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On Wornington Road

By Clare Slaney 

There’s been a great deal of anxiety about the developments planned for the south end of Portobello with many of the protestors concerned about losing the ambience and culture of the antiques market.
 For several years now, residents of the Wornington Green estate up the north end of the Lane have been fighting the ‘redevelopment’ of our homes, which translates as a doubling the population on site with no additional bedrooms and absolutely no gardens for social tenants. Private investment homes will be built to part-fund the demolition of a stable and friendly community. Although existing tenants have been promised that we can move back onto the estate we’ve actually been offered relocations to Blackbird Leys estate, Reading and places just outside of RBKC boundaries. It’s as if Dame Shirley Porter never existed. 
 
The Landlord, Kensington Housing Trust has a long history of tenant complaints, dreadful maintenance and general poor practice according to the Audit Commission and other independent organisations. RBKC granted them planning permission based on one mans vote, against cross party opposition. 
Tenants have had no outside interest in our fight against the demolition of our homes. Councillor Daniel Moylan, deputy leader of the Council described Golborne as a ‘Dung Heap’ and estate agents calculate that the destruction of a community will improve private investment house prices by 40% so it’s not surprising that the people who actually hold any power in the borough haven’t resisted its steady gentrification. 
 
It’s not just the middle classes who’ve been silent in this struggle. Such is the prejudice against people who live on estates that ‘anarchist community artists’ have remained totally silent on the matter, despite being asked for help. Literally 4 people of the 32,000 fans of the Facebook ‘Save Portobello Market’ page have shown any interest, and a meeting in Athlone Park was entirely unattended by anyone other than tenants. We’ve re-entered a Victorian Age of fearful contempt for the poor. The message is: ‘You make us uncomfortable. We’re sorry you’ve got to have your homes bulldozed but they’re probably shit anyway.’ 
 
Since this is the case, let me present the situation in a more accessible manner. 
 
Think of Portobello as a beautiful green ecosystem. The antiques market, the outdoor and indoor stalls, the Good Fairy, Lipka, fruit and vegetable stalls, chains, Westway and Golbourne market, Moroccan shops, food stalls and so on are the most exciting parts that people come to visit. Surrounding them are small businesses, voluntary organizations, the Westway Trust, Pepperpot club, steel bands and carnival groups, play and youth groups, adventure playgrounds, old peoples homes. Here’s the difficult part: It isn’t tourists who use these businesses and groups. When it isn’t Friday, Saturday or Sunday, local people still exist. We may be the dung beetles, ants, rodents, earthworms, plants and jackals and the market and shops may be the lions, elephants and wildebeest, but we all depend on each other, and we all make the area the exciting, vibrant, creative place it is.  
 
If you don’t care about local peoples homes being demolished then you’re not concerned about the antiques market being consigned to a sterile Disneyland. You won’t find Portobello Road in Sloane Street. Markets exist where poor people exist because (another difficult concept coming up) markets and poor people depend on each other. When a large chain arrives it upsets the ecology, like building a road through the jungle. When social homes are demolished and replaced with expensive private houses it’s like introducing cane toads to eradicate beetles that are getting in the way of profit: you end up with an invasive species and a pest. A few over-privileged people cannily making use of Sure Start, yoga and subsidised alternative therapy programmes aimed at people on benefits, we can deal with. A wholesale invasion is unsustainable.  
 
RBKC have whetted their appetite on social housing and are now including the market in their plans to create a monoculture. Moving social tenants outside borough boundaries suggests gerrymandering, an entirely illegal policy that is being repeated in Hammersmith and Fulham, Camden, across London. Loving the ambience and diversity of North Ken while taking no part in helping it remain a real place pretty much sums up the attitude of ninnies waxing lyrical over cuddly orangutans and tigers while buying hardwood furniture. It takes a moments thought to see the link, but if you don’t you end up with clear cut forests and a few sad creatures in zoos. Which is not how antiques dealers and market traders see themselves. 
 
If you want to find out more, take a look at http://www.s154140382.websitehome.co.uk/wordPress/ 
 
For the whole sorry background. Social tenants have no power, no authority and that’s largely to do with the contempt in which we’re held by people who swallow tabloids whole. If you’re only interested in your personal house price, then keep your back turned and be prepared to be a Stepford wife. If you love living in a rich environment, a place where people from Portugal, Ireland, Lebanon, Morocco, Spain, Muslim and atheist, the very rich and the very poor can live peacefully side by side; where creativity means more than ladies who lunch selling each other jewellery; where celebrity cup cakes and jerk chicken are sold on the same street; where cultures and classes mix to co-create one of the last true communities left in London, get in touch.
 
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