Ham&High letters: Royal Free’s bill, Phoenix cinema, housing, Black History Month and Brexit

The Royal Free Charity celebrated the "bottoming out" of the new Pears UCL building on the site by b

The Royal Free Charity celebrated the "bottoming out" of the new Pears UCL building on the site by burying a time capsule, to be opened in 100 years. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK - Credit: Polly Hancock

Letters, contributions and comments sent in from Ham&High readers this week.

On Royal Free’s cash woe

Josephine Marle de Cera, Gospel Oak, writes:

I refer to your recent article concerning the Royal Free’s £66m repair bill.

“There will always be improvements [...] we address these in order of priority”

Is, therefore, the spending of millions of pounds on a research institute in the heart of a close knit residential area, when there is already a nearby similar facility (the Crick Institute) readily available, a priority? Surely the grant from the Pears Foundation could have been put to far better use supporting patient services and repairing a crumbling concrete monolith? Research knows no physical or geographical boundaries and does not need to take place a stone’s throw away from a hospital.

It appears that, from the start, little appreciation has been given to the impact of such a building project on either the local community or the facilities in the area.

The Royal Free strives to be a forward-thinking jewel in the NHS crown – by all accounts it appears to be falling far short in its management of its funds, its care for its patients and its own building.

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The patients and the local community deserve more respect and better treatment.

‘Heartbreaking’ to see the disarray at historic and beloved Phoenix

• Editor’s note: ahead of Friday’s surprise decision to pause the takeover of the Phoenix Cinema by Curzon, the Ham&High received a number of detailed letters on the matter. We have chosen to print them on the basis they were written in advance of the news but still shed light on the cinema’s situation.

An East Finchley resident, full name and address supplied, writes:

I served as a Phoenix Cinema board member up to 2010, the centenary celebrations and renovation which took years of planning and fundraising.

l headed the marketing committee which met monthly and worked closely with the staff. Community outreach was important to us, as was working with our patrons. Fundraising at that time had its own meeting although this was centenary specific.

I gather that marketing has been enfolded into what is called the House Meeting to cover all issues and that this takes place only quarterly. In which case no wonder everything has fallen into disarray.

The Phoenix was able to run on a shoestring because of the constant engagement of the board with the staff in making things happen. Monthly, in all weathers, I would go out leafleting and putting up posters because I, and the staff and other board members at that time were collectively engaged with perpetuating the independence of this historic community asset.

All those board members have been stood down, and the majority of the current members have allowed this decay in communication and cooperation.

I live two blocks from the cinema and have had no outreach from the cinema on any issues.

The trustees seem to have forgotten that they have been entrusted with the cinema on our behalf.

Perhaps the role looks good on their CV. It won’t if the community’s trust is betrayed by their letting the Curzon chain take over.

If they allowed the Curzon option without allowing the community and the staff to find other solutions, they would have completely failed in their roles, at our expense.

Woeful tale at Phoenix meeting

David Adams, full address supplied, writes:

I was at the Phoenix Cinema meeting on Sunday, October 28.

I attended in the expectation that the problems facing the cinema would be clearly explained and all options would be discussed.

The chairman relied on accounts which, he said, showed very serious losses.

It was pointed out that in fact, on a trading basis, the business has very small losses, but the figures are made much worse by a notional charge to depreciation on the already unrealistically low value put on the freehold property. Also this time of the year, with the coming of the Oscar films and others is traditionally when cinemas earn the most money.

A woeful tale of non-cooperation with the staff and autocratic removal of trustees.

Most of the trustees sat in sullen silence, occasionally saying a few words, but with no confidence and certainly not giving any impression of independent thought.

It was pointed out from the floor that if Curzon are interested today, they will be equally interested next year, should that truly be the best answer.

Clearly what The Phoenix deserves is a considered alternative, probably with the help of the dismissed trustees and of The Rio. There were clear indications that substantial public support for a refinancing would materialise, if there was a positive plan to support, rather than the negative obstructionism displayed by the trustees.

Against Curzon Cinema proposal

Norma Cohen, full address supplied, writes:

I just want to add my voice to the thunderous crowd of people who are extremely upset that the Curzon Cinema group wants to take over the much loved Phoenix Cinema.

It was my local for many years as a teenager and my late cousin Mike Cohen was on the board, helping develop the fantastic community facility it is today.

How great that Mike Leigh and Ken Loach are on the case too.

Phoenix Cinema should remain independent!

No confidence in cinema trustees

Maura Kwaten, full address supplied, has written to James Kessler QC, chairman of the board, Phoenix Cinema and other trustees:

After attending the public meeting regarding the Phoenix and The Curzon on Sunday, October 28 I would like to make a formal complaint as I do not believe the trustees are doing their best to serve the community.

The whole tone of the meeting was still “this is what will happen, the Curzon will do this…” etc.

I have absolutely no trust or confidence that you will serve ourselves and other members of the community.

You do not listen to your employees or the public and that is your prime role as trustees. You have failed to support staff in their attempts to fundraise.

A charity must fundraise, advertise, keep coming up with new ideas to keep life in a cinema such as this. You don’t do PR, like advertise in local press, specific publications, at community centres, schools etc – you don’t seem interested in keeping the cinema independent.

Housing policy in crisis for decades

John Stratton, Thurlow Road, Belsize Park, writes:

Your recent article on pre and post-war social housing was most interesting, and it says a lot for their design and quality that they are still standing, still in use, and still quite attractive buildings when the various boroughs involved employed good architects who had high standards.

It is tragic that it has taken until 2018 for the government to wake up and realise that there is, actually, a housing crisis and desperate need for more affordable and social housing, not just luxury flats and penthouses for the rich.

The rot was started under Thatcher with the “right to buy” scheme under which councils must have lost hundreds of properties built as homes for those with lower incomes and who could not afford to buy themselves.

Essential London workers, be they policemen, busmen, cleaners, nurses and the like cannot afford to buy, and often not even rent in London and have to travel long distances from the suburbs or even further to work, costing them a fortune.

It is no wonder people are desperate, a state reflected in the high rate of mental health problems, family difficulties etc.

It is appalling that suitable sites for social housing were given away or nodded through by Buffoon Boris so that his developer friends could build luxury homes, depriving councils of the space that could have been used. Even now, as shown in various appeals, developers are still reluctant or blatantly refuse to incorporate social or affordable housing in their schemes by offering to pay compensation to the council who can then only build or encourage homes in less desirable areas adding to the problem.

One can only hope that the recent announcement by our pathetic prime minister to give permission at long last for councils to spend on council housing will result in early implementation of more schemes, that is, if all the Polish and other builders haven’t already deserted us and gone back to their own countries due to the shambolic uncertainty over Brexit.

There is already a crisis in the industry due to labour shortages and it couldn’t come at a worse time.

Black History event was great

Sara C, All Women Count, writes:

Hampstead & Kilburn (H&K) CLP’s first Black History Month event, on November 3, was extraordinary, bringing together people affected by immigration laws, as well as by austerity cuts and homelessness.

Organised by BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) members, it was chaired by the CLP’s new women’s officer, Crissie Amiss, a woman of African/German descent who works in Camden with women asylum seekers and rape survivors.

Opening the meeting, she said: “This event is to follow up the Windrush motion passed at Labour Party conference. We were among the group of mostly BAME women members who fought for the Windrush motion and the pro-Palestinian motion, highlights of the conference.”

The BHM event focused on the Windrush scandal. It also aimed to show how many of us face a hostile environment: whether on the denial of our citizenship and even deportation, or on housing, benefits, disability and the lowest wages. How can we organise together to defeat these attacks?

Speakers included nurse Sentina Bristol, a Windrush mother campaigning for justice for her son Dexter, a Camden resident killed by government hostility.

Like other Windrush citizens, he was targeted by this government, sacked from his job and told he had to prove his right to stay, despite having arrived aged eight in 1961.

Professional boxer Vernon Vanriel gave a harrowing account of being torn from his family for 13 years when illegally denied the right to return from Jamaica after living 50 years here.

Jacqui McKenzie, a determined solicitor, described her work of pressing for justice and compensation for Windrush families.

A member of the Stansted 15 – young people on trial for direct action to stop a deportation charter flight – was warmly welcomed.

A local statutory homeless family member spoke of the 119 families facing eviction by Brent Council. Recently elected Labour councillor Abdirazak Abdi told of his work supporting them and others in the community.

There was a stunning presentation on Universal Credit’s impact on women and children by local resident and benefit advisor Solveig Francis.

BAME Labour Party members from Brent, Camden, Chingford and Woodford, and Dulwich and West Norwood also attended.

A message from MP Tulip Siddiq was read and 75 people had a very lively discussion. Sara Callaway, Hampstead & Kilburn BAME officer, summed up discussion.

Chair of Kilburn branch, David Kaye called it “an exceptionally powerful set of speakers, connecting local, national and international issues in a way that included everyone,” adding: “Hampstead and Kilburn needs more events like this.”

Cllr Abdi added: “A range of great contributions.

“People were keen to know about each other’s situation and experience. It was a wonderful education – we went away clearer and ready for action.”

The conclusion of the meeting was that the Windrush scandal shows how much we all have in common and we must work together for survival.

Have Brexit say through survey

Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, writes:

This month, I am launching my Brexit Survey. At an important time in the negotiations, I want to hear your views on Brexit.

This will help to inform my parliamentary contributions in the months ahead.

For many of us, June 2016 feels a long ago. Brexit preparations have run, stalled and lurched, grabbing our headlines and fuelling our concern.

Since the referendum, more details about Brexit have emerged, and the government’s management of negotiations has taken us to a political and economic cliff edge.

At the referendum in 2016, 75 per cent of constituents in Hampstead and Kilburn voted for Remain.

See the survey on my website blog – tulipsiddiq.com.

We must endorse a People’s Vote

Jonathan Livingstone, Frognal Gardens, Hampstead, writes:

Cllr Pietragnoli claimed in April that “voting Labour in any ward at the local election in Camden will deliver a (politically and tactically) stronger message against Brexit than voting for Green, LibDem or independent candidates”

I, therefore, expect all Labour councillors to support Cllr Porritt’s motion for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.

Given the false promises from leading Brexiters, it is ridiculous that the 2016 referendum has been interpreted by both the government and opposition as a mandate by the British people to leave on any terms or indeed on no terms at all. All serious economists agree with the government’s own forecasts that Brexit will make us considerably poorer.