Housing and Schooling
North Kensington has one of the most complicated housing situations in the country, as extreme poverty lives side by side with the super-rich. It is a situation further complicated by the Westway meaning that thousands of people needed to be rehoused. The overcrowding and the poor conditions, caused by damage from WWII bombing and general neglect, meant that thousands more lived in housing that was officially classed as inhabitable, ranging from those waiting to be rehoused to those who were squatting.
Housing and Schooling represent so much than houses and schools, and the limitations of North Kensington often meant that the solution of building an house or school was not always possible. Rather, what we mean here is how spaces, both those that were previously unused and those that the community were preventing from being used for something else, were turned into places that could used by the community, for the community.
Adventure Playgrounds used waste materials as tools for kids to play with, post-WWII London was ideal for it because of untouched bomb sites created opportune places for adventure playgrounds.
The first one in the area was in Telford Road in the early 1960s, but they would really explode when construction fo rthe Westway started, because it was less to do about the materials and more to do having places for kids to play and be kids.
In North Kensington the playgrounds were first started by the London Free School, led by John 'Hoppy' Hopkins and Rhaune Laslett, who ran a number children's play groups. In 1966, Muhammad Ali, before his fight against Henry Cooper, would visit the play group at Laslett's house on 34 Tavistock Crescent.
As kids would play under the Westway construction, in places where houses were demolished to make way for the motorway, the adventure playgrounds represented a reclaiming of space. This would become even more apparent under Adam Ritchie, founder of the North Kensington Playspace Group.
Speaking to Constantine Gras, Ritchie described how he became interested in the adventure playgrounds: "The kids built things out of the rubble from some of the 600 or so demolished houses. This was Acklam Road between St Ervans and Wornington Road. So quite a large site. And there were all these wonderful things being built there by the kids out of the rubble. I thought they need a bit of material help. I bought two hammers, a saw and huge bag of nails and hid them under the rubble. I came back a few days later to see there was a new building. It was really bigger than what was there before because of the nails and tools."
The focus on the playgrounds shifted to wider concerns about what they were going to do with the land under the motorway, as it became very clear that those in charge had not thought about that.
"They said we couldn’t have community facilities under the Westway, because they had planning permission to build a car park under the whole of the motorway. They were going to build a 22 foot high concrete wall shutting off the underneath of the motorway for the car park. It would just become this awful space. One of the imagined reasons for the motorway was to reduce local traffic and if you got a huge 8 acre car park underneath the bloody thing, where are the cars going to come from? They are going to come off the motorway and park there. Everything was so badly thought out."
Due to the fact that they were now solely focusing on the Westway rather than the adventure playgrounds, the name was changed from the North Kensington Playspace Group to the Motorway Development Trust. They would eventually agree to partner with Kensington and Chelsea Council to form the North Kensington Amenity Trust (now the Westway Trust), to look after the area under the motorway.
North Kensington has a history of the local community contesting spaces to prevent authorities from controlling them. The most extreme example of this happened in the 1970s on Freston Road.
Following the completion of the Westway, squatters moved into to the area south of Latimer Road tube station, which was made up of empty houses and usused sites.
When the Greater London Council wanted to clear the area in 1977, the residents decided to fight back by declaring themselves as the independent Republic of Frestonia.
The aim for the newly-independent Frestonians was to generate as much publicity as possible. They had their own theatre, shops, and art gallery, newsletter, and visa stamps to put on visitor's passports.
They even made an application to the UN, in which they list the cabinet members of Frestonia's government. Every member has Bramley, after Bramley Road, attached to their name.
In the end they were successful, with the authorities reaching out to them and leading to the creation of a mixed working/living space. The Minister of State for the Environment in the government of Frestonia would later describe accounts as: “Frestonia was eventually rebuilt…. with foreign aid from Great Britain channelled via the Notting Hill Housing Trust”.
Maxilla Nursery Centre
Maxilla Nursery Centre opened in 1978, being one of the first schemes to occupy the land underneath the Westway after that area was held by the North Kensington Amenity Trust. It was run by the Westway Nursery Association (WNA), and followed a survey conducted in community that asked parents what they needed.
It was designed by the Greater London Council, highlighting the benefit of cooperation between the community and the authorities. The Centre had an under 3s group, a Nursery school and classes for parents.
The strength of Maxilla Nursery Centre lay in the fact that it had input from the WNA, as this meant that it could cater to the community's needs. One way it did that was by open from 8am-6pm all year round, to accomodate parents' work.
It was also free and open to all in the catchment area. The impact of this in area like North Kensington, with its inequalities in the socio-economic background of parents, was massive. Former parent Sarah Harrison describes the Nursery's impact:
"It provided a natural community focal point for everybody in the area to meet … and it provided those links between people, which was very important to all of us when we were bringing the kids up … it was a great support network … we’d put the kids in school then go into the drop-in centre and have a cup of tea and talk to each other … we’d look after each other, we’d look after each other’s kids, there was a lot of mutual support … it just all felt right … It felt like we were giving the kids a very strong beginning in their lives … understanding that they were part of a bigger community initiative."
What does this mean now?
Through looking at the recent history of housing and schooling in North Kensington, the point this section is trying to make is to:
1. stress the importance of the authorities and organisations like Maxilla City working together with and listening to the local community, as history tells us that it is the best way to achieve progress,
2. highlight the fact that the present needs of the community are not new.
However, the fact that the needs are not new suggests that authorities and organisations in charge have not always been listening to the community, which unfortunately has been the case in North Kensington.
Soon after the formation of North Kensington Amenity Trust, the Council was accused of trying to fully control who would be nominated to become members of the Trust.
Adam Ritchie was initially blocked from joining the committee, and by 1973, frustrated at the set up, he would leave the commitee:
"The council wanted to set it up with the Town Clerk as Secretary. This would have been a really poor organisation. We also had to have an independent chairman. The council chose an ex-ambassador and we then had middle of the road people. In my view, people who basically didn't want to rock the boat with the council. Establishment people. It was stultified for many years because of the lack of imagination of the council in dealing with it."
The Maxilla Nursery Centre would also experience similar struggles with the authorities. In 1986 the Greater London Council was abolished, meaning that its funding and management was now in the hands of Kensington and Chelsea Council, who then implemented a series in cuts in the 1990s.
The impact of this was that the Centre could no longer run 8am-6pm all year round, and had to adopt conventional school times and terms. Realising that this would severly impact parents, the Westway Nursery Association subsidied the out-of-school provisions themselves, but they struggled to financially support this, and in 2006 they had to close the Under 3s.
In 2015, Maxilla Nursery Centre had to close for good, merging with Goldborne Nursery Centre. This decision was an unpopular one in the community, with a petition to prevent to closure receiving over 1,500 signatures.
We cannot talk about the history of housing in North Kensingon without mentioningto the horrific Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017, in which at least 72 people died. The cladding in the building was the cause of the fire, and the event revealed how the complaints of residents were ignored for years.
This June will be the fifth anniversary, but there still hasn't been justice for those who suffered. Everyone in the area has a link the fire, and the tower overlooks the Maxilla Bays. Those who passed away in the fire will forever remain in our hearts, and Maxilla City will always support the fight for justice for those who are no longer here.