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Outgoing chairman Kirsten de Keyser warns Highgate Society members: ‘Don’t get bogged down in family feuds’

08:00 06 June 2014

Pictured left to right: outgoing chair Kirsten de Keyser, Ham&High editor Geoff Martin, who was guest speaker at the society

Pictured left to right: outgoing chair Kirsten de Keyser, Ham&High editor Geoff Martin, who was guest speaker at the society's AGM, sustainable homes group chair Catherine Budgett-Meakin and society president Stephen Panke. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

The outgoing chairman of the Highgate Society has warned members they should stop getting “bogged down in family feuds” to allow the civic group to modernise after stepping down from the role last week.

Kirsten de Keyser, of Highgate Village, decided to resign after two years in the post to free up more time for political campaigning.

Speaking after the society’s AGM last Thursday, she said heading up the group had “certainly been a ride”.

“I think the Highgate Society is probably a bit too quiet for me,” the political blogger said. “It’s not my natural territory. I like the cut and thrust of politics where the big societal decisions are 
being forged.”

She added: “That’s where I’m focused. I had to look at the Highgate Society and say, can I save that lovely little oak tree up the road at the same time? Probably not.

“I really hope the society will go from strength to strength.

“They’ve got some new fresh minds who can hopefully help keep the modernisation going and not get bogged down in members’ family feuds.”

Ms de Keyser, an active campaigner for electoral reform, said her biggest triumphs as chair have been the launch of computer clubs for elderly residents and the Ham&High’s Young Readers’ Edition – a collaboration with the Highgate Society.

“It’s appalling the amount of flack our young people get from all sides,” she said. “We’ve gone and messed their future up for them and we give them a bad press at the same time.

“But they have shown a huge amount of talent, energy and awareness. What they produced for the Ham&High’s Young Readers’ Edition was amazing.”

Her darkest moment came after the society failed to stop planning permission being granted for a modern family home on the corner of Hampstead Lane and Highgate High Street at the entrance to the village – currently the site of a much-loved flower stall.

“That, and the 3,000 emails that I’ve sent from the official Highgate Society account over the last two years,” Ms de Keyser added.

In one of her last acts as chair at Thursday’s AGM, she called for action over 
legal threats some members have received from developers following their involvement in the society’s campaigns to fight controversial planning schemes.

She wants a debate to discuss whether the society should remain as an unofficial civic group or should become a recognised body – which would grant members legal protection.

But the suggestion was met with hostility from several members.

“Society used to be so much less litigious but it’s a whole new game now,” said Ms de Keyser. “That’s why the whole issue of having someform of incorporation has to be discussed and a 
debate has to be had.”

On stepping down as chair, she added: “It’s been a ride. I don’t particularly want to say it’s been a good ride, but it’s certainly been a ride.

“I really enjoyed getting to know people in the community and I can now understand the difference between Highgate’s nimbies and the people who are genuinely caring.”

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