Why let outsiders decide what we need?

Renewal! Why doesn’t the council just build on existing democracy and grounds-up initiatives, asks Diana Foster

Thursday, 5th November 2020 — By Diana Foster


 Diana Foster 

JOHN Gulliver rightly deplores the lack of local campaigner involvement in yet another initiative: a commission for “renewal” of Camden with no less than star economist Mariana Mazzucato! (Profit and Somers Town’s loss, October 29).

I, too, looked in vain for local voices, in the list of appointees and, oh, there was one! A new tech venture capitalist.

The same people who boldly pronounced Somers Town the new “Palo Alto”, the new Silicon Valley, positioned as it is between Google and Facebook.

They’d been here roughly, ooh… a year when they reinvented us. Perhaps this is another of those exciting “disruptive” moments, so beloved of the tech world?

Let’s just forget local democracy and elected bodies, or grounds-up campaigners who slog away, unpaid, for years in committees: ignore neighbourhood plans painstakingly crafted to reflect an area’s aspirations, strangely never approved by a council, who then sell off parkland for luxury tower blocks over the height limit specified in that same plan.

Instead let’s have complete outsiders decide what we need! Or, better still, pay institutions for the emperor’s new clothes.

We hear eye-watering sums have been awarded for a Central Saint Martins collaboration with Lendlease. And the Euston Town Business Improvement District for new projects for Drummond Street and around Euston. The only people who elect them are businesses with very high rateable values.

So struggling small businesses like Pinners’ Café, serving its community for 30 years, being under that rateable value threshold, will not have a say; for example, in trying to get the rubbish collected more frequently in Chalton Street and the pavement outside straightened so their customers outdoors don’t have their feet in huge puddles when it rains.

But why bother with all that when you can have an exciting Camden Highline going from Granary Square to… er… Camden Gardens.

I was invited to an event over a year ago: A Symposium for Somers Town! With the great and the good! So you may ask, what new exciting ideas emerged?

Sharing notes later with three of the only locals at the event who actually live in Somers Town, we realised we’d all spent most of the time educating others at our three respective tables on the basics of the area, and confirming that every “exciting new initiative” was already in place… “Er, yes, there already is a festival in the area…has been for 20 years… yup, that already happens, too”…etc, etc.

Grounds-up community work was the preserve of local people. It was the one arena that gave people some ownership of their own area, and working classes a chance to gain skills, and start their own initiatives, too. It seems even that small preserve is now taken over by the middle classes and outsourced to institutions.

A small illustration: we have a community garden called the “Story Garden” run by a outside organisation with, until very recently, not a single worker in it from the actual surrounding deprived community of Somers Town; and no local stories in it, despite a local history organisation gathering them. Our community centre has barely any people who live locally running it.

The moment an institution got involved in our community-initiated festival last year, they paid another institution, CSM, to do what locals had done as volunteers for over 20 years. Worse still, the paid “community workers” expected the community to help them out for free.

Why don’t the institutions develop existing groups instead of subsuming our efforts, ignoring our voices, revising the area’s history and future direction, and appropriating our initiatives?

And why doesn’t the council just build on existing democracy? But there’d be no money in that would there? Doh!


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