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The Kitchen Table bows out after 10 years on Mill Lane

It's Jennie from the Block (Mill Lane that is)

The Kitchen Table is changing hands. It had been up for sale for a while, and the owners Jennie Vincent and Tom Leslie found a buyer a few months ago (after an earlier offer fell through). However, it has taken a long time to finally dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s (or teas).

The Kitchen Table has a special place in many of our hearts – and stomachs. It is the ‘Central Perk’ of West Hampstead. In fact, Jennie revealed that a customer had told her recently that when she moved to West Hampstead she was not happy at all but one day she wandered into the Kitchen Table and from then on she felt at home. That customer is not alone. The Kitchen Table has been an important ingredient in the West Hampstead mix for the past ten years – it is one of those independent businesses that give the area character and which so many locals love to boast about (even if not all of them actually patronise these businesses).

To see how Jennie feels about it, here is her farewell blog post. Warning – hankies at the ready.

However, running such a people intensive business is HARD work. There is rarely day off, with the added stresses of running a small business. But through it all, Jennie, Tom and the team have kept on smiling, baking cakes, making coffee, scrambling the best eggs in the ‘hood (and crisping the second-best bacon butties in the country, as we now know), and we, the people of West Hampstead, kept on returning. At least one customer, who used to live in Kilburn (or Queen’s Park borders as she called it) but has now moved to the other side of the Heath, still comes back to the Kitchen Table for a regular brunch.

After a decade of hard work, therefore, Jennie and Tom have decide to explore new avenues. Neither of them are yet quite sure what those avenues are, but they are not short of possibilities. Jennie is thinking about staying in catering, but with a business that requires less of a commitment than running a café six days a week. Tom, who used to work for Cycle Surgery, thinks that something bicycle-related might be on the cards. Whatever they choose, I know that West Hampstead wishes them all the best.

Who will stepping into their shoes? A chap called Amir, what his plans are we don’t know, but WHL wishes him well.

So… people of Whampstead, this will be Jennie and Tom’s final Saturday, it’s the last chance for those famous brunches. Tuesday 18th will be the final day of trading and, as Jennie and Tom are incredibly grateful to their loyal customers, the KT will stay open after normal closing time for a farewell drink. If you want to pop by, please do.

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State-of-the-art fitness studio opens in West Hampstead this July

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Forget everything you know about fitness studios – the revolution is coming – and the first in line can get a fantastic pre-opening offer.

For the team behind Studio Society, a brand new next-generation fitness studio, there was no other place to launch than West Hampstead which has a tendency to favour specialist boutique businesses.

Studio Society swaps the mundane for the extraordinary, tearing up the rulebook to bring an exciting twist to your fitness regime.

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Situated by the park on Fortune Green Road, West Hampstead’s new health club promises to take you to another place.

A world combining the latest sports science with immersive entertainment for an optimised, turbo-charged fitness experience.

It’s the perfect harmony of physical exercise and sensory motivation. The ultimate natural performance enhancer you didn’t know you needed.

Step off the tube and straight into a tropical beach for your workout. You’ll work harder than you ever thought possible, as floor-to-ceiling video and synchronised lighting consume your senses and drive you faster towards your goals.

Cinematic sound adds another dimension to the environment, the scent of sand and sea permeating the air takes you beyond captivation into another world.

This is more than just fitness. This is a new frontier.

Unleash your true competitive streak to compete with other cyclists at Spivi® using real-time performance technology.

Bring your A-game to one of the POWER classes and fire up your metabolism with high intensity, dynamic workouts.

Relax your body and your mind with a calm group fitness class – perfect for those who want to slow down the pace, stretch and rediscover their inner calm.

With over 100 live and 100 fully immersive classes per week – including favourites like Body Pump, HIIT, Body Combat, Yoga and Pilates, the path to a healthier you is made easy.

It’s where technology meets fitness meets your imagination. An extraordinary fitness experience exclusive to West Hampstead.

The studio opens its doors next month, and members who join now can take advantage of a limited pre-opening offer. For just £20/month you will have access to unlimited classes, pay no joining fee and not be signed into a contract. That’s 200 classes to choose from and an instant saving of over £50. There are limited places available at this price.

Sign up now to lead the revolution.

Studio Society
37 Fortune Green Road
West Hampstead
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www.studio-society.com

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Out with a bành: Pay what you want on Ladudu’s last day

This month West Hampstead says farewell to Ladudu, the rather good Vietnamese restaurant by the stations. We will be sad to see it go but, as you will find out, when one door closes another one opens (in fact two).

Teresa considers herself a West Hampstead local as she lives in the area – it’s her ‘hood’ as she put it. But she got here in a rather roundabout way.  Born in Vietnam she fled as child with her family in the war, and they ended up as refugees in Sydney, Australia. After university she worked in IT and decided to take advantage of a one-year visa for a working visit to the UK. That one-year trip has now stretched to twelve as she met and married her husband here.

Having lived elsewhere in London, she ended up living in West Hampstead, which she describes as “a great combination of transport links to central London but also all the quaint local shops, a local and cosy feel”.

Aurevoir West Hampstead!

Aurevoir West Hampstead!

What’s in a name

Teresa was always passionate about food and cooking but was not a professional chef. In 2009, she was made redundant and thought it was time to follow her dreams. She started off offering Vietnamese cooking lessons with a view to opening her own restaurant. On her way to work she had walked past Glo on West End Lane. The pan-Asian restaurant closed after about a year, but the prominent site – directly opposite the Iverson Road junction was clearly good. The site became vacant, Teresa had some culinary experience under her belt and she had always wanted to open her own business. Hello Ladudu.

About that name. It has featured in some unflattering lists of London restaurant names, so where did it come from? In Vietnamese, la means leaf and dudu means papaya. Put the two together and you get papaya leaf! It is also has a family resonance as Teresa’s grandfather was a herbalist and used to drink papaya leaf tea for its health benefits.

Ladudu passed the crucial three-year stage but, like all businesses, had to face some bumps in the road. Last year there were two: Brexit caused a jump in the cost of imported ingredients, but not a jump in the prices she they could charge and a broken water main (in West Hampstead, who’d have thought) damaged the basement kitchen. Although the damage was covered by insurance it still meant the restaurant was out of action over the busy Christmas period.

Ladudu’s logo and branding may make it look like a chain, which it isn’t. Teresa had hoped to open another branch, but says that that would have made the business “too commercial”, so instead she took the decision to close the restaurant and focus on other opportunities in order to preserve a lifestyle that still gave her some flexibility.

Teresa and her saucy new business.

Teresa and her saucy new business.

Sauce of enjoyment

Teresa says she has learned a huge amount in her five years running Ladudu, and saw other opportunities opening up. First, she has started marketing the sauces she was making from scratch for the restaurant and she wants to go back to teaching others how to cook Vietnamese food, but probably this time over the internet. Ladudu sauces will be available at Wing Yip and other Asian grocers around London, plus at the grocers on West End Lane and hopefully Cook too. Don’t be surprised if you see a familiar face on Dragon’s Den in the not too distant future.

With her background in IT she has also set up systems at the restaurant both for cooking but also for the all important stock and cost control. So she and her husband have set up a company, Insolution software, to sell that too! Plus she is writing a cook book.

However, there is one last surprise for West Hampstead. Ladudu closes at the end of the month, but on the last day, Monday 27th, for lunch and dinner (and in between) it will be pay-what-you-want. Head along, enjoy the food one last time – top tip: it’s the best ice cream in West Hampstead – and buy a jar of sauce (or two) so you can take some Ladudu home with you.

What of the restaurant? Teresa had interest in the site from Pret and bakery chain Paul. A burger chain was also interested. However, in the end Teresa preferred Rosa’s Thai Café. If you’re not familiar with this small chain, then expect Thai food with a modern twist. It started in Spitalfields and has opened several branches since, the latest one in Brixton. West Hampstead will be the first branch outside Zone 1.

Adieu to Ladudu, all the best to Teresa and thank you for introducing us to some Vietnamese favourites. Who’s going to make WHL’s banh-mi now?

Inside Ink at Blackburn House Image: Ink Global/Sidetrade

Is anyone counting West Hampstead’s job growth?

The reason West Hampstead seems inundated with new developments is that it was designated a “Growth Area” by City Hall. The Growth Area is specifically the part of West Hamsptead around the railway lines. Targets were set for 800 new homes and 100 new jobs between 2010 and 2031. Yes, 2031.

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Growth Area is outlined in black

Seven years in, we are far ahead of that job target, but there seems to be little joined up thinking about the implications. The whole issue is far more complex than it should be.

For a start, Camden seems to have changed the employment target from 100 jobs to 500 jobs (or 7, 000m2 of business space) in its Core Strategy 2010-2025 document. Yet Camden’s soon-to-be-adopted Local Plan 2016-2031 still talks about the Mayor’s targets of 100 jobs, which is also the current London plan target.

Inside Ink at Blackburn House Image: Ink Global/Sidetrade

Inside Ink at Blackburn House – Image: Ink Global/Sidetrade

Nido student housing. The first development built in the growth area was the student housing on Blackburn Road that replaced the Mercedes Benz garage. It contains 2,100m2 of office employment space, which at 12m2 of floor space per job should have created 175 jobs. It took a while to let the space out, but now, the magazine publisher Ink Global operates out of the space (if you have ever read the Easyjet Magazine that’s one of theirs), and they sublet some, but in total there are 150 full time jobs on site, and the student housing itself accounts for nearly 20 full-time jobs on site. So at ~170 full-time jobs, this space has delivered as predicted but not quite as planned. And indeed that is the entire London Plan job target met in one fell swoop.

But of course it doesn’t stop there,

West Hampstead Square. Alongside the 198 flats, there’s the M&S (583 m2), which will have ~35 full-time equivalent staff. There is another 300m2 of retail space, which has been taken by the Village Haberdashery, Provenance butcher, and Johns & Co. (Ballymore’s in-house estate agent). There’s also a further five units of 100m2 each for business or healthcare still to be let. There has been early stage interest from a doctor and a dentist for possibly one unit apiece, and other businesses for the remaining units. All told that should result in another 40 full time employees. This would give a total of ~90 new full-time jobs.

156 West End Lane. Employment was a hot topic for this redevelopment given that Travis Perkins would be removed. And of course the 2,400m2 of empty council offices had employees. The new retail space (763m2 divided up into three units, provisionally two retail and one restaurant) should create ~45 jobs, with another ~70 jobs coming from the regular office (593m2) and affordable small business workspace (500m2).

Liddell Road. Liddell Road actually falls outside the Growth Area, but does that mean that its impact should be completely ignored when thinking about local infrastructure? We would argue not.

Yellow = school, blue = housing and red = offices, workshops

Yellow = school, blue = housing and red = offices, workshops

Alongside the residential units to be built there is 3,700m2 of employment space. According to the planning officers report this will create ~280-295 full-time jobs when fully let. And the new school should eventually account for ~50 jobs. 

Iverson Tyres. Also outside the Growth Area – just, as part of its planning permission the developer was required to keep 150m2 of light industrial space, however, it has since applied to convert it to B1 office or D1. This should create a further ~10 jobs.

If we add up all the jobs we know about, then we get to just over 700 new jobs in ~8,700m2 of space (including Liddell Road outside the growth area). Even if you deduct the jobs that have been lost from these sites (a hotly contested number especially on Liddell Road), there is no question that net new jobs in West Hampstead will far far exceed both the London Plan target of 100, and Camden’s revised target of ~500.

And there are still more growth area sites to be developed, such as Midland Crescent, which will add another 100 or so, and of course the O2 car park, which has the potential to dwarf every other site.

But will all the developments deliver the total jobs predicted? Is there demand for office space in West Hampstead? Only a couple of years ago, 65 & 67 Maygrove Road were predominantly office space but agents struggled to let the space and it has since been turned into 91 flats after the developer successfully argued that there was no demand for office space in the area.

Another piece of the puzzle is that much of the new employment space is labelled ‘start-up’ and ‘incubator’ space, both at 156 West End Lane and Liddell Road. Although this sounds trendy, there is no sign of anyone offering, for example, co-working space in the area. If Camden was serious about this approach, it could have tested the waters at 156 West End Lane (the upper floors of which have been empty for years now) as a ‘meanwhile’ space for start ups and creative businesses. It feels a bit like Dad dancing at a family wedding, faintly embarrassing jumping on a bandwagon.

David Matthews of local agents Dutch and Dutch, which is letting the 500m2 flexible commercial space in West Hampstead Square, is unsurprisingly upbeat about the situation. The space hasn’t officially started to be marketed yet because construction isn’t finished yet (no surprise), but he says there has been strong demand.

West Hampstead is changing, and all these new jobs around the stations will change it even more, hopefully bringing more activity during the day though also more commuters using the stations. We looked at the issue of growth area sustainability back in 2013, but nearly four years later it feels that there has been little progress in tackling the inevitable outcomes of increased employment and residential density.

Researching this article has shown how difficult it is to understand exactly how many jobs are being created.  There is no record in the planning applications of how many jobs were lost at the Ballymore site, the Mercedes Garage or even the old Council offices, so it difficult to know the net increase. Is anyone keeping track of this? Things are not helped by confusion on what the actual targets are – with different numbers  in the Camden Core Strategy, and the Camden and London plans for the West Hampstead Growth area. The same plans talk about street improvements and better environment, but when it comes to action there is similar confusion.

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An Insight into: Rock Men’s Salon and Wired Co.

John Padalino runs not one but two local businesses – and they are next door to each other. Rock Men’s Salon and Wired Coffee on Broadhurst Gardens. If you don’t know them already, they are a couple of the ‘hipper’ businesses here, but with a mix of typical West Hampstead customers.

What brought you West Hampstead?

The C11 bus from Brent Cross.

It was literally by accident. I had moved up to London from Devon, and was searching for a while for somewhere to set up a men’s salon. I trained at my dad’s salon in Devon, which has just celebrated it’s 55th anniversary. I ran it for a while but the pull of London was too strong.

Back in 2010 I was shopping in Brent Cross, and I randomly got on a bus to explore. The bus was a C11, and I got off at this place that had a nice vibe and looked interesting; West End Green. I wandered down West End Lane and at the bottom saw a salon called Matrix, which was empty in a parade of shops opposite the tube station. I thought that it was a pretty good site next to three stations.

Then I went in to Café Bon next door and checked online for leases available in West Hampstead. The first lease that came up was … Matrix!

I immediately called Network Rail, which was  offering a three-year lease with a six-month break clause. I could see there was the potential for redevelopment but the other local shopkeepers said there had been talk of it for 15 years and nothing had happened. So I took the risk and signed the lease.

What happened next?

Business got off to a good start but just three months later a letter arrived giving me my notice! West Hampstead Square was going to be built and our little parade of shops was going to be knocked down. It was pretty stressful having only just got the business off the ground but one of my clients, a surveyor, said, “Face it, London is evolving, it’s going to change, don’t fight it.”

By the time we moved, 18 months later, I had already found a new place round the corner for rock, in what had been the Millennium café. However, my old place was going to be empty for three months so I negotiated with Network Rail to open a pop-up coffee shop there.

John sitting between Rock and a Wired place

John sitting between Rock and a Wired place

What’s your fondest memory of the area?

Getting up at 5.30am and opening the door on that pop-up coffee shop. It opened from December 2011 until February 2012. We decided to focus on the coffee – pure and true – so we decided to work with a great roaster. Tom, my business partner’s dad, made all the furniture but you could still tell it had been a barbers; there were still mirrors on the wall.

Tom and I would start off serving coffee in the morning then pop round to Rock to cut hair! From day one people responded really positively and we got so much encouragement. So when the shop next to Rock became available, my landlady asked if wanted to take it on and the pop-up coffee shop suddenly had a permanent home. I was amazed at how things turned around from just two years earlier.

It is not just Tom and his Dad that helped, but our partners too.  It was a team effort.  Likewise now I couldn’t do it without the baristas at Wired and the other stylists at Rock.  I’m proud of them all.  Also, having a very local website like West Hampstead Life really helped too.

Wired Co. - they really know their coffee.

Wired Co. – they really know their coffee.

What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

What has surprised me was the nice mix of customers. With the connections to the City and Canary Wharf we have customers who work in the city, but we also have guys who work in TV and sportsmen. From conservative to cutting edge – a nice mix of everyone.

Broadhurst Gardens has changed even since we arrived but the businesses offer something a bit different, from a pizza cooked in a wood burning stove, bespoke chocolates, violins, and great coffee and food in Wired.

The regulars  really encourage us to improve and change; we’ve introduced V60 and aeropress [Ed – new ways of making of coffee]. Currently, we are seeing demand for plant-based foods and are jointly developing those with our food producers.

What’s for lunch?

Normally I have a smoked turkey, avocado and harrissa sandwich and one of our chia pots for dessert. But this month being VEGANuary, I’m going more vegetarian with our carrot, courguette and hommous on rye with a flat white with cashew milk.

If I go out, I like Pham just a couple of doors down, the food is excellent. Or popping in for a drink at the Gallery.

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Evolving, supportive and responsive.

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Colour Division closes after 42 years

West Hampstead became a little less colourful last week. Ironically, it was with handwritten note not something printed that Colour Division announced last week that it was closing.  It will be missed.

Colour Division makes a sad announcement

Colour Division makes a sad announcement

Colour Division was not just one of the longest standing business in the area (it was set up in the mid-70s, under Edward Heath’s government during the three-day week), it was also one of the most social businesses with a loyal customer base.

David Jacobs, who we all knew as Dave, explained that although he was really sad about having to close the business, “since it happened there has been a fantastic response from customers and suppliers”.  It was a tough decision for him to make, but it has been made a little easier “knowing that people really feel for you”.

When Colour Division celebrated its 40th anniversary, Dave was open about how the business was facing challenges. Colour Division had changed with the times: when it first opened, its customers were photocopying letterheads and fanzines (iD magazine was first printed here), but more recently it had moved heavily into digital printing, colour photographic prints and Linked-in portraits.

However, the world was changing faster than Colour Division could keep up with.  Dave looked into other options, including clients investing in the business and moving to a different location (he had at one stage thought about moving into the Sherriff Centre). But moving the equipment alone would have cost £20,000. To survive, the business needed an injection of capital, which the banks were reluctant to lend.

Dave and Steve in happier times back in 2014

Dave and Steve in happier times back in 2014

Other factors he cites are the tough parking enforcement regime and lack of pay & display bays, which he estimated cut revenue by 25% in recent years. And of course, like so many other traditional businesses, printing has been disrupted by online competitors. Vistaprint alone did $1.2 billion of business in the year to June 30th.

Rising rents didn’t help matters, although Dave was at pains to point out how supportive his landlord had been in trying to find a solution. Even so, annual rent of £30-40,000 plus business rates of £15,000 meant that Colour Division’s fixed costs were substantial for what is essentially a low-margin business.

What does the future hold? At the moment, Dave is dealing with the insolvency, not something he has experienced before! When things quieten down he plans to more photography and maybe do something with his nephew or brother (with whom he started the business). Both of them are in the printing business.

Whatever Dave decides, West Hampstead wishes him – and Steve and Debbie – all the best.  Without you West Hampstead will be, well, just a bit less Colourful.

Mamacita West End Lane

Adios to businesses on one block of West End Lane

The rapid rise of the West Hampstead Square towers is the most visible sign of change in the neighbourhood, but the retail landscape is changing fast too. Foxtons in, Mamacita and Social out, Holistic… no-one seems quite sure.

Most of the changes are happening on the strip of West End Lane bookended by Tesco and Sainsbury. Clothes shop Social closed its doors for the last time on Monday after 10 years.

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Next door to Social, hair salon Holistic has been told it may also have to close and find new premises. Hakki, the manager at Holistic, said that the landlord, who also owns Social’s premises, has a potential tenant interested in taking both units and turning them into one large double shop (the unconfirmed rumour is that this might be a chain bakery). However, Hakki hopes to hear in the next few weeks that the salon will be able to renew its lease and continue operating where it has been for 19 years, but this is yet to be confirmed.

Finally, Mamacita announced on Twitter that it was closing, after less than two years in West Hampstead. The owners have told West Hampstead Life that although they can’t reveal the identity of the new tenant, it should be another independent business.

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What would you like to see opening on West End Lane? Over to you in the comments below or on the forum.

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Small Business Saturday takes local business to Downing Street

Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday – a government-backed initiative set up to support small businesses of all kinds in the all-important run-up to Christmas.

Conveniently, this year, it falls on the same day as the West Hampstead Christmas Market, so December 6th will be the perfect day for festive shopping with some refreshments along the way – if you’re in need of inspiration, check out our gift guide.

One local shop that has embraced Small Business Saturday is Passionate About Vintage on Mill Lane. Owner Natalie Leon explained why she decided to take part.

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“When I first heard of it I thought ‘What a lovely concept’, because it’s something I feel very passionate about – supporting independent local businesses is the way I shop and live” she said, adding that West Hampstead is the perfect place to get involved, “as we’re surrounded by independents here”.

Passionate About Vintage’s event will take place between 1-6pm tomorrow. Customers will be treated to mulled wine and mince pies while they browse the collection of vintage jewellery and handbags, which range from the 1920s to 1960s. Natalie is also offering a 10% discount on all purchases made in the shop on the day.

Natalie also sees the event as a way to celebrate her first Christmas in West Hampstead – the shop opened in July this year – and to thank her local customers and neighbouring businesses for their support. She’s also hoping that if the event is successful, that it will inspire other independent businesses in the area to take part next year.

Natalie’s dedication has paid off – Passionate About Vintage was selected as one of 100 “Small Business Saturday Champions” across the country, and today she was invited to an event at 10 Downing Street hosted by Business and Enterprise minister Matthew Hancock.

West End Lane Books is also taking part and was featured in The Huffington Post’s Small Business Saturday picks. Tomorrow they will be offering 20% off all Walker children’s books.

You can find out more about Small Business Saturday here.

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Festive fun and freebies at West Hampstead Christmas Market

The West Hampstead Christmas Market takes place tomorrow, December 6th, between 10am and 4pm on West End Green.

Images from http://www.westhampsteadchristmasmarket.co.uk/

Images from http://www.westhampsteadchristmasmarket.co.uk/

There will be a range of stalls selling Christmas gifts and decorations, including local businesses such as Monsters of Art, The Village Haberdashery and Achillea Flowers. Edible treats will also be available – The Kitchen Table and Bake-a-boo are among the cake stalls.

It’s not all about shopping however – there are fun, free activities for kids in the neighbouring Emmanuel Church. There are music, dance and storytelling activities as well as plenty of Christmas crafts including balloon modelling and snowglobe-making.

Look out for these festive freebies around West End Lane and Mill Lane, too:

  • Hot mulled wine from Alexander’s estate agents
  • Free mince pie at The Black Lion – Say ‘Christmas Market’ at the bar
  • Tastings of two festive wines and cheeses at The Hampstead Butcher & Providore
  • Father Christmas courtesy of Chelsea Square Partnership, at their office (11am – 1pm)
  • Hot chicken soup tasters on West End Green, courtesy of David’s Deli, plus a discount on soup and bread when you eat at David’s Deli (12pm – 3pm)
  • Falafel tasters on West End Green courtesy of Chicken Schnitzel & More (12pm-3pm)
  • Mince pies and hot mulled wine at Passionate About Vintage, plus a 10% discount on everything in the shop (1pm-6pm)

Local promotions on West End Lane and Mill Lane

  • The Alliance, Mill Lane: Free glass of wine with Christmas menu 1st-24th December
  • Bengal Spice: 20% discount on 6th and 7th December
  • Crystalise Salon: 20% discount all services 6th-13th December
  • La Brocca: 50% off mulled wine on the day
  • The Eye Cube: 20% discount on everything
  • Headmasters: 10% discount on all treatments
  • Insight Optician: 10% off glasses 1st-31st December
  • Mill Lane Bistro: Free glass of house wine with a meal 6th and 7th December
  • Peppercorns: 10% discount on all food

Check out the full list of happenings at the West Hampstead Christmas Market website.

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Remix latest victim in West Hampstead burglary spree

Remix’s new bar/salon on Broadhurst Gardens is the latest victim in a spate of break-ins to West Hampstead businesses that’s now reached double figures in the past few weeks.

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Remix’s new premises on the north side of Broadhurst Gardens was the latest target after its salon opposite had already been hit

After West End Lane Books and La Brocca suffered burglaries at the weekend, Remix’s new premises was burgled in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Intruders broke in at the back of the building and stole the till, a company laptop, alcohol from the salon’s new bar, and hairdressing equipment. Salon manager Nick Petkov said he was bemused by some of the items stolen, which included scissors, clippers and top-of-the-range shampoo.

Danny Van Emden from West End Lane books said it was “utterly inspiring how lovely everyone’s been”, adding that since the incident in which £140 was stolen but no books were touched, sympathetic customers had brought biscuits, croissants and flowers, and that the shop had received around 400 supportive tweets. “The response of our customers, both in person and on Twitter, mitigated the sadness we felt on Saturday morning.”

A couple of doors down, La Brocca was also broken into on Saturday night, and had bottles of alcohol stolen.

Other West End Lane businesses that have been targeted recently include Toomai, hairdresser Holistic, health food shop Health Town, Remix’s other Broadhurst Gardens premises, Pro Arte the violin shop, the Sherriff Centre, and a couple of businesses on Finchley Road.

Tim Khoshsima of Health Town said that his shop’s front window and glass shelves were smashed, and thieves made off with the till and items of stock including protein supplements and beauty products. He said “I love West Hampstead as an area to do business, but this has made me realise we need to be more careful”. He added that he planned to take more precautions agains burglaries, including fitting a shutter.

Sergeant Ian Hutton from the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood team believes the burglaries may be linked, and the burglary squad is investigating. CCTV footage exists of at least one of the break-ins, in another case, the CCTV unit itself was stolen.

Sgt Hutton advised businesses not to keep large amounts of cash on premises, as this is the main target for thieves. He also advised that if people see anything suspicious especially at the rear of shops that they call the police then, not leave it until the morning. If you are suspicious, 101 is appropriate, but if you believe a crime is taking place 999 is the correct call.

The police can also give free crime prevention advice to any business that requests it. Just call 101.

WHBA Video Screenshot

Video highlights West Hampstead’s first class transport links

The West Hampstead Business Association (of which West Hampstead Life is a member) has been busy in the past couple of months. It’s worked with local filmmakers Krishna Govender and Tom Jones to produce a video extolling the virtues of West Hampstead’s transport connections.

The idea is to show prospective businesses that West Hampstead is a good place to do business (though no doubt estate agents will be using it freely to show why it’s also a great place to live). This is intended to be part of a series of short videos that focus on different aspects of what makes West Hampstead great.

Alongside the video, the WHBA is also responsible for the lovely hanging baskets that now adorn West End Lane and Mill Lane. Hanging baskets It also hosted a summer party at the Cricket Club with a discussion on rent and rate reviews courtesy of Jeremy Manuel and Philip Waldman, and a sprinkling of celebrity glamour from Imelda Staunton.

WHBA Summer BBQ - Imelda Staunton

Imelda Staunto captures the WHBA’s attention. Photo courtesy of David Jacobs @ Colour Division

Affia Bioh at Chop Pot

O2 Centre looks to start-ups to boost food offer

People don’t tend to salivate at the prospect of shopping centre dining. Indeed, in some places it seems we’ve barely moved on since the days when a jacket potato with chilli was considered cutting-edge cuisine.

Yet, on the eve of another restaurant opening there – Frankie & Benny’s starts trading Monday – the O2 Centre on Finchley Road is showing signs of becoming a dining destination, especially as two more intriguing eating places have popped up in and among the more familiar chains. Not that it’s easy for these start-ups to mix it with the big boys. It take determination and a keen understanding of what the centre looks for from restaurants.

Falafel City, on the upper floor, was founded by Mitan Sachdev and his wife Kajal in 2011. It took them two years to refine their recipes and bring their product to market – and, crucially, to find the right location to open their first restaurant.

Mitan and Kajal Sachdev

Kajal and Mitan Sachdev

Mitan gave up his career at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to follow his dream of becoming a restaurateur. Kajal developed all the recipes. “She’s an amazing cook”, he says. The couple has created what they believe to be a unique concept: freshly-cooked falafels with an international twist, served in a bright and buzzy fast-food environment.

One of the main hurdles for the fledgling business was finding suitable premises to rent. From the outset, the Sachdevs knew that they wanted their business to be surrounded by premium brands, but with no track record of running a restaurant, many retail landlords were reluctant to take them on.

The O2 Centre unit was ideal, says Mitan, who’s far removed from the clichéd streetfood vendor parking a van in a south London carpark. “We’re grateful to the O2 Centre management for taking a bit of a punt” he says. Perhaps reflecting his corporate background he adds, “I always wanted to be near a Vue, and near a Virgin Active.” How convenient!

It’s clear that branding has played a big part in Falafel City’s success. “If you want to play with the big boys, you have to look the part,” explains Mitan. Indeed, Falafel City, with its distinctive rotating sign, fits in comfortably alongside its nearest neighbours Byron and Yo! Sushi.

Affia Bioh has a similar story. Affia gave up her job in banking to start selling Ghanaian food. After successfully testing the market with a chilled range, which Selfridges took on and still sell in its food hall, she wanted to branch out to a “Chop Bar”. The result: Chop Pot, which sits opposite Waterstone’s on the ground floor on the way to Sainsbury’s and sells hot takeaway food.

Affia Bioh at Chop Pot

Affia Bioh at Chop Pot

The O2 Centre was a logical location for Affia, who was born and raised in the area – she attended South Hampstead School for Girls and St Augustine’s in Kilburn. She likes the diversity of the local population. “Local people are very inquisitive about different cuisines and want to try them”, she says. She’s happy to talk customers through the different dishes, which are Ghanaian street food classics such as Jollof Rice, a spicy one-pot rice dish, and a deliciously rich chicken and peanut stew.

Like the Sachdevs, Affia is pleased with the support she has received from the O2 Centre and recognises that it’s taking a chance on a small start-up business, and proud to be offering something different. “I’m carrying the torch for West African food in the O2 Centre,” she says proudly.

Jason King, who manages the O2 Centre on behalf of owner Land Securities, says he welcomes the arrival of both Falafel City and Chop Pot. “There’s a lot of pressure on the shopping centre industry from online businesses, so the whole experiential side, such as food and leisure, is increasingly important.”

For Jason, it seems that creating an environment where well-known chains rub shoulders with smaller players is an important means of differentiation. “It prevents that feeling of ‘every shopping centre looks the same’ which can creep in if you’re not careful.”

He sees it as mutually beneficial: start-ups gain exposure and visibility, while the centre gets credibility by being able to boast a wide range of dining options. “In terms of the variety, we have a good mix. Byron is a great brand for us to have. Nando’s is still one of the big movers and shakers, and Yo! Sushi is a worldwide brand. It’s great to have them alongside small startups like Falafel City and Chop Pot, which is a lovely story of someone setting themselves up in business with a great product and lots of enthusiasm, but who have also got their branding to a level where it can fit in amongst the bigger players.”

Once again, the importance of branding comes to the fore. “It’s got to feel right,” says Jason. “We’ve got a design guide in terms of what we want to see from shop fits. We’re not looking for conformity, but looking to set the bar at a certain level.”

Anna Adamczyk, restaurant manager at Zizzi, one of the centre’s long standing tenants, agrees. “The new developments here are exciting for everyone – the local community and existing businesses. Hopefully by having more options for customers, the O2 Centre will become a destination for those looking for somewhere to have a bite to eat.”

Centre manager Jason’s enthusiasm come to the fore as he talks about the changes underway; three new restaurants (Wagamama, Rossopomodoro and Frankie & Benny’s) are opening on the top level next to Falafel City. The work is scheduled to be completed by June or July, and the centre is planning a big launch event to promote itself as a dining destination. Zizzi also confirmed that its restaurant will be getting a refurb in July. It’s taken a while though, Wagamama and Rossopomodoro were first mooted at the start of 2013.

Jason King has been at the O2 Centre since Land Securities bought it in 2010. The place has changed quite considerably in that time, both in terms of the brands it’s brought in and the physical changes to the building. The company is intent on creating the kind of place that people in the Swiss Cottage/West Hampstead area – and beyond – will want to spend time in. Goodbye Jurassic Park-style fake rock interior and Hello outdoor terrace, which will be shared between the three new restaurants, bringing al-fresco dining to the centre – even if al fresco does mean “view of Finchley Road traffic”.

What do you think? Has the O2 Centre transformed into a dining destination, or is it still more of a pre-cinema pitstop? As ever, feel free to leave your comments below.

Winners

Brinkworth Dairy is local’s crème de la crème

Winners

West Hampstead Farmers Market has a new champion. Over four weeks of online polling, customers have voted Brinkworth Dairy as the market’s “Favourite Stall” of 2014.

The dairy, which sells cheese, milk, butter and cream as well as serving top-notch coffee, gets to unfurl the coveted yellow banner for the next year over its stall, which is right at the end of the market.

The dairy farm is based in North Wiltshire, and has been in the same family since it was taken over by William Collingborn in 1910. It has bred Friesan cows ever since in a closed herd.

The cheese making business began in 2006, and 80 percent of its revenue is now from farmers markets such as West Hampstead. Ceri Cryer, great-granddaughter of William, and her husband Chad run this side of the business, while Ceri’s dad Joe runs the farm. Chad can usually be found manning the coffee machine at the stall.

Ceri explains what’s special about the Brinkworth approach:

Everything is really handmade. In the cheese making, we don’t even use any mechanical stirrers or cutters. This means the curd is handled really gently and means that the cheese is really creamy. It means we only produce small volumes (60kg) at a time. Even the milk is bottled by hand just using a small tap. Milk is better when it hasn’t been knocked around so much. The ice-cream is made in 3 litre batches at a time which makes it easy to do bespoke flavours. The yogurt is made in a unique way – again with little handling and our customers love it!

Ceri’s own favourite product is the cream. “It’s so thick! It’s not double but quadruple cream”.

Farmers markets may mean that producers can cut out the middle man, but they are still hard work. Brinkworth is at seven markets every week, two on a Wednesday, two on a Saturday and three on a Sunday (including Queens Park, where it won best stall last year). Different markets have different emphasis. Marylebone is all about the cheese, whereas milk and butter does well in West Hampstead as families use the market for more of their staples.

What makes them the customers’ favourite. Chad reckons (sotto voce) that it might be that they’re good value!

Brinkworth Dairy West Hampstead

40 years and they still can't spell West Hampstead (never trustr a printer!)

Happy Birthday! Colour Division turns 40

If you’re interested in how West Hampstead has changed since the mid-1970s, you could do worse than have a chat with David Jacobs.

Dave, as he’s known to his staff and customers, has been running print shop Colour Division from the same premises on West End Lane since day one, exactly 40 years ago today. He still remembers when “the only place you could get a cup of tea was the Wimpy Bar”.

40 years and they still can't spell West Hampstead (never trustr a printer!)

40 years and they still can’t spell West Hampstead (never trust a printer!)

Things have moved on since then, not only on the West Hampstead gastronomic scene but also in the world of printing. Colour Division has seen huge changes since the early days when people queued out of the door to photocopy letterheads and fanzines. Today’s customers are more likely to request LinkedIn profile photographs or high-quality digital prints.

One thing that remains constant is the long-standing staff members; alongside Dave, Steve Twohill has been working at Colour Division for 28 years, and Debbie Harris for the past decade.

Dave and his team have built up a loyal local customer base over the years: “I think we’ve served virtually every small business in the area, many times over… from estate agents to doctors surgeries, to accountants and architects”, as well as innumerable one-person businesses and private individuals.
“We’re very embedded in the community. Everybody seems to like us and like the service. We’ve got clients literally from day one still coming here, and now we’re serving their children.”

Dave and Steve in action

Dave and Steve in action

Dave started the business with his brother Ivor who at the time was working for a magazine that needed a short-run printing service. Together with Fred and Sid Kenton, a couple of local printers, they set up Colour Division inspired by short-run instant printing services in the US. The business started under the challenging conditions of the Three Day Week – imposed by Edward Heath’s Conservative government to conserve electricity.

Dave recalls more glamorous stories from the early days though – such as West Hampstead’s lively music scene of the time. “There was a big punk scene in West Hampstead” he says, which was centred on The Railway (formerly Klooks Kleek).

He also told us about Colour Division’s role in the early days of iconic style magazine i-D, when it was produced from founders Terry and Tricia Jones’ house nearby. “i-D magazine started in West Hampstead. In the early days, the whole team used to come in. There were maybe six paste-up artists, they used to put it together here, and we printed it. It started off as a very basic thing.”

The area may have changed beyond recognition, but Dave still believes it has the same community feel as ever. He is relaxed about the arrival of big chains on West End Lane: “People knock all these big chains moving in, but actually everybody uses them.”

He continues “It’s a myth that West Hampstead is a village, but it does have a villagey feel. People have said to me ‘I’ve never been to a place where people say hello to each other’. Those are some of the best things. It’s the friendliness of everybody. It’s a people area.”

What are the downsides of West Hampstead? Dave says that the parking restrictions mean that he loses out on a lot of business. “The parking’s impossible, from a commercial point of view. I reckon we’ve lost the potential for 25% of business.” He’d also like to see new businesses come into the area: “There’s too much focus on people escaping during the day; we need more business units – more small studios would be good.”

He’s also upfront about the fact that, with ever-increasing overheads and decreasing margins, times are hard. “I’m enthusiastic about the business, but there’s more stress than ever because of the financial constraints. The banking crisis has been really tough on small businesses”.

Will Colour Division introduce 3D printing to West Hampstead? The business has managed so far to keep up with new developments in the industry and Dave isn’t ruling anything out. However, he says the technology isn’t quite there yet. “Maybe in a couple of years.” You heard it here first!

Dave is clearly passionate about hearing his customer’s stories. One of Colour Division’s services is professional portrait photography – they even have a studio downstairs – and as he flicks through his portfolio, it’s clear that he’s proud of the shots. He also knows what everyone does. “We like people. We want to talk to you about your job.”

"You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. That keeps it interesting"

“You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. That keeps it interesting”

It’s the variety of work, and the customers and stories behind each assignment, that keep things interesting for Dave. As well as jobs for large business clients, people come in with requests for photographs of newborns, or wedding invitations, or funeral orders of service.

In Dave’s own words, “It’s an unusual business, I would say. There are so many different types of jobs. You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. We’ve seen life here in the raw. That keeps it interesting.”

Since the demise of the Wimpy, where does Dave go for a cup of tea now? True to his comment earlier that people still use the chains, you’re most likely to find him clutching a Starbucks.

pharmacies_ft

Don’t Dispense So Close To Me

pharmacies

Once upon a time there were two pharmacies on Mill Lane. They were about 200 metres apart. But not for long.

Aqua Pharmacy, at 102 Mill Lane, is planning to move to 59 Mill Lane, which has been occupied by Escott’s upholsterers for many years. This would bring it just 10 doors away from T. K. Impex pharmacy (81 Mill Lane). T.K. Impex isn’t happy. The move is planned for May/June.

At stake would seem to be the trade from patients walking back from the West Hampstead Medical Centre on Solent Road. Once, those that turned left would probably go to Aqua for their prescriptions and those that turned right would go to T.K. Impex. Aqua’s impending move means it becomes the nearest option for everyone coming up from Solent Road.

Sanjay Patel, the Aqua pharmacist, has owned the chemist for the past three years. He insists that there is nothing sinister behind his desire to relocate. Worried about ever-increasing rents, and with the lease about to expire on his current premises, he took the opportunity to buy the freehold on the Escott’s building in order to have more control over his business. Mill Lane may appear to have many empty ground floor units but the reality is, one local estate agent told us, that few landlords are willing to sell their freeholds at the moment.

Aqua plans to move in to where Escott's has been

Aqua plans to move in to where Escott’s has been

The Escott’s unit is about the same size as Aqua, he says, and he has ambitious plans to modernise it and improve his shop’s offering and customer experience. From his point of view, this is a sensible way of protecting his business. The advantage of being a freehold owner is, he says, “the only driver for the move”, and his intention is not to take business away from anyone else.

Unfair advantage?

Kim Khaki has run T.K. Impex for more than 30 years, and is unhappy with Aqua’s proposed move. He views the relative newcomer as a threat to his business and feels Aqua will have an unfair advantage because it will be the first pharmacy people see when turning onto Mill Lane from Solent Road. Aqua’s new premises is also very near the post office and bus stops, so he is worried that patients may go there for the convenience factor.

He also expressed concern that having two pharmacies in such close proximity is “not adding any value to the West Hampstead community” of which he feels very much a part.

T.K. Impex, somewhat confusingly, is also known by its trading name of H. V. Thomas (the name of the previous owner who ran the pharmacy for 45 years before Kim took over). It is, however, testament to the current owner’s personality and dedication that despite the various names above the door, the shop is known to its regular customers simply as “Kim’s”. He does seem to have an extremely loyal client base of his own, with some customers signing a petition to protest against Aqua’s application to move closer.

Indeed, Kim is proud of the longstanding relationships he has built up with patients, and the personal service he and his staff provide. On our visit to the traditional-looking chemists, a steady stream of customers arrived for prescriptions, advice, or just a chat, including eminent local historian Morris Beckman who, at 94, has been a regular visitor to the shop for many years.

Sanjay certainly believes that regular customers tend to remain loyal to a particular pharmacy, having built up a trusting and personal relationship, sometimes over many years. He expects Aqua’s regular clientele to follow it down the road to its new address and, likewise, for the regular users of T. K. Impex to keep going there. He is keen to emphasize that he “will not be changing the patient base”.

Kim accepts that there is little he can do to block the move, but feels that it goes against an unwritten pharmacists’ code of conduct. Any pharmacy move needs regulatory approval but as Aqua is moving only 140 metres and will continue to provide the same services, it will almost certainly be deemed to be a “relocation which does not result in significant change” to local patient groups.

Kim, however, asserts that as well as damaging his business, Aqua’s relocation will inconvenience patients at the other end of Mill Lane, who will now have to walk farther. He believes it would make more sense for Aqua to relocate in the other direction, as the nearest chemist’s that way is far away on Manstone Road off Cricklewood Broadway.

Sanjay counters this by pointing out that Kim’s chemist is nearer to the Cholmley Gardens GP practice, so patients there will continue to take their prescriptions to their regular chemist. He is confident that there are enough customers in and around Mill Lane to support both businesses, and that as they offer different services and products, they will each keep their regular clientele.

Will this be a case of “let battle commence”, or is it more likely that each pharmacy’s loyal customers will stick with what (and whom) they know?

Liddell Road sign

One afternoon on Liddell Road

“Shake my sleeve” said Alan, sticking out a hand covered in oily blue plastic gloves.

Alan Livingstone is one of those people you immediately like. He’s 16 – quite cherubic – and an apprentice mechanic at West Hampstead Motors. It was the 64th garage he tried for a position. Apprenticeships are hard to come by, even when the government gives employers a contribution for taking them on.

It’s not much to look at, but it’s home to more than 25 businesses

West Hampstead Motors has committed to keeping Alan even if it is forced to move out of Liddell Road as part of Camden’s redevelopment proposals.

I asked Alan if he was local. “Archway,” he replied.

“C11?”

“Yes”. He grinned. Hardly the world’s most glamorous commute, but we all know how well connected West Hampstead is. If West Hampstead Motors moves to Brent Cross, then maybe Alan will be lucky and get an even longer ride on the bus of dreams. But what if it has to move somewhere else? Alan didn’t seem to fancy the idea of working in the type of “managed workspace” that the council is planning to put into Liddell Road. He’s an apprentice, not The Apprentice.

Alan was one of several people I met last week on the industrial estate. Branko Viric, Alan’s boss at West Hampstead Motors showed me round. He’s spearheading the Save Liddell Road campaign, which is trying to get Camden to reconsider its proposal to redevelop the site for a primary school, private flats and office space.

This may be a futile cause. Sadly, in a dense urban environment and in these times of austerity, it’s rarely going to be possible to please everyone. The school places are needed, but the traders on the estate are finding it hard to see their future somewhere else and don’t feel the council – their landlord – has explained clearly enough why this is the only solution, or done much to soften the blow.

Park Royal?
Thus, the mood of most of the people I spoke to on the site was more one of despondence than anger, frustration more than fear. These are businesses that have mostly been on the site for more than 10 years, and in some cases 20 years. They have local clients and yet there is nowhere local for most of them to move to. The words “Park Royal” and “Brent Cross” kept coming up, generally with a sigh.

Relocating will mean building a new client base, and in many cases finding new staff. The number of people employed on the site is one of the areas where Camden and the traders don’t see eye-to-eye. By Camden’s reckoning, 80 people work on the site. The traders believe it to be 250. The truth is presumably somewhere in between, but the real number is moot when Camden claims that the redevelopment will deliver more jobs than it takes away.

Even if that did turn out to be true, are they the right types of jobs? Where will the Alans of West Hampstead go for work? A few doors down from Liddell Road is Handrail House, which itself is being redeveloped after agents failed to find office tenants after two years of trying.

Ironically, the development proposal for the Iverson Tyres site, also very nearby, has had a light industrial use forced upon it for its one commercial unit, even though the Iverson Tyres company want an office space there and, with flat directly above it, it would suit an office space. At least perhaps one of the smaller Liddell Road businesses might be able to move in there.

One or two of the businesses are more suspicious, there’s hushed talk of social engineering, and the most cynical believe the school will never materialise and the land will simply be cleared for housing.

That’s all too conspiracy theory for me; but when the traders complain about the lack of transparency from Camden, there’s a ring of truth about what they say. “We’re passed from one person to another,” said one trader – he’s wary to be identified in case the uncertainty spooks his customers. “Everyone tells us we need to speak to someone else if we want to find anything out.”

Something’s not right
In Camden’s cabinet meeting at which this decision was made, Cllr Theo Blackwell emphasised that he believes the council takes “extraordinary steps to reach out to people”, implying that the council had behaved in an exemplary manner in dealing with the community and businesses.

There’s a mismatch here, as elsewhere, between the council’s claims and the reaction from those affected. Some discrepancy is perhaps inevitable – people with different agendas perceive situations in different ways; when those discrepancies start to build, then they become worth examining more closely.

The trader who has been passed from pillar to post says that the council have been unclear about what would happen if businesses don’t sign the end-of-lease agreement, although they have been clear that contesting the decision would be a very expensive option.

“I am unaware of any relocation assistance from Camden,” he added. “In September I was told that a consultant had been commissioned to work with businesses and would visit Liddell Road, but we’ve seen no-one.” He acknowledges that an agent, Lambert Smith Hampton, has provided a list of possible relocation properties, although none of them are of a comparable size or rent for his business.

Ironically, he also recently received a letter from Camden’s head of economic development, which said “As part of our commitment to support growth… the Council has partnered with Funding Circle to provide finance to lend directly to businesses like [business name removed], to stimulate growth and create employment right here in the Camden area. Meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you every success with your business and hope that you achieve growth and success over the forthcoming years.”

These sort of bureacratic cock-ups are par for the course at any large organisation, but they don’t help businesses feel any better about the way Camden is managing their “transition” (as management consultants would call it) off the site.

Vacant stares
Mark McKenna, from Swiss Cottage, runs Dynergy out of one of the end units. It’s a distribution business and Liddell Road’s location was the big selling point for him. He’s unusual in Liddell Road as he’s a new boy – he’s only been there a few months and knew about the plans when he signed the six month lease. What he found odd was Camden’s reluctance to let the unit, despite there still being more than a year from when he took it to the proposed redevelopment. “They said there were no vacant units, but I’d come and peered through the windows – this was definitely vacant.”

Mark McKenna, Dynergy

We sat in Salaheddine El Bahloul’s office at German Auto Care – Branko’s chief competitor, but the camaradarie on the estate is evident. He is more angry than most about the plans, and questions the whole notion of the need for the school. He also points out that while there are other garages in the area – especially under the railway arches around Kilburn – he and Branko both offer much easier access, which lots of customers appreciate.

Jobs are already evaporating
The estate isn’t all men and vehicles. Vicki Culverhouse runs Curtain Concepts, a bespoke curtain makers and fitters. They do a lot of work for Heal’s. She’s been on the estate for 10 years, but was in St John’s Wood and Kensal Rise before that – her customer base is definitely local. “The children of our early customers are now coming to us,” she says proudly.

Vicki Culverhouse, Curtain Concepts

“I employ two people now, there were more but with all this uncertainty there doesn’t seem any point in hiring replacements.” It’s a story I hear elsewhere. It would be good to know whether Camden took this into account when calculating jobs here – some have already been lost because of this decision hanging over them. Vicki also works with people off-site on a freelance basis and she is their main customer.

The employment reports specifically states it did not look at the broader supply chain of businesses, in fact it admits that there is a lot of data is does not have, and David Tullis, Head of Property Services talked in the cabinet meeting about having spoken to “a number of businesses” to estimate employment numbers, rather than all businesses. The report says:

Data relating to the socio-demographic profile of the commercial tenants and their employees does not exist and/or is not available. Furthermore, research undertaken by the Council to identify the impact of the Council’s CIP on local business and employment in the borough did not collect or analyse any equality data relating to the age, ethnicity, ability, religion or gender of the business owners, their workforce or supply chains in situ on CIP sites (Ref: CIP Employment Study – April 2013). The above research did, however, report anecdotal evidence that entry level jobs within the larger businesses occupying CIP sites are generally filled by migrant workers. No further information is available. (link: http://democracy.camden.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=31213 page 6)

The workforce on Lidell Road is actually quite eclectic. Sam Thomasson runs Fieldmount Terrazzo Ltd, an Italian tiling specialist. He’s well-spoken and laconic. Although his company occupies one whole unit, perhaps he’ll find it easier to downsize, he suggests. He employs four people and another eight as and when. He takes his leave, to check his friendly dog isn’t playing in the traffic on Maygrove Road.

Moving isn’t easy for some people. There’s an industrial-scale t-shirt printing business on the estate. The company moved its presses from one unit to the neighbouring unit a couple of years ago – it took the presses 12 months to settle to their new home and work perfectly.

Before heading back, we catch a few minutes with Andy from one of the two adjacent metalworks businesses. He seems resigned to it. I ask who his clients are. “Property developers, architects, builders. We produce custom-made balconies, that sort of thing, steel beams; no-one seems to like walls any more in their flats” he says.

One wonders whether any of Andy’s steel beams will be used in the flats to be built on the site. He won’t be a local supplier any more, so probably not.

Coup de grâce?
Camden can slap itself on its back all it wants. Its achievement is impressive – it’s delivering a capital investment programme despite steep funding cuts. It’s also good to hear some members of the cabinet – notably Cllr Valerie Leach – be extremely balanced in their comments about the Liddell Road scheme, while some others seem to see only the positive news story. Cllr Leach specifically noted the impact on businesses saying that “We are in the process of arranging meetings with you.” Lets hope they happen.

The Liddell Road traders may have become an inconvnenience, but the least they deserve, after so many years trading, is to be treated with a bit of respect by the council that has been their landlord. In the meantime, we’re still waiting for that job breakdown data from Camden.

Related articles:
Camden steams ahead with Liddell Road redevelopment  December 4th
Liddell Road: How the night unfolded December 5th
Camden responds to Liddell Road criticism December 9th
Liddell Road: Show your workings December 13th

Liddell Road sign

Liddell Road: Show your workings

The Liddell Road saga continues. Now the local Lib Dem councillors have requested a “call in” of Camden’s decision to go ahead with the expansion of Kingsgate School into Liddell Road, which would mean the end of the light industrial estate there now, and the building of 120 private flats and some commercial office space.

Calling in a decision is a formal way of stalling for time. In Camden, four councillors can ask for a decision to be called in. It’s not used very often as it is disruptive – the borough solicitor is responsible for determining whether the call in is valid.

What’s prompted the call in? Pretty much the reasons that have been articulated on these pages. It’s important to make this point: no-one is denying the need for school places; nor are people unaware that the job of politicians is to make tough decisions; there are always  trade-offs. But when those trade-offs involve the livelihoods of more than 20 businesses that have been established for many years in their local area, it is also right that the process is as transparent as possible.

More work needed
The councillors requesting the call in explain that although they recognise that the plan is largely within Camden’s policy and budget framework, they believe that more examination is needed of the numbers of jobs to be lost through the redevelopment. “The belief is that jobs are actually being lost rather than created, which we consider to be outside the policy framework. The Liddell Road Trade and Business Association believe that 250 jobs will be lost, whereas the report assumes a figure of 80-100.”

They also argue that the views of groups such as the West Hampstead Neighbourhood Development Forum and the Sidings Community Centre were not given proper weight in the consultation process, nor was there any meaningful consultation with residents and especially potential parents north of the railway line. We’ll discuss the consultation with the businesses themselves in a follow-up piece

Understanding the equations
Then there’s the (frankly, shocking) point that all 120 homes on the site are intended for private sale, with no guarantee of any affordable units. Given Camden attempts to impose a 50% affordable housing quota on private developers for a scheme of this size (which developers are usually able to negotiate down on viability grounds), it will surprise a lot of people that in its own development the council isn’t minded to deliver any affordable housing. One wonders quite what sort of community in West Hampstead the council wants to see. This decision is even odder, when you realise that the scheme is designed to deliver a £3 million profit (I think “surplus” is the correct word, but you get the idea).

There are other more detailed concerns about the decision to expand Kingsgate rather than build a new school, which would have to be an academy and Labour – which controls the council – is opposed to the idea. These are very valid concerns, although of course there’s an argument that any party in power is going to be influenced in its decisions by its ideology – that’s why there are political parties and not just bureaucrats.

What do the local councillors want to see happen?

We request that Cabinet should revisit its decision to redevelop the Liddell Road site and to create a split-site school, and that in doing so it should have before it more complete information on the number of jobs lost on the site, the views on local groups and residents on the proposal, more complete information about the exploration of alternative ways of creating more primary school places in the NW6 area, and greater transparency around the impact on central government funding, in terms of both capital and revenue, of the decision to expand an existing school rather than to build a new school on this site or another.

Show your workings
What this all boils down to is that familiar maths teacher annotation.

  • Lets see the documents that led Camden to decide there are 80 jobs on the site. The Save Liddell Road campaign is happy to share its research that led to a figure of 250 (which it admits does involve some extrapolation).
  • Lets get a clear understanding of why Camden isn’t willing to include any affordable housing in its scheme.
  • Lets get a clear understanding of how this scheme fits into Camden’s Core Development Policy regarding employment space

On that final point, here’s the relevant policy:

Having a range of sites and premises across the borough to suit the different needs of businesses for space, location and accessibility is vital to maintaining and developing Camden’s economy. An increase in the number and diversity of employment opportunities is fundamental to improving the competitiveness of Camden and of London. The Council wants to encourage the development of a broad economic base in the borough to help meet the varied employment needs, skills and qualifications of Camden’s workforce.

Camden already has, according to its own Core Strategy document, one of the lowest stocks of industrial and warehousing space among London boroughs. There has been virtually no new provision of such premises in the borough for many years. The document also says that “it is unlikely that the retail or hospitality sectors will provide straightforward alternative job opportunities for people losing industrial/warehousing jobs in the borough.”

The Core Strategy document continues:

The Council will continue to protect industrial and warehousing sites and premises that are suitable and viable for continued use. This will help to provide premises for new and expanding businesses, support the Central London economy and secure job opportunities for local people who may find difficulties finding alternative work. In addition, we will promote development that includes space for industrial uses to serve the Central London business market.

To reiterate – councils must make tough decisions; and school places are clearly needed. Cllr Theo Blackwell has already set out here why some other alternatives are not viable. Nevertheless, if the solution is the forced removal of all the businesses and jobs on Liddell Road, to be replaced by not just a school, but office space and entirely privtate housing, then the community needs stronger assurances as to how that decision has been made, and whether there could be any way in which provision for replacement light industrial space could be built into upcoming developments (e.g., 156 West End Lane and the O2 car park).

The risk otherwise is that West Hampstead truly will become nothing but a collection of expensive two-bed flats, estate agents to sell them, and hairdressers to ensure the residents are well-coiffed.

Camden – please show your workings.

Logo_2

Business Assocation finds new momentum

Tomorrow evening, the West Hampstead Business Association holds its reLaunch event. An early disclaimer: West Hampstead Life is involved in the WHBA and has been helping the existing committee think through this revamp.

Why now? ¦ Launch event ¦ Aims ¦ Should I join? ¦ Cost ¦ More info

The WHBA was set up in 2011 with support from Cllr Gillian Risso-Gill, and was involved in bringing the farmers’ market to the neighbourhood and in the initial negotiations to relocate the post office into the Sherriff Centre in St James’ Church. But momentum had waned.

Why reLaunch now?
It won’t have escaped your notice that West Hampstead is going through some major changes in terms of residential developments, with more on the horizon.

The WHBA wants to harness the drive and enthusiasm of local businesses to ensure that the local economy captures these benefits, while ensuring we have a mixed, vibrant business environment. It is not pro-independent shops and anti-chains, nor is it fixated on West End Lane.

These are tough times for all businesses, and the WHBA will also seek to help local businesses by sharing ideas, looking at ways to lower costs, and finding innovative solutions in order to keep them competitive.

There are a wide range of issues that concern businesses – some local: rents, parking, dirty streets; some larger in scale: the threat from online shopping, business rates, getting to grips with new payment technologies and social media… there are many more.

With all these factors in play, the WHBA decided to revamp and relaunch in order to get the drive and enthusiasm back. The committee is:

  • André Millodot from The Wet Fish Café
  • David Matthews from Dutch & Dutch
  • Reuben Miller from Alexanders
  • Jennie Vincent from The Kitchen Table
Launch event – take two
Boris Johnson turning up a couple of weeks ago was a surprise – he had been invited to the launch event, but more in hope than expectation. With just three days’ notice of his sudden visit, it wasn’t possible to bring the whole launch event forward, so a mail went out to the original WHBA mailing list and a good crowd turned out to hear the Mayor talk about what City Hall could do to support West Hampstead businesses.

The proper reLaunch event is Wednesday December 11th. If you’re a local business and you didn’t get an invite, then please mail ku.gr1502998092o.abh1502998092w@abh1502998092w1502998092, or just turn up.

It starts at 6pm downstairs at The Gallery on Broadhurst Gardens (I believe there’s mulled wine available). At around 6.45pm we have a guest speaker. Leo Hollis, author of Cities Are Good For You, will speak for 15 minutes about the link between high streets and communities. Leo’s a local too, so he’ll be able to bring a West Hampstead angle to his talk. The WHBA committee will also explain in a bit more detail what the association hopes to achieve and the benefits of joining up.

What will the WHBA actually do?
At the heart of the revamp is the idea that the WHBA shouldn’t become a talking shop, but should deliver tangible results. Campaigns will therefore be limited but specific, and combine some short-term easy wins, and some longer term issues. The committee is extremely open to (i.e., “wants”) ideas and contributions from members.

First up, there’s a push to raise the profile of West Hampstead as a place to do business – and there are several strands to this, such as making a promotional video, getting a better Wikipedia entry for West Hampstead, and boosting the PR activity. In the longer term, Camden is consulting on parking issues a lot at the moment, and this is a challenge given that residents and businesses have very different needs.

To debate all these issues and to collect the thoughts of the whole business community, the WHBA is going online with a forum and a monthly e-mail newsletter, both for paid members only. The forum is the place to raise concerns, share ideas, solve problems and build consensus. The newsletter will capture each month’s hot topics, bring a round-up of local business news, and share wider trends. I’ll be writing the newsletter, and I can honestly say I think it’s worth the membership fee alone!

Should I join?
If you’re a business based in, or operating in West Hampstead, then yes. The WHBA will welcome freelancers to supermarkets, mechanics to property developers. If improving the business environment matters to you, then you should join in. It will help locals share ideas about how to run their businesses more efficiently and competitively, as well as making more visible changes to the area. So even if you don’t have customer-facing premises, the WHBA can offer significant benefits. Come to the reLaunch event and find out more!

The committee believes that professionalisation of the WHBA is vital, which does incur some admin cost. However, most of the subscription fees will be ploughed into campaigns. There may be specific initiatives where the WHBA needs to raise more money – for example beautifying the street or getting better Christmas trees for next year! It will, of course, extract money from other sources where possible, but we all know how tight public sector funding is.

The cost
The cost to join is based on the size of your business, and if you join before December 31st, then you get a whopping 50% discount.

Membership is valid for 12 months.

  • Freelancer £25 (£50 from Jan 1st)
  • Single shopfront £75 (£150 from Jan 1st)
  • Double shopfront £125 (£250 from Jan 1st)
  • Multiple £200 (£400 from Jan 1st)

As well as your money, what the association really needs is your commitment. Not every issue the WHBA tackles will benefit every business equally, but a collective effort to support the local business community will undoubtedly be for the good of the local economy.

Where can I find out more?
If you can’t make it to the reLaunch event, then do contact the WHBA and someone will get back to you. It’s also on Twitter @WhampBiz, or just go to the website, where you can also sign up.In the meantime, download the flyer that’s been handed out, or read it below. If you’d like to join, then fill it in and hand it in to any of the committee or scan and e-mail back. Someone will then contact you regarding payment.

Naturally, as one of the people behind this revamp, I’m excited by the possibilities it offers. From simple stuff like better Christmas trees on West End Lane, to thornier issues like retaining a good mix of job types, I believe that a healthy local economy and a healthy community go hand-in-hand. Don’t grouch from the sidelines, West Hampstead is changing and the WHBA is changing with it. Be part of it.

LiddellRoadplan

Camden steams ahead with Liddell Road plan even as job loss numbers queried

This evening, Camden Council’s cabinet met to discuss a wide range of topics. HS2 was by far the most high profile. But tucked away in the agenda – in fact so well hidden that you’d have to have inside knowledge to find it – were details about the “Liddell Road scheme”.

I’ll explain what this is in more detail in a moment, but there’s one thing to understand. In one extremely important regard, a number that Camden is using to help push its own proposal through is clearly wrong. According to some people, very wrong indeed. And this matters – not just for the people directly concerned, but for the mix of our local economy.

Let me take you back.

West Hampstead needs a new primary school. This is a different issue to the free school debate that’s going on at the moment, that’s for a secondary school. This is a primary age issue, and Camden is pushing hard for an extension to the successful Kingsgate School. When they say “extension”, we’re not talking about building a new science wing, we’re talking about an entire school-size building about a mile away from the existing one. The whys and wherefores of this don’t really matter at this moment, although some would argue that they are ideological rather than practical.

The preferred location for this extension is Liddell Road. Most people say “Where?”, but in fact Liddell Road is five minutes’ walk from West Hampstead’s stations, and is home to more than 25 businesses employing – traders there claim – 250 people. That’s a lot right?

Camden council, however, believes there are 80 jobs on the site. Even if the 250 is an exaggeration, the discrepancy is surely too big to write off as an administrative error.

Camden plans to pay for this new school by building flats next to the school and selling them on the open market. Someone told me yesterday that these would have no affordable housing units, but that seems implausible. Camden has also boasted that the site will offer employment space – office jobs for around 130 people.

done the maths?

By Camden’s reckoning, there’s a net gain of 50 jobs. By the traders’ reckoning there’s a net loss of 120 jobs. Quite a difference.

Nor are these like-for-like jobs. This is swapping light industrial jobs – skilled manual work – for office work. Yet, barely a stone’s throw from this site, agents struggled for two years to let modern office space, until they finally gave up and that site is being turned into flats. Camden also admits that it’s woefully short of light industrial space and is forcing the Iverson Tyres redevelopment to have a small light industrial unit. None of this really adds up, unless you accept that the council appears willing to go to any lengths to deliver the school.

Unsurprisingly, the local traders on Liddell Road aren’t happy. They are an eclectic bunch. I’d assumed it was most car repair outfits, and there are certainly some there. But there’s also a glassware company, an upholsterer, a Middle Easter art restorer, and other surprising businesses that I suspect most West Hampstead residents had no idea were on their doorstep.

No-one’s denying the need for the school places in this part of the borough. The traders are aware of this. They are being led by Branko Viric, who runs West Hampstead Motors. I met him, his brother, his Dad and various other employees when I went to see them this week [a side note and only anecdotal, but I saw at least 20 people working in Liddell Road and I only walked up to the end and back and only went into one unit]. West Hampstead Motors has been there 14 years, but most businesses have been on the site far longer.

What Branko is saying is that not enough thought has gone into alternative options. He has set out quite a few in an open letter to all Camden councillors. Most of them probably wouldn’t fly – expanding Kingsgate on its own site seems unlikely. One idea though has that ring of common sense about it.

Kingsgate Workshops, which sit next to the school, is a collective of artist studios. It’s very popular, it has lots of exhibitions that most of you never go to, and it’s been around a while. It’s also a perfect location for extending Kingsgate School. Largely because it’s next door.

Where would the studios go? Well, there’s space on… yes, you’ve guessed it, Liddell Road. The buildings on one side of the estate are subsiding and could do with being replaced – they’re also not all in use at the moment. It’s been impossible to let them with the prospect of redevelopment looming large. Could the Kingsgate Studios relocate to Liddell Road? It almost sounds too sensible.

It would leave Camden with a financial problem – it has to pay for a new school, and there’s no money from central government. But have they even looked into it? Has anyone done the sums? If they have, why haven’t we been told about it? There’s all that Section 106 money knocking around at the moment after all – would some of that help offset the cost? The point is less that this is a brilliant solution, and more that this is at least an alternative that makes some sense and yet we have no idea whether it’s ever beeen thought of. Would Kingsgate Studio artists like the idea? I’m sure some would find it very disruptive. But nowhere near as disruptive as losing their jobs and their livelihoods.

Local councillor Keith Moffitt was at the meeting earlier this evening and “urged” the cabinet to defer the decision as the report misrepresented both the job numbers and the consultation results. Cabinet member Phil Jones tweeted not long after, “Camden cabinet just agreed to rebuild one school in Somers Town and extend another in West Hampstead – without a penny of support from govt”, and later “officers stated that evidence supports council figures”. However, a tiny glimmer of hope flickers on the horizon as he also said in response to my question about the discrepancy in job numbers that “I agree that this issue needs to be clarified and work to now take place on that.”

The development has caused controversy for other reasons too; specifically the distance between the two schools, which won’t help parents with siblings at both sites (the sites will be divided by age group); and the fact that the school decision and the decision on the residential and commercial redevelopment that is funding it are being treated separately, even thought the former is entirely contingent on the latter making it inconceivable that the latter won’t get approved whatever objections may appear.

Branko and his colleagues on the site may yet get a chance to bolster their position. They should be applauded for not simply rolling over, even if they have left the PR campaign a little late, and for thinking about solutions that maximize the benefit to everyone and include the school.

Camden’s cabinet may have made its decision this evening, but there’s a sense that this is far from done and dusted. Do read Branko’s letter – also available below

Related reading:
Liddell Road – how the night unfolded, Decmber 5th, 2013
Kingsgate School expands… a mile away, September 22nd, 2013

Boris_WHBA_Jonathan_7

Boris talks to West Hampstead businesses

Boris Johnson is either an ambitious and gifted politician or an incompetent buffoon. Whichever side of the divide you sit on, he is, indisputably, the Mayor of London and the blondest man you’re likely to see this side of Scandinavia.

This Thursday he made a relatively low-key and very short notice visit to West Hampstead to take part in a roundtable discussion with local business owners, under the banner of the relaunching West Hampstead Business Association (WHBA).

It stands for “White-haired Boris ambushed”

Local Conservative Party candidate Simon Marcus had managed to persuade his BoJo-ness to come along (lets remember this is by far London’s most marginal seat), so The Wet Fish Café was half-full of local businesses and half of local Tory supporters and hangers on. And me.

I was tasked with chairing the debate, which in reality meant trying to keep some control of Boris. To his credit, he did actually try and answer almost all the questions that I and other local business people put to him. And to their credit, the local Conservatives didn’t interrupt or whoop or make a nuisance of themselves. The result was a meeting that although predictably light on meaningful dialogue, was both entertaining and engaging.

We opened by asking the Mayor what City Hall could do to help small businesses. Boris of course takes the extreme laissez-faire approach to economics, putting him to the right of many in his party (by contrast, he’s socially relatively liberal). So the answer to the question – if you read between the lines – was really that local businesses needed to help themselves.

That of course is exactly what forming a business association is all about. He also suggested the WHBA looks at forming a BID (Business Improvement District), although West Hampstead would be quite small for a BID, and the scheme has come under some criticism for ultimately driving rents up. But it’s something no doubt the WHBA will look into.

There were questions of course about the extent of development in the area – and the type of development. With such a heavy focus on small one- and two-bed flats being built, it’s hard to see how the area’s weekday daytime economy will benefit as the occupants of these flats will be off to work. Boris countered that there was a mandatory quotient of three-bed properties in any new development and that Camden must be delivering this. Of course, one only needs to look at West Hampstead Square or the Mill Lane Apartments to see that the 3-bed properties are more “luxury penthouses” than “family homes”.

Boris also returned to a theme he’d addressed in his controversial speech the night before. He suggested that there was too much paranoia about foreign investors buying London property and that the money coming in was helping fund major schemes such as those around the Olympic village, Battersea, and Brent Cross. None of which particularly helps businesses in West Hampstead of course.

It’s not helpful to be over-parochial about such things, but high streets generally need support so they’re well placed to rise as the economy recovers. One of the mayor’s more practical thoughts was that some high streets – and he clarified this didn’t apply to West End Lane – were simply too long. If, he said, councils sought to concentrate long strung-out high streets using planing and zoning laws, then it would be easier to keep them vibrant. This strikes me as generally being a good idea – it might even help make a tiny dent in the housing shortfall if property on the fringes of these high streets could be converted into residential. Kilburn High Road is probably about as long a high street as is viable without splitting into separate sections, but it’s possible to think of others in the wider area that lack any defined central point – Harrow Road, for example.

Lorraine from Mamacita asked Boris what City Hall could do in terms of reducing red tape for smaller businesses. This turned into a bit of a convoluted conversation, but ultimately the mayor said he was in favour of loosening employment restrictions for businesses that had five staff or fewer. He struggled to understand why any business owner would have any problem firing anyone though. “I fire people all the time”, he said with gusto.

And with that, he trotted off with his entourage down West End Lane, first calling into West End Lane Books, where he (reluctantly, apparently) bought a copy of Zadie Smith’s NW. He was heading for St James’ Church where he met with Father Andrew Cain who explained how the post office was going to fit into the buidling. He then detoured to café Wired and Rock Men’s Salon on Broadhurst Gardens, where despite owner John’s best efforts, Boris couldn’t be persuaded into a chair for a trim of his white locks.

Photos by Andre Millodot and David Matthews