and meetings that took place leading up to it.

Unfortunately (for the intended RBKC masterplans) those same people put in to carry out the wishes of the Regeneration Borough of K&C were even less attached to the people and realities of North Kensington. They made glaring mis-steps within the first year that unleashed a rise in organised community activism that includes the Library (Save North Kensington Library Building for Public Use) and Wornington College campaigns (Save Wornington College).

Only a process of radical change has a hope of addressing this long-corrupted situation at the Trust. That means a process that removes the status quo from having a controlling stake in the organisation. It means change that puts the resources of the 23 acres back in the hands of the community who have paid the consequences of its creation, so that we may have a hope of the reparatory justice its ongoing existence was meant to serve.

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***Artist impressions of those well known monocultural London areas Ladbroke Grove, Willesden Junction and Shepherds Bush Market, and retail destination Boxpark***

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#Stables
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