Readers’ letters: A-level fiasco, Queen’s Wood, Streaterie success and praise for bakery

Protesters at Queens Wood. Picture: Julian Glaser

Protesters at Queens Wood. Picture: Julian Glaser - Credit: Archant

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

A ‘lack of care’ for our young people

Cllr Anne Clarke (Lab, Childs Hill ward, Barnet), Labour London Assembly candidate for Barnet and Camden, and daughter Charlotte Harrison, Hampstead School Sixth Form leaver, write:

The heartbreaking scenes of last Thursday will serve as a reminder of what an incompetent and uncaring government looks like. 18-year-olds across England and Wales opened their A-level results – 700,000 of which were downgraded by a rushed and possibly unlawful algorithm. Many students expecting BTEC results had no results at all. The local comprehensive was also badly hit: as a governor and student of Hampstead School, we have seen first hand how terribly the government has let down the young people of Barnet and Camden.

This is the generation that, after celebrating 18th birthdays in quarantine, will enter a job market battered like never before by both Brexit and the effects of Covid-19. This year’s cohort was also first to sit the reformed GCSE exams which, according to Michael Gove, were designed to drive up standards. If the new, harsher GCSEs truly led to the improvement of A Level standards, we simply cannot understand why the Conservatives chose to reject the high attainment that they hoped to create, and instead opted for days of anxiety, confusing press releases and chaos. Far from risking the kind of over-promotion that has swelled the ranks of its front bench, the government chose to gamble away irresponsibly the aspirations of a generation.

Gavin Williamson would have stuck with “No U-turns, no change” had Ofqual been able to come up with an appeals process that held water. In the face of fury from all corners, no option was left other than going back to trusting teachers and using Centre Assessed Grades.

As a parent with children caught up in this shambles, I share the same concerns as other parents and grandparents who only ever want the best possible future for their children and grandchildren.

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Students remain furious, and rightfully so. The chaos continues as universities are now oversubscribed and students are uncertain if they will need to take an unplanned gap year to take up a deferred place once they have their CAG results.

None of these students deserved to have their futures undermined by Gavin Williamson or Boris Johnson – who, if they are truly so concerned about people being “overpromoted beyond their ability” should maybe take a look at themselves first.

Queen’s Wood

Richard Colbey, barrister, Wood Vale, Highgate, writes:

Most people who live near Queen’s Wood will be grateful for your coverage of the protesters attempting to protect the ancient oaks threatened by demolition effectively by AXA. The woods are owned by Haringey Council and the trees are damaging the foundations of a house insured by AXA. It is likely that the trees could be saved by around £250,000 worth of underpinning and the construction of a root barrier. Felling the trees and repairing existing damage will be significant but will result in a saving to the insurer.

AXA has threatened to sue the council for the cost of the underpinning. It can only do so by bringing a claim in the name of the householders using an arcane procedure known as subrogation. Insurance law entitles insurers to do this, but in a situation like this it shows the utmost insensitivity towards the householders, well known and liked in the neighbourhood and whose children have regularly joined the protesters.

AXA is French owned and worth around 60 billion euros. Beyond argument it can afford to do the right thing and sort this problem out in a non-destructive way.

My own written protests to its chairman were met with polite prompt response: “Our primary concern, is as always, our customer.”

Leaving aside that legally corporations are run for the benefit of shareholders not customers, the reply is crass and hypocritical. AXA has no basis to believe that their customers want threats of an action brought in their name against a cash-strapped local authority.

The reality is that AXA cares only about its profits and preserving its executive’s salaries. The way these trees will be saved is by boycotting the company and perhaps Centrica. Letters of protest may only be met with meaningless platitudes: letters cancelling policies will force the company to think again.

A success

Aya Khazaal, of Pivoine, and Robert “Bob” Stephenson-Padron, of Penrose Care, co-coordinators of Belsize Village Business Association, write:

Belsize Village has emerged from the dark months of the Covid-19 lockdown not just stabilised, but thriving. Our story is a victory of inclusive growth strategies.

The boom we are seeing in the village is the culmination of a nearly two-year-old revitalisation project led by the Belsize Village Business Association, started in October 2018 when we embarked to reverse Belsize Village’s 2014-18 economic decline with a long-term goal of getting our community to be sufficiently vibrant so businesses could become Accredited Living Wage Employers. This goal means inclusiveness is at the heart of our growth strategies.

Out of the lockdown emerged a new alfresco dining experience, the Belsize Village Summer Streatery, which has led to an “economic explosion” in Belsize Village. Although the business association is the organiser and operator, the event is the product of working together: residents, businesses and Camden Council. In the run up, five consultations with residents were carried out, all of which showed overwhelming support. Our council support has come from Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats. Our business association event staff have been greatly aided by four resident volunteers: Angela Feldman, Dr Fabio Fiorelli, Richard Lagani, and Jane Lyons.

Look what we have achieved together. Using the marketing engine built by the business association, the Streatery reached 100 per cent occupancy by the second weekend. Businesses are booming, over 100 jobs are saved, and new jobs have been created. Residents and visitors can celebrate life safely everyday in what has been a glorious summer. Our event staff and contractors are paid the London Living Wage so you can often see our colleagues dining at their own event.

We have beautified Belsize Village terrace square and our “Clean Belsize Village” program has eliminated the square’s historic recurring rubbish mound, solved the long-standing fox-induced rubbish leakage blight, reduced daily cigarette butt pollution by 95pc and reduced general littering from Daleham Gardens/Belsize Lane to Belsize Place. One local resident told us Belsize Village is now the cleanest she has ever seen it in 30 years! A sudden economic boom does not need to lead to a dirtier community.

Thank you to all who have supported Belsize Village’s successful revitalisation.

A pleasant discovery

Maria Canosa, full address supplied, writes:

In these days of restrictions and anxieties it was wonderful to make a happy local discovery. It is so pleasant to go out for a coffee and a snack to our local cafes. But as many bread lovers, I have long had a struggle between my love for baked goods and the after-effects from eating them. That is no longer a concern from now on.

I passed Heath Street Bakehouse a few times on the 268 bus and I liked the look of the place. One day I went in and was so pleasantly surprised by the lightness of the focaccia I spoke to the baker to congratulate him.

Salah is a very friendly man, who loves his craft and knows more than anyone I have ever met about seriously clever baking.

He is a purist both in the ingredients and baking process he uses.

The effects are immediately obvious after you try his bread.

He told me many people who, like me, have trouble digesting gluten, have eaten his bread with no digestive problems afterwards.

This is apparently due to the very slow process of fermentation applied.

Something better explained by him, always happy to talk to customers.

I suspect he could have comfortably retired by now, but Salah loves his work and enjoys direct contact with the public.

I thought this was news worth sharing with all local bread lovers.

As for me, I really miss my daily baguette if ever I am unable to get there.