McConville’s Gravy Train

Back in early April 2017 the Grenfell Action Group published a blog entitled “Untrust the Trust” that laid out our concerns about the apparent lack of moral compass marking the management and governance of the Westway Trust.

This article concluded that the Trust;

“…has become a morally corrupt and unhealthy proxy of RBKC that seeks to disenfranchise the residents of North Kensington and marginalise, rather than empower the local community. It appears to have morphed in recent years into a body that exists solely to collude with the Council’s gentrification of North Kensington while providing lucrative employment opportunities for its own senior management”.

On May 2nd 2017 the Westway Trust held a Public Forum to hear the myriad concerns of local residents. This meeting was convened largely as a result of community pressure and a member of the Grenfell Action Group used the opportunity to raise the subject of the grossly inflated salary commanded by Angela McConville as Chief Executive of the Trust.

It is understood that Ms McConville earns close to a mind boggling £120,000 per annum, therefore taking home a pay packet that is close to that of the Prime Minister of the UK. Our representitive at the Public Forum stated that in one of the poorest areas of the whole country it was obscene that the Chief Executive of this local charity should be paid so much and asked the Trust to justify their actions. Much to the surprise of all those attending the Chair of the Westway Trust Board, Alan Brown, refused to fully answer the legitimate concerns surrounding Ms McConville’s emolument and decided to ‘take one for the team’ by stating that if anyone should be criticised for how much money the Chief Executive is paid it should be Mr Brown himself as he was part of the decision making process that approved her outlandish pay packet.

The Grenfell Action Group believes that it is a sad fact that the Westway Trust seeks to exploit the local community by relying on the use of cheap labour and volunteers while using the Trust’s revenues to pay themselves hugley inflated salaries. A cursory look at the Westway Trust facebook page will reveal how much they rely on the good will of the local North Kensington community volunteering to carry out tasks for the Westway Trust. While McConville won’t get out of bed for less than close to £10,000 per month the Trust are willing to take advantage of the local workforce by offering employment opportuinities that appear to exploit employees and pay far less than the London Living Wage. A recent example of this was the attempt by the Trust to recruit a ‘creative producer‘ on a 12 month contract with a yearly salary of  just £4,600 and the successful applicant was expected to pay for their own advertising materials out of this measly sum!

While the Westway Trust feel free to abuse their position in this unashamedly crass manner they delight in paying themselves obscene amounts of money. The Grenfell Action Group challenges Angela McConville to justify her exorbitant salary on the evidence that we have produced below revealing the average earnings of charity chiefs around the UK .

“The median salary of charity chief executives last year was £55,500, according to the annual pay survey by charity leaders group Acevo, (the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) demonstrating that charities have been ‘taking a responsible position on pay’……For charities with incomes of between £50,000 and £1m CEO salary was £42,210; for those with incomes of between £1m and £5m it was £61,938; for those with incomes of between £5m and £15m it was £80,000; and for those with incomes greater than £15m it was £105,000.”

To provide some additional context, other Chief Executives paid less than McConville include the CEO’s of Oxfam, Christian Aid, Sightsavers and the RSPB.

According to a strategic adviser for Oxfam CEO Mark Goldring;

‘…has a big job by any standards: multitasking between running a 700 shop retail chain, managing 5,000 employees and 20,000 volunteers, a £360m budget and ensuring the safety of staff in some of the riskiest places on earth”

Mr Goldring has a salary of £124k. That’s only around £4k more than the CEO of Westway Trust, Angela McConville, (who admittedly does also ensure the safety of her staff in one of the riskiest places on earth- Lol).

According to the same report McConville should be earning a yearly salary of around £80,000 as the Trust’s annual turnover is approx £7 million, according to their own accounts.  As we know she actually takes home approximately £120k. ie an entire workers wage MORE than the average for a charity with an income over £15 million.

At least the Westway Trust cannot be accussed of exploiting the pay difference between male and female Chief Executives that is so common elsewhere in the charity sector. The same article linked to this post has carried out research that identified;

“…a £10,000 gender gap in chief executive pay: the median salary for female respondents was £50,250; for men it was £60,000. Just under half (48 per cent) of respondents were female, up from 45 per cent last year, and women made up the majority of chief executives of smaller charities, but were much less represented in medium-sized and larger organisations”.

However, all is not rosy in the Westway garden on the issue of race. The ‘Third Sector’ article quoted above also unearthed some damning evidence regarding the lack of multi-cultural representation among the higher echelons of charity organisation management structures in the UK. It states;

“Most concerning in this year’s survey is the continued lack of progress towards a civil society leadership THAT IS MORE REPRESENTATIVE OF ITS WORKERS AND OF THE BENEFICIARIES IT SERVES. With 91.2 per cent of chief executive respondents stating their ethnicity as white, and 100 per cent of chairs surveyed saying the same, we have a long way to go.”

Anyone who has witnessed the composition of the Westway Trust Board and senior management cannot have failed to notice that it too is dominated by white, middle class professional males who cannot claim to be representitve of the diverse socio-economic and ethnic communities that inhabit the Westway area and North Kensington generally.

In this context the Westway Trust, an organisation that ought to be a multi-cultural beacon in the area….turns out to be just another among the many damp squibs. Sir Stephen Bubb, CEO of ACEVO (Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations), which speaks for charity leaders says “Our guidance is that good pay means charity staff, trustees, beneficiaries and donors agree it represents value for money.”

We have no reason to doubt that the other Trustees of the Westway Trust support the obscene salary that McConville is happy to pocket every month. Alan Brown (ex City banker) has openly admitted his role in supporting the pay scale of his Chief Executive. The Remuneration Committee that agreed the CEO’s remuneration package is likely also to have included Karen Bendell (fashion sales executive), Joanna Farquharson (solicitor) and James Caplin (corporate career coach). We would have to question the judgement, not to mention the street cred, of these individuals who have decided that McConville represents value for money. We would question also whether they have the knowledge wisdom or empathy to decide on behalf of the local community what true value really is.

It would be interesting to hear the staff and donor views on that…. and even more interesting to hear the view of the beneficiary herself – Ms McConville.

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Wornington College – The Smoking Gun??

The pieces of the jigsaw are slowly falling into place and our knowledge of how the Wornington College building passed from the ownership of the KCC Corporation into the hands of the Royal Borough is now becoming much clearer. It was always our understanding that it was the arrival of RBKC’s Director of Strategy, Tony Redpath, onto the KCC Board of Governors that was key to the sale of the freehold but a recent discovery of confidential KCC minutes has revealed that the plan was actually hatched sometime before.

Reg Kerr-Bell has had a high profile in the North of the Borough for a number of years and once stood unsuccessfully in local elections as a Conservative candidate in the Golborne Ward. He was a member of the Golborne United SRB board, and was a founder member and chair of the West Row Tenants Association (Hortensia West Residents Association). Golborne United was created in September 1999 and was dissolved in 2006, when the SRB programme ended, at which point it was succeeded by the Golborne Forum.

Between 1999 and 2006 Golborne United received grants totalling £2.7 million under the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) programme, which it distributed as small grants to 80 local projects – including, rather strangely, the TMO and the Westway Amenity Trust (Westway Trust) both of which were awarded generous grants, despite the obvious fact that they were both revenue and asset rich satellites of the Council. The SRB programme had been set up by the former Labour Government, and a crucial part of its function was to channel small grants to local voluntary groups, which it did via the local authority to which Golborne United applied for funds that were entrusted to it for wider distribution.

When Golborne United was dissolved Kerr-Bell stayed on as a member of the Golborne Forum. He was subsequently elected to the Board of the KCTMO in 2009 and became Chair of that despised organisation between 2010 and 2012, at which point he was superceded as chair by the present incumbent Faye Edwards. Kerr-Bell maintained his presence in this ‘mini-mafia’ by chairing the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee. In his apparent lust for power and influence he also joined the KCC Board of Governors in 2006.

Over the years his involvement with these various bodies has afforded him ample opportunity to rub shoulders and curry influence with Councillors and Officers of the RBKC, and readers of this blog need not be reminded of the unholy and incestuously close relationship that exists between the Council and their stooges at the supposedly separate TMO, to the great detriment of TMO tenants and leaseholders.

It is, however, his actions as a Governor at KCC that are of special interest and concern to us in the context of this current blog. We recently discovered confidential minutes from a Board of Governors meeting held at KCC in December 2012 revealing that the seeds of the plan to dispose of the Wornington College building and grounds into the hands of RBKC were first sown at this juncture. It is our considered opinion that this is the moment, in December 2012, that triggered the start of the process that has seen our much loved Wornington College fall into the hands of the Neo-Cons at Hornton Street:

The ‘Audit Committee for Council Housing’ referred to by Mr Kerr-Bell was, of course, the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee of the TMO. His proposal regarding ‘the potential to develop the Wornington Road Centre’ was met with token opposition from some KCC Board members, who favoured a merger with City Lit, as recommended by the Skills Funding agency (SFA), in order to secure the college’s financial future. However, as a result of the Kerr-Bell proposal it was resolved by the KCC Board that:

(The Grenfell Action Group are currently in the process of trying to obtain the minutes of these follow up meetings by use of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.)

We now know that following Mark Brickley’s recruitment as the new College Principal in October 2013, the KCC Search and Development Committee requested that RBKC be contacted and ‘an officer with experience of education’ be invited to join the Board of Governors. It is a matter of record that Brickley subsequently wrote to Nicholas Holgate, the Town Clerk at RBKC, seeking his recommendation for this role, and that Tony Redpath, Director of Strategy and Local Services at RBKC, was subsequently nominated and joined the KCC Governing Board in March 2014. Kerr-Bell and Redpath then sat concurrently on the KCC Board before Kerr-Bell resigned his position at the College in March 2015. The role of Tony Redpath was apparently to represent RBKC interests more directly and authoritatively on the KCC Board, to relay insider information back to RBKC, and possibly to approve evolving proposals, whenever necessary, on behalf of RBKC. The sale of Wornington College to RBKC was negotiated and announced to the public, without any public consultation, or even the knowledge of the RBKC Labour Group, in May 2016.

The Grenfell Action Group can only guess at the motivation behind the suggestion by Kerr-Bell that the financial problems bedevilling KCC could be remedied by a fire sale of the Wornington Road complex to the Royal Borough. We are horrified that a single individual, a senior TMO Board member, who bragged openly about his influence with RBKC Councillors from the Planning and Housing Development Committees, could so directly and decisively influence the sale by KCC of this vital local asset to RBKC.

At this point we would call into question whether the actions of Kerr-Bell were in keeping with (i) the code of conduct for individual KCC governors and (ii) the Corporations guidelines concerning the requirement for Board Members to remain free of external influences as laid out in KCC’s Statement of Corporate Governance and Internal Control:

(i) “members of the Board of Governors agree always to act in the best interests of the College and not to speak or vote as if mandated by other persons or bodies”.

(ii) “The Coroporation considers that each of it’s non-executive members is independent of management and free from any buisness or other relationship that could materially interfere with exercise of their independent judgement”.

The recent history of the TMO reveals them as willing and enthusiastic partners in the Council’s ideology of remorseless demolition of social housing, and destruction of local communities, in the name of ‘regeneration’ and the pursuit of profit. We have little doubt that Kerr-Bell shared this ideology and used his influence at RBKC, and his position on the boards of both TMO and KCC, to facilitate the aquisition of the Wornington Road College by RBKC in the full knowledge that it would be demolished and redeveloped for profit.

We have no doubt that, as a senior member and former Chair of the KCTMO Board, Kerr-Bell was too close to RBKC councillors and officers not to have had a glaring conflict of interest in advising KCC regarding the sale of the Wornington complex to the Council. We believe Redpath too had a similar conflict of interest. It seems equally clear to us that the actions of both parties significantly breached the Code of Conduct for KCC Governors, and yet not a single member of the KCC Board appears to have even considered this to be an issue. We have to question what this says about the quality of management and governance at Kensington and Chelsea College during this time of crisis!

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Management and Financial Failures at KCC

In previous blogs the Grenfell Action Group promised to shine some light on the management of the Kensington and Chelsea College, and especially on our concerns that the College’s current problems have been caused by the actions of the Board members who were supposed to safeguard the wellbeing of this much loved educational institute.

Our earlier efforts to expose the shameful decision of KCC to sanction the international travels of former principal Mark Brickley, on a pretence of recruiting overseas students, has brought dividends. After publisising the fact that Mr Brickley had spent nearly £70,000 on his travels in pursuit of illusory international students the management  decided to veto further attempts to recruit students from abroad. This is welcome news as it is high time that the powers that be at KCC came to their senses and realised that their primary duty should be to serve local residents, including the community in the Wornington Road area which is one of the most deprived areas in the whole of the UK.

The Grenfell Action Group have now raised our sights to focus on two other issues that are causing concern. The first of these is the manner in which the Wornington College building was sold to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, in May 2016, in what appears to have been a private backroom deal. The second issue we wish to expose is the sudden decline in the financial robustness of the College despite statements in the summer of 2016 from the Vice Principal with special responsibility for Finance and Resources that the College was in a sound financial position.

The Sale of Wornington College to RBKC:

The Grenfell Action Group will be writing to the Kensington and Chelsea College Financial Auditors, Grant Thornton, and raising our concerns about how the College was sold to the Council without an open tendering process and without the opportunity for the market to decide the true value of the Wornington Road site. We believe the sum of £25.4 million that the Council paid for the building falls short of what might have been obtained on the open market and we question why there was a need for so much secrecy surrounding the sale of this prized KCC asset. It has subsequently emerged that local Labour Councillors were not even informed of the sale until the deal had been completed and there is no evidence that any bid other than that by RBKC was considered.

The Financial Forcasts of KCC:

A look at previous minutes of the KCC Board of Governors raises a series of concerns that the Grenfell Action Group will be addressing with the current management team and the College’s financial auditors in order to understand what has actually been going on behind the scenes.

Our primary concern is the inexplicable change of fortunes of the College’s finances over the last four years. It is a matter of record that the financial forecasts for the College during this period have been totally inaccurate and call into question the professionalism of the manner in which these forecasts have been compiled and presented to the Board of Governors, despite the fact that the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has written to Principals and Chairs to remind them of the importance of these budget estimates.

There is a history of inaccurate financial forcasting at KCC stretching back to 2012 and KCC has been in financial difficulties throughout this period. The Skills Funding Agency (SFA), on which KCC depends for a significant proportion of its annual funding, issued a formal Notice of Concern in October 2012 which was not lifted until September 2014.

The issuing of the Notice of Concern appears to have resulted from a pattern at KCC of initially forecasting end of year surpluses that subsequently degenerated into significant deficits by year end. In 2015 this pattern continued and worsened considerably. In July 2015 the College’s draft budget for 2015/2016 showed a planned surplus of £300,000 with surpluses of £331,000 and £312,000 predicted for the following two years. By October 2015 KCC were instead forecasting an in year operating deficit of £948,000 and this was followed, the following year, by a projected in year deficit of £1.7 million.

Back in July 2016 it is our understanding that Vice Principal Bill Blythe was responsible for producing a forecast of the College’s finances, that the Management Accounts were subject to detailed review from the Finance Committee, of which he was a member, and that the detailed budget and associated course plan for 2016/2017 were produced in collaboration with the managers concerned. The financial forecast reported that the College’s finances were in a healthy and robust state:

“The budget currently shows a surplus of £501k after taking into account the effects of depreciation and interest, the new headline measure – surplus before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation costs is a healthy £1.213m surplus. The position improves further into 2017/2018 with an operating surplus of £917k forecast.”

At the same meeting Mr Blythe announced that he was jumping ship and had found alternative employment elsewhere. This news was recorded in the mintues thus:

” The Vice Principal is on a 6 -month notice period and is working with the Principal on an exit plan. The Principal is seeking a replacement for the post. The Board congratulated Bill on his appointment to a new post and relocation to Devon and thanked him for all his support and hard work at the College”.

Events that followed saw Mr Blythe, despite having given notice of his resignation, promoted to take over the overall running of the College following the sudden departure of Principal Mark Brickley, and Deputy Principal Fiona Ross, whose sudden resignations were not recorded in Board minutes and with no vote of thanks recorded for either.

Subsequently, the minutes of the Board of Governors in December 2016 containd an Annual Report from the Audit Committee which stated that:

“The Audit Committee’s opinion is that that the College’s risk management, control and governance systems and its internal processes for securing economy, efficiency and effectiveness at the College are adequate and effective and that the Governing Body should have confidence in relying upon them. The Committee is satisfied that where weaknesses are identified they have been responded to in an appropriate and timely manner”

However, subsequent minutes from the Board meeting in Feburary 2017 revealed that the College’s finances were in a much more precarious state than previously indicated. The minutes of that meeting reported that;

“The Management Accounts up to 31 December 2016 indicate that the College will fall significantly short of its income target for the current year. The overall shortfall is expected to be in the region of £1.7 million.

Governors expressed concern at the dramatic change in financial forecasts compared to what was reported to the Board in October, where the then Management Accounts forecast a year-end surplus of £256k.”

Due to cuts of 24% in the national budget provision for further education in 2015/2016 the SFA began recommending that FE colleges should merge wherever possible to strengthen their finances, and specifically recommended a merger between KCC and City Lit in which both parties would hopefully retain their individuality and a measure of independence. Unfortunately the KCC/City Lit merger fell through, and this has left KCC facing a hostile takeover by ‘Ealing Hammersmith and West London College’ (EHWL) in which KCC is likely to lose control over what’s left of its assets and operations at Hortensia Centre.

The situation as it now stands is that, despite repeated assurances by both RBKC and KCC that youth and adult educational provision will continue in North Kensington, the Youth training facility at Maxilla Walk has already been closed and Wornington Road College has been sold off to RBKC for redevelopment.

However, the closure of Maxilla and the sale of Wornington were first discussed and planned in 2012 and cannot therefore be blamed on the budget cuts inflicted on the SFA in 2015. The Maxilla closure and the Wornington sell-off are actually evidence of failing management and governance at KCC. These same failings have left KCC more vulnerable to the additional stresses resulting from the budget cuts of 2015. The subsequent failure of the City Lit merger has now left KCC at the mercy of EHWL and in a deep crisis of its own making. This also means that the future of further education in North Kensinghton cannot be guaranteed and can only be described as more precarious and uncertain than ever.

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RAP23 invite you to join us in the drive for clean air in North Kensington.

The air quality in our area frequently breeches safety standards, with nitrogen dioxide and heavy particulate pollution at levels that are a known threat to human health.

There are steps we can take as individuals and as a community to improve the air quality in our borough.

Join us on Fri 12 May at Bay 56 Acklam Village, 4-8 Acklam Road , and:

  • get informed about the impact of air pollution on you and those around you
  • find out about what steps you can take today to improve the quality of the air in your home and neighbourhood
  • design and direct the actions and campaigns that RAP23 will organise to improve air quality in the area

We have expert guests with big ideas that our community can start putting into place:

Professor Cedo Maksmovic – expert in green infrastructure
Simon Birket – the leading campaigner from Clean Air in London
Leonie Cooper – Chair of the London Assembly Environment Committee

Activties from 4pm * Workshops from 5pm * Public meeting from 7pm
Children’s activities – A Pop-up creche provided will be provided.

RAP23 exists to organise a response to the threat of poor air quality in our community.

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Warwick Road Estate – The Last Castle!

We recently received the correspondence below from the Secretary of the Warwick Road Estate Leaseholders’ Association (WRELA). We hope it will be of interest to our readers:

Some of you will already be aware that our estate is under threat of regeneration by RBKC and that we have lived with this threat hanging over our heads for over 4 years now (we first received the letter making the announcement on March 18th 2013).

It is very clear that RBKC are intent on redeveloping our estate and that they will soon opt for the most radical of the options on the table: namely, completely demolishing the 2 parts of the estate, Broadwood Terrace (with 24 units) and Chesterton Square (with 92).

We formed our Leaseholders’ Association in 2015 to counter this threat (and last year, we also formed a sister organisation and resident association, WRERA).

Recently, RBKC published its draft Leaseholder Policy (which is now out for a 10 week consultation ending on 7th June).

This is a very poor & cynical document, which ensures that any resident leaseholder hoping to return to the regenerated site (akin to a “right of return” for secure tenants) will be unable financially to do so, given all the caveats attached to their shared equity offer.

We are of the opinion that any leaseholder subject to an involuntary and forced sale under a compulsory purchase order (or the threat of one) should be able to return to the regenerated site, no worse off than they were before.

Unfortunately, the lease terms of such a deal are not equivalent to the pre-existing leases that are being unilaterally torn up and violated, and would mean in practice that leaseholders would be very much worse off, having far more onerous terms and losing rights and freedoms they currently enjoy.

I appreciate many readers of this piece may be tenants rather than leaseholders, and you may feel that this does not concern you. But I would disagree as this is about establishing precedents by RBKC in how it deals with all its residents on those estates it chooses to “regenerate” and the issues at stake are universal ones that revolve around power, and authority, and legitimacy, and concern issues of fairness, rights and decency.

One would like to think that these are qualities those in power in RBKC would also respect and aspire to; unfortunately, it isn’t always evident. And in this case, quite the reverse is true.

Please find below a letter written by our Chair, Behzad Seyf to the Leader and Deputy-Leader of RBKC and the Councillors in our borough.

Best wishes,
Secretary, WRELA

Letter from Chair of WRELA to RBKC

The context within which the fate of the Warwick Road Estate will be decided – and the reason why we have chosen to subtitle this piece ‘The Last Castle’ – is the scorched earth redevelopment of most of the surrounding area that has completely designed out social housing and provided instead an excess of exclusive luxury homes for the very wealthy.

This all began with the redevelopment of the old Charles House site several years ago, on the corner of Warwick Road and Kensington High Street. The result was the construction, by St Edward Ltd (part of the Berkeley Group) of a complex of seven luxury apartment buildings, complete with fitness studios, swimming pool, sauna, steam rooms, treatment rooms, gym, private cinema, secure underground parking and 24 hour concierge services.

The same developers then spread their tentacles along the west side of Warwick Road. The result was the ‘Kensington Row’ development, a massive extension of the St Charles House complex, offering ‘a world of opulence and privilege’ in luxury apartments priced from £1.5 million to £8.5 million. Given its proximity to the Charles House/Kensington Row complex the destruction of the Warwick Road Estate is almost certainly designed to facilitate yet more of this obscenely opulent and exclusive luxury accommodation.

This orgy of redevelopment, in the Warwick Road area and beyond, whether still underway or already complete, is remarkable on two counts, firstly for the sheer massive scale of it, and secondly for the fact that it is all high end and obscenely opulent luxury housing. This is not ‘Regeneration’ in any meaningful humanistic sense. On the contrary it is ‘Social Cleansing’ pure and simple, with all of the worst negative connotations that phrase conjures up in the darker recesses of the human mind.

So far in North Kensington we’ve seen nothing on the scale of what has befallen the Warwick Road/Earls Court area, but make no mistake, a similar apocalypse is planned here too. The big question is whether the social housing estates here will be replaced by the extreme opulence of the Warwick Road area, which seems unlikely, or whether they will be replaced by the so-called  ‘mixed communities’ of private, intermediate and ‘affordable’ housing we have all heard of so often. The answer to this question is unknown.

However,  we do know that the Wornington Green Estate has already been transformed into a soulless gulag, famously exposed and condemned by Emma Dent Coad for the appallingly shoddy quality of workmanship both during and after its construction. The so-called ‘regeneration’ of North Kensington has only just begun and local residents, whether leaseholders or tenants, would be well advised to remember Hervé’s warning above, which we have paraphrased again below, because it is well worthy of repeating:

Many readers of this piece may be tenants rather than leaseholders, and may feel that the plight of Warwick Road Estate leaseholders does not concern you. But I would disagree as this is about establishing precedents by RBKC in how it deals with all its residents on those estates it chooses to “regenerate” and the issues at stake are universal ones that revolve around power, authority and legitimacy, and concern issues of fairness, rights and decency. One would like to think that these are qualities those in power would also respect and aspire to. Unfortunately quite the reverse is true.

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Wornington Road School – A History

‘Kensal New Town’ was laid out in the 1840s following the successful devel­opment of Kensal Green. At first it had been intended that Golborne Road should cross Kensal Road and the canal, so as to connect North Kensington with Harrow Road. The Paddington Canal Company scuppered this plan by placing a footbridge over the canal instead. Had the original plan been carried out the whole Golborne area might well have developed in a radically different way. Instead it became geographically and socially isolated, was poorer and less fashionable as a result and deteri­orated into a notorious slum.

At that time the Kensal New Town/Golborne area was a detached part of the Parish of St Luke’s, Chelsea, covering about 140 acres and nicknamed Chelsea-​​in-​​the-​​Wilderness. In 1899 it was incor­porated within Kensington despite the Royal Borough’s objections – the real reason for which seems to have been the abject condition of its inhab­itants. In 1902 social reformer and statistician Charles Booth described Kensal New Town as “an isolated district, shaped like a shoe and just as full of children and poverty as was the old woman’s dwelling in the nursery rhyme.”

The first school in the area had been a Ragged School which opened in 1850. By 1865 it was housed in a small iron building next to the canal. It was built for £100 which was raised by the Ragged School Committee and included £50 donated by ‘a lady’. Ragged schools were founded all over the country to cater for the very poor, literally ‘ragged’, children. One ragged school, which was typical of many, had 260 children, of whom ‘seventeen had no shoes, twelve no body linen, 42 had no parents, 27 had been to prison, 36 were runaways, 29 had no bed and 41 lived by begging’.

The Factory Act, passed in 1867, excluded large numbers of children from paid employment so some rudimentary education had to be provided for them. Between the Great Western Railway and Portobello Road the growth of the population was so rapid that the school accommodation provided by churches and chapels was inadequate, and consequently two large Board Schools were built in Golborne. The first of these was Wornington Road School, which opened in March 1874. A second Board School was built in Middle Row and others followed in Portobello Road and Barlby Road.

The Board School in Wornington was built in response to the huge numbers of people, particularly young people, living at that time in the Golborne. The original building, on the site of the present day Kensington and Chelsea College, was divided into a Boys’, a Girls’ and an Infants’ school. A little later a school for the blind was added. The Wornington Road Infants’ School was the largest in London for that age group and, seven months after opening in March 1874, it was so overcrowded the School Board had to open temporary classrooms in the Golborne Hall nearby. Numbers continued to increase and by October that year there were 813 small children crammed into ten classrooms.

The building (shown in the picture above) was an imposing one, reflecting the new emphasis on education, but its location next to the railway with steam trains thundering past every few minutes was very trying to teachers and pupils alike. On January 25th 1908 the headmaster reported in the school log book: ‘Fog signals that might be heard a mile away have been used just outside the school on the Great Western Railway throughout the past fortnight. The noise is sometimes maddening.’

In the early days of the Wornington Road School pupil attendance was often poor because of the poverty of the area. Diseases such as scarlet fever, smallpox, typhoid fever, measles, diphtheria and whooping cough spread quickly through the tenement houses. The log books record periods of wet weather when some ‘were unable to come to school through the mud’, lacking good boots to keep their feet dry’. Pupils were kept at home if their fathers, many of whom had only seasonal work, could not afford the fees they were required to pay. In winter the classrooms were sometimes so cold that ‘the pupils could not write or draw till the afternoon’. In the harsh winter of 1895 the Headmaster wrote, ‘The frost is very severe and many seem to suffer from hunger’. By the 23rd February he was reporting, ‘We are now distributing between 30 and 40 free dinner tickets daily during the distress caused by the inclement weather’.

Starting in the 1930s the Council began a programme of slum clearance and estate building. This was inter­rupted by the Second World War and was slow to resume afterwards, with the result that rapacious landlords continued to prey on the locality’s inhab­itants until the early 1960s. The old Board School building was demolished in 1936 and replaced, by The London County Council, with a new school which, though lacking the aesthetic and architectural presence of the old building, had much better facilities. There was a library and the classrooms were equipped for subiects which included science, woodwork, metalwork and housecraft. The hall doubled as a gymnasium and next to it were changing rooms with showers.

During the War the new school buildings were evacuated as children left London for the countryside. Protected with sandbags, it became an emergency centre for the Auxiliary Fire Service. Classrooms were turned into dormitories for the firemen and the school medical room became a Watch Room from which emergency calls were taken and fire engines dispatched to deal with fires in the nearby streets.

The school re-opened after the war and continued to be used for primary and secondary education. However, the frequent changes of use over the next 40 years reflected major changes in the area and in education itself. Golborne’s population dropped dramatically between 1941 and 1981. Early in the war there were estimated to be 21,000 residents, but the huge changes in the area’s housing meant that by 1981 the population had shrunk to less than 7000.

The Florence Gladstone School, which educated girls between 11 and 15, used the Wornington Road building from 1951. Then from 1958 it was the turn of the Isaac Newton Boys’ Upper School. The Wornington Road Infants’ School was still in the premises in the 1950s. When it closed, the Ainsworth Nursery moved in, but moved again in 1977 to the ground floor of Trellick Tower. The Isaac Newton boys moved out when their school was amalgamated with Holland Park Comprehensive in 1983.

Adult Education had expanded during the seventies under the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and as the number of primary school pupils dropped due to the decreasing local population, unused offices and classrooms at Wornington Road were increasingly used for evening and day classes for adults. Daytime and evening classes also took place elsewhere in the borough, in school buildings, day centres and old people’s homes. By 1972 there were four orchestras, two choirs, and special English and Maths classes for ‘people newly arrived in England who speak no English or wish to improve their English‘.  Among the many who benefited from this programme were Vietnamese ‘boat people’ who, at the end of the decade, were housed in the old Kensington Barracks in Kensington Church Street. At Wornington Road Fresh Start courses provided English and Maths for adults who had missed out on basic skills and the first ‘mature students’ were helped, via a pioneering Return to Study course, to prepare tor university entrance.

Wornington Road ultimately became the hub of Kensington and Chelsea College which subsequently opened additional premises in other parts of the borough with many thousands of students attending a wide range of vocational courses. The choice of subjects included hair-dressing, catering, film and media, fashion, acting and dance. Students could also prepare for careers in nursing, business studies, management or information technology. Established in its present form in 1993 when finance became available from the Further Education Funding Council, the Kensington and Chelsea College now runs many part-time courses and some Wornington students go on to higher education, while others retrain to acquire skills needed in a changing employment market.

Like much of North Kensington, the Golborne area is a multi­cultural community that includes residents of Afro-​​Caribbean, Portuguese and Moroccan birth or descent. Over the years, since its pioneering work with Vietnamese refugees, Wornington College has helped many students acquire basic skills in English. Child care is provided so that parents with small children can attend classes. Tutors encourage newcomers to persevere with studies so that they can become fully fluent in the language, are able to assist their children’s education and gain qualifications which will enrich their own lives and improve their chances of gaining employment or even a challenging and rewarding professional career.

There is a long and proud history at Wornington Road of providing education to some of the most impoverished and underprivileged citizens of London. This history is now under serious threat. The Wornington Road site has been sold to the RBKC Council. The Council intends to demolish the college building and redevelop the site as private housing. They have promised to retain part of the new development for educational use but without any guarrantee of how much educational space will be reprovided, no guarantee that the diversity and breadth of existing courses will be maintained, no guarantee that existing staff will keep their jobs and no assurances that the creche and other facilities will be kept in situ. If this proves true it will shame and dishonour the long and proud history that we have described in this blog.

The Grenfell Action Group do not believe that the future life chances of this community should be sacrificed, in the name of profit, on the altar of untrammeled redevelopment and regeneration which, like a cancer, is destroying communities throughout the length and breadth of this country. We will continue to do everything we can to speak truth to power, to make sure the Council and KCC know that we value and treasure our College, and that we will do all that we can to hold them both to account for their actions.

(N.B. We plagiarised most of the historical detail reproduced above from‘Tales of the Inner City, From Kensal Village to Golborne Road’  by Jerome Borkwood published in 2002 . We are extremely grateful to Mr Borkwood for this excellent source which we greatly admire and recommend wholeheartedly to any of our readers wishing to better understand the history of the Golborne.)

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