From July 2014 -February 2015 I was the V&A Museum community artist in residence with a studio at 7 Shalfleet Drive in North Kensington. This was a former council flat on the Silchester Estate being redeveloped into More West. I was commissioned to produce art in response to housing, architecture, social change and regeneration. Cor blimey, serious stuff. Thankfully the fun-factor came in my community engagement. Modesty aside, the art work produced was exceptional and my role in this was as a skilled and encouraging facilitator. I especially loved the large scale drawing fashioned by children at Frinstead House and cute ceramic houses made by residents after they had been to the cinema to watch Leo The Last. In total, I staged fifteen small scale events and these culminated in a major display at the museum.
At the heart of the V&A display were interviews of residents at Silchester Estate. I also included statements from a councillor, architect and another artist who were all connected with More West and who offer alternative perspectives on the issues at hand. It's timely to share this substantial wealth of experience as Silchester East and West is currently being considered for major redevelopment by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Whether residents are new to the area or well-established, hold a lease or freehold, consider themselves Brit or Iranian, animal or anime lover - they all have a home in common. How they care to define this home, well, that is really nobody's business to quote resident Michael Jardine. Home as such is an array of low and high rise housing blocks built in the 1960's and 70's that is squatting astride the A40 interchange. From the outside, not very glamorous. But peel the skin and I defy anyone not to be moved by the following life stories. There is not a sink in sight even though you might be drowning in talent. Seriously. Is Silchester not one of the most creative estates in London?
I was born and bred around here. I used to sleep in the bottom drawer of a chest of drawers. When my brother was born, he was in the top one.
In 1973, I moved into Frinstead House with my wife and son. My daughter was on her way and we had a dog as well. I’ve never moved out since. About 1980 I got divorced and I brought the children up.
I used to work for D.W. Price and Son Limited who were taken over by Royal Dulton. They did glass work. We did the glass balustrades at Heathrow airport. When Princess Di got married, she signed a book and the glass thing she signed it on was made by Dulton Glass. We did it up in Pilkingtons because the glass was so thick. I got made redundant in 1981-82 because machines were taking over. There was not much hand work anymore.
Under the flyover you used to have a green where all the old gypsies used to keep their horses. And my mate Bimbo, me and him had a drink one night. I brought a pony in the lift up to my flat. I fed it and it had a nice warm night. I also had a party once for dogs, seven of them. Never again. I had chocolate cakes for them. The place got wrecked. But I didn’t mind because I love animals. I’d rather live with animals than with people. They don’t hurt you. They don’t lie to you. And they respect you.
It was really cool around here. It was like a community. Everybody knew each other. You had little fights. You had gangs. But not like it is now. You had respect. You respect people. If you didn’t, you’d get a slap. The kids around here, there is nothing for them to do. Police have a hard time with kids. My friends little girl was 14 and she was drinking pernod and blackcurrant at one o’clock in the morning. So I had to tell her dad, he’s my mate. He would do the same for me.
I would like David Cameron to come down here and see how I interact with the community. You get some bad in every culture. It don’t matter if your black, pink, purple, blue or white. There’s bad people. But then there’s good people that talk to you. I talk to anyone.
Somalians around here, don’t like dogs. But they like my dog Zena, because they play with her. Somalian women in my flats cried when my other dog died.
The new development at More West would be good if it was open where the garden is. But it’s enclosed. I think that’s wrong. Because there is posh people going in there? We should have a say about leaving it open. New people that are moving into this area have got money. They are going to try and change this area. Because it’s Kensington and Chelsea, it’s supposed to the best borough in Britain. Sooner or later you are going to get people moving out who are on social. But where are they going to put them?
I had a chance to buy my flat for about 14 grand. I wish I did now. They are trying to get me out of the flat because I’ve got two bedrooms. I’m 62 and I’ve got a disability. They’ve upped the rent and I have to take it out of my disability allowance. I’m not moving from here.
I took up Buddhism. It’s calmed me down a lot.
I was born in Iran and I came here just for the summer holidays in 1970 to study the language. I loved the freedom, the solitude here. And that’s why I stayed even though my family kept trying to get me back. I’ve been here ever since well before the troubles and revolution in Iran.
I’ve been in North Kensington since 1972. I moved to St Helen’s Gardens right next to the Kensington Memorial Park. And then I moved to Frinstead House. I think it was 1980.
The area has improved a lot. When I first moved here, I thought, Oh my God! I probably can’t stay here. But the flats are pretty comfortable. And they’ve done a lot of landscaping, they’ve planted a lot of trees. And basically it’s been regenerated over the years.
I’m not sure about the new building at More West. I was one of the people who objected to having so many flats built. The original was much less. They just upped it. But then I suppose we need housing. I just hope it doesn’t become too crowded. Another of my concerns was our building. Are they going to beautify it a little bit? They are just going to do the base.
It was a lovely garden here before. Beautiful roses, very old trees. Every time you came out, the birds were singing. And that was lovely. I always used to take that route when I came into the building. And the birds are gone. And it’s going to take a while for them to come back even when they plant the trees. They took those cherry trees out from Shalfleet drive and that devastated me. I’ve got pictures of them. And the road used to look really lovely. Of course, the road has been like a desert for nearly 22 months now.
Every time I think about moving, I think about the view that I have. I’m always on the balcony. I’m looking, taking photographs. I just love it. It’s the only thing that’s kept me here. You wouldn’t believe living in the middle of a busy city like London that you actually have peace and quiet. But I’m on the 16th floor of Frinstead House and it’s always been fairly quiet. Except of course since they started the building around us. So we’ve ended up living in the middle of a building site. And the noise is just quiet maddening. You just have to bear with it and carry on living.
Usually I don’t like my own paintings. Everyone else looks at them and they say, oh this is great. But I know that they are not. I don’t have a technique or any formal training. I look out from my balcony and I see the sunrise and I imagine all of those houses in between me and the sunrise to be the sea rather than a concrete jungle. I look at trees and I see them on the horizon with the sun behind them. I take photos of trees, the moon, those kind of things and I paint them.
I don’t consider myself as an artist. But it’s one of the only things that actually keeps me sane.
My primary school was St Francis of Assisi in Tredgold Street W10. It is connected to the parish of St Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Pottery Lane. We have strong links to both the school and the parish. Mum went to the school back in 1958. She also was baptised in the church, made her communion and confirmation there as did myself and my sisters. I also was an altar server there from the age of eight till sixteen.
I had to travel for secondary school as there is not many boys' schools in this area. I had a good time at secondary school. Some really good teachers.
I have lived on Shalfleet Drive for 5 years, I like the area because it's quiet. My home and family life are very important to me. They give me confidence and encouragement.
I realise that change can be good, but sometimes "when something isn't broken why fix it". Unfortunately, the More West project is a large construction within a small area. It has completely ruined the view we had from our home and it is now becoming something we hate to look at. From our bedroom windows we have a nice view onto Wayneflete Square which is a nice well kept estate. However, people who were our neighbours and with whom we had a friendship, have now moved on because they said the area would not be the same when people move onto the new estate. We dread it. We have no privacy now we are so overlooked. We certainly don't have any community here now like we used to. We haven't embraced the change well.
I love art, I always have. It seems to relax me and gives me a way to express myself. I mainly do illustrative art, like cartoons, animation. To quote my art teacher I am a "Perfectionist with a pencil".
I’m the son of a diplomat who originates from Thailand. But my Grandfather was a Dutch man from Germany that escaped the holocaust. My dad actually used to work in a group that we call Thai movement in World War Two. And his boss used to work with Lord Mountbatten. So that’s why we connect to this country.
I came here first in 1974. My mum at that time she worked at a clinic here. She said, why don’t you come over here? It’s a better way of life here. And then when I came over here, I become homeless. I’m the original homeless. I used to sit in the Kensington gardens. I don’t have any friends. My only friend is the pigeon there. And the Salvation Army they are the people that help me.
And at the end of the 70s Thatcher come along. Lot of change in this country, In a way, she succeeded. But everything has two ways. There is a bad thing. If you look back everything is easier. Because the people don’t think about the money as much. You see, this create the stress, the trouble everywhere. Because you thinking about one thing. The main thing is not the money. It’s the love in the family.
Mum lived in Dixon House with my sister Penny. They sent a letter for me and so I had to come back to the country and help them. Because there is a group of kids like a gangster. They are doing drugs and things. Anti-social behaviour. So we had to involve Notting Hill police. They had the music all night and the people scared of them. Luckily we had the renovation to the building. So they left because they put their mother in the home care. So the council don’t let them come back. Block up their flat. Once they are gone, everything was better.
I want to come back to Kensington and Chelsea. But it is expensive. This is the new place, the place for the rich people. You can imagine how much one bedroom flat is. We never have money to buy this. I think, in my opinion, 50% bought for the investment. They buy it to rent it out. It’s bad.
In Shalfleet Drive it was a very good neighbourhood because everybody knows everybody else here. I tell you a lot of people will miss here. I hope that when my sister Penny moves to More West, it will be better.
What I like is the drum. In the 70s we played Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath. We play the heavy metal song and I was the hippy then. So you can play up to the time you stopped playing. I can play rock and roll, rhythm and blues, heavy metal. After that, the music changed to the disco. That’s when I stopped playing. I don’t play at all now.
When Mum was at St Mary’s hospital, we had the DJ in the hospital and they come round to the ward and ask what is your song and she said - I like, Presley song, Love Me Tender. I always sing this song. This is for my mum. And that’s another song as well, I sing for my son. Because it remind you of him. So it’s a memory. That’s why it is a part of the people’s life.
I’m a dress maker with a studio in Scrubs Lane. We moved to Waynfleete Square in 2013 completely by accident. We were looking for small houses in Harlesden and Willesden Junction. When the estate agent showed us this flat, it was much bigger, brighter and nicer than the little Victorian houses we had been shown. We liked the layout of the estate with the gardens. Everyone we ran into seemed friendly. We’ve found out about the history of the area and why that is actually a point of pride now.
Bertie came 8 weeks ago and we’re very happy that he is going to grow up here. It is possible for children to play outside unsupervised and everyone on the estate keeps half an eye on them. That seems to work very well. I grew up in a small village in the country and you don’t have that in an environment which is touted as the rural idyll. And yet we found that here in the middle of London.
The hope is that the new residents of More West live locally and they use shops and cafes. Rather than use it as a dormitory because we have a fantastic tube line. Something I’ve seen quite a lot with clients around here. This is a prime area for people who have cottages in the Cotswolds and it’s not their home.
Home is somewhere you can be yourself. Some people build themselves shelters and some people build nests. I think we’re nesters.
Community? It doesn’t have to be carnival floats or resident associations. It’s knowing the name of your neighbour and being able to talk. Nothing complex at all.
I work as an architect furnishing houses for end-user clients. Not for developers. I would never use the word "home" in the context of somebody’s house. That’s up to them. Home is that personal a thing. I cringe when developers or estate agents talk about somebody’s lovely family home. That is only the privilege of the family to decide whether it’s a home and what makes it a home.
As a place to live this is better than we possibly dreamed. I think this stretch at the edge of Notting Hill seems to be where a lot of demographics collide. There aren’t neat lines drawn. There is an extraordinary mix of people and backgrounds. That’s what I want Bertie to grow up in the middle of.
Things are always going to change because people are going to develop things. That garage site as part of the estate was a difficult site which is why it hadn’t been developed before. They’ve built high densities of housing on that strip of land. We are very laid back on this corner of the estate. There is plenty of space and it’s very generous. With the need to make money on the More West development, I can’t imagine that their space will be as generous.
I hope we can divine ways to play nicely together. I hope it’s not going to be the case of the residents of the new bit being perceived as being wealthy. Being accused of letting their dogs poo on our bit of the square and it will end up like that J G Ballard book, High Rise, where the block descends into internecine warfare.
I spent the first six years of my life on a council estate just outside Liverpool. We moved to London in the 1950s. I used to visit my best friend who lived at Notting Hill and fell in love with the place. When I left school at 16 my first bedsitter was in Notting Hill. It was just at the end of the Rachman era. The area was extremely run down, but very vibrant. The ethnic mix was not as it is today. It was very much the West Indian Windrush generation and their children. The Moroccans didn't come until the early 1980s. They came to work in the hotel and catering industry much as the West Indians were brought over to run the hospitals and transport systems.
Around that time the council began to promote the development of housing co-operatives and that was how I got my foot on the housing ladder. Seven of us found a rundown house in Ladbroke Grove that needed to be upgraded. The council gave us the mortgage to buy the property and an improvement grant.
Later on I moved to Wesley Square, which is also a co-ownership that was built at the end of the development of the Lancaster West estate to provide low cost housing for professional people. It was designed by Terry Farrell and Nicholas Grimshaw who were just at the start of their architectural careers.
The main issue I face as a councillor is the lack of housing, particularly social housing. The council has just cleaned out its register of people in need of and entitled to social housing within the borough. It's taken out anybody who has no chance in the near or even distant future of being housed locally. There are still well over 1000 households in urgent need of social rented housing. Very few homes for social rent become available each year.
There is also a hidden homelessness and overcrowding problem, where families have two or three generations living together. They have had to bring in family members who would otherwise have no home. Another housing problem affects people who are not eligible for social housing, but need to rent. There's nowhere in the borough cheap enough for them to rent. The council is now working on a new policy of providing homes for market rent to try and address this problem. It will be interesting to see how that experiment works.
We've also got a big problem where the council is beginning to regenerate the estates. A lot of elderly people live on these estates who bought their flats under the original Thatcher government right-to-buy programme. If their estates are regenerated they won't be able to buy flats in the new development because they will be far too expensive. The council is currently promoting a shared equity scheme for such people on the Pembroke Road estate that they are hoping to knock down and regenerate. We want to see this extended as an offer to all resident leaseholders on any future estate regeneration.
The development at Shalfleet Drive is a pioneering element of that policy, but the leaseholder issue wasn't a problem here as there were only three flats on leases and none of the owners actually lived there. They were all let out. The owners were all willing to sell their flats and go. The remaining residents who wished to stay have just moved into their new homes at the development and have become Peabody tenants, but on the same terms as council tenants.
The great relief is that Peabody are not marketing their new homes for sale to the Far East market, unlike at Wornington Green. That has been a tragedy as the old resident community has been split up. Hopefully the More West development will attract local people and become a mixed community.
It's difficult to understand exactly how the More West mixed-use development will impact on a community. What's unusual in this housing project is we know the number of residents that are going to be remaining. So having the decant residents remaining in the estate is an important continuity. Also I understand that the priority for the new social rent units will be to move people from the nearby estates. But this is a question for Peabody and RBKC.
We also have shared ownership and market units that are smaller, one and two bedroom. And in the second phase of marketing I think there are a few larger units. Those are being sold on the open market. I understand that Peabody's policy is they are not being sold as buy-to-let. They are sold to people who are wanting to move into the area and can afford to buy.
The design of the estate and the design of the new block is integrated. So there is no distinction between social rent units or the affordable and the market units. And the private communal garden space is to be shared by the new residents and the residents of Frinstead House. So one hopes that the design and also the way in which the new social rent homes are allocated, as well as whose buying these homes, means that a mixed community is going to evolve.
I think the potential area of conflict will be with the existing residents within the high rise. I understand they have been particularly frustrated with the time the development is taking, with the noise and the ongoing impact. They have been quite inconvenienced by the work and one hopes that once the development is complete and they have their new entrance and access to the garden, that the disruption will become a memory. And they will start to enjoy it.
We are creating buildings where the most important thing is that they are a background to people's lives. We don't want people to say - "isn't it great to live in a Haworth Tompkins house". We hope they are just wonderful homes where you can have a great quality of life.
The fact that I'm a leaseholder on an estate has helped me understand how difficult it is when changes are occurring. We had a decent homes programme that Islington was implementing which we were consulted upon. I was at the receiving end of architects and council members coming in and talking to us about what was being done. It can be very frustrating because you feel that the amount of information being conveyed is very controlled. You feel in that situation that everything that we voiced was not necessarily going to be considered. I know in that instance that the only power we had t0 object to things was through the planning process. That is what we ended up doing and it was a positive experience of democracy.
I'm known as someone who makes objects out of stories and very often there is a political or social or religious connotation to them. Here at More West it's a good example of how I work.
The art work is a very surreal abstract sculpture of an apple tree and it takes that form because of the community that was here in the 1970s. A community of squatting hippies called Frestonia. They ran a small gallery, were creative and had a garden where they grew their own food and sustained themselves to a point for 7 or 8 years. But they were constantly under the threat of eviction and it became apparent that the actual reality of how they were living was very tense and dangerous. There's a lovely story that one of their group found out, that if they were the same family, the council would need to rehouse them all. So what they did was to rename themselves with the same surname. It's recorded that over 120 of them changed their second name to Bramley. Bramley being one of the roads in the area. The idea that the council would have to rehouse 120 of them is rather beautiful, It's a small political act that is humorous at the same time.
I guess that I was fascinated by the fact that ultimately Frestonia failed. They didn't create this utopian notion of how to live. I like the idea of the art work being on the roof and you can never touch it because it's an echo of this ideal or idealised world.
Housing in London at the minute is the topic of the day - politically, socially, economically. It's how we live. Where we live. Who owns land? Who speculates? It's fundamental to what London is now.
Regeneration. I think that's a very problematic word. I think if you talk to architects they feel that they are making these houses as well as they can. And within the limits of the budget and the site and the rules. I think very few architects think about the politics of what they do. And I think local councils and planning departments say they think about these things. But they are as governed by world capitalism and the needs of budgets.
I as an artist, as an individual, don't need to adhere to those ideas. I can be as small and quiet and meditative as I choose. Or I can be as loud and brash and destructive as I want to be. And so what can be interesting about getting involved in these things is to just retune the situation a little bit. I would always avoid trying to patronise anyone or tell the local community something that they didn't know or to be didactic or overtly political.
I'll like to think that my project using this historical model from the 1970s which some people in the area were involved in or can remember, is bringing that back up to date in 2015. An artist or sculptor makes an object and around the object the conversation can happen. Someone will say what is that thing. What does it mean? Where does if come from?
As a creative footnote, I'm delighted to announce that on the 28th January 2015, Danny Kiaisumrid was reunited with a drum kit after an absence of some 40 years. I wonder if he can play any Clash tunes in addition to his Presley and Black Sabbath repertoire?
Long may the drum roll - in the streets and on the estates of North Kensington.
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