Anyone wanting to live in a global city like London has to be a friend
of change and diversity. Willesden Green is no exception and, as the
annual Wassail demonstrated a fortnight ago, our neighbourhood can display plenty of vitality
and creativity. This is an area open to newcomers, visitors, innovators and
unafraid of development. The question is always: change and regeneration for
whom, and for what purpose? The answer in Willesden Green and the rest of
the Borough is all too often: for the benefit of greedy developers and naked
profit. Books and beer seem to be a special bugbear of developers and their
regenerator allies, as the Willesden Green, Cricklewood and Kensal Rise
Libraries as well as the the Queensbury pub are targetted for luxury housing.
Political opponents have accused me and other Make Willesden Green
supporters of negativity because of our ongoing criticism ofthe Willesden Green Library re-development.
They don’t seem to get that we’re not against development as such, but in
favour ofa much more participatory, flexible and accountable ‘regeneration’. This is based on the simple principle that
revenue should be raised from above – through progressive taxation by state
and local authorities – and spent from below – by local residents who determine
democratically the priorities for their neighborhoods. At least two such
experiments in grassroots regeneration are now underway in Willesden Green. One
is the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) which, with strong and widespread
resident participation, can become an instrument for the radical
transformation of Willesden Green into an area that both preserves its past and
builds its future as a socially mixed, publicly-oriented community. I am very pleased to be working with other Make Willesden Green supporters on the NDP as
an experiment that demonstrates it is possible to engage in sustainable and democratic local development. The other, more established project is the Willesden Green Town Team. Formed by volunteer residents, the Town Team has made some
positive changes to our neighbourhood, but we're still waiting on Brent
Council to release the bulk of £80,000 allocated to our High Street so that various dormant proposals can be activated.
The real potential for grassroots regeneration will become evident over
the coming months as Willesden Green’s own PopUp University is launched. I am
especially happy that my own workplace, Birkbeck College, will be central to
this enterprise, by offering talks, workshops and events for those in our area
wanting to return to, or access Higher Education for the first time.
We are looking for volunteers to help run the Pop Up University, and
also need spare tables, chairs and bookshelves to furnish Unit 12 of Queens Parade
where the events will be held. So please contact me or the Chair of the
Willesden Town Team, Elayne Coakes, if you can in any way contribute to this
grassroots regeneration of Willesden Green.