Monday, 25 November 2013

That Was The Week That Woes

Signposting  the Willesden Week of Action

Residents and visitors to Willesden Green were welcomed to our neighbourhood last week with a massive sign that made our area look like the South Bronx in the 1970s. Were they doing a chilly remake of the Summer of Sam? Or perhaps Crimewatch was filming in the area? The reality was less glamorous but just as scary: this was Brent Council’s idea of engaging the community during the ‘Willesden Week of Action’. And as this collection of Tweets indicates, people were unimpressed with the stunt.

Visiting the actual Week of Action stalls outside Sainsbury’s, anger over the threatening sign changed to a sense of disappointment: a potentially fruitful initiative was being squandered by Council incompetence. The fire-fighters, NHS employees, Council Housing workers and Transition Town people who were at the Week of Action Tent (though oddly the Willesden Green Town Team seem not to have been invited) are at the core of our community, and it is very important that we have an opportunity to meet  and exchange information face-to-face. Yet the whole event was overshadowed by the bizarre signage outside the tube station and the more sinister anti-immigration raids that seem to have been part of the Week of Action.

The Willesden Week of Woe was not just a PR disaster for Brent Council. It shows how one hand just doesn’t know what the other is doing. While the stalls at the Week of Action rightly tell us how important it is for health and well-being to get out and about, to stop-and-chat to neighbours (immigrant or otherwise), our Council decimates our area’s remaining public spaces, evicts our independent bookshop and threatens to close down our community pub. As Council workers look to advise vulnerable residents about their housing rights, their bosses see it fit to build gated communities on public land, marketed at wealthy speculators.
The Week of Action Tent on Saturday

We set up our own Make Willesden Green stall outside Sainsbury’s on Saturday to offer this alternative message: we want Brent Council to start joining-up its thinking with its actions. If Councillors and their officers really want to focus on our area’s needs and priorities, then ditch the scaremongering and start defending our community assets and fighting school academisation; build more social housing and protect tenants' rights; preserve our public spaces and stop private developers swallowing our neighbourhood up.     

Friday, 22 November 2013


Brent Council's official "Willesden Week of Action" is underway. So far it seems be focusing on crime prevention with little mention of community and not that much action forthcoming. So we have decided to set up our own stall on Saturday and offer an alternative view of what actions are needed for Willesden Green.

Make Willesden Green will be highlighting the democratic deficit in Brent that has resulted in our open space being lost, our library land donated to developers, our bookshop evicted and our favourite pub now being threatened with demolition.

Let's make sure Brent Council are not let off the hook, please do spare some time to come along on Saturday to discuss your own priorities and ideas for Willesden Green.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Welcome to Brent EasyArchive

Will Shanice also be serving as Brent Museum archivist?

One of the aims of the Make Willesden Green platform in coming months is to establish connections between budget cuts, the quality of our public services and local democracy.  These are obviously hot political issues across the whole of the country, but they manifest themselves in very specific ways in our own neighbourhood, and should be a focal point of next year’s Council elections.

Take the case recently highlighted by Phil Grant, staunch defender of Brent’s local history and eloquent advocate for Willesden Green’s heritage LINK. Phil patiently details his own experience of  the consultation over Brent’s new Museum and Archives Strategy, and how he has tried to stop this being made a waste of time by a staff restructuring exercise which is going on simultaneously.  The restructuring appears to be an attempt by the Head of Libraries, Arts and Heritage to impose her own ‘vision’ before the Council’s formal consultation process ends in December 2013. Key decisions around staff restructuring - which will have a huge impact on the type of service delivered at the new Brent Museum and Archive in Willesden Green - were made prior to her consultation with staff, making it in Phil’s words ‘a complete sham’. Senior Council officers have said the matter is not open to further discussion, and it seems the jobs of the existing Archives staff are to be ‘deleted’.

The  new ‘vision’ for Libraries, Arts and Heritage aims to ‘move to a culture of archives users learning to research resources for themselves’  where ‘[customers] will be encouraged to self-help’ – presumably in line with our friendly new receptionist at the Civic Centre, Ms Holly Gramm. In Phil’s view,  the job descriptions for the new Heritage Officer posts suggest ‘they are not expected to have the detailed local history knowledge, or knowledge of the collections they are in charge of, that the existing staff have. Where ever possible, they will point you to a computer and say "find out for yourself". There will be more "digitised material" available, but how you will work out what you need to find in order to answer your particular question remains a mystery’.

Budget cuts will no doubt be trotted out as the reason behind the Archive’s staff restructuring, yet I understand that there is an alternative proposal on the table that would allow for modest savings whilst retaining existing staff. This too, it appears, has been dismissed in the consultation process thus far without further consideration by senior Council officers.

Those of us involved in the farcical ‘consultations’ over the Willesden Library redevelopment will sadly find much that is familiar in Phil’s story. The wider context is certainly one dominated by the ConDem cuts to local authority budgets, but it is the arrogance and lack of spirited creativity on the part our Labour-led  Council that will ultimately be responsible for the ‘no frills’ DIY Archives Service when it reopens in 2015. Until then, you can make the most of our existing Archives Service, relocated to a desk in the basement of George Furness House, and contribute to the Museum’s revised content and design HERE.   

Friday, 8 November 2013


Just a reminder that Make Willesden Green will be having its first public outing this Saturday, 9th November, with a street stall next to the Post Office on Willesden High Road from 10-30am-12.30pm.

We will be introducing residents to the Make Willesden Green election platform, asking them what their priorities are for the area and letting them know that there is an alternative to the three main parties. Please do come along for as long as you're able - even if it's just for half an hour.

I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.

A Sorry Tale of Two Boroughs

It is likely that next week Governors at Gladstone Park Primary, the local school for many children living in Willesden Green, will decide to become an Academy, handing over this Local Authority (LA) school to a private sponsor. This comes after a six-month campaign by parents and staff to keep Gladstone Primary under LA control HERE. Over in Redbridge, northeast London, staff and parents also organised during the summer to keep their school under LA control after it was put in ‘special measures’ by Ofsted and threatened with forced academisation. Yet Snaresbrook Primary last week won its battle against the Department for Education (DfE) and will remain a LA maintained school.

What explains this contrast in fortunes? How did a Tory-controlled Redbridge manage to fend off the DfE, while a Labour-run Brent sat on its hands watching the unwanted academisation of Gladstone Park Primary? The answer essentially lies in political will.

The Save Snaresbrook campaign had cross-party support from Redbridge Councillors, Council officers and their local MP John Cryer who actively sought to keep the school under LA control. Redbridge Council immediately and unanimously passed a motion opposing the academisation of Snaresbrook Primary and forcefully made their case to the DfE HERE. The Council also backed change in the school’s senior leadership - a new Executive Head and Associate Head were appointed and they immediately got on with the task of improving the school under the LA umbrella.

 When I joined a parent delegation to meet our local MP Sarah Teather in February, she told us fighting academisation was futile and the best we could hope for was to try and find a sponsor that met our school’s ethos. Soon after, a
Gladstone Park Parent Action Group was formed and we campaigned vigorously for our elected officials and senior Council officers to fight to keep our school under LA control. The spectrum of responses to our efforts stretched from apathy to hopelessness. Senior Council officers reiterated that there was no alternative to academisation (and that it ‘wasn’t so bad’, anyhow); Willesden Green Councillors remained silent on the issue, while Cllr Butt was asked to instruct his senior officers, including the Council’s Chief Executive, to oppose the academisation of our school. He sent a letter to Sarah Teather instead. To his credit, Dudden Hill Cllr Hirani did correspond with the DfE, but without wider Council backing such lonely voices inadvertedly detracted from our campaign.

It is this frustrating experience of indifference toward, lackluster opposition to and in some cases, complicity with the privatisation of Gladstone Park Primary School that has in large measure led me to stand as an independent, grassroots candidate for Willesden Green in the forthcoming Council elections. On this, as in other key issues affecting the ward, our elected officials have lacked the political backbone to stand up for their proclaimed principles, hiding instead behind the faceless authority of senior Council bureaucrats. Local residents deserve better than this. It now falls upon us to stand up for our own neighbourhood, to defend the public assets we all rely upon and thereby make Willesden Green more democratic.