The caring community hub shunned and disrespected by our council

This is The SPACE . It is a much- valued and loved community-led hub, based at 214 Freston Road, North Kensington which has provided help, support and activities for residents in North Kensington and beyond for nearly the past four years.

The SPACE, and the local resident volunteers working there and the work they do are valued highly by many residents in and around our community and far beyond but sadly RBKC doesn’t appear to appreciate or value this outstanding community hub very highly.

Because there is no other conclusion we can draw from what is happening. As we mentioned in this blog post, https://thisisnorthkensington.wordpress.com/2021/03/27/the-long-road-to-grenfell-recovery-and-the-people-left-behind/ The SPACE is running out of actual space. Their wonderful Baby Bank initiative has provided donations to support parents all over the borough – from North Kensington to Chelsea. Generous and kind others in the community have made donations of cots, toys, clothes, supplies etc. and now they are in need of storage space so they can keep this intiative up and running.

RBKC have been fully aware of the situation for some considerable time – and yet they sat on their hands and did nothing to help, despite numerous emails plus some residents posting about the situation on social media.

But when the council finally responded to the SPACE about this in January this year, incredibly, the only temporary space RBKC offered to the volunteers was a kitchen based on the Grenfell Tower site. No we are not making this up – we have seen the emails – and yes, very understandably, the resident volunteers (many of whom live in the immediate Grenfell community) refused.

Nearly three months on, and RBKC also have told the volunteers they they do not have any extra space to provide to them, but we know that’s not true; this council owns several spaces including empty storage units, empty office spaces and empty retail spaces. We cannot understand why the council would not even bother to consider letting The SPACE have use of one of their unused properties for now – the commercial properties RBKC usually lets out – due to Covid-19 and the recession – are not exactly in huge demand right now.

So now the volunteers are still being left in limbo by the council, while their space runs out – what a disgrace.

We’ll just remind RBKC of just a few things that The SPACE have provided to our communities over the time they have been running; help and support for Grenfell-affected residents, benefits, jobs and housing advice, various activities and classes (including yoga, dance, relaxation and art), they have run popular community events, organised food donation deliveries for the vulnerable and those self isolating during the Covid -19 lockdown , and of course, this Baby Bank, which provides donations to many families facing economic hardship including those who are on Universal Credit, those who have lost their jobs or businesses, those who are living in temporary accommodation and those who are living in refuges.

RBKC does like to go on about how much they have supposedly changed, but it’s hard to see this when they snub, disrespect and insult hard working community volunteers who are going out of their way to help so many people here.

Some of us have wondered if RBKC is deliberately shunning community volunteer efforts, so they can run their own “rival’ initatives, do PR exercises and then go amd take the credit for other people’s hard work. This might not be as so far fetched as it sounds because when in the aftermath of Grenfell, RBKC failed to publicise activities provided at The SPACE and instead ran “rival” activities at The Curve and some Council officers even went around wrongly saying The SPACE was closing

So where is the consideration from RBKC? Where is the compassion? Where is the humanity? Where is this supposed culture change that RBKC Leader Elizabeth “Dizzy Lizzy” Campbell promised North Kensington residents after Grenfell?

Well, unless by “culture change at the council” Cllr Campbell was referring to a pot of yoghurt past its sell by date sitting in Kensington Town Hall somewhere, we’re still asking these questions and it is beyond frustrating when we’re not getting answers – and dedicated community providers of help and support to residents in North Kensington and all around the borough are being treated like this.

Nahid Ashby, one of the Co-Founders of The SPACE, had this to say to us:”It really makes me wonder if the Council’s historic culture of contempt, superiority and secrecy has changed, despite the fact that they keep hooting they have learned lessons and made improvements to the way they work with, treat and involve residents.The only improvement I see is a very superficial one at best and a box ticking exercise at worst! Deep down it’s the same horse, only with a different saddle on! and It’s not just bureaucracy . it’s about what I dubbed TRT! (Trust, Respect and Transparency). At the end of the day, in the eyes of the corporate monster, we are still stupid, low income social tenants and the only training they provide to their new recruits is to treat us as such! “

This blog stands with The SPACE and all the kind good community volunteers who put in so much work there – they have a space in our heart and also in the hearts of many local residents from North Kensington to Chelsea.

Not everyone in the RBKC Leadership fold appears to be completely heartless and devoid of compassion however. Here, below, are some Tweets and ours was “liked” by Cem Kemahli, Lead Member for Adult Social Care and Public Health and Josh Rendall, Lead Member for Family and Children’s Services and at least there has been at least something of an encouraging response from Josh Rendall :

We’ll see what happens and hope they are truly listening this time. We also call for the RBKC Overview and Scrutiny Committee to look into this plus scrutinise what has the council done – or not done- to support community-led initiatives. As Samia’s Tweet says, other housing providers (such as Peabody and Notting Hill Genesis) seem to get the value of the Baby Bank and support that The SPACE provide, so why can’t our council?

RBKC does talk and talk of community empowerment but it’s hard to believe this when talk is all that this appears to be. Actions do indeed speak louder than words and without actually doing very much to support community-led hubs and groups – the very people who stand for community empowerment – so they can carry on supporting residents in need, it means nothing.

If RBKC really is committed to change, they really ought to now work with The SPACE to find new extra storage premises so the Baby Bank can continue to operate, and to start to make an effort to inprove community relations by at least listening to the volunteers, taking their feedback on board and treating them with decency and respect. It’s about time RBKC stopped working against these dedicated and caring North Kensington residents and started working with them positively and constructively and supported them to carry on supporting our communities instead.

SPACE Founders Nahid Ashby and Samia Badani at the Iftar 4 All event (which they organised) in 2018

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