Monday 22 February 2016

Strawberry Vale: a new battlefront in the war on the poor, in Broken Barnet

Barnet and Camden AM Andrew Dismore and local councillors witness Red Cross deliveries in Strawberry Vale

Look at this picture.

It is a photograph of a Red Cross vehicle bringing food to a community in need.

It is not in a battle zone, or an area of the world affected by a natural disaster.

It is not in a country struggling to cope with a movement of refugees fleeing war or persecution.

It is taken in the UK, in the Tory run London Borough of Barnet, which boasts some of the most affluent residential areas in the country, one of them only a short distance away, at the other end of East Finchley.

So yes: now let me take you down, because we're going, to ... not Strawberry Fields, Forever, but to ... Strawberry Vale: a housing estate blessed with a name of bucolic splendour, that speaks of the distant past of what was once a part of Finchley Common, and one of the last remaining farms in this area, as the urban sprawl encroached further and further into the sequence of villages strung along the Great North Road, leading out of London into rural Middlesex. 

This estate, largely Brutalist architecture in form and style, was built by Barnet in the late seventies, to a design by 'Bickerdike Allen Bramble', a formidable construction described latterly by Pevsner:

"long curving five-storey barrier block, part of a high-density mixed housing development ... sheltering behind, tightly packed clusters of low houses with abrupt monopitch roofs, all in the same monotonous brown brick ..."

The estate, now comprising not just tenants, but leaseholders and freeholders, was taken over in 1998 by the Peabody Trust, now one of the oldest and largest housing associations in the UK, founded in 1862 by the nineteenth century philanthropist George Peabody, an American banker who invested wealth in the cause of improving the living conditions of those living in his adopted country. Peabody, according to its own stated 'vision' sees itself as the architect not of buildings, as such, but of 21st century communities: 

  • where people feel they belong 
  • where people have homes that meet their needs and are suitable for the changing circumstances of life 
  • where the landlord’s service is tailored to the individual 
  • where no child is living in poverty 
  • where all residents are supported in their daily lives and in their longer-term aspirations 
  • part of the wider, local area 
  • a sustainable environment

George Peabody

Very fine principles, and ideals: but the truth is, at least in Strawberry Vale, that many children now do live in poverty: the estate is listed as the most socially deprived area in Barnet, and is in the top percentage of such areas on a national scale too. Just across the other side of the High Road there is a foodbank operating at the weekends, run by local churches.

Only last November a new Housing Association was formed on the estate by residents. Shortly afterwards an issue emerged which has proved to be the first test of this new body: a disruption in the supply of gas to residents, leaving them without cooking facilities, and in the case of a few households, even without heating. Christmas was a miserable time for some tenants, unable to cook their lunch, and for some time meals had to be provided in a community centre. And as we see from the photograph above, emergency supplies have been supplied by the Red Cross.

One resident, a mother of five, has been struggling with no heating or hot water: she was eventually supplied with small electric heaters, which were not safe to use at the same time, and very costly to run. An electric shower was made available only days ago, after more than a month of no access to hot water for washing. 

Residents without cooking facilities were given two ring electric portable gadgets, but clearly these are entirely unsatisfactory for use over a period of weeks. 

The cause of the failure in the supply of gas, according to residents, was a maintenance problem, swiftly resolved. When Peabody then announced that gas would not be restored to the estate, and that residents would have to switch to electricity, there was complete confusion, and widespread anger: electricity is so much more expensive than gas, and many fear that they will not be able to cope financially. 

Offers of free cookers clearly do not address the long term issue of rising costs for people struggling on low incomes. And these residents have been placed in an intolerable situation, through no fault of their own: what can they do now? 

Why is a Housing Association being apparently so intransigent, and so determined, without consultation, to impose such a radical change on residents? Is there some unacknowledged motivation, separate to the temporary technical failure? 

There is one obvious course of action now, and that is legal challenge: and lawyers Hodge Jones & Allen have now been appointed to act on behalf of the people of Strawberry Vale, stating that they are "... seeking a court injunction compelling the housing association to restore the supply immediately or produce evidence as to why this cannot be done." The case will be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice, on March 4th.

As usual, in the continuing drama of life in Broken Barnet, there is always a hidden history, a forgotten history, lying beneath the layers of social injustice heaped upon our blighted landscape. 

And this part of the borough, this part of Finchley, is brimming with historic ironies that perhaps bear further contemplation.

Only a little further down the High Road from Strawberry Vale, as it happens, you will find one of the most affluent areas in the borough, and indeed, again, in the UK: that is to say the Bishops Avenue, lined with mansions of the most indescribable vulgarity, housing affordable only to the most exclusive list of billionaire arms manufacturers, porn barons, and overseas dictators. History has yet to reveal if these latterday capitalists will feel moved to follow in the tradition of philanthropy set by George Peabody, and donate the legacy of their own wealth to their less fortunate neighbours, on the wrong side of the tracks, at the other end of East Finchley.

Bishops Avenue is surrounded by another visionary creation, of course: Hampstead Garden Suburb, represented by three Tory councillors, including Gabriel Rozenberg, who has an interest, in a purely theoretical way, it seems, in architecture, and often tweets rather defensively about his liking for examples of 'brutalism', and the need to conserve such buildings. His views on Strawberry Vale, in the Labour held ward bordering his own, are unknown. 

It seems an appropriate indulgence for a Barnet Tory: the admiration of architecture as a political statement: the reduction of housing to a matter of theory, and control; seeing the inhabitants as secondary to the functional aestheticism of its design, as a dormitory for an obedient underclass, a factory farm of labour.

Brutalism in design, and Brutalism in policy: both are evident in Broken Barnet, of course. 

The Suburb, however, remains genteelly in the past, preserved in a moment of time, a fantasy of early twentieth century Englishness as it never was, hidden behind a barrier not of 'ugly brown bricks', but of green privet hedges. 

Its residents quiver at the sound of Capita contracted leaf blowers, and attend local residents meetings to demand instant response to their endless whingeing about the intolerable noise, or impertinent outsiders daring to park cars outside their homes. And our fawning Tory councillors leap immediately to their assistance, of course. 

Yet the Suburb was created by another pair of Victorian philanthropists, Henrietta and Samuel Barnett, in order to provide that elusive thing, now adopted with such cynical zeal by developers keen to gain approval of their proposals: a model development influenced by the idea of a 'settlement', a mixed community, with rich and poor living happily together, in their neighbouring homes, creating a well balanced society, with mutual respect and harmony. The smaller houses were meant to accommodate humble artisans, and labourers, rather than interior designers and financial advisers: a brave experiment, but a failure in social terms, however triumphant and charming the architectural legacy. 

Samuel and Henrietta Barnett

Heritage, as such, and history, are of interest in Broken Barnet only when capable of being commodified, and yielding a profit. 

Other than that, they are abstract concepts, safely separated from their human context: a building is without significance, other than to be rated according to its potential for development. 

Buildings may indeed, like the council's only museum, at Church Farmhouse, be emptied of their contents, and occupants, and put up for sale. Whole estates are given away to developers to do what they want with, regardless of the impact on the residents.

In the last few weeks we have seen local Tory MP Matthew Offord refer disparagingly - and inaccurately - to two 'sink estates' in his own constituency, implying that the architecture of such places had created 'no-go' areas, criminality, and a lack of 'aspiration' amongst its feckless inhabitants. The only solution was to do as his own local authority, Barnet - of which he was deputy leader - has done: to evict the residents, knock down their homes, and give the land for private development, from which they are excluded. 

Offord's colleagues on Barnet Council are happy to support more and more of this sort of development, in fact: housing spokesman Tom Davey openly declares his preference for homes that will attract 'Russian oligarchs', and the better off sort of resident, rather than those 'dependent' on council services. 

Local Conservative policy, prefiguring the new brutalism of Cameron's national housing strategy, has seen the loss of long term secure tenancy in social housing, and the introduction of moral judgement as a factor in the dispensation of such accommodation, with priority reserved for those who can 'prove' a 'positive contribution' to their community.

Community, in Broken Barnet, is recognised by Tory politicians only when it suits them, of course. And when it does not suit them, they look the other way. 

Offord thinks no one has a right to live in a property for the rest of their lives, especially not in social housing - and nor now does the government. There is now a deliberate campaign of demonisation of the very principle of social housing, and a new assault on the system of provision of such accommodation to those in need. 

The result is clear, here in Barnet: as the recent Labour Housing Commission so well illustrates, we are in a state of crisis: our borough is no longer capable of providing homes for ordinary families on modest incomes, and is being reinvented as a playground for luxury developers. 

As the Report tells us:

Average property prices in Barnet of nearly £500,000 are 12 times the median household income, putting buying a home out of reach of local residents, and the median private sector rent of £310 a week is not affordable for half of the households in the borough.

Homelessness is rising: in the last three years, the number of families made homeless after being evicted by private landlords has more than doubled.

The private rented sector is unregulated, and unlicensed, and the council has no idea - or interest in - how many private landlords there are in Barnet. This may or may not have any connection with the fact that many Tory councillors themselves are landlords, and may object in principle to the prospect of regulation. It should be noted that there are so many landlords amongst their ranks, in fact, that they have adopted the custom of requiring the Monitoring Officer to award them 'dispensations' so as to continue to take part in committee meetings dealing with matters relating to areas in which they have a direct and declarable interest.

There is of course a chronic shortage of social housing in this borough, and deliberately so: in 20 years, the authority has built a grand total of ... three new council houses. Ideology and greed are the driving forces behind housing policy in Barnet, not need, or social justice. There has been a net loss of 827 social homes for rent: in Grahame Park there will be a further net loss of 352 units. 

A large part of the burden of housing those in need of truly affordable accommodation has inevitably fallen, therefore, on housing associations - and now it seems that burden is becoming an unwelcome responsibility for some of those bodies, who might appear to be moving further and further away from the charitable principles of their founding mission - a fundamental loss of purpose, closer to the practices of the market, and the management of a property portfolio, rather than the provision of support for those in need. 

As the Labour housing report points out, many housing associations now are pitching rents at 'affordable', rather than social housing levels. How is that justifiable, or fair?

Residents in Strawberry Vale have expressed the feeling that they are being thrust back into the nineteenth century, struggling to retain the basic right to heating, water, and the ability to cook their own meals. An indignity which the age of Victorian philanthropy thought it would end forever, and replace with decent housing and a fair standard of living for all. 

Here in Broken Barnet, of course, the cradle of Thatcherism, and the spawning place of easycouncil mass privatisation, the merciless materialism of Tory policies has created an environment in which the humanitarian ideals and ambitions of the great philanthropic benefactors, the legacy of the great pioneers of social justice like Carnegie and Peabody can only wither and die a lingering death.

In a neat return of perhaps the ultimate historic irony, we might consider the history of the land on which the Strawberry Vale estate was built. 

Now the estate is caught tight in an infernal embrace of the thundering North Circular on one side, and the unseen presence of a million Londoners buried in the massive Victorian cemetery on the other. 

But once this was an old settlement on Finchley Common, known as Brownswell, named after some natural springs there, beside the old Green Man inn, now demolished, whose name, rather incongruously, lives on in the new Community Centre, where meals for Peabody tenants have been provided, over the last few weeks.

Octavia Hill

Living in Brownswell Cottages, in the mid nineteenth century, just yards from the estate there now, was the young pioneering social reformer Octavia Hill, whose life's work was rooted in her promotion of the idea of social housing - then an entirely new concept, and a cause to which she dedicated much of her life.

Hill believed in social care in an holistic sense, not merely in the provision of housing, but supporting the right of ordinary people to live happy, healthy lives, with space and quiet places to think, green places around them to enjoy.

What would she have made of the plight of residents in Strawberry Vale now, or any of those in need in this borough, where the very concept of social housing is under attack?

Not so preposterous, perhaps, is it, that the Red Cross should be sent in, as if to bring supplies to a war zone? 

This is a battleground, in fact, in the war on the poor, in this borough, in this city: in this nation. 

And as other acts of injustice have shown, in this borough, from the reclamation of libraries from the hands of developers, or the defiance shown by residents in West Hendon and Sweets Way: the only victories, large or small, final or temporary, are hard won, by organised opposition, and having the courage to stand up for what is right: fighting back, locally, nationally, stragetically, politically: through the courts, through the media, through direct action - but always with unity, and determined resistance.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Chicago, Chicago: it's whose kind of town? A mystery unsolved, in Broken Barnet

Updated Friday: see below, after Old Blue Eyes ...

Ok. Hands up. Project Chicago: what's that all about? 

Is there any significance in the name? wondered Councillor Anthony Finn, Chair of the Performance and Contract (non) scrutiny committee of the London Borough of Crapitaville.

Think St Valentine's Day Massacre, suggested Mrs Angry, helpfully, her head full of images of Al Capone, and Bugsy Malone ... or possibly Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis ...

Nobody's perfect ...

Councillor Finn looked puzzled. It was the evening after St Valentine's Day, and perhaps his mind was distracted by thoughts of red roses, and soft music, and  ... romance. 

Unlikely, thought Mrs Angry, on further reflection.

My kind of town, Chicago is ...

Well, if you are curious, you could try googling 'Project Chicago". Mrs Angry did just that, but all she could find was this rather interesting website which is, apparently a branch of the 'PUA Seduction Community' - fascinating. PUA? Not Procurement Under Approval. Pick Up Artist. 

Not much about outsourcing, although of course that is another form of seduction, on a rather more ambitious scale. But full of helpful tips, such as 'After the Opener – How to Actually Converse with a Woman', which is something most Tory councillors, (and most men, to be fair) find quite a challenge, especially, it seems, if that woman is Mrs Angry.

So, as we must begin all sentences relating to any matter of corporate business in Broken Barnet now. 

So anyway: 

A few months ago, one of Mrs Angry's network of spies forwarded to her a strange rumour that was circulating the corridors of Capitaville's HQ in Broken Barnet. A mysterious subject, a forbidden secret, whose name was ... Project Chicago.

The rumours persisted, and still no one seemed to be able to explain what it was, or why it was so secret. Fellow blogger Roger Tichborne submitted an FOI request to see what might emerge.

Please provide details on Project Chicago and copies of minutes of the meetings at

which Barnet Council staff were first briefed on Project Chicago.

Simple enough question.

Back came a response:

I am writing to inform you that we have searched our records and some of the
information you requested is not held by London Borough of Barnet.

Project Chicago is an initiative led by Capita Group Plc to update its operating model
to focus on service led work streams that are organised nationally. These relate to
services being managed under a common management structure that looks to
provide strategic leadership and consistency of operational delivery to provide a
better service to clients.

The council does not hold minutes of meetings at which staff were first briefed on
project Chicago as no minutes were taken by the council. The briefings were
informal oral briefings provided by Re to a small number of senior council staff . The
council commissioners of the services were verbally briefed out of courtesy on these

That's nice. Work streams. Like a sweetly babbling brook of commerce, and outsourcing.

Briefed out of courtesy, see? No other reason. The men from Crapita are awfully polite, and well mannered, and never eat their peas with a knife, and when they are plotting some major new system of centralised management of services, without informing the elected representatives of the authority with whom are they contractually bonded, for ten years, they always have the courtesy, at least, to tell the senior officers.

In secret. Unminuted. Unaccountable. No audit trail. No name, no kitbag. 

Of course here in Broken Barnet, the men from Crapita have outsourced their communication strategy, to a certain extent at least, to the local blogosphere, and rely on people like Mrs Angry, the Barnet Eye, Mr Reasonable & Mr Mustard, to act as mediators between them and the elected members, and keep them informed of new developments. 

For this service, sadly, no consultancy fee has been paid yet, other than the offer - written into the contract, and look below if you don't believe me - of a discounted (pre-used) grave in the new EasyCrem Crapitorium post life enhancement facility: Mrs Angry's children are grateful for this opportunity, and have already written the epitaph, you know, to go on her gravestone. No, I can't tell you what it says. 

Well, no doubt Crapita will be able to claim some sort of gainshare payment in reward for the corporate savings we so happily identify - if the council listens, and dumps the contracts that have in two and a half years cost us £168.3 million, in pursuit of erm ... savings over ten years of - £126 million.

With this role in mind, therefore, on Monday night Mrs Angry, despite feeling rather indisposed, dutifully dragged herself to the Performance and Contract Management committee, to which she had submitted three questions.

In truth, all three questions were decoys deployed to another purpose, that is to say, one that is central to the art of extracting information, in Broken Barnet: slipping the wrong sort of question under the radar, and retrieving the right sort of response, by catching out the dopey councillors & their crafty officers.

The avuncular Chair of this 'scrutiny' committee is Tory councillor Anthony Finn, who is blessed with the ability to remain in a state of perfect satisfaction with the standard of performance of our contractual partners, whatever the level of performance, or failure.

After asking a question about the mythical 'savings' promised by the Crapita contracts - and receiving an evasive reply, as expected, Mrs Angry was asked by Cllr Finn if she had a supplementary question to follow. 

Yes, said Mrs Angry, I do. And this is for you, Councillor Finn. Are you listening? He wasn't, but woke up, sat up and said he was, yes.

What, asked Mrs Angry, with an expression of studied innocence, is Project Chicago, and to what extent do you estimate will be the impact it will have in terms of an increase, or decrease, in the level of savings from the Capita contracts?

For once he was lost for words. And then before he could stop himself, he had muttered that ... he did not know what it was.

Thank you, said Mrs Angry, scribbling on her notebook with her red pen, in big letters ,and underlining the observation: 'DOES NOT KNOW WHAT IT IS ...'  

That was all I wanted to know, she said, closing her notebook, and smiling smugly.

John Hooton, the Chief Operating Officer, and Director of Finance, sitting at the table, whispered frantically in the ear of the Chair.

Oh, said Cllr Finn ... I understand ... who? Bill Murphy ...  is in the public gallery, he said, and can answer your question.

No need, said Mrs Angry. I've got the response I wanted. I can go home now.

But she was obliged, out of politeness, to remain in her seat, and listen to the explanation of Mr  Bill Murphy.

Who is he, you may wonder? Well, according to his Linkedin profile, he is currently "Service Director Capita Property & Infrastructure" ...  for the London  Borough of Broken Barnet.

We say currently, because of course Mr Murphy has graced the corridors of Barnet Council in a variety of roles, in house, outsourced, interim and otherwise. He is also, at the same time - go on, you'll never guess ... a consultant with something called "Murphy's Solutions". 

Presumably this is run on the principle of attending to the consequences of Murphy's Law, ie anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, or at least it is likely to do so here in Broken Barnet. It must go wrong, in Broken Barnet, in fact, so that it can be fixed, see: by private consultants. 

Here he was now, sitting at the right of Mrs Angry at the committee table, smiling the sort of smile a man in a Capita suit generally wears, when called to sit at the right of Mrs Angry at the committee table: as if approaching a barking dog - vaguely amused, and yet slightly worried that she might bite.

As councillors of both parties fixed their beady eyes on Mr Murphy, he adopted the tone of a consultant anaesthetist, rather than a consultant outsourcerer, and spoke very soothingly, in reassurance of the dreadful operation ahead, which was not a dreadful operation at all, but a small procedure:  a cosmetic enhancement. 

Open wide.

Is it safe? 

Project Chicago? Nothing to worry your little councillor heads about. Largely an internal issue ... 

Go back to sleep for another hundred years, Anthony Finn. You are feeling sleepy, very sleepy.

We heard that Project Chicago, which wasn't really anything of interest to Barnet, was about helping Capita to 'better deploy resources to support contracts'. Hmm. And creating 'centres of excellence', which of course will be a welcome departure for Crapita.

Mrs Angry pointed out, unasked, that this was in fact an important subject, with direct relevance to Barnet, if only by implication, and why had they not told the councillors? 



So we now know, what we know: that Project Chicago exists, and has been for some time the subject of 'briefings' between Capita-Barnet's 'Re" joint venture, and some senior officers, but not, apparently, with the knowledge of members.

We also know what we do not know: who, exactly, took part in these briefings, and when, and what was discussed and how that is compatible with a view that this is 'largely' a matter of internal significance only to Capita.

Was the Tory leader aware of the discussions?

If so, why were other members not informed?

If he was not, why not? 

Why were the meetings not minuted?

Why have members not been allowed to debate the potential impact of contract management that may be centralised out of the direct control of Barnet? 

Would such a move not represent a major change in the contract anyway, and necessitate a new agreement? 

As we are already handing over bucket loads of cash to Capita, will the proposed changes increase our level of payments?

It is possible, although unlikely, that Project Chicago will not have any impact on service delivery in Barnet: but the real point here is the secrecy with which this issue is being discussed.

The history of Broken Barnet has many secrets, we know: some of them have been accidentally revealed, such as the way in which much of the original outsourcing process was discussed and designed by senior officers, in unminuted meetings, or in meetings whose minutes the council would not release, until obliged to by the ICO. (Warning for readers from Capita: contains more barking and non barking dogs ...)

Worse still, as well as discussions and proposals, some decisions were made by senior officers, as you may recall when the onetime 'Director of Place', Pam Wharfe, grandly announced to staff in a newsletter, while the Tory leader was at his holiday home in France, that 'we have decided to form a joint venture organisation with the successful bidder' ... 'We' turned out to be not the elected 'we' allegedly headed by the Tory leader and his elected administration, but the cabal of senior officers who really run everything in this borough. 

Oh, and let us not forget the very interesting case of the recent depot purchase, for £13.5 million, which officers knew had changed hands for only £750,000 to a company owned by the council's landlords, the Comer Brothers -  a transaction they had apparently forgotten to tell the councillors about ...

There has just been another example of decisions apparently taken by senior officers, rather than elected members: this is the recent decision, actioned by delegated powers by the CEO, Andrew Travers, to move the management of Barnet's Street Scene services to the Barnet Group, the council's own Local Trading Company. 

As you will see from the extract below, courtesy of Tory blogger Barnet Bugle, there are three high risks acknowledged in the DPR - including, most tellingly, that of 'political sensitivity'. 

The Barnet Bugle, aka former councillor Dan Hope, as you will note from his comments on twitter, views this step as most questionable. Why, he asks, quite rightly, was the sudden decision taken by officers, rather than referred to the council's 'Urgency' committee?

The truth is that as in all things, where there is a vacuum of scrutiny, the democratic process inevitably shrinks to the size of something disposable, and irrelevant. The sidelining of the administration's Tory councillors affects their sense of amour propre, but the wider implications of their disengagement seems to pass them by.

A test then, for the Labour opposition now, under the new leadership of Barry Rawlings: if the Tories won't challenge their senior officers, and reclaim control of the process of democracy in this borough, will you step up, and hold them to account?


Updated, Friday 19th January

Well, well. Project Chicago: after debate with his fellow bloggers, the Barnet Eye submitted more questions, which have produced some very interesting responses ... 

Please provide the following

1) Details of dates of all briefings for councillors on Project Chicago

2) Details of invitees for all briefings for councillors on Project Chicago

3) Copies of all briefing packs for councillors on Project Chicago

4) Details of any impacts on Barnet Council identified as part of project Chicago

We have processed this request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.


I am writing to inform you that we have searched our records and the information you requested is not held by London Borough of Barnet.

As this is a Capita initiative there is no requirement to consult with councillors or brief them. The project interfaces with Re as it is in the Capita family. 

'The project interfaces with Re ... ' Mrs Angry has been in this game too long, clearly, because now she thinks she can identify exactly which grammatical hoodlum is responsible for mangling the English language here - and she doesn't mean the FOI officers.

'... as it is in the Capita family' ... I likes the sound of that, though, don't you, readers? 
Heartwarming, and makes one realise that this outsourcing business is not really about screwing profit from the delivery of public services, but an act of love - like one big corporate hug.

Looking beyond the corporate claptrap, however, we see the fatal flaw in this response. 

If the changes that will result in the centralised management of services are of no relevance to our elected representatives, who are currently reviewing, in theory at least, the three year state of the contractual agreements with Crapita, why then are Crapita secretly discussing Project Chicago with the senior officers with responsibility for commissioning?

Tuesday 16 February 2016

A Ghostlier Heritage, or: the Forgotten History of West Hendon

There is so much that could be written about the history of West Hendon, that has gone virtually unrecorded, or at least - unacknowledged, and that may now be passing out of memory, destined to become at best a footnote in a forgotten book, a faded photograph, or a few lines in a yellowing piece of newspaper. 

Does it matter, you may wonder? The world moves on, and we should move on with it, looking to the future, not the past. 

But it is always true to say that the future depends upon that past, and unless we remember what has gone before, what happens next may be the creation of something other than we deserve, or want: it may even sow the very seeds of our own destruction.

Here in Broken Barnet, integral to an understanding of the present story of the 'regeneration' of the West Hendon housing estate is a proper knowledge of the history of that site: of the very earth which is being churned up, and gouged out, in the pursuit of profit for the developers who now own it, in a literal, if not metaphorical sense. 

And the story of West Hendon is the story of London, as it was, and as it will be soon: a capital city of the future, from which ordinary Londoners will be excluded, and forgotten.

A memorial service in West Hendon, February 1941

History safely locked away in the basement stacks of local archives, unread: that is the preference of property developers, and their friends in the Town Hall. Less risk then, of intervention in the process of approval for their plans: proposals drawn on a special sort of map, which measures distance but not the value, in human terms, of the spaces in between, or the layers of time that lie beneath the ground they want to lay waste, and build upon.

And when inconvenient history threatens to impede the progress of development, as in the case of West Hendon, it is simply set aside, and not acknowledged. It does not exist. 

When residents objected to the plans imposed upon them here, to demolish their homes, evict them, and build a private, luxury development in their place, they were ignored. They had no part in the decision making process that had set the plans in motion: or rather they were tricked into believing they had been, when promised new homes in the new development.

One focus of much of the impotent fury felt by residents in West Hendon became a point of huge significance in the fight they are still pursuing against the iron fisted destruction of their community. And that point of focus was the issue of encroachment upon an open area of the estate known as York Memorial Park. 

The fury they felt, and their sense of failure from an inability to protect this piece of land, was both directly related to the issue itself, and the wider impotence and vulnerability of the people in the face of decisions made without their consent. It is a symbolic point of entrenchment: a last defiance. Here we stand: leave us alone.

This area of green space, leading down to the water's edge, fringed by trees, was part of land left undeveloped after the war: land which the older residents knew was the site of something now almost forgotten, part of their own unacknowledged history: their own inconvenient history. 

This was the place where, in February 1941, the Luftwaffe had dropped a massive bomb, destroying outright three entire streets, killing and injuring many residents, as well as making around 1,500 others homeless. Of the dozens who lost their lives, some were never found, and the site of the bombing therefore became a place of commemoration, and left untouched.

The site of the bombing in West Hendon, taken the next day, 14th February 1941

In the early days of what was supposed to be a refurbishment and renewal of the housing estate that was built in the late sixties, to accommodate a new generation of the families of this part of West Hendon, the Tory council had made certain promises to residents: that they would all have new homes here, of course - and that York Memorial Park would not be built upon.

These promises were quietly buried by Barnet Tories, once they had made a deal, in secret, with Barratt London - to turn what had been a plan to renew the housing in the estate, for the benefit of local residents, to one of private development; subsidised by public funding, in the form of land given for free, on the pretext that this was necessary in order to make the deal economically viable. 

Residents were no longer all to be housed on the new development - in fact it became clear that almost certainly none would be so lucky - and then: York Memorial Park was to be built on, after all.

In fact York Memorial Park, as such, they said, did not exist. 

By the time it came to last year's Housing Inquiry into the Compulsory Purchase Orders of properties on the estate, the position of the council and Barratt London, as presented by Capita and their QC led legal team, was that there had never been a Memorial Park, and that anyway the properties in question were not in the area that had been bombed.

This claim was one step too far for me, listening to the case put by the development partners, at the hearing in the Town Hall: and one lunchtime visit to the borough's Archives next door quickly yielded evidence of the memorial services held there, days after the terrible event, and then for years afterwards. 

Equally, a cursory look at the maps provided to the Inquiry, and the use of a ruler, was enough to show that yes - some of the property in question was part of the bombed area, and part of the open green space added on to existing parkland after the terrible incident, and huge loss of life. 

After some consideration, I was 'allowed' to submit this as evidence , with a warning that such a course might make me personally liable for huge costs, for presenting material, at that stage, even if it was to correct misleading information put to the Inquiry. I wasn't held liable, luckily, but the QC cleverly asked me no questions when giving evidence: and then misrepresented what I had said in his summing up, when I was not allowed to contradict him, claiming there was no proof of continuing memorial services, of which there was, in the material deposited. 

I was also sent a typically churlish email, incidentally, from Barnet Council, keen to obscure wider knowledge of the events of 1941, and the implications of the associated evidence, objecting to the use of the only image then available of the bombing, seen below - in response to which I invited them to prove copyright, which they have not. 

History belongs to those who lived it, and those who inherit the legacy of their experience - not to those who try to deny it.

The story of the bombing of West Hendon, of course, was concealed in wartime, in line with restrictions on reporting the extent of loss, for fear of the effect on morale, and in order to confound the strategy of the enemy. And now in Broken Barnet, seventy five years later, this terrible incident still has the power to disrupt, and disturb the narrative of another story, whispered in secret, behind closed doors.

Why had planners not visited the Archives to check for themselves the status of the land, and its history? Or studied their own maps? We don't know.

What we do know is that the whole affair did nothing but bring further bad press to what was gathering momentum as a media story of no little interest. 

Eventually, someone, somewhere, had the sense to see the only direction for the developers to go, in order to redeem something from the self inflicted damage they had created. The weight of protest and opposition from residents, and the level of support and sympathy felt for them, forced valuable, if belated concessions in terms of, for example, the previously low valuation of leaseholders' properties: and some tenants were rehoused in rather better accommodation than had earlier been put before them.

And then came a gesture of conciliation over York Memorial Park. At last, a change of tone. 

The 75th anniversary of the wartime bombing would be on 13th February, this year. One or two residents had wanted to have a service of remembrance. This was now to be authorised, and Barratt's 'media consultants' HardHat liaised with residents' spokesperson Jasmin Parsons, offering at last to pay for a memorial and allocate some part of the green space to be set aside in commemoration of the events of 1941.

Too little, too late, you might think, but still: this was how we found ourselves, on Saturday morning, the 13th February 2016, standing in the rain, in a semi circle on the grassy mound between Marriotts Close and the margin of the Welsh Harp, perhaps a hundred or so, huddled in the shadow of the monstrous tower, the first of three monoliths that will soon be squatting there, in a place of such natural and rare beauty, punching the skyline triumphantly above the metal shuttered flats now emptied of their tenants. In the crowd, Barratt London's representatives looked on, discreetly, battling with their umbrellas.

As well as residents attending the ceremony, there were some invited local figures - no sign of Hendon's Tory MP Matthew Offord, but then he was probably too scared to enter the mythical 'no-go' area of West Hendon he described so eloquently on the BBC Sunday politics show recently - to the surprise of local police. 

In truth, for Matthew Offord, the West Hendon estate may well be a 'no-go' area now. 

He wasn't missed.

Local Assembly member Andrew Dismore and the three Labour councillors for West Hendon all came to pay their respects: Devra Kay, Adam Langleben, and Agnes Slocombe. 

Two of the film makers who have made a documentary for the BBC, due to be shown this month about the story of West Hendon, came too. Also present was the Guardian's Dave Hill, who writes here about the event.

The Deputy Lieutenant of Barnet, Martin Russell, was there, as was the Deputy Mayor, Alison Cornelius, wife of the Barnet Tory leader. Oh, and two other Tory councillors, not from the area, so rather surprising to see in attendance: John Hart from Mill Hill, and former Mayor Hugh Rayner, both of whom decided to be unnecessarily discourteous, when I arrived - for no apparent reason.

Perhaps they were compensating for the sense of shame that any Tory politician attending should have felt, in the circumstances - especially those present who were responsible for the betrayal, misrepresentations, and broken promises served to the current residents of the estate. Rayner at least had the grace to (sort of) apologise after the ceremony, coming up to offer his hand. What a curious lot they are.

The service began and ended in a downfall of persistent rain: it seemed appropriate to the occasion. Reading out an edited version of the chronicle of events of February 13th, 1941, it was hard not to look up at the sky and think of the sound of the 'The Thing', as it is described by the local newspaper report published at the end of the War, falling towards the streets below, bringing a terrible firestorm of destruction upon the people of West Hendon ...

"a fearful rushing, roaring noise, like the sound of an express train passing high up in the air". 


Fr Damien from St Mary's church led the prayers and blessing: 

And the Methodist minister for Hendon read from the Book of Psalms:

You turn us back to dust, and say 'Turn back, you mortals',
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday, when it is past, or like a watch in the night,
You sweep them away: they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning;
In the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed ...

Jasmin Parsons, without whom the the memorial service would not have taken place, and the anniversary left in the annals of the forgotten history of West Hendon, read a poem she had written especially for the occasion, paying tribute to the courage of those who had put their own lives at risk and worked to rescue their neighbours from the wreckage of the blast:

Safe homes now the takers of life
Coughing smoke, showered with soot, 
Brick dust and burning embers,
The locals did not flee:
They mustered strength, fuelled by courage, in desperation to find life
They dug with their own bare hands

From a description of the bombing by the Editor of the Hendon & Finchley Times, 1945

Most important of all those attending the service, of course, were family members of some of those who lost their lives in the bombing of 1941, which gave the ceremony a deeply personal, and dark perspective. 

Sally had come with her husband all the way from Norfolk to attend the ceremony, which clearly meant so much to her: as a child she had been brought to York Park, and told why it was a place of memorial. 

She spoke most touchingly of her family's dreadful loss in the bombing: how her father had had to tell his sister, who survived, of the death of her mother, husband and daughter: unimaginable grief for her. Sally commented that as a child, the stories her father told her about his family were about people she had never known, but as she had grown older, she had realised how important it is to remember people, places, and dates. How true, and no less because, as she commented, the people who lost their lives that night, as she observed, were 'just ordinary people, doing ordinary things'. 

Jacqui was a resident displaced by the current development: deeply affected by the service, she struggled to speak the names of her lost relatives, and broke down in tears. Later on, at the gathering in the community centre, she still could not bear to talk about the loss her family had sustained.

Brian was there to represent the Peacock family, members of whom have lived in Hendon for hundreds of years: his grandmother and uncle both lost their lives that night. His grandmother's body, in fact, was never recovered: the fate of at least seven other residents - and yet, he told the gathering, her ten year old son was found several hundreds of yards away, unmarked, delivered by the blast into a tree. At least there was somebody to bury, he observed.

It was of course from a tree damaged in the bombing that the original memorial cross had been made, before another memorial, now lost, was placed somewhere on the site.

Cllr Alison Cornelius, the deputy Mayor of Barnet, lays a wreath

Wreaths were now laid in front of the simple memorial plaque, and then, very poignantly, an elderly man, a local resident, came to leave a little wooden cross, placing it carefully upright in the wet grass. His name was Ron Cripps, and his father had been the local milkman, one of the first to come across one of those injured by the blast, returning home, covered in blood, to find his own house damaged, but his family luckily unhurt. 

After the bombing, Mr Cripps and his wife started up a youth group, to help the community recover from the terrible losses it had endured. He had met his wife there, as had several other local couples. After the memorial ceremony, at the estate's community centre, Ron laid out sepia tinged photographs of his family, and local neighbours inWest Hendon, off on a charabanc trip to Margate, or taking part in a pageant to celebrate the coronation.

As we stood against the backdrop of the water's edge, and the wide expanse of the Welsh Harp, circling seagulls cried, as they moved around the reservoir - and the words of the ceremony were punctuated by the sound of workmen on the new development. Nothing stops the machinery of profit: even the memory of loss, and an act of mourning.

In truth, it was a sombre moment: much more so than I had expected - most of us dressed in black, by chance, rather than agreement, and the depth of emotion, and sense of loss palpable, and deeply moving.

But the sense of loss, and mourning, was not just for those lost in 1941, to some residents, but for their grandchildren, and those who survived, who rebuilt Hendon, and London, and who must leave the homes they have had here, for so long. 

It was for what has been lost, or destroyed: not just by enemy action in wartime, but by elected representatives, in the twenty first century: in indifference to any sense of community, or belonging, and the common bond of generations growing up together, helping each other, in times of trouble.

The People's Mayor, and local resident Mr Shepherd, in attendance

Margaret Thatcher famously claimed there is no such thing as society: and her heirs in Hendon Town Hall continue to create a world in which tenure of property, and the right to a home, belong only to those with private wealth. The creation of stability, and a sense of belonging, a shared history: necessarily of inconsequence now, in Broken Barnet - representing as these things do the enemy of progress, and yes, profit. 

But still: in the words of the wartime Dean of Hendon:

"The last word shall not be with the destroyer. That is the meaning of our service, and of the simple Cross under which we stand ... Such scenes of desolation as this form a terrible monument to the wickedness of those who pursue brute force without reference to the God of Righteousness, and Justice and Love, before Whom they must one day render account for their deeds.

The 'Little People' of London's suburbs, whom they sought to smash, live on, bearing the unquenchable torch of Freedom, and the rough wooden Cross at West Hendon remains as a symbol of the spirit that prevailed against the greatest peril of oppression humanity has ever had to face".

West Hendon Cllr Devra Kay

I came across this poem, just the other week, by chance, courtesy of 'Spitalfields Life', whose 'Gentle Author' writes so eloquently in defence of our built heritage and communities under threat from development, now, rather than from the depredations of the Blitz. This is by Lilian Bowes Lyon, the radical 'rebel' cousin of the Queen Mother, who lived in the East End throughout the war, and the worst of the bombing there: perhaps you will agree these words hold a certain resonance for the history of West Hendon, the story of Broken Barnet - and the future of our capital city.

Evening in Stepney

The circle of greensward evening-lit,
And each house taciturn to its neighbour.
The destruction of a city is not caused by fire;
What many have lost begets a ghostlier heritage
Or hails the unknown horizon; workaday street
A travel-ordained encounter, the breakable family
Fortified in defeat by the soldering air.

The destruction is in the rejection of a common weal;
Agony's open abyss or the fate of an orphanage,
Mass-festering, mass-freezing or mass-burial,
Crime's worm is in ourselves
Who crumble and are the destroyer. 

West Hendon, February 13th, 2016