Toilets, the Ponds, Streatery, Nazanin and Palestine

The closure of so many public toilets has become a focus of national controversy

The closure of so many public toilets has become a focus of national controversy - Credit: PA Images

Toilet access is an issue of public health

John Miles, research associate, Kilburn Older Voices Exchange, writes:

I’m writing on behalf of the Toilet Manifesto for London Group (TMLG) to welcome Mary Langan’s ‘Opinion’ column “Access to public toilets is a human right

Toilets are expensive to run and a challenge for local authorities hit by centrally imposed austerity measures. 

Older people are among those most affected by the dwindling number and frequent inaccessibility of these often poorly maintained and inadequately signed facilities. 

TMLG is a partnership set up by Positive Ageing in London and Kilburn Older Voices Exchange. Besides lobbying the GLA in the run-up to the mayoral election we have started negotiations with Camden and Haringey councillors to get toilet provision recognised as a public health issue for which new administrative arrangements are an urgent priority. 

Anyone with a story to tell or an interest in helping systematically document the whereabouts and condition of these vital facilities is encouraged to get in touch: pailondon.org.uk/toilets/


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An elected body

John McPartlin, Creighton Avenue, Muswell Hill, writes:

Anne Fairweather is disingenuous in her comment (Ham&High letters). 

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The Heath ponds have now reopened for swimmers once more to enjoy, that is true, and they have always been a happy place where everyone could turn up casually and enjoy a day of pleasure. 

They were formally established by parliament, an elected body, as a free facility for everyone’s benefit but Margaret Thatcher removed this and gave them instead to the City of London Corporation, a big money concern that has no such credential and which does not serve the interests of users. 

Entry had always in the past traditionally been free but it now has imposed a £4 entry fee for a limited time-slot visit that must be pre-booked online and paid for in advance. 

The Men’s Pond, in particular, now resembles a fortress with the security fencing that has been installed, and entry is controlled by a guard. 

The Heath Ponds need to be brought back once more under democratic control of an elected body, such as the Greater London Authority, where such issues about usage can be freely and openly discussed with a body that is accountable to those who have put it into office to serve the public need. 

They should therefore be returned to public ownership where elected officials who are accountable can see that the public need is properly met.  

Belsize home

Belsize Village's streatery where customers are being served alfresco. Picture: Belsize Village Busi

Belsize Village's streatery where customers are being served alfresco. Picture: Belsize Village Business Association - Credit: Archant

Michael McHale, Belsize Crescent, Belsize Park, writes:

Born on Eton Avenue in 1984 and a Belsize Village-proper local since 2017, I have always called Belsize Park my home but until recently it was not where my heart was.

Belsize Village never really had a sense of community and over the years many businesses have opened in the area and shut a short time later due to lack of footfall. The slow death of the area seemed to accelerate a few years ago and while many had ideas about revival no one did a thing. 

That was until locals Aya Khazaal and Bob Stephenson-Padron initiated Living Wage-focused community building work in late 2018 via the then-newly set up Belsize Village Business Association (BVBA). They argued coherently that improved working conditions were only sustainable with sustained economic vibrancy. By humanising the people behind the businesses and marketing Belsize Village’s unique offering of independent shops, footfalls began to increase, business closures slowed and new businesses stayed open.

Their efforts massively accelerated when the BVBA launched the Belsize Village Streatery in July 2020 with community infrastructure levy (CIL) funds of £56,000 from local councillors in an effort to help local older residents feel comfortable to return to dining in a safe way after Lockdown 1 of the coronavirus pandemic and to save local businesses. CIL funds are not funds from taxpayers but fees paid by property developers.

With funds only slightly more than two hospitality grants, the BVBA hasn’t just run an outdoor alfresco dining event since July 2020, they solved several of our community’s long-standing challenges such as the rubbish mound that used to sit on Belsize Terrace, staved off any business closures and created sufficient economic vibrancy where new businesses Belsize Organic and Cinder have opened and thrived; brought community where there was none and created a beating heart to the village.

The truth is that if it wasn’t for the BVBA’s community building efforts of the prior years and their hard working and skilled volunteers, a high street revitalisation of the scale of Belsize Village would have cost several millions of pounds if imposed from the top. 

The community engagement bolstered by the BVBA is exemplified in their recent bin planning application which I wrote into. It generated 73 comments - 64 for and nine against. The fact bins attracted so much support also demonstrates how much locals are opposed to the return of the rubbish mound that blighted Belsize Village for years.

Compare the privately-run Streatery’s cost-benefit to the publicly-run CIL funded project of six CCTV around the Belsize area in 2018 which cost £92,000 for six cameras. Not to say the CCTV is not good value for money but it is important to put into perspective the enormous public good that has been generated from the Belsize Village Streatery for so little use of CIL funds. 

The ongoing benefits of the Streatery are also sustainable whereas the CCTV project has ongoing annual public costs. 

Now self-financing, the Belsize Village Streatery’s dining operations and eurobins on Belsize Terrace are funded by the businesses. 

The security guards of last year have been replaced by three CCTV cameras operated for free and legally-compliantly by the BVBA. 

The beautiful planters are maintained by local residents.

What the BVBA does is easy to find out because they post about their activities on social media and I also often interact with its two BAME leaders, the lovely Aya and Bob, who have been elected by the local business community to help Belsize Village prosper and they are doing superb jobs.

The Belsize Village Streatery started as a project to empower older residents but it has resulted in empowering all of us to utilise our public spaces kept clean and tidy by local businesses and resident volunteers. 

I enjoy the sounds of joy while I push my young child in her pram around the village which is now much cleaner and easier to navigate. I have met more neighbours in the last 12 months than in the preceeding 35 years I have been a resident here.

Nazanin

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in prison since 2016. Picture: Family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in prison since 2016. Picture: Family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Leili, Iran, full address supplied, writes:

In 2019, an Iranian news agency published a horrid video of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest.

An official was talking to her in Persian and after identifying, he said “London ishala?”, which means “Are you going London, if god (Allah) wills?”.

Inshallah is a Arabic word almost means “God willing”, or specifically “Allah wiling”. In spoken Persian in Iran, we usually pronounce it “ishala”.

I’m thinking on that moment when a official from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) say to Nazanin, who was in Tehran’s airport for flying to London: “London, ishala?”

And then Nazanin’s life changed forever, she didn’t get to London, she did not go anywhere, the IRGC took her to Kerman and then to Evin Prison, the heights of Tehran.

That moments are significant and strange for me.

She has been imprisoned for almost five years, five years since she was going to be with her husband.

Some wanted to change Nazanin’s life.

It is horrid that some people can make important decisions for you, interesting decisions, to be in the deserts of southern Iran instead of London, or not to breathe, for example.

What do they think of themselves when they are changing a life?

What did they want from her life?

Thousands days, it’s a nightmare, isn’t it interesting to know what happened when some persons want to make life a nightmares?

50 years after these days, what is opinion of those that arrested shocked Nazanin in the airport and killed Mohsen Mohammadpour in the southern city of Khorramshahr?

About Nazanin, it seems she with her life’s intolerable adversities, was soothing for at least Iranian labour activist Sepideh Qoliyan, during the days that she was imprisoned in Evin Prison.

Sepideh wrote this on her Instagram when Nazanin panicked and was taken to the hospital.

“The days when separation from Sepidar had turned Evin into hell for me, the days when I cried to see again Nessa, Zahra, Baran and Makieh, you taught me with a smile, with your words, to carry my homeland everywhere like my heart. You made Sepidar a part of me and called me Sepidar. I calmed down immediately and clenched my fists, my dear Nazanin.” 

Those who have taken Nazanin and the others hostage are themselves hostages, strangely enough, some of them probably know this.

The suffering they inflict does not come from those who did not suffer.

It’s so sad when see that they are so young, some of them are even teenagers, they are captives of greed, anger and grief, victims of discrimination and poverty, and hostages of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Palestine

Cristina Piccoli, CADFA, Fortress Road, Kentish Town, wrote to Sir Keir Starmer:

Today, the internationally-respected organisation Human Rights Watch issued a report, A Threshold Crossed, carefully explaining that the situation in Palestine/Israel can be called apartheid.

This follows a report by the Israeli organisation B’tselem which came to the same conclusion in January.

CADFA believes that the threshold to apartheid was crossed many years ago and the way that Palestinians are forced to live with ongoing violations of their human rights is absolutely shocking but this acknowledgement by a respected international human rights organisation must be looked at. 

We believe that you know a lot about what has been going on in Palestine. CADFA, a human rights charity that has been building links and reporting from the West Bank for more than 17 years, is based in your constituency and we have met you and sent you many reports and several times brought Palestinian visitors including children to meet you in the years since you became an MP in Camden.

However, it is now approaching four years since we last had a good conversation with you about the situation in Palestine, and about six years since we last brought a group of Palestinian children, here on an Erasmus+ exchange, to visit you in Parliament. At that time you were (we thought) as shocked as we were at their stories and in particular their wish to end child imprisonment.

But for the past four years you have been almost silent on Palestine and have even objected to and distanced yourself from those who call out the apartheid situation there. As it is one of the biggest issues in the current world, as Britain has had a role since the beginning and as you are the leader of a major party and hope to lead the country, your silence has been shocking. 

But your voice is needed. As these new reports illustrate, the situation is getting worse and worse.

The Israeli takeover of land, building of settlements on the West Bank, confinement of the Palestinians in small areas of their country has been moving on. Among other chilling events this week has been a well-publicised march of Israeli fascists in Jerusalem, shouting “death to Arabs” while around a hundred young Palestinians were arrested by the Israeli army and hundreds of demonstrators were shot or beaten by the army or settlers. 

These scary developments are encouraged by the silence of those who should point out the wrongs as well as by the loud support of the right wing. 

We hope that you as a lawyer will agree that international law is the peaceful way to try and sort things out. 

The International Criminal Court has agreed to look at the situation in Palestine. 
The Conservative UK government does not want Israel to be subject to the scrutiny of the International Criminal Court. 

Yet reports like these discussed above, the information you have been sent from CADFA and the voices you have heard yourself from Palestine show there is an urgent case to answer. 

We ask you to differentiate yourself from the government position and to publicly support the ICC in taking the case. 

We ask you to raise your voice now on the side of human rights, equal rights and decency. 

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