Bench for elderly attracts litter and noise

You’d think a bench would be an uncontroversial object. Just a few pieces of wood, not getting in anyone’s way. Doing its bench thing.

You’d be wrong, so terribly terribly wrong.

KOVE, which stands for Kilburn Older Voices Exchange, together with WHAT (West Hampstead Amenities & Transport), managed to get Camden to install a bench on the corner of Hemstal Road and West End Lane. Those of you who live in the frozen northern wastelands of Fortune Green may not even know where that is. Hemstal is the first turning to Kilburn after you leave the shops of West End Lane heading south. It also has, somewhat bafflingly, one of those Legible London signs.

That’s quite the jaunty perch

Anyway, I was sent a press release by KOVE telling me about this bench.

“After consulting members of the community, the site was chosen to help give people a rest from walking the steep incline.

Mrs Dawda, a local resident, said, “I often feel breathless walking up Hemstal Road and so a chance to have a rest is very good. In fine weather, I can also just sit to have a read and chat to new people. It is a great improvement to the area.””

Mel Wright, KOVE coordinator explained, “This bench is part of our ongoing campaign for community seating in Kilburn and West Hampstead. We carried out a survey a little while back about what older people needed to help improve the quality of their lives. One of the main priorities was somewhere to sit and rest whilst going out. People with chronic health conditions and disabilities are sometimes marooned at home unless they can be assured of a sit down when they go out to do shoping or visits. This new seat is a valuable community resource to be enjoyed by everyone and we hope that like all the other benches it will be treated with respect.”

A noble aim Mel, a noble aim. Just seems there’s been one small problem, and local residents association WHGARA (I do apologise for all the acronyms in this article) has been quick to pounce on it.

Camden contacted local councillors and neighbourhood police teams before the bench was put in place and ‘no significant issues were raised at the time’, but it seems the council didn’t speak to residents of St James’ Mansions. That’s the building behind the bench. They are now complaining of long evenings of nuisance and noise and days of litter.

Graffiti (from a satisfied diner?)
Photo via WHGARA

It turns out that there used to be a bench roughly in the same place, but it was removed some years ago because of similar problems.

WHGARA is categorical in its condemnation of the whole sorry affair:

The bench is in the wrong place and attracting the wrong users. Elderly people have not been seen sitting on this bench – builders on their lunchbreak, yes! Drinkers and drunks and people fast asleep in the evening, yes! The council have neglected to supply any litter bins and all the cans, pizza and takeaway boxes and fish and chip wrappers end up on the gardens behind the bench in St James’ Mansions front gardens.

One might argue that you can’t really legislate for who uses a public bench, unless you want to stick one of those “priority seat” stickers from the tube on it. If a builder wants to sit down and have a sandwich at lunchtime, then I think that’s fair enough. A litter bin would be sensible though.

The problems in the evening are slightly more challenging, though one wonders whether, as the occasional patrol car drives up West End Lane, an officer could wind the window down and have a quiet word with any rowdy bench-abusers. Whether the graffiti is related to the bench is hard to prove from a photo, but either way, it seems a shame to have to rip up the bench.

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  • Benches are definitely not an uncontroversial topic!This post brought back memories from when I was the councillor responsible for community safety in Camden. I had to push the street environment officers to consult with community groups, residents associations, ward councillors etc before installing new benches. Sometimes they were inserted without thought close to estates with significant anti-social behaviour problems.

    That said, I think KOVE have done great work in highlighting the need for community seating in NW6 – there were very few benches on Kilburn High Road until recently.

    I think the risk of ASB can be reduced by better designed seating. Up in Hampstead you find very smart metal seating with arm rests that prevent people from lying down on the bench. For some reason, we never seem to get that type of bench in West Hampstead/Kilburn.

  • James Coatsworth

    "Fish and chips wrappers" – where from? Nearest chippy has to be Nautilus and I can't imagine many people are walking to this bench from there. A lack of decent chippys in the area is a long standing lament of mine.

  • whgara.wordpress.com

    As some of this story came from the WHGARA blog, whgara.wordpress.com, I think it is important to clarify a couple of points. WHGARA did not ‘pounce’ on the bench problem but was asked to get involved by The St James Management after they had exchanged a number of emails with the Camden Community Presence Manager and felt their concerns were not being taken seriously.
    We do not condemn the ‘whole sorry affair’ but recognise that KOVE and WHAT were trying to do positive things for the elderly community and Camden failed to consult with the one stakeholder group- St James’- which would experience DIRECTLY the impact of a bench outside their homes.

    • Oh dear. Quick to pounce was intended to imply you were on the ball when the problem came to light. And whole sorry affair is entirely my own editorial phrase, and the article on the WHGARA website is fairly condemning in tone, suggesting that Camden has failed in its duty. A story about a bench isn't going to get many pulses racing so a little bit of mire colourful language probably means