Interview with Hampstead & Kilburn PPC Tamsin Omond

The words tumble out, punctuated by nervous giggles. Tamsin Omond, independent parliamentary candidate for Hampstead & Kilburn and mildly notorious climate change activist, drinks her cappuccino. She refers frequently to a notebook that clearly contains the campaign strategy for her one-woman party, The Commons.

She has a lot of things she wants to say, lots of ideas. She articulates some better than others. She is trying to explain what her candidacy brings to the election. “I want to go in there and be a different vision of what an MP is,” she says. “If people are drawn to that and feel it delivers stuff for them in their area that’s great. If it doesn’t work, then we’ve got to keep thinking about different ways to get people involved in politics.”

The notion that what she’s trying might not work crops up regularly. She uses the term “social experiment” several times. It makes it sound slightly sinister. Naturally she’d like the social experiment to become a political movement, but that depends on how many people get involved. Her campaign proper starts next week, when the doors of her office on Finchley Road open to the public.

Right now, there’s a sense that this is work-in-progress. Some ideas are fleshed out – expect to see lots of activity in the streets, stalls, vocal campaigning. Others need refinement. This is a campaign light on policy but big on promise. “Obviously we can’t come in with six weeks to go and say ‘we’ve got the answers to your transport issues’. What we can do is show that we’re engaging with the issues that matter to the constituency and get them involved in coming up with the answers.”

There’s a sense too that Tamsin’s political career (although she avows she is not a career politician) is a work in progress. She’s not slick. She says things she probably shouldn’t. She tries to be refreshingly honest and upfront about her lack of experience and naïveté, although is swift to point out that these allow her to come at problems from a fresh angle. That she wants to effect change is clear. What is less clear is how that might play out in practice. Her ideas revolve around consultation, participatory democracy, doing what the constituents want. All very laudable but horrendously time consuming. Especially as she’s planning to spend one day a week doing community service.

Perhaps the idea with the greatest resonance is participatory budgeting. Giving the community control over a large part of the local budget can be successful. She cites Brazilian city Porto Alegre, where the notion has grown and taken hold. Implementing it here would be challenging, but such ideas have to start somewhere.

She’s fuzzy though about how exactly these forms of participatory democracy could work. It seems to be a combination of online voting based around a “What’s Tamsin doing this week” blog, and garnering opinions through meetings. Would such meetings be well-attended? Would it be the few or the many participating in Tamsin’s vision of democracy? “No-one’s ever tried to open things up before,” she argues. “So many people are so disengaged with politics and don’t see anyone doing anything for them. If you can change that, and if you’re a champion of that change, and if you’re really fun then people can get engaged.”

The fact that Tamsin believes she is fun and “energetic” and “charismatic” seems important to her. Certainly it will help her engage the dissatisfied and the disenfranchised. But are the people of Hampstead & Kilburn ready for an MP who is fun? Or do they want an MP who can be taken seriously in Westminster, who can cooperate with the two boroughs that the constituency straddles, who can focus on the boring detail as well as have imaginative ways to raise awareness.

“It would be naïve to suggest that by voting for me you’re not voting for something different,” says Tamsin. She is at her most incisive when it comes to the question of why she’s going it alone and the problems of party politics. “I don’t want to slot into the groups that are dealing with the realities they’ve been dealing with for the last 10 years. I want to do somethng very new and if it works then brilliant.”

“It’s very different going to Westminster to be whipped by your constituents than to be whipped by your party.” It’s her best soundbite. “So, a vote for me is voting for a different kind of politics, but it’s got to be something that’s credible and can be realised.” Addressing the credibility issue may be her biggest challenge.

There has been debate around how her candidacy may split the left/green vote in the constituency making it easier for Tory Chris Philp to take the seat. “I do think politics should be about choice,” she says, although it’s clear that Chris would be her least-favoured option as an alternative winner. Tamsin argues that LibDem voters are not going to vote for her because their candidate Ed Fordham has a real chance of winning and they’re not going to jeopardize that. “The people who were going to vote Labour or Green are in the same box as the people who don’t vote. There isn’t much positive to vote for with Glenda, and with the Greens – I haven’t met this woman [she never once refers to Beatrix Campbell by name], but she’s essentially a paper candidate. When she does go to hustings she’s really smart, but she doesn’t do any day-to-day campaigning.”

Strong words from someone who also seems keen not to antagonise the Green Party. There were apparently informal discussions with Green MEP and party leader Caroline Lucas over the possibility of Tamsin running in Holborn & St Pancras on the Green ticket. But Tamsin argues that she wouldn’t be able to criticise the party political system from within it, and nor would it have been easy to change the Green Party. She also points out that the Greens are focusing all their energy on the four seats they have a chance of winning, and Hampstead & Kilburn is not one of them. “So, all this “I’m stealing the green vote’ here isn’t true.”

Ultimately, Tamsin recognises that her core base of voters are the young and the disaffected – those who have never voted before. “Our campaign and the six-week window is going to seem quite lightweight to the people who vote and always vote. We’re not going to appeal much to those 45 percent of people who are already politically engaged.” But she thinks there are 25,000 people under 30 who didn’t vote in the last election. If she can get all of them she’ll win. It’s a very big if.

Tamsin Omond launches Hampstead & Kilburn campaign

On Thursday evening, newly announced parliamentary candidate Tamsin Omond held a launch party for her campaign. Cub reporter @Moyasarner, who knows Tamsin, went along and reported back for West Hampstead Life.

“Some 40 people gathered in the Swiss Cottage Community Centre on Thursday night for the launch of an election campaign that aims to change the face of politics.

Tamsin Omond, 25, the new parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, is being filmed, photographed, and interviewed. More twenty-somethings wearing black and white ‘Vote Tamsin’ badges and broad smiles welcome new arrivals. Three men in their sixties sit in silence at a table in the corner. One drums his fingers on the tabletop.

At 6.40, Tamsin takes centre stage. Founder of environmental activist group Climate Rush, she has been hailed in the press as an eco-poster girl. She is the leader of a new political party, The Commons, but she doesn’t look like a politician. With her shock of short blonde curls, her flat pumps and low slung black trousers, she looks cool. And she wants to make local politics cool too.

She promises an Obama-style campaign, using social media, which she mentions five times in her speech. She will use online tools to engage young people in a constituency where 61 percent of under-30s did not vote in the last election [Ed: she’s apparently revised this down to 40 percent now]. “If you encourage them to vote, then you have a landslide,” she says. She wants to build “a low carbon, community-led constituency,” where residents use mobile video booths to say what they want and where they want it.

The room then divides into five groups, each centred on a member of the campaign team. We discuss ideas for social media (again), outreach (with various community groups), canvassing (door-to-door visits to draught-proof houses), and events (fancy-dress parades down West End Lane). I suggest they start by following @WHampstead on Twitter. One gentleman suggests we hack into a mystery database containing the contact details and favourite meeting places of all the young people in the area. The rest of us exchange looks of alarm.

A person from each group stands to read the suggestions. Most are more practical and less criminal than Hacker Man’s. Praise be.

On my way out, I pass a queue of people signing up to help with the campaign. Good news for The Commons’ social media guru John Grant, who says: “If we engage large numbers of young people and connect them with politics, and get a conversation going about what democracy is really supposed to be, we’ve already won.”

West Hampstead comment: Mobilising one section of the electorate can be a winning strategy. Boris Johnson did it in the mayoral election by focusing almost exclusively on outer London boroughs, recognising that winning these would be enough to put him in office. Any measures that get young would-be voters engaged with politics are a good thing, but young people are only one part of the consituency and it will be interesting to see whether Tamsin makes efforts to engage with other demographic groups in her campaign.

New kid on the block: Tamsin Omond becomes a PPC

We have another candidate in the forthcoming election. Bona fide local Tamsin Omond is joining Glenda (Lab), Chris (Con), Ed (LD), and Bea (Green). Tamsin tells us on her website that we don’t know her. But actually we’ve probably seen her on TV. She keeps getting in trouble for doing activist things. Someone young and politically engaged. How refreshing. Absolutely. And she has some refreshing ideas. But are they the sort of ideas that we want from a would-be MP?

On reading her spiel I was whisked back to student union hustings. “I’m like you,” wide-eyed candidates would say, before jumping down from the stage to show oh-so-cleverly that they really wanted to connect with us. For all the good it then did us.

Tamsin’s website is full of this eager-to-please language. She’d get “everyone voting on what matters to them.” Worthy, but a big challenge. What she means is that on all issues (except environment/climate change where we have to tow her one-woman party line) she would defer to us the electorate on how she should vote. But this isn’t Switzerland where referenda are held all the time. We elect politicians to do this for us. It’s part of their job – albeit a part some do more actively than others. How will she ensure that the people telling her how to vote are representative of the broad constituency? The lower the turnout for any vote, the easier it is to be hijacked by special interest groups. And if her idea is to focus on online voting, how does that help those with limited or no access to the internet through lack of money or interest or understanding. A constituency is not just its young people it’s everyone.

She’d donate a third of her salary to “our communities’ future”. That’s more than £20,000, which is very generous but will have very limited impact. In 2009, each ward in Camden had £10,000 to spend as it wanted. Most ideas – even modest ones – for improving the area were simply too expensive. A council tax rise of £1 would have more effect.

Tamsin would also spend a day a week doing community service. Very commendable. Not sure how that would fit in with her other work as an MP – surgeries, voting in the House (after all, you can’t brand Glenda “lazy” and then not turn up to every vote possible, especially if you’ve asked your constituents to take their time to tell you how to vote). No doubt Tamsin does community work already, so I’m not sure why electing her an MP will make much difference here other than giving more publicity to some causes. Again, we can text or vote online for what community work we want her to do. Her aides would spend their time filtering through texts and e-mails rather than briefing her on policy issues.

Much of Tamsin’s warm rhetoric makes us feel comforted. She’s there for us. She’s not, she claims, a career politician (although standing for MP at 25 might suggest she’s just starting that career). She’s going to represent us and our community in Westminster. Yes, that’s what MPs do – for better or worse. One might argue that despite Glenda’s inactivity in Westminster she’s been a good local MP because she’s been receptive to local people’s needs and dealt with them. Several whampers have told me over the past six months that when they’ve had a problem Glenda has been incredibly supportive and helpful. As would Tamsin be no doubt, but the notion of an MP being close to the ground is nothing new.

There are other issues with her candidacy. Debates over how she will split the left/green vote have already begun and the view that a strong campaign will benefit the Tories has credibility. Particularly strange is her decision to run against a high-profile Green candidate; odder still when you see in her diary that tomorrow she’s off to Brighton to canvas on behalf of Green MEP Caroline Lucas.

So, in a nutshell, we have someone who is a good publicist promising to put £20,000 a year into a large community, giving up one day a week to do community work, and then asking us to vote on a regular basis on all manner of things, many of which we would have neither the time nor the inclination to research properly. There are lots of jobs she could apply for where she could work a four-day week to have one day for community work, and give away a chunk of her salary. I remain to be convinced that Member of Parliament is the most suitable – even if she is right on climate change and increasing voter turnout.

Camden helps West Hampstead small businesses

The Small Business Network is a group of small businesses and self-employed people who meet on the first Tuesday of the month at LoveFood in West Hampstead (and the third Monday of the month at Sable D’Or in Muswell Hill). @Marciamac31 – long-time resident, SBN member, and new tweeter – went along on Feb 2nd and reported back on the talk given by council leader @KeithMoffitt.

“Forty-six small businesses have succeeded with the help of Camden’s one-to-one outreach ‘turnaround’ service. This provides tailored support for companies struggling to survive, while advice for micro businesses – sole traders and companies employing only one or two staff members – includes a review of the firm’s or individual’s business plan, a look at the viability of the product or service being offered, and advice on marketing and public relations.”

Good food for a good cause

Last night saw 40 people, including quite a few #whampers, back at The Wet Fish Café for the second supper club. This time there was a Sicilian twist to the gastronomic experience, but a very local twist to the evening overall as we raised money for #whampforgood cause The Winch.

For a review of the evening, let me hand over to Jo Hodson, a veteran of the November supper club:

“Another fun evening at The Wet Fish Café!. This is such a simple idea that works so well – André and his team put on a three course meal with three different wines and all the guests sit at long tables and enjoy the evening.

What makes these evenings so good? Well for a start, André and his team create a relaxed and convivial atmosphere – it’s like going to a perfectly hosted dinner party. The restaurant is beautifully lit and the long tables mean the the diverse but always interesting guests are encouraged to mingle. The wines were expertly introduced by Victoria Curatolo, a very glamourous Sicilian, whose family-run vineyard, Villa Tonino, supplied the wines for the evening.

The menu this time was built around the wines; crab with avocado and a chilli and red pepper sauce – a perfect balance of texture and taste. I’m no wine buff but even I could tell that the wine served with this (Grillo, Villa Tonino, 2008) further enhanced the flavours of the food leaving a nice lemony tingle on the tongue. This was followed by fillet of beef with pink peppercorn jus, cheesy mash (divine) and broccoli, washed down with a lovely smoky red wine – Baglio Curatolo, Villa Tonino 2006. Finally, and in my opnion, the pièce de resistance – almond tart, marsala mascarpone and raspberry – melt-in-the-mouth pastry! The fruit and nut flavours of the Marsala Riserva Superiore served alongside went perfectly with it.

It was a really pleasant way to spend a Monday evening – the atmosphere, food and drink alone would have led to that but it was all rounded off nicely by a thank you from Paul of the Winchester Project a local charity who were benefitting from the night. All in all everything combined to leave a very nice taste in the mouth.”

There’s a very swish video of the evening here

(Photo: James Leigh)

The Wet Fish Cafe on Urbanspoon

Giraffe launch party

Thanks to Mark (@DJStoney) for this write-up of launch night at Belsize Park Giraffe
“As a fan of the Tootsies American style restaurant that occupied the site, I was dubious about Giraffe taking over. After all, the first ever Giraffe (of 40 UK branches) is exactly 5 minutes walk away. However, the advantageous large format open-plan restaurant offers a different dining experience to the cosy (and brunch-tastic) Giraffe up the hill. Indeed, each and every site seems to have a local adaptation, which is a rare credential iun ‘concept restaurants’.
I walked in to a personal greeting from the lovely @giraffetweet and the buzz in the place lent it a party feel. I was here for dinner, but the vibe was good. As I walked over to our reserved table my dining companions were waiting and smiling as they said they were recovering from ‘the niceness of the staff’. No bad thing!
Giraffe has a world-influenced menu with representative dishes from all over including curry, stir-fry enchilada and steak. This, combined with the piped world music, gives a truly international feel to the place and the ‘something for everyone’ menu is great for families, mixed groups and kids.
We shared some nachos and mixed mezze for starters, which tasted good. Main courses involved chicken kiev, tasty ribs and our veggie diners were most satisfied with their super-food salad and pizza. An extensive drink menu including excellent smoothies (my fave is a GiddyGiraffe: papaya, fresh mint, banana, orange, lime juice) kept us going.
We shared the desserts, including the most popular choice on the menu: Banana Waffle Split (waffle with roasted banana, vanilla ice cream, chocolate & butterscotch sauce). We also had a chocolate brownie that they kindly customised due to my strange request of marshmallows (served on a saucer with teaspoon).
The food and service were faultless and the comments from the other #whampers who braved NW3 for launch night @WHampstead @mayfield22 @sorchapadmore @lisafparry @anna_black and @bubela) suggested they all enjoyed themselves. Thumbs-up all round.”

Disclaimer: all the people mentioned above received a complimentary meal from Giraffe. Mark points out that as a professional mystery shopper, the freebie doesn’t stop him from dishing out the criticism where necessary. Photos by @WHampstead, @DJStoney and @bubela.
Giraffe, Belsize Park
196-198 Haverstock Hill
020 7431 3812

Whamplunch on track at The Railway

It was great to see some new faces at #whamplunch today. Alongside #whamp regulars @DJStoney and @mayfield22, we welcomed @Ghoul_of_London who hadn’t been put off by his experience at Le Petit Coin, @kerrypolka and @Frangelina as well as non-tweeting Marcia – a long-time West Hampstead resident – who used to be an active member of the now defunct CityNeighbours forum.

The Railway proved more than capable of meeting our lunch needs, the standard pub menu was good value for money, and Danny the new(ish) manager made a real effort to make sure we were looked after. Conversation revolved around feral squirrels, Shakespeare’s history plays, the origins of Queens Park, the best local Iranian food, and whether the Neverending Story was fundamentally misnamed.

Next up… #whamptea at Bake-a-boo. More on that later…

Competition time: Giraffe opening in Belsize Park

Family-friendly world food restaurant chain Giraffe is opening in Belsize Park (taking over the old Tootsies).
Very kindly, it’s given me 3 invitations for dinner for two on Thursday Jan 28th – opening week.
“How do i get my hands on these invitations?” I hear you ask.
“Simple”, I reply, “but you’re going to have to be quick off the mark.”
Take and tweet a photo that includes both a giraffe and something recognisably West Hampstead. You MUST (and this is important) use the #whampgiraffe hashtag in your tweet. So, for example, a giraffe soft toy getting on the Jubilee Line, or a cut-out giraffe in the window of West End Lane Books. Use your imagination.
I will then pick the best three in consultation with @giraffetweet.
Deadline: 5pm Wednesday January 20th
If the free meal wasn’t incentive enough, then you’ll be even more excited to know that I’ll be there that evening too*. I know!
*Giraffe has kindly given me these invitations to give away to fellow whampers, and has also generously invited me along too.

Boris comes to West Hampstead

Amid all the talk of ungritted roads, broken bones, and minor car accidents, a blond whirlwind struck West Hampstead on Friday morning.
Tory PPC Chris Philp had invited Mayor of London Boris Johnson to come and visit the neighbourhood ostensibly to have a “coffee and a chat” with locals about some of the issues that vex them. In reality, the Mayor artfully dodged most of the important questions with the wit and bluster that has carried him so far. He did manage, however, to give fellow Conservative Philp a ringing endorsement in far more direct terms.

Announcing the Mayor’s itinerary in advance is slightly unusual, but had the desired effect of generating buzz among residents – both positive and negative. Cynics mused that the sudden appearance of grit on the pavements on West End Lane was linked to Boris’s planned walkabout. Even the choice of Moment as the café was controversial, with many long-term residents still boycotting it due to its lack of planning permission when it first opened.

Digest sadly didn’t receive a personal invitation to sit at the feet of BoJo, so rocked up to Moment at the appointed time to find a gaggle of local Conservatives outside, including deputy leader of the council Andrew Marshall, and an astonishing number of people inside. As I couldn’t get in, I briefly pressed my nose against the glass and saw a shock of hair at the back of the room holding forth.
Unable to get up close and personal with the Big B, I retreated to The Wet Fish Café and followed the various tweets from those inside. Both @bubela and @kerrypolka were present and their accounts of the excitement follow.
@bubela “Boris and his entourage breezed into Moment on West End Lane, shaking hands all the way to his table at the back. With his self-deprecating manner and colourful (inventive, even) language,he kept the laughs going and it was all very good humoured. He started by congratulating Chris Philp on his work keeping the police station open, and said he looked forward to working with him when he’s on the “green benches”.He asked what locals felt about the bike hire scheme and was met with general murmurs of approval. “Some people aren’t keen, but I have serene confidence: it’s clean, green and…what else is it? Oh yes, healthy!”
Questions also covered a wide range of local issues, starting of course with the Jubilee Line problems. “The delay is intellectual”, said Boris confusingly, before going on to blame Brown for the “crackpot” PPP initiative that was “a licence to steal for the contractors”, and means “Tubelines can effectively funnel huge sums of taxpayers’ money down the gullets of its own shareholders”.
He had received a residents’ petition at the station concering the Jubilee Line closures, but was “sorry to say the stoppages won’t end until Autumn 2010”.At that moment a waiter started the noisy fresh juicer. “Even the orange machine objects!” interjected Boris. Given the icy streets outside, he said that he had spoken to Lord Adonis (Secretary of State for Transport) about the lack of grit in London and that “Brown should personally be sent to the salt mines to bring some back”.
Someone asked whether a pedestrian crossing could be put at the top of West End Lane? “I’ll look into it,” said Boris, “but every successful local campaign to hold up traffic for pedestrians has an equal adverse effect on drivers”. After a couple of other questions, someone congratulating him for protecting Hampstead views (“Now that’s the kind of question I like!”) and some photos outside with Chris Philp, it was on with the bike helmet and off on the bike, followed by the entourage in a car.”
@kerrypolka “When Boris Johnson addressed West Hampstead on Friday morning – or at least, a coffeehouse packed with those in West Hampstead who were free on a weekday 10:45 am, namely, Concerned Citizens, the retired, the freelancing and the unemployed – he was clear on three things:
1. He was earnest.
2. He was sincere.
3. Whatever it was, it wasn’t his fault.
He pinched the air in front of his navel between thumb and first knuckle with the gravitas of a public-school lecturer. A petition was passed to him before the talk began concerning the seemingly endless Jubilee line upgrades. “I understand your pain,” he informed the throng sincerely. However, he added earnestly, the problems were really all down to a contract Gordon Brown had arranged, as well as some “communist freesheets.” Glad to have cleared that up.
The Mayor also highlighted the importance of environmentalism, by saying the word “green” a dozen times regardless of context, and played up his office’s initiative in doubling the number of police patrol beats by reducing patrols from two officers to one. Could Livingstone have pulled off that kind of arithmetical coup? Doubtful. Nicknamed “The Bicycling Avenger”, Johnson of course showed off his own green crime-fighting skills in November, when he saved environmental activist Franny Armstrong from pipe-wielding thugs.
He answered the brief Q&A session that followed his talk with a potpourri of couldn’t-possibly-comments and I’ll-do-the-best-I-cans, all delivered with an unshakable air of earnest sincerity. We would expect nothing less.”
* * *
So, that was the view from two whampers inside. Here’s the text of the speech from the Camden New Journal; the bells and whistles Web 2.0 “Vote Chris Philp” version; the Boris-can-do-no-wrong version; and a piece from Richard Osley’s blog.

Sadly, there was no mature, considered response to the Jubilee Line fiasco; nothing to suggest he was helping broker some sort of agreement between the various parties to give passengers clarity on the closure programme for 2010. Finger-pointing politics once again ruled the day, whether the target was Gordon Brown, Ken Livingstone or TubeLines.

Whampcarol success despite the cold

Tuesday night was #whampcarol night. Clear skies meant a cold night and, with the bridge still closed due to the flooding, West End Lane was eerily quiet with minimal traffic and surprisingly few pedestrians.

Undetterred, the band (the magnificent @eastlondonbrass) arrived and together with @helenstone, @gitfinger and my fellow mince-pie maker @SarahReardon, we set up our stall. Even before we’d started playing, people were generously giving up their small change to the two charities: The Winch and the band itself, which works with kids in east London.

As the cold fingers worked their way through Christmas classics there was a regular stream of donations.

The Holly & The Ivy, “live” from West End Lane (thanks to @gitfinger).
Listen! We had both sides of the road covered so no-one could miss us and despite the quiet evening the hit-rate was high. A small cheer went up when the first £5 note was pushed into the collecting tin, but it wasn’t to be the only one. After almost 90 minutes playing and with the temperature dropping we decided enough was enough and we’d leave the people of West End Lane in peace. We hurried to the Alice House to defrost, taking our table and of course instruments in with us. One table started chatting to us and suddenly we were offered £60 to play two carols right there. The bar manager very graciously agreed we could, and our pot was £60 bigger. Thank you very much indeed to that generous man. We raised just shy of £250, which was outstanding for such a quiet evening. Already there was talk as to how we could make next year’s bigger and better. Thank you to everyone who took part, and especially to all the people who gave money. We really appreciate it.

Photos courtesy of @gitfinger and @helenstone

Review: Darker Shores at Hampstead Theatre

At several points during Darker Shores, the characters debate whether things are real because we perceive them, or whether they are real because we feel them. The 11-year-old boy next to me for last night’s performance both perceived and felt the reality of this Victorian Christmas ghost story all too vividly. Director Anthony Clark was clearly doing something right.

Michael Punter’s new play engages with the theatricality of ghost stories rather well. It begins by nicely blurring narration into action, thereby disrupting the audience’s understanding of what exactly is real and what exactly is now. If this makes it sound pretentious, fear not. Thanks largely to Tom Goodman-Hill’s outstanding performance as natural scientist and would-be Darwin refuter Gabriel Stokes, this is a play that seeks to entertain not confuse. Goodman-Hill dominates the play, even more remarkable when you learn that he was a very last-minute replacement for Mark Gatiss. The crumbling of Stokes’ crisp surety in the face of the inexplicable is far more convincing and compelling than Julian Rhind-Tutt’s evolution from Confederate impresario to fragile soul suffering post-traumatic stress. Indeed, in the first half, Rhind-Tutt’s Tom Beauregard appears lost at sea – his elongated southern vowels struggling in quieter passages and never quite convincing as either a Doctor of Spiritual Science or as a 19th century Derren Brown. He ups his game in the second half and some sort of equilibrium is restored between the male protagonists.

The two are joined on the Gothically draped stage by Pamela Miles’ doughty Mrs Hinchliffe, whose secrets are closely guarded in the folds of her housekeeper’s black dress, and by Vinette Robinson as cockney sparrer voice-of-reason Florence Kennedy. Kennedy initially seems too simplistic a character, but it is clear she has a larger part to play in the tale and both women perform well, especially Miles whose part is more subtle.

Amid the trickery and illusion (of which there is plenty) the frights and scares vary considerably in their intensity. Some of the moments that should shock are sadly rather rushed with not enough dramatic build-up. The 360-degree sound effects, on the other hand, are extremely effective at bringing the audience right into the action. The first sighting of the ghost is particularly well done, and spooked my young neighbour more than a Dalek ever would (he told me this during the interval).

Although the main stage is left relatively uncluttered, the wings are full of shadows and spotlights and curtains and columns. This has the excellent effect that you start to expect something to happen out of one of these dark corners every time a spirit is summoned. Yet the final revelation is a delicious surprise.

There is much humour in the play, largely based on superb delivery and timing, but on occasion the comedy releases the tension before rather than after a more dramatic moment. And as the audience relaxes into its seats instead of perching on the edge of them, it becomes harder to ratchet up the spook factor. This conflict sadly was the play’s weakness for me. It became harder to care about the characters and the resolution of the story and came perilously close to drifting into pantomime – albeit a well acted, grown-up pantomime. This was reinforced by a rather clunky exposition scene near the end that felt as if it should have been integrated more smoothly into the text.

Overall though, it is hard to carp. It was definitely a very enjoyable evening, contained some excellent performances and I would certainly recommend it for Goodman-Hill’s acting alone. 7/10

Darker Shores by Michael Punter
Hampstead Theatre until Jan 16th

*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket for the play courtesy of the theatre.
Image from Hampstead Theatre website


I’m really excited to tell you about a new #whampventure that I hope lots of you are going to get involved with.

Last night @SarahReardon and I met Paul Perkins, who is the director of The Winchester Project (aka The Winch). The Winch is a charity that focuses on kids and young people. It is based in Swiss Cottage (on Winchester Road, thus the name), but works with young people from all over this part of NW London and beyond.

You can read much more about how it helps people on its website, but very broadly it has three streams: “Play” for kids aged 4–12, “Youth” for 12–25 year-olds, and “Sport”, which cuts across all age groups. The Youth stream is about engaging with young people and helping their development in all manner of ways through workshops, training and general support.

The Winch is not a new charity – it’s been going for more than 30 years. But that doesn’t mean that it has everything figured out. Like all charities it relies on support from the wider community, both in terms of money and time.

That’s where we come in. I hope! I’d like to make The Winch our WHampstead charity for 2010.

I am absolutely NOT about to ask you all to dip into your wallets. Although of course any donations would be more than welcome. What I am asking for is your time. Yes, that’s a bigger commitment than money, but also a far more rewarding one and it’s up to you how big or small you want that commitment to be – whatever it is you can guarantee it will be warmly appreciated.

There are two big areas in which people can get involved. One is volunteering to work directly with young people. The other – and I can’t stress enough that this is at least as important – is volunteering to help on the administrative side. This covers everything from PR to fundraising to design to planning to… well, the list really does go on and on.

Maybe you have a talent for negotiating sponsorship deals from blue-chip corporates; maybe your company would like to offer a young person a supported work placement; maybe you’re really interested in Health & Safety issues (someone must be?!); maybe you’re a fantastic events organiser. These are the sorts of skills they need. Or maybe you want to get involved on the sports side – The Winch is especially keen on promoting sports for girls at the moment, so maybe you’d be interested in supporting that.

Between us I reckon we must have an enormous range of personal and professional skills that we can bring to the table. So let’s do it. Let’s show that the buzz of having a community extends just a tad further than drinks at the Alice House and grumbling about the Jubilee Line.

What next? Well, I guess have a think. Have a think about what you might be interested in doing, what contacts you have that might be useful, what sort of time commitment appeals to you (if it’s volunteering for half a day at a one-off event that’s fantastic. If it’s seeking to join a working group on fundraising that’s fantastic too). Oh, and follow @the_winch. In January, it’s holding an open day. Come along to that; meet some of the other volunteers. Most importantly meet some of the young people. Between now and then drop me any ideas you have (DM me to get my e-mail if you don’t have it already). Or of course contact The Winch directly – you don’t have to go through me, I’m simply trying to get the ball rolling and am happy to help coordinate some of this to the extent that that is helpful. In the meantime Sarah and I will be finding out a bit more about the precise, pragmatic ways in which the whampcommunity may be able to help. So there’ll be more information to follow.

I hope that’s covered the basics. A few FAQs:
I really don’t think I have anything to offer, but I’d like to get involved?
Great. You may well have more to offer than you think, but at the very minimum being prepared to help out at events would be great. Have a think about your work skills and your personal interests and how those might be relevant in running an organisation or in motivating and inspiring someone.

The whole charity thing isn’t my scene. Are you going to be banging on about this for ever now and will I be ostracised for not being interested?
Hell no. The whole #whamp thing is supposed to be fun – a way to meet people locally and be sociable (and eat and drink). I know not everyone is interested, and that’s absolutely fine. Nor will I be constantly going on about it. From time to time I’ll promote events or maybe ask for more specific help but there’s no way I expect everyone, or even a majority of people to end up getting involved. All other whampness will continue as normal!

Is it ok just to make a large anonymous donation but not spend any time on this?
You bet. Go to the website, or just send ’em a cheque.

What about a small donation?
See above. Everything is extremely welcome.

What happens in 2011? Are we just going to walk away?
Obviously not. For the moment I’m thinking the idea of a charity to support for a full year is a good concrete one. It’s very likely that at the end of the year we just continue the relationship and anyway volunteers can do whatever they want to do! We may add another charity for 2011 if any of us are still doing the whole Twitter thing. But I’d like to think that some of us will be so involved with The Winch by then that it won’t even be a question.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. All thoughts, feedback, comments welcome.

Alfred Court

Some progress on finding out what is happening with the commercial space at Alfred Court on Fortune Green Road. I just spoke to one of the agents who couldn’t reveal details yet as deals have not been finalised.

What he could tell me, however, is that there is planning permission for retail, restaurant, and gym use (A1, A3 and D2 if you’re a planning geek). And that there is a clear recognition that there is not the footfall to attract big mainstream chains. The aim is to “create something special,” and it sounds like there may be a collection of different outlets rather than, say, one big retailer.

It’s going to be 3–4 weeks before the first transactions are completed, at which time I should find out exactly what is moving in.

So, no definite news, but an indication of the direction things are taking.

Newcommers [sic] update: New Katz on the block

My anonymous commenter on the blog below mentioned that the Prime video rental site had permission to be changed from retail use to professional services use. A quick look at Camden’s planning website in fact revealed that Black Katz letting agents requested the change of use. The full application can be found here for those that want the details (the “letter” is the most interesting bit).

Presumably this means Black Katz closing its branch on Broadhurst Gardens which, if nothing else changes, would leave four empty units on the south side of the road (along with Marios, the former café next to the dry cleaners, and the small Broadwell Parade unit next to the florists).

Newcommers [sic]

A few new faces on West End Lane, and a continuing mystery in Fortune Green.

Alexis the bakery up the north end of West End Lane has shut. To be replaced by… a bakery. But a bright orange bakery, if that makes any difference. There’s a Dylan’s already in Willesden (170 Church Rd), so presumably orange is a tried and tested formula. The West Hampstead one hasn’t opened yet, so no review but here’s a picture of it in all its orangeness.

(by the way, the pharmacy next door looks like it’s closing down – it’s not, it’s just being refitted).

Further down towards the tube station, the unit that was X10 computers (a strange den of chipboards, cables and the owner’s aphorisms, which acted as some sort of test as to your worthiness as a customer) closed a few weeks ago. It has reopened as Matrix. Nice to see the “x” theme being carried through there. This one has nothing to do with motherboards and hard drives and everything to do with nails and extensions [CORRECTION: it appears to be just a hair salon, not a nail bar]. Perhaps it will make up for the nail bar that closed earlier in the year on Broadhurst Gardens.

Regular readers will remember the Photo of the Week from Digest No.2. Here it is again to refresh your memories.

Of course, they couldn’t possibly leave such a huge billboard up with such a bad typo on it, so the board has been changed.

To this. Oh dear.

The friendly girls who work in that teeny-tiny branch of Goldschmidt & Howland next door gave me a wry smile when I asked about it. It’s going to be redone again apparently.

I was actually in their really very small space to try and solve the burning issue of the day: what is the retail space going to be in the very development advertised above. Rumours (some started by @bubela‘s local shopkeepers again) have been pinging around, and as G&H are selling the flats I thought they might know. They don’t. They did try and find out though and I spoke to Sam from their Hampstead sales office who explained that they weren’t responsible for the non-residential units and he couldn’t say for sure what would be there. The consensus in the office was that a gym/health club was pretty much a given. There was also talk that there might be some sort of mother/baby centre (whatever exactly that might be), and a shop. But what the shop was no-one seemed sure. Fear not, I’m still on the case and if I find anything out I shall let you know – and if you hear anything then do pass it on.

For what it’s worth, my hunch would be that something like a Spar is the most likley. I would be surprised if a Waitrose/M&S would move there as it lacks the footfall they need. Would Tesco’s really open somewhere quite so close to its Express store on West End Lane? And would Sainsbury’s open a Local quite so close to a Tesco Express? My money is on a Spar or another of the franchise operations, which can be half-way decent when they are in ok areas.

Finally, there’s the unit on West End Lane next to Starbucks that was Prime internet café and DVD/video rental. It’s been closed for a while and is being refitted at the moment. Place your bets for what will move in there. My guess is that it might stay empty for a little while. But I’ll try and find out when I get the chance.

Whampreview: Going Live

I’ve bleated on about whampreview for a week or so without saying what it is. So here we go.

Whampreview combines the social side of whampgather with the frequent requests for “Where’s the best…”

Once a month I’ll announce a date and venue, which will initially be local restaurants in the West Hampstead/Kilburn area. If you would like to come along and have a meal then let me know and after 48 hours, I’ll randomly pick 5 of the interested people (or all of you if fewer than 6 people reply!) and off we’ll go for dinner.

During dinner – amid the chat – I’ll take some notes on what everyone thinks about the food, service, atmosphere. All the usual stuff really. Then I’ll write a review based on what we all think and including your comments. Probably with some sort of score and er… that’ll be that. It’s a chance to meet some local people and have a nice evening out – especially suited to those of you that can’t make #whampgather dates, or prefer smaller gatherings, but don’t want to miss out on the community thing that seems to be building.

This is how we’ll start it. If it gains traction, then I have a few ideas for expanding it so that eventually we can have a good directory of local places with ratings/reviews.

Hopefully by now you’re already chomping at the bit to get involved.So, the first venue is the Czech & Slovak National House (thanks to a suggestion by @lifes_good, who hopefully can make it!) on Wednesday November 11th. This West Hampstead institution was once in Time Out’s top 10 cheap eats in London list. Although I used to be a regular in the bar, I’ve never eaten there and I suspect most of you haven’t either!

Let me know by the end of Saturday if you’d like to go in the hat. I will post this several times over the next 48 hours so everyone has a chance to read it/put their name down.

A quick word on money: to keep things easy, I’m proposing that bills are split 6-ways unless there’s a large discrepancy in e.g., alcohol consumption. I also suggest that a table of 6 can share 3-4 starters/desserts so we all get to try lots of different food without it breaking the bank. Some places obviously offer discounts as well, so if anyone happens to know about those then please shout, but that won’t drive the initial decision as to where we go.

That’s it. Sign up and let’s see how this works!

Calculating Criminals

If you live around West Hampstead, you’ll know that it feels fairly safe around here. Of course, we’re still in an inner-London borough and it’s not as if you’d leave you front door open but I never worry about personal attacks here any more than I would anywhere else.

This is why the news earlier in the week of armed men running through the leafy streets of West Hampstead in broad daylight came as such a surprise. The BBC, Camden New Journal and the Ham & High all reported the story (even the Daily Mail covered it), which was tweeted live by some my followers.

In the wake of this story, the West Hampstead Conservative Group posted a message on twitter saying crime was a “serious issue” in West Hampstead, later clarifying that “burglary rates and car vehicle theft rates are higher in proportion to other areas in the immediate vicinty.”

A visit to the Metropolitan Police’s website confirms this statistic. But statistics are funny things. It’s possible to cut stats in all manner of ways.

To start with, only Westminster has a worse crime rate of the Met’s boroughs. Camden’s poor performance is largely due to its central London wards of Holborn and Bloomsbury, together with the well-known problems of Camden Town. Compared to these hotspots, West Hampstead fares well but they are hardly a good benchmark. Of Camden’s 18 wards, West Hampstead has the 9th lowest crime rate. Of course the West Hampstead ward does not equate exactly with the area people think of as “West Hampstead”. The other local wards in Camden are Fortune Green (2nd lowest), parts of Swiss Cottage (6th lowest) and Kilburn (14th lowest/5th highest).

Lets look at different types of crime, specifically those that are crimes against people: personal robbery and violent crimes. I accept (and know from personal experience) that burglaries and thefts are unpleasant experiences for the victims. We should work hard to minimize these crimes, but they are part and parcel of living in a big city. I am far more concerned with robbery and violent crime, which would make me feel unsafe walking around the area.

In August 2009, there was one personal robbery in the West Hampstead ward. In fact, it ranked as the second safest ward in the borough on this measure. Taking a longer perspective, we can see that after a big drop in robberies from 2006/7 to 2007/8 of 55 to 30, there was a rise in 2008/9 to 34. For violent crimes, West Hampstead is the 6th lowest of the 18 wards, with both Fortune Green and Swiss Cottage ranking lower. As with robberies, there was a big dip in reported violent crimes from 06/07 to 07/08, before a small increase in 08/09. Both the Brent and Camden sides of the Kilburn High Road all ranked worse for violent crime in August 2009, and this has held true for the past three years.

Rather than dissecting the statistics every which way, one guide to the crime problems in the area is to look at the Safer Neighbourhood teams’ priorities. For West Hampstead they are burglary and motor vehicle crime. Fortune Green adds anti-social behaviour to these priorities. Kilburn’s priorities are motor vehicle crime and anti-social behaviour by groups of youths, and finally, Swiss Cottage has those two, plus burglary.

So, what does all this tell us. Crime rates are rising in Camden, unsurprising in a recession. However, West Hampstead is a long way from being a crime hotspot and in terms of personal safety, it still “feels” safe, which is important for quality of life.

What do you think? How concerned are you about crime in West Hampstead?

Camden voting patterns

Thanks to Camden Council for sending me the % of votes for the recent European elections (so far they’ve only posted total votes). And also for sending the 2004 figures. Am posting the numbers for the key parties (>2% threshhold) below:

BNP 04 1,103, 2.21%
BNP 09 1,300 2.76%

Conservatives 04 10,717, 21.43%
Conservatives 09 10,400, 22.05%

Greens 04 7,156, 14.31%
Greens 09 8,040, 17.05%

Labour 04 12,892, 25.78%
Labour 09 11,167, 23.68%

Lib Dems 04 9,612, 19.22%
Lib Dems 09 10,180, 21.58%

Respect 04 3,185, 6.37%
Respect 09 did not stand

UKIP 04 3,658, 7.31%
UKIP 09 2,720, 5.77%

Turnout 04 36.82%
Turnout 09 34.23%

Welcome to the Neighbourhood

Welcome to a new blog about all things West Hampstead. Don’t expect long entries, but there’ll be comments, reviews, and musings here from time to time about all things NW6.

The blog complements the Twitter account (@WHampstead), so if you’re a fellow Tweep, follow me there too.

For the moment this is my blog, but I’m open to sharing it with other local residents who might have ideas they want to put down in writing. Send me a comment if you’re interested.