To understand the difficulties of the Westway Trust, it is important to understand the nature of the Trust and what Westway23 are trying to change.
Following four years of focus on this organisation, members of Westway23 are quite convinced that The Trust is colonial in nature. That is not an analogy or an exaggeration.
The Trust was essentially governed by the over-privileged South of the Borough for decades.
No different to an island colony. Governed from distance, by long term, unchallenged dignitaries taking the odd trip into the fields to ensure progress (or not. It is completely normal for a colony to suffer arrested development and stand still in time whilst the rest of the world moves forward).
At least two Directors (Roger Matland and Angela McConville) treated the 23 acres as their personal fiefdom and were known to be ruthless with anyone who questioned their methods or was not taken under their wing.
Similarly to a colony island, the ruling elite of the motherland had little ability or desire to protect the people if and when the abuses of these overseers spun out of control.
The goal of economic exploitation and political control is separate from the concerns of human experience.
Similarly to global instances of colonialism, here too the old rulers switched to a corporate mercenary dictatorship model ("independence") in an attempt to bring their distant dominion into the modern world.
The abuse of the Stables (An example that sounds appropriately 18th Century, where too many people apparently believe colonialism was left behind) is a case in point. Angela McConville and Mark Lockhart were let loose to do whatever they wished, using the full force of the Trust's resources to bully them into submission and eventually closure.
The response to pleas for help from the Chair at the time, Joanna Farquharson, was as complete a dismissal of the concerns as you are ever likely to see. It was a solicitors response from the solicitor nominated to be on the board by Nick Paget-Brown of RBKC. It was a response that many would recognise from RBKC themselves and, of course, the disastrous KCTMO. Diligently collect your concerns together, triple check your grammar and write your heart out, only to get a cold, technical stonewalling paragraph in return. Nothing to see here but the suffering of community-minded people. Move on to more important company business.
I'll add one of my own examples to further elaborate and show how this scenario is repeated, further along the line.
I attended an 'Ask Nick' public meeting at Al Manaar. I believe it was in October 2015, around 8 months into the Westway23 campaign.
You get to fire off questions. They get to pick them out of the sky like clay pigeons, competing for a clean double-barrelled dismissal of your concerns.
He was flanked by the anointed slitherin king of Regeneration (and Westway Board member 1 year previously), Rock Fielding Mellen and Gerard Hargreaves, who remains as Cabinet Member for Communities.
I took the opportunity in front of around 100 local people to ask a simple question: Would the council support our community with our issues in relation to the Westway Trust?
The premise of the response was unforgetable. It went something along the lines of "What's the problem... I hear they have a very good sports centre!" (For some reason I am tempted to make a pheasant joke. I will resist)
Despite a decent ripple of applause for my question (more proof if it were ever needed that disdain of the Trust extends fully into our community), both Gerard and the slitherin king belittled my concerns entirely.
That - obviously - wasn't the last time I was to be ignored by the RBKC hierarchy. It was a harsh and memorable lesson in how things really worked between the North and South.
It came as a small consolation to finally hear the remaining RBKC Cabinet Member finally relent and offer the council's full support to the community at a Full Council Meeting recently, when the former Westway23 Trustee put forward her concerns. Three years of campaigning, two years of suffering for our Trustee, a trip to the other side of the hill, and (the real attitude changer that you really mustn't spend too much time thinking about) at least seventy two lives lost...... is what it appears to have taken to get some basic respect for our needs in the North.
It is that moment when you go to the top and you realise that they will only support your abuser. That moment in the horror movie when you escape...only to hitch a ride with your tormentor's accomplice. It is sickening. It is in the style of literally countless abuses that we know have taken place across the history of humankind.
And it is the reality of colonialism.
However friendly the face of the company, it is always backed by a system of rule that will have its way and retain absolute control over your resource.
When you cross it, there will only ever be one winner.
So, best you do as so many millions have....put on a smile, get what small change you can (the money kind, not the existential kind) and get on with your life under colonial rule.
This is the reality of the 23 acres.
This is why so many thousands of people put the 23 acres to the back of their mind and get on with other things that they can hope to have some sense of control over.
This is why the 23 acres represents a scene of extreme trauma.
And we know it is replicated across North Kensington; across London and the UK; across the world.
As we know with colonialism across the globe, there are always subjugated people who benefit. The modus operandi of colonialism is based on an absolute sense of superiority that will manoeuvre itself and adapt to the times to retain control. This means appropriating local people where necessary. It means adapting (when forced to) its methods to fit. It means living with a daily dose of cognitive dissonance and employing wilful blindness as an actual strategy. To suggest that colonialism is merely a brittle form of domination led by a stiff upper lipped gentleman in a bowler hat, is a mistake. It has always adapted and been highly successful for that adaptation. And it often employs some pretty nice people!
Britain did not rule half the world through might alone. It ruled through politics and its ability to use the soft power of coalition-building and compromise.
When the outright subjugation of violent occupation and imperial rule draws to a close, colonialism's next wave steps in to rule through convincing significant sections and members of a local population that they are part of a bigger and better whole. It commits resources to producing highly effective propaganda. It kills through inaction. It evicts through denial of its responsibilities. It delays when it needs. It throws its force when it wants. It divides. It rules.
All of this is on a spectrum and what we are witnessing now with the Trust is the friendly face of our colonisers.
That friendly face has been brought out in an attempt to placate a majority of local people (how could such nice, apparently progressive people be part of something nasty?) and simultaneously adapt (but not give in) to the demands of the vocal (and informed) minority (or should I say alleged minority).
The Trust (and RBKC for that matter) will continue to placate people with consultations, advisory groups and other tokenistic efforts that ensure that they retain all meaningful control in the decision-making positions that matter.
There is a danger in this placation in the fact that it brings about a brain drain. So many people with undoubted skills and abilities refuse to engage. People are not stupid and they know that putting their names to a system that in our modern world gains its mandate through engagement, becomes something that is against their best interests. They also recognise a toxic brand when they see one.
This disengagement, with political systems in particular, is what we see across the globe. It fundamentally undermines any claim of a meritocracy.
Nobody can deny that North Kensington has people with the ability to lead the Trust (although I am sure many of them would not feel comfortable or willing to take the current salaries for the privilege, which is why Westway23 advocate radical change at Executive level to divest from a corporate model that pays 100k "competitive" salaries).
There are many skillful local people doing good work below the executive.
But, equally it cannot be denied that the Trust as it stands is not able to properly or healthily engage with hundreds - if not thousands - of local people. And it is demonstrably not being led by the local community.
Westway23 do not accept the community's solutions being guided or implemented by a colonial force. We do not accept that a tiny minority gain kudos or career achievements through appropriating our ideas and our solutions. We do not accept that our community becomes complicit in their activities. We do not accept becoming a notch on their Curriculum Vitae, enabling their moves into other spaces to repeat their domination (as we have undoubtedly seen with Angela McConville and most likely others who stood with her in her subjugation of our community).
Westway23 believes the Trust can be radically changed with a process that is led by the local community and that that must begin by proposing and agreeing upon a process that achieves the following immediately:
1) Removes Alan Brown as Board Chair
2) Looks at new structures for the Executive level of the organisation
3) Ensures a majority of votes on the board of the Trust are demonstrably in the hands of the local community
It's time for some castaways from this island....