West London Community Stands Up to the Gentrification of Portobello

Westway 23 is a community group formed to campaign about the use of the 23 acres given in 1971 to the community as compensation for the massive, polluting Westway which is a huge elevated flyover built through, what was then the poorest parts of, West London.

 

 Photo: Walmer Road site looking west from Pamber Street 1970

The community fought tirelessly against the Westway and were gifted the 23 acres of land underneath the road to use for the community's benefit. Most Londoners will be familiar with this area as it includes the Portobello Road Market area.

 

However, recent years have seen changes that have disempowered the community's control of the land. The body that manages the gift for the community is called The Westway Trust. Our position is that hostile local government, which consistently values business more than they do community, has undermined and corrupted the founding principles of The Trust.

We are therefore challenging the Trust's most recent changes (that of representation on the Board of Trustees) with the Charities Commission, which signed off on the changes only on the understanding that the Trust would consult locally before finalising these changes. Local consultation has not taken place, and the Trust's board vote was misrepresented in the official minutes of the meeting. Further, the vote that 'passed' the changes did not amount to 75% in favour as required by the Trust's own procedures.

 

Photo: Westway23's demonstration on Portobello Green, 5th July. Credit: Zute Lightfoot

We want to explore all our options for support. Particularly from people with some legal expertise in land/community management who might help us construct a case for the Charities Commission particularly, or explore other legal avenues to protect our interests.

The current management of the Trust, and the Board of Trustees are full of vested interests (property developers) and they are largely not local people but careerists. Angela McConville, the current CEO, is an MBA with no clear understanding of the local community, which is ethnically diverse and has a particularly strong Afro-Caribbean community.

 The Trust's management is completely white and from very different socio-economic backgrounds than the majority of the locals.

There are currently no Afro-Caribbean community arts groups sited on the 23 acres, and recent leaseholders from that community have cynically been maneuvered out of their leases.

 There is just one, very recent, appointee to the board of Trustees from an Afro-Caribbean background. Community interests up and down the 23 acres have been under attack since McConville's appointment: a nursery was forced to shut because of the Trust's decision to lease it at commercial, rather than community rates.

A stables, which uniquely caters to socially disadvantaged riders is being forced out of its lease, again with no consultation. The Trust has decided to change the balance of retail to community space in favour of the former. In the past the ratio was set at 70/30. A Sainsbury's has been given a lease, threatening the independent local businesses that the Trust was supposed to support.

 

Watch the above video showing the Ladbroke Grove community putting pressure on the Westway Trust at recent AGM over decisions to close beloved West London Stables.

Damningly the Trust, under McConville, elected not to do anything to mark Black History month which is vital to our community or support Carnival arts. The Notting Hill Carnival is here in our area and a number of steel pan bands are currently homeless. Ebony, a world-famous steel pan band, was evicted from the Trust.

What has happened since the original gift of the 23 acres is that the land value has accelerated exponentially. This means it is more than ever vital that the community's interests are protected because individuals and the local residents simply cannot compete with global finance, which sees this part of London as an investment opportunity and nothing more.

We are losing our libraries, our nurseries, spaces to practice our culture to developers who only see a financial value to the land.

We hope to get advice as to where we might turn for legal aid in this matter or any other avenues that we at Westway 23 might explore to fight more effectively for our communities' interests.

All and any support anyone can offer will help us protect our communities interest and would be gratefully received. Thank you.

Jacob Rety - Westway23 Campaign Group 

For more information and how to get involved with Westway23 check out their website or Facebook page.

 

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