Will the Budget help Chiswick High Rd?

The Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that:

The government will provide £675m to create a “future high streets fund” that councils can access to redevelop their high streets.

There will be a business rates revaluation in 2021 but to provide relief in the meantime, for the next two years all companies with rateable value of £51,000 or less will have their business rates bill cut by one third. A saving for 90% of shops, restaurants and cafes.

Reaction from Chiswick businesses

Anette Megyaszai who runs the cafe-restaurant Chateau says the one third saving will make a big difference to her. She currently pays nearly £17,000 in business rates each year so it represents a saving of nearly £6,000. At a time when “all other business overheads are going up” she says – “employment and utility costs” for example – “this is a decent saving, it will give us a bit of a breathing space”.

Lin Leung, co-owner of homeware shop Decorexi told me: “We welcome the Chancellor’s announcement to cut business rates for small businesses and hope that Hounslow council pass on any reductions without any undue delay.  This help will undoubtedly boost the local economy and once implemented, will give much needed instant relief to all small local business groups.  It’s certainly a step in the right direction as there is nothing worse for a business or resident than to work and live amongst redundant retail space.  We’re looking forward to a more positive 2019 surrounded by other vibrant businesses on a revived Chiswick High Road and it cannot happen soon enough!”

Mike Moran, who runs Top Hat, the dry cleaners in Devonshire Rd, welcomed the reduction. His business rate should go down from  £15k to the £10k he was paying two years ago. But he warned that the Government needed to come up with more than a temporary fix. “We’ve had this two year relief before and yes it helps but the Government needs to fix the business rates we pay properly or the high street will continue to die off”.

David Lesniak, co-owner of Outsider Tart cafe said: “The problems facing the High Road are systemic. This is sticking a finger in the dyke while the pressure builds behind it”.

The Chancellor himself noted that the fundamental change to our high streets is “irreversible” and said businesses needed time to adapt to the change. The CBI’s chief economist Rain Newton-Smith told the Guardian there was far more intervention needed to save UK high streets. “The roots of the problem go far deeper… There must be a wholesale review next year”.

John Farrant, who runs Greige, the homeware shop at Bedford Corner, says “Our little corner has gone up 200% since last April. It will help us a little; we are now back to where it was pre – 2016”. For him one of the most upsetting things about business rates is the apparently illogical and unfair way in which they’re set.

Huge variation of business rates in Chiswick

John has made up this map by going to the business rate GOV site and putting in postcodes of random Chiswick shops to find out how much they are charged per square metre.

“We are struggling to say why is Bedford Corner more expensive than Bedford Park Corner… who didn’t get an increase (£350 compared to our £750)… Rates should be based on a number of things and footfall should be one of them”.

“Fiddling while Rome burns”

Cllr Joanna Biddolph, who with colleagues has set up the Chiswick Shops task Force says the business rate cut will catch quite a lot of Chiswick’s independent shops “but some, especially those who have negotiated new rents over the last year or so, will miss out because those deals were far too high. I would have liked to have seen a higher value for London and other large cities and towns where rents are higher because of their location”.

“In my view, it’s not enough – in terms of the amount saved and the length of time this reduction will be in place.  Smaller businesses always look ahead – their lives depend so directly on their businesses – and two years of relief might only be long enough for them to decide now whether to continue for another two hard years or pack up now.  A long term change would give independent business owners more comfort and encouragement to carry on.  It would also encourage others to set up.  No-one invests so much money in a new business for two years.

Instead of announcing a restructure of the way businesses are taxed, he fiddled while Rome burns. The Chiswick Shops Task Force will keep up the pressure on ministers, and Hounslow council, to be bold and brave, to do more than fiddle with a system that needs wholesale change that encourages small businesses to set up and continue”.

Missed opportunities

Cllr Biddolph adds: “There was another lost opportunity, too.  The Chancellor missed a chance to encourage everyone to shift their thinking about how they buy.  In announcing the welcome digital service tax, he has assumed that everyone lives their lives digitally – and that all independent businesses face competition from digital businesses.  That is not true.  Some do.  Some don’t.  Everyone in the retail world is talking about retail success depending on experiences.  These experiences cannot be experienced online.  It’s about retailers changing what they offer – and us appreciating that offer (what we want should inform what retailers should provide – it’s a neat virtuous circle).

“I would have liked him to say he hoped everyone would support their high street shops, to shop in local independents, to get out from their screens and out into shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants.  He has (apparently) said he’s an Amazon shopper. He could have name-checked his local shops, indicating that he shops at them too.  He could have emphasised the extra pleasure we experience when buying from an independent trader – being remembered, a chat, touching or smelling what you want to buy.  You can’t have your nails done or have your hair cut, or beard trimmed, online.

“You can’t do yoga, taekwondo, or work out online. You can’t smell the sweetness and flavour of a tomato or piece of fruit when it’s wrapped in supermarket cellophane but you can when buying from a stall or greengrocer.  Such an influential occasion, such an important speech, such newsworthy announcements – with no nudges to shift our thinking and our behaviour to encourage us to use the high street shops – the independents – that need and deserve our support.  A lost opportunity. These are on the list for the Chiswick Shops Task Force to do – but a national nudge was needed, too”.

£675m high street fund

She says also that the £675m high street fund is welcome but it will depend on how much is allocated to Hounslow, how much of that is allocated to Chiswick and how much Hounslow council listens to what independent traders – wherever they are in the borough – need.  “We can all remember the way having a town centre manager failed Chiswick – a year of potential improvements lost, never to be replaced.  Imposing ideas proposed by people with absolutely no experience of setting up and running a small independent business is the wrong way to go. The Chiswick Shops Task Force is ready to help Hounslow consult with local independent businesses in Chiswick on how it should spend its high street improvement fund to ensure that the money is well and effectively spent to benefit local independent traders.

“In some areas, turning retail units in Chiswick into residential units might not be the right thing to do. The fund should be spent on maintaining Chiswick’s character – much of which comes from the fact that it has so many independent local shops that make it different from other areas”.

Responsibility for the business rate is transferring to local councils

What is the likelihood that there will be a longer term solution for business rates?

Cllr Gary Busutill says: “On the face of it, small independent businesses on Chiswick High Road are set to benefit in the short term. However in the 2020/2021 financial year the responsibility for business rates are due to be transferred to local councils. With cash strapped councils needing funding to provide services, depending on what restrictions are placed on councils to raise these rates in the future, it is possible any short term gain for local businesses could be wiped out when business rates responsibility is transferred”.

Budget not enough to undo the damage

Guest blog by Ruth Cadbury MP

I want to focus on what this government has done to the children in these families and particularly those who need additional help. The Chancellor hardly mentioned children in his speech. What we need is a budget that works for them, not a government which is driving an economy that means their parent’s real pay is declining, creating a housing crisis that forces their parents to pay rent almost equivalent to their take-home pay and a work culture that means the only jobs their parents can get have zero-hours contracts so they never know how much is coming in every month.

And no child in this country needs a government that makes a political choice to respond to the worldwide financial crisis by implementing, then continuing with politically-driven Austerity where the whole burden falls on the poor and the rich get let off scot free. Austerity that means our public services continue to struggle with less money and more pressures.

Austerity isn’t coming to an end

Let me cover some examples:

The Local Government Association says government cuts mean councils have been forced to cut services, including the very services that are designed to help children and families before problems start.
– children’s centres,
– advice information & support
– youth services
And another £1.3bn is planned to councils next year. Hounslow Council has lost 80% of its Government grants in the last 8 years, meaning a 40% loss of total real income. Another £27m of cuts to find over the next 3 years, with 5.5m to take from Education and early intervention.

I heard nothing to help the growing number of children on child protection plans, which have surged 84%, or be enough to reopen the youth centres that do such a great job identifying and supporting vulnerable youngsters.

Token gesture to schools

The token gesture to schools won’t reverse the cuts decisions heads have had to make that cut teaching assistants, family welfare advisers, counselling and mental health specialists.

On schools I’m grateful to Cllr Tom Bruce, Hounslow’s lead member for Children & Education who said to me “The Government tell us that there is more money in schools than ever before, but if you ask the heads, the teachers, the pupils, the parents and the governors, that is simply not the reality. The Chancellor’s token gesture to schools won’t reverse the cuts decisions heads have had to make that cut teaching assistants, family welfare advisers, counselling and mental health specialists“.

And on top of that, the Government grant funding for children with additional educational need is not enough for the growing number of those children. Schools have had to cut specialists that provide early interventions and the NHS has cut school nurses. Between them they identify children at risk and families in crisis and support them.

I agree with the hon member for Birkenhead who rightly said that the burden of Austerity has fallen on those families with children needing to claim benefit, driving them to destitution and some of the symptoms of that extreme poverty. Teachers having to buy shoes, coats and warm clothes for children whose parents can’t afford to buy them.

Punishment for being poor

Universal Credit was rolled out in Hounslow two and a half years ago – in the first wave to affect families with children – and almost immediately, as we predicted, pressure on the food-back shot up and evictions from private tenancies led to queues of homeless families many of whom have had to take temporary accommodation, often such a distance away that they are too far from work, school and community.

Universal Credit is claimed both by families with no adult in work because of disability and who are losing the benefit to cover the extra costs they incur, but also working families, who in West London would starve without Universal Credit working properly. That’s because rents are c£1200 per month and take-home pay can hover around £1500, a lot less for a parent on the national minimum wage.

Universal Credit is leaving families in poverty for three reasons
– it’s underfunded
– Its chaotic
– And punishment for being poor is built into its design

Today’s increases in work allowances only replace the cuts that were made previously

Mental health – why wait for a crisis?

The Chancellor’s £2bn for Mental Health is half what’s needed and it’s to fund a new crisis Mental Health service – In A&E ambulances, and a hotline. BUT WHY WAIT FOR A CRISIS?!

What help is that crisis service to the young person with autism in my constituency who’s had to wait years to even get a referral, then waited 15 months for their first CAMHS assessment that was then cancelled by text with no follow-up. That child and their parents shouldn’t have to be grateful for a crisis service – by then too much damage has been done to their development, their education and their mental health.

There was nothing in the Chancellor’s speech about the potentially devastating impact that Brexit will have on the economy and so on our children’s future, which is surprising given that the Treasury forecasts show that all versions of Brexit will leave the UK with an economy worse off and declining tax receipts.

This government is overseeing growing inequality

This government is overseeing growing inequality yet all research shows that economies with more equal distribution of income grow stronger, more evenly, and everyone benefits when the benefits of a strong economy are shared fairly. Today’s UK children face a bleak adulthood growing up in a Britain on its own, outside the EU and the prosperity that membership has given this country to date. In conclusion Mr Speaker – children in primary school now were born and have grown up only experiencing austerity and from today’s budget will continue to do so for years to come.

Ruth Cadbury is the MP for Brentford & Isleworth

An end to potholes?

Much was made during the local elections of the nuisance of potholes – more than a nuisance to cyclists; there have been deaths caused by potholes. I asked Lib Dem Councillor Gary Busutill for his response to the Chancellor’s ring-fenced funding for potholes.

He said: “£420m was allocated to an existing fund of £300m to tackle a pothole “epidemic”. That’s all very well and good but it’s widely considered that £8bn is needed if we are to eradicate the number of potholes we need for our roads.

“You do have to question where the Chancellor’s priorities lie. Though there is a pressing need to repair potholes, more money has been allocated for potholes than there has for schools or the police. As with many aspects of the Chancellor’s budget, this is just a sticking plaster, and has shown that an end to austerity is a long way off”.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: When is a pothole not a pothole?

See also: Pothole repair postponed

I say, do you mind, I’m the Emperor of Germany!

If you happened to visit Chiswick House on Sunday afternoon you may have come across some actors wandering about in 1920s costume. They were there to draw our attention to the fact that Chiswick House was for a while a private asylum, home amongst others to one man who believed he was the Emperor of Germany.

The residents lived there for all sorts of reasons, including the Edwardians’ attitude to epilepsy and depression. The Tuke brothers, who ran it from 1892 to 1928, were pioneering in their views on disability and mental health. At a time when Bethlam in south London was still keeping its inmates chained up, the Tuke brothers’ residents wandered the grounds reading poetry and taking exercise and the food apparently was excellent.

A passerby stops to play along

That’s not to say they all wanted to be there. Paul Homer and Katie Smith are project managers of a heritage lottery funded project looking at the lives of deaf and disabled people throughout 800 years in eight places, of which Chiswick House is one. Their research at the Wellcome Library has thrown up some interesting characters and snippets of information about some of the Tuke brothers’ clients. One resident thought she was a famous poet; another was obsessed with Alice in Wonderland. 

Seems perfectly reasonable to me, but in those days it was enough to get you locked up. The project has made an interactive online version of the story of G.B Bartlett, who wrote to his friend that he was desperate to leave the asylum.

Find out more about Chiswick’s asylum and its residents in the This Is Chiswick pages

Chiswick Rugby Club new all weather pitch

Chiswick Rugby Club christened its new all weather pitch on Saturday with a 17:8 point win against Harpenden. The pitch is so emerald green, with its brand new white fence all round, that it looks more like a racecourse than a rugby pitch. Such is my expertise in rugby, I can tell you that you have to be a bit fitter to play on it because it’s springy and requires a bit more muscle power, but where the ball lands is more predictable. (So I was told by an actual player over lunch).

The new surface and accompanying floodlights will mean not only all weather play for the club’s four teams plus juniors, but that they can play in the evenings as well. “The facilities are a thousand times better” said Club Secretary Gavin Nichols.

Dukes Meadows ‘Masterplan’

England women’s squad member Abbie Scott was there to celebrate the opening, as was General Manager of George IV pub Rachel Watson, who is a sponsor, and Leader of Hounslow Council Steve Curran, who has a masterplan for the development of Dukes Meadows Sports facilities.

“I’m delighted for Chiswick Rugby Club and residents” he said. “Our next target is to reach agreement with Thames Tradesmen and build a new boathouse so that every child in Hounslow can have the opportunity to row” he told me. The Thames Thames Tradesmen rowing club is in dispute with the council over its lease and talks are ongoing.

There were speeches, a rude joke from the president of Harpenden and champagne. “Thank you to the RFU for considering us worthy of investment and thanks to Steve for all his efforts to make it happen” said club Chairman Kelvin Campbell.


‘Green wall’ gets funding from the Mayor

The ‘Chiswick Oasis’ project, to create a ‘living wall’ alongside the playground of St Mary’s RC primary school, to absorbe some of the noxious fumes from the A4, has received £32,000 from the Mayor’s Fund for community projects. 

There is a caveat – the money will only be handed over if the project manages to raise the rest of the funds they need – £37,000 – by 14 December. Click here if you would like to make a donation.

Parents at the school hit upon the idea of a ‘living wall’ when they realised their children were breathing in some of the most polluted air in London.

Tickets for Brentford FC’s new stadium go on sale after Christmas

Brentford Football Club has announced that tickets for premium seats to watch football in the new stadium will go on sale from the beginning of next year. The club recently took the decision to finish the 2019/20 season at Griffin Park and celebrate its 130th anniversary there rather than trying to swap grounds mid-season. Season tickets for the 2020/21 season at the new ground won’t go on sale until later in the year, probably in September 2019.

The new stadium is beginning to take shape. The steel frame and terracing for the south stand has started to be installed and the physical structure of the stadium is now clearly visible.

Construction company Ecoworld has also completed the initial foundations and structural works for the Central Eastern and Central Southern residential sites. There are 231 homes being built on the Central Eastern site, 256 on Central Southern and 253 on Capital Court.

Over the next three months the steel frames for the south, east and west stands will be erected, with the new terracing installed along the frame section by section. Work will commence on the north stand, the roof and the façade of the new stadium, while drainage works will continue along Lionel Road South. Bridge abutments are being introduced during this month to link the site to Capital Interchange Way, which will support the installation of a bridge over the railway lines in early 2019.

At a meeting of the football club, the construction company and local residents, Sally Stephens from Brentford FC’s Project Team also said that the team had recently held constructive meetings with South Western Railway and that they were putting together a joint proposal for funding for better access to the stadium

Trump ‘pugnacious’

I found out with great glee only recently that the pet dog of Chiswick’s most celebrated artist William Hogarth was called Trump. Not only that, but according to the website of the Tate gallery, where the above portrait hangs, ‘Hogarth’s pug dog Trump serves as an emblem of the artist’s own pugnacious character’. 

Trump, a byword for pugnacity – who’d have thought it?!

Chiswick reclaims Trump

In honour of the (blameless) little dog I’ve got together with local interior designer Angela Corden to make some Chiswick Loves Trump merchandise – a mug (£10) and a T shirt (£12) on black or white cotton. (Sizes S,M,L,XL). More items to come…

Place your orders

If this tickles your sense of humour and you’d like to buy a mug or a T shirt, please email info@thechiswickcalendar with your name and address to pre-order.

Scrooge – the Street Dance version – comes to Chiswick

This Christmas Chiswick will be hosting a show unlike any that has gone before. I.M.D, the street dance company who became household names after appearances on TV shows Britain’s Got Talent and Got to Dance will be performing here in the premiere of a street dance version of Scrooge.

The tale follows Ebony Scrooge, a young woman from a difficult background who is now the CEO of a major Fortune 100 corporation. Ebony is wealthy, famous and very successful, but is feared and loathed by everyone, as she does whatever it takes to get what she wants no matter who it hurts. Ebony has one secret, she is terrified of Christmas!

Tickets are on sale now, and the even better news is that Club Card holders get a 20% discount. Just enter the promotional code chiswickcal when booking. Book your tickets here

James Narh

James Narh – the Simon Cowell of Street Dance

Ebony Scrooge is the brainchild of James Narh, who is currently the operational manager of Christ Church, responsible for raising money to refurbish its sister church St Albans.

James, as the picture above might suggest, used to be a model. Meeting dancers through his modelling career, he decided to set up the first Street Dance group.

To find out how this snowballed into a multi million pound business read his profile in the This Is Chiswick pages.

The Chiswick Calendar tops 4,000

Dear reader, you are now one of more than 4,000 people who receives this newsletter and owns a Club Card. For months I’ve been saying we have ‘nearly 4,000’ or ‘about 4,000’ subscribers. This weekend the number edged across the line to 4,010 so I can now say we have ‘more than’ 4,000 subscribers! You are still part of a select and discriminating readership, but you are not alone!

A Night with Rob Sprackling

Guest blog by Barry Johns

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a talk at The Chiswick Calendar’s Media Club by Rob Sprackling, writer of Gnomeo and Juliet, Mike Bassett: England Manager, and the eagerly awaited The Queen’s Corgi. Add to that the fact that he is currently writing the feature screenplay for his kids book Born-Again Ben, for which he recently sold the film rights, and it is easy to see why I couldn’t believe my luck when it turned out to be quite an intimate gathering.

Rob began by admitting that he wasn’t the most studious kid in school. He was the one that disrupted the class, made a joke of anything and everything, and lacked any real drive or ambition. This work ethic, or lack thereof, continued throughout most of college career until a friend of his wrote a play, the success of which transformed Rob’s way of thinking forever. His friend’s accomplishment and can-do attitude inspired Rob to write his own play. “It made me immensely proud”, Rob said when explaining that his play had also done well. “It was a feeling I’d never experienced before, and I wanted more”.

That was his one and only endeavour as a playwright. Rob’s sights were set on the big screen, and with that in mind he wrote and directed his first short film, Green Monkey. It won several awards worldwide, and opened some important doors. “Of course, it was easier to win awards for short films back in 1997. There were fewer being made back then and it was easier to stand out”, Rob added modestly.

He went on to explain that what followed was one disappointment after another. In 1999 (five years before the release of Madagascar), Rob and his writing partner, John R. Smith, wrote Blackwater Zoo: an animated feature about a group of zoo animals plotting their escape. Fox loved it and immediately set the production wheels in motion. “We were so excited. But just when I thought we were going to have something made, the studio released Titan AE. It was a huge flop, and of course, they lost all confidence in animated features after that, and Blackwater Zoo was shelved.” With the huge success of “Ice Age” in 2002, Fox’s confidence in animated features was restored. When they got the call from Fox announcing that Blackwater Zoo was back on the table they were ecstatic. “However, our excitement was short-lived. When we learned of Dreamworks’ plans to release Madagascar, well, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what happened next.”

Rob continued writing, and in 2003 his tenacity paid off. “Hollywood loved The Queen’s Corgi. My agent sent it out to everyone and I found myself in a situation screenwriters dream of: a bidding war”. Rob had to laugh when he told us what happened next. “I had to go to a media centre in the heart London for a video conference call with the successful bidder. This was before the days of Skype and the like you understand”. He told us how the conversation went something like this:

HOLLYWOOD EXEC: Rob, I can’t tell you how excited we are about this project.

ROB:  Great, me too!

HOLLYWOOD EXEC: We want you to change a few things…set it in the US and write a part for a new star of ours, Chris Rock.

ROB: But it’s the Queen’s corgi. The Queen of Great Britain. Everyone knows the Queen and that she loves her corgis. How am I supposed to relocate it to the US?

HOLLYWOOD EXEC: I’m sure you’ll think of a way. Can’t wait to read it.

He told us how over the next 6 months he submitted rewrite after rewrite trying to fulfill their expectations. After all, what choice did he have? They’d already bought the rights. In the end however, he was fired and they brought in other writers to make it work. They also failed, and the project died a death.

Unhindered by this turn of events, Rob and John wrote “Gnomeo and Juliet”, a massive hit for all concerned. “I love mash-ups”, Rob said. “The Great Escape, only with animals in a zoo; Romeo and Juliet only they’re gnomes. Finally, all the stars were in alignment and everything went ahead as planned. We got one of our scripts made!”

“I never gave up on “The Queen’s Corgi”. I loved the story. So, almost 15 years after completing the original draft, I revisited it. It needed work. William and Harry were children when I first wrote it, and times had changed. And don’t you know, no sooner had I finished it I got a call from some guy in Belgium:

nWAVE EXEC: Hey Rob, we came across a script of yours from years ago; The Queen’s Corgi.

ROB: Wow, what a coincidence. I only just finished rewriting it.

nWAVE EXEC: Great. Let’s make it.

ROB: There’s one problem. I don’t own the rights.

nWAVE EXEC: Leave it with us.

Rob said he didn’t think anything of it. He’d heard it all before. However, a few weeks later:

nWAVE EXEC:  Hey Rob, we’ve bought the rights. Let’s make this happen!

ROB:  What? Really?

“And that’s how it happened. They had the money. They had the studio. Everything. The Queen’s Corgi is set for release early 2019.”

He went on to tell us about all the hoops he had to jump through to get Mike Bassett – England Manager made. I don’t have the word count to tell you all about it. Suffice to say that it was a labour of love years in the making and a constant battle from start to finish. Which leads me nicely onto my conclusion….

What was clear from Rob’s talk, and the few beers I had with him after, is that the film industry is a fickle one. That’s certainly not news to anyone who has ever sat in a room and listened to just about anyone in the industry. But what was also clear from his talk is that if you have aspirations of becoming a screenwriter you have to keep going. You have to keep plugging away at it. Before Green Monkey, before the bittersweet success of Blackwater Zoo, there were scripts that Rob described simply as “shit”. They ended up in the bin, never to see the light of day. He kept writing despite disappointment after disappointment, and it eventually (some would say inevitably) paid off.

I asked Rob what advice he would give screenwriters pursuing that first big break. He said, “That’s simple. Make a decision and do it”.

Barry Johns is a script writer

New visitor centre for Gunnersbury Triangle

Gunnersbury Triangle, the local nature reserve between the railway tracks by Chiswick Park station, has plans for a new visitor centre.

The existing ‘centre’ is more of a dilapidated shed which has served the site for more than 30 years, and is no longer fit for purpose. “We’ve wanted to do this for many years” says Ian Tokelove, spokesman for the London Wildlife Trust, which runs the reserve. “It’s much needed. We have a very active volunteer group but it’s not a nice place to work, particularly in winter, it’s cold and damp”.

The opportunity for a new centre has come about through the development of nine new homes on adjoining land as part of a joint venture between EcoWorld London and London Borough of Hounslow’s development vehicle, Lampton 360.

If the London Borough of Ealing grants planning permission they look forward to new facilities including better toilets and teaching space which they hope will improve engagement and increase their reach. The plans include a green roof and a living wall.

I asked whether the construction of it wouldn’t upset the wildlife. The impact would be “negligible” he said. Apparently there’s enough space for any creatures to hide out of the way without leaving the site altogether.

Artist’s drawings of what the new centre will look like

Photos by James Cracknell

Here is a video we made on Gunnersbury Triangle

Cafe Conversations debut a success

I mentioned last week that Louise Kaye had decided to set up Cafe Conversations – an opportunity to get out of the house for a little intelligent conversation.

The report from the first session was that it was a great success. Twelve people came. Two ‘conversation starters’ had a list of prepared questions (nothing too personal and no politics) which they discussed in groups of three and four over a period of two hours. “It was a very diverse group which was really nice and a very lively afternoon” says Louise.

If you fancy a chat, Cafe Conversations are taking place at Avanti on Bedford Corner, South Parade W4 1LDon Mondays from 3-5pm and at Grove Cafe, 7 Grove Park Rd W4 3RSon Wednesdays from 3-5pm. Not suitable for children and it’s important to be there from the start, says Louise. The events are free and there’s no obligation to spend money in either cafe (but if you do, remember that Avanti is in the Club Card scheme!)


Cricket fanatic wanted

The owner of an autograph collection with some of the greatest names in cricketing history is looking for a dedicated researcher to identify all the cricketers.

The rare collection of autographs from 1952 – 1957 is believed to have been Middlesex and England cricketer Denis Compton’s personal collection and was inherited by Julian Bosdet, who beleives the cricketing legend credited with commercialising the sport is his father’s uncle by marriage.

The 27 pages of autographs cover 17 County clubs for the 1952 season: Surrey, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Middlesex, Warwickshire, Worcester, Sussex, Somerset, Kent, Hampshire, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Gloucestershire, Essex, Nottinghamshire, and Glamorgan.

The book also includes touring teams India (1952), Australia (1953 + 1956), Pakistan (1954), South Africa (1955), England (1956), West Indies (1957). It finishes with pages entitled Cricket Personalities, signed by the likes of Colin Cowdrey.

Julian would like to establish whether any signatures are missing. “A cursory check suggests that the teams are 100% complete. The names are sadly lost on me but the few cricket lovers who have seen the book get very excited as it apparently includes all of the “greats” from that era” he says.

Cricket fanatics with time on their hands can contact Julian at Julian.Bosdet@abchurch-group.com

Peter Murray named as one of London’s most influential people

The London Evening Standard has published its annul list of London’s 1000 most influential people and among them is Peter Murray, formerly a vice chairman of the Bedford Park Society.

The reason for the accolade is his work with the London Festival of Architecture: 

‘Peter is the founding father of one of the capital’s most significant events in the cultural calendar, the London Festival of Architecture. This year the festival hosted 500 events across the city. The New London Architecture is the centre of debate and discussion on the ever-changing face of London. Its revealing reports make headlines internationally’ says the Standard.

“I got a selfie with George Osborne and a glass of champagne, which was very nice” he says. His long career as a writer and commentator on architecture informs his views not just on  buildings but the way in which cities work. He has a broader view of the development of the city as a whole than most of us. Interestingly he’s in favour of both the building of the Chiswick Curve and the introduction of the Cycle Superhighway, which he admits does sometimes put him at odds with his Bedford Park neighbours.

Read more about Peter’s career and views on the This Is Chiswick pages

Chiswick Cinema about to start construction

Chiswick Cinema is about to start construction – finally – on the old Ballet Rambert site opposite the end of Chiswick Lane. 

It’s not expected to be ready till early 2020 but Jubilacion Ltd, the company run by Lyn Goleby, formerly of Picturehouse cinemas, is planning to offer ‘founder memberships’ next month. Founder Members will stump up cash in advance to receive preferential treatment and perks once the cinema is open, such as invitations to screenings, previews, and discounted tickets. They will also have their name on the wall in the foyer. 

The cinema will have five screens with a restaurant / cafe and will offer a mix of mainstream and art house films and live theatre broadcasts.

When you realise you’ve babysat Matilda

A new cast has just taken over the roles in Matilda the Musical, including four girls sharing the title role of Matilda, the little girl who fights injustice with her indomitable will and succeeds through the force of her intellect. One of the child actors taking on the role is Francesca McKeown from Chiswick. 

The RSC don’t allow their child stars to do personal publicity, to protect them, so much as I’d love to tell you how she’s enjoying it, I can only tell you that she comes across as a natural talent, completely confident and comfortable with performing, which is amazing considering I babysat her not that long ago when she was a shy little girl and her parents are about as far from the archetypal pushy showbiz parents as you can get! 

Good luck Francesca, knock ’em dead.

Chiswick RNLI rescue three from smouldering cruiser

The RNLI have just released details of a rescue by Chiswick Lifeboat crew on the morning of Saturday 6 October. The volunteer crew evacuated three people from a cruiser which was on fire near Battersea heliport.

The crew had been out conducting an exhausting search in heavy rain when they were hailed by the  people aboard the cruiser. Seeing smoke coming from the back of the boat, they took them on board the lifeboat and towed the smouldering cruiser away from nearby houseboats before handing it over to London Fire Brigade’s vessel Fire Dart.

Chiswick RNLI lifeboat station is the second busiest in the UK and Ireland. Since The RNLI search and rescue service on the Thames started in 2002, Chiswick Lifeboat has attended one 3,200 incidents and rescued over 1,620 people. The RNLI is entirely funded by public donations.

Media Club – Jo Coburn interviews Gina Miller

Gina Miller took the Government to court in 2016 to challenge its authority to issue Article 50, setting a date for us the leave the EU, by royal prerogative. The High Court, backed up by the Supreme Court, ruled that parliament had to legislate before Article 50 could be triggered. She said at the time it was not the idea of Brexit that filled her with dread but the idea of an unchallenged, unanswerable government taking us back to 1610 “and ripping a hole through our democratic structures.”

The next few days will be critical for Brexit. With both main parties split, the DUP threatening to pull the rug from under Theresa May and senior Tories threatening to resign, we could easily be headed for another general election before Christmas.

What better time to hear Gina Miller in conversation with the BBC’s politics presenter Jo Coburn?

7.30pm on Tuesday 4th December. Ticket details in next week’s newsletter. Priority will be given to people who have signed up to our Media Club subscribers list.

To sign up for our Media Club information alerts please email info@chiswickcalendar.co.uk putting ‘Sign me up to Media Club alerts’ in the subject box.

Spirit Level – St Michael’s Players

St Michael’s Players present Spirit Level by Pam Valentine this week from Wednesday 10 – Saturday 13 October.

I have to declare an interest, as I know the two lead actors, David and Arabella. They play famous crime writer Jack and his wife Susie, who have died in a boating accindent and been denied access to heaven due to Jack’s atheism (which seems a little harsh on Susie / Arabella).

They return to their former country home and proceed to haunt the estate agent (played by Paul Smith) and new tenants Flic and Simon (Leonia Chesterfield and Nilesh Pandey).

Publicist Fleur de Henrie Pearce says “Arabella brings a warmth to the stage and plays Susie with ease, highlighting the comedic and touching moments. David plays Jack with pace and panache and a little twinkle in his eye. The playful banter and quick quips between Jack and Susie rattle through at a great pace” which is just like them on a normal night in the pub to be honest.

The play sounds like a hoot and St Michael’s Players productions are always good value. Christine Neyman and Cressida Strauss complete the cast as the matronly Guardian Angel and Flic’s nightmare of a mother in law.

For more details click here

See Me For Myself – Tabard theatre review

I went to see See Me For Myself last Friday, which runs at the Tabard until Saturday 27 October.

The tale of two terminally ill young people who get to know each other in a hospice and fall in love with only months for live, you’d think it would be unremittingly depressing. It does indeed make you cry but it also makes you laugh as the two send up their circumstances with a mordant black humour and find happiness despite everything.

Alice Cox and Nickcolia King N’Da, who play the lead characters, should go far. Alice, who is a recent graduate of The Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, approaches the part with a fearless clarity. There’s nothing maudlin or sentimental in her approach. It is what it is, and she plays that perfectly. Nickcolia, who trained as an actor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, manages the combination of joker and wannabe delinquent with the sweet, wistful boy who just wants to be loved with exactly the right balance.

The play is also of interest as it’s the first play written by Chris Naylor and Joanna Way. While Joanna has spent most of her career as a journalist, Chris is a retired consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist.and has seen the lack of suitable care for terminally ill teenagers at first hand. He and his wife Vicki run a weekly writers group at their home in Chiswick. How thrilling to see your first published play performed at the age of 84.

For details of dates and how to book click here

Le Cercle Français Chiswick

There is a conversation group which takes place in Chiswick, in French. Le Cercle Francais meets on the second Friday of the month in the Raphael Room of St Michael & All Angels Church and they’ve just announced their programme for the coming year. The first one, this Friday (12 October), is about the relationship between Clemenceau and Monet.

Georges Clemenceau, novelist, physician and politician, was France’s Prime Minister during the First World War.  Nicknamed ‘Le Tigre’ he was one of the chief architects of the Treaty of Versailles; rather like a left wing Winston Churchill as a wartime leader.

He was also a supporter of contemporary painting and photography and befriended the likes of Édouard Manet and Claude Monet. Their relationship and the story of Monet’s famous waterlily paintings, which he offered to the state, are the subject of Présidente d’honneur, Line Playfair’s talk, in French, starting at 7pm.

To read more about the event, click here

Mental Health Initiative in Chiswick

The art of conversation is not dead

Louise Kaye does not do things by halves. When she puts on concerts to raise money for research into Parkinson’s disease she hires the Queen Elizabeth Hall or the Wigmore Hall and fills them, making many thousands of pounds for charity.

Now she’s decided Chiswick would benefit from a place to chat and within about half an hour of deciding that she’d signed up two venues – Avanti at Bedford Corner and the Grove Cafe in Grove Park, catering for conversational needs both north and south of the A4.

The idea came from her listening to a Radio 4 documentary on loneliness; how easy it is for people particularly in retirement, to sit within their own four walls and not socialise. Before you know it you find that days have passed without talking to anyone. 

Cafe Conversations in Chiswick

The Cafe Conversations will take place:

At Avanti, Bedford Corner, South Parade W4 1LDon Mondays from 3-5pm. First meeting Monday 15 October. 

At Grove Cafe, 7 Grove Park Rd W4 3RSon Wednesdays from 3-5pm. First meeting Wednesday 17 October.

Not suitable for children and it’s important to be there from the start, says Louise. The events are free and there’s no obligation to spend money in either cafe (but if you do, remember that Avanti is in the Club Card scheme!)

Being Louise, she’s aiming higher than a cursory comment or two about the weather. She has researched the subject thoroughly and taking inspiration from an initiative in Vienna to reignite the art of good conversation, has appealed to a range of people, including an academic who teaches philosophy at Oxford, for conversational starting points. 

If you would like to come and join the conversation, just turn up at the start. If you would like to volunteer as a conversation starter, email me at info@chiswickcalendar.co.uk and I will pass your details to Louise. 

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Cafe Conversations a success

See also: Weekly blogs by The Man in the Middle, who decided to move his elderly mother in with his family, with hilarious results – No. 1: The Letter


Come and meet Hollywood scriptwriter Rob Sprackling

The Chiswick Calendar is holding another of our Media Club events on Wednesday 17 October. Having had speakers on serious subjects such as Reporting Russia and the quality of journalism today, we felt it was time for a little light entertainment.

Ricky Tomlinson as Mike Bassett

Rob Sprackling’s film Mike Bassett: England Manager with Ricky Tomlinson as the hapless and hopeless manager has a cult status amongst football fans – the equivalent in English football to Spinal Tap in the world of rock music.

Rob has a long list of script writing credits to his name (Five Children and It, Shooting Fish and Polar Express) but Gnomeo and Juliet was the first children’s animation which he created and developed himself with co-writer Johnny Smith. Made by Walt Disney, it boasted an all-star cast and grossed $2,000,000 at the box office.


The Queen’s Corgi

Rob’s next animated film, The Queen’s Corgi looks set to be another blockbuster and will showing at a cinema near you from 15 February.

Come and see Rob talking about film making and his career as a stand-up comedian and TV presenter along the route to becoming a successful Hollywood script writer. Tickets for the Media Club event are available here.

Read more about Rob on the This Is Chiswick pages of the website.

Abundance London supplies La Trompette

La Trompette, the five star restaurant in Devonshire Rd which has just seen its Michelin star renewed, has got together with Abundance London, the charity which makes good use of unwanted fruit in people’s gardens, to create something a little bit special for the menu, making use of the bumper quince crop.

The fruit crop in general has been very poor, which may have come as some relief to Karen Liebreich and Sarah Cruz (aka Abundance London), having had a manic start to the year getting their other little project, the Chiswick Timeline mural, to completion. On a decent year Abundance picks around a tonne of apples, maybe half a tonne of pears and various other fruits, including a large damson crop. This year, owing to the hot summer, they cancelled all their school picking sessions and barely managed to harvest fruit from two Chiswick apple trees and a couple of pears. The quince harvest however did credit to their name.

Karen says: “Luckily there is one chef in Chiswick who is always delighted to receive fruit gluts with no warning – Rob Weston of La Trompette … There aren’t that many chefs that can cope with suddenly being offered a few sacks full of quinces or damsons or a rare variety of apples that need to be eaten immediately, but Rob not only copes, he seems to relish the challenge and the freshness of local produce.”

A few days ago several sacks full of huge fragrant Chiswick quinces were dropped off at his kitchen, straight from the tree. He made them into a savoury tart to accompany a hare fillet, quince sorbet, quince vodka, membrillo (I had to look that up – quince paste, nice with cheese) and several other variations on the theme. These will form part of La Trompette’s Christmas menus and diners can pat themselves on the back that they’re eating food with almost zero food miles. In return La Trompette has made a donation towards Abundance’s expenses (picking equipment, insurance).

La Trompette works with Cultivate London, a charity that trains young people in horticulture, and this year renovated a glasshouse at Chiswick House Kitchen Garden where Rob and his team grow their own salads and tomatoes. “I want my staff to know where their food comes from, how it is grown and how we can respond seasonally,” says Rob. “And I’m delighted to work with fantastic local projects like Abundance, Cultivate and Chiswick House.”

If you have a tree that needs picking, contact info@abundancelondon.com.

If you want to reserve your Christmas party at La Trompette, call 020 8747 1836

Images of Rob preparing the food by matsmithphotography.com

Chiswick’s fireworks firm Devco joins the Club Card

Did you know that Chiswick has its very own fireworks manufacturer?

Bhikhu and Manjula Shah started out in business running a grocery shop in Fauconberg Rd, just selling a few fireworks for 5th November; they then began buying and selling wholesale. For the past twenty years they have had their own brand, Devco, designing their own fireworks which are manufactured in China. Most of their business is wholesale, but with their son Jinal they still sell their fireworks locally in the shop, in Fauconberg Rd and give advice on how best to plan your display. 

For details of the Club Card offer, click here.

People come back year after year to get their fireworks and their advice on putting on their own displays, as one guy did when we were making a video about them. What amazed me is that what I would describe as a firework display is essentially one firework – you light the initial fuse and stand back as the flame makes its was through a series of timed fuses, as Jinal explains in the video. Click here to watch the video.

No More Magic Lantern Festival

There will be no Magical Lantern Festival this year. No Disney-meets-Father-Christmas-meets-the-ancient-traditions-of-China. Instead, Chiswick House has booked a new winter show, After Dark, which is described thus:

See the gardens of Chiswick House in a whole new light

‘Brighten up your winter evenings with a visit to Chiswick House and Gardens, where a brand new light display is transforming the historic property and its grounds.

A series of modern light installations will illuminate the 18th century gardens and architecture, giving visitors the chance to enjoy a very different park after dark’.

‘Walk the trail that weaves through the grounds and see Chiswick House brought to life with a projected light show set to a curated soundtrack. Treat yourself to a bite to eat from one of the food traders in the walled garden and, if you’re looking for something extra special, book a table at our exclusive Supper Club.

After Dark will be running every Thursday to Sunday, from 15 November until 30 December 2018, and everyone’s welcome – including dogs!’


We are pleased to say that After Dark will be offering Chiswick Calendar Club Card holders 20% off the price of their tickets. 

To book tickets using the Club Card discount, go to the After dark website and use the promotional code CHISCAL18.


Book tickets: eventbrite.co.uk/o/after-dark

Mental Health in crisis

Last week’s Panorama investigation into the state of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service revealed that children with mental health problems are not getting treatment until they are in crisis and, sometimes, suicidal. For many parents the lack of support is grimly familiar, as mental health issues among young people have increased sixfold since 1995.

It’s not just young people who are suffering. Every week there seems to be another report about work stress, with teachers and NHS staff leaving in droves, paramedics showing high rates of absenteeism and care services struggling to cope with a surge in patients seeking help for anxiety, depression and other disorders.

Local election campaign revealed depth of the problems in Chiswick

Labour candidates who campaigned in Chiswick during the local elections were shocked by how often mental health issues came up as a concern when they were going door to door. They have decided to launch a new group called Better Mental Health in Chiswick, to raise the profile of mental health locally.

Sally Malin, who stood as a candidate in Riverside ward, has worked for 35 years in the NHS, with a particular role in trying to make patients’ voices heard. She gave me a couple of examples of people she’d met.

“I met a couple in their 30s living in a small rented flat in Grove Park. Both were working long hours in insecure jobs and they saw no prospect of life improving for them or of starting a family. The woman spoke of feeling under endless pressure and the sense of stress in the home was palpable. We met an older man in his 80s living alone in Strand on the Green with no family nearby. Over the years his friends had either died or moved away. He told us he gets very lonely – days can go by without his speaking to anyone”.

Her comments are echoed by Conservative Councillor Ron Mushiso, who also says he was particularly struck by the loneliness of elderly people he met while out campaigning.

Mental Health Initiative in Chiswick

Better Mental Health Chiswick will be setting out their stall in Chiswick Library on Wednesday 10 October to mark World Mental Health Day. Our the local NHS is struggling, they say, and waiting times in our borough are often far too long. The council has had its grant from central government slashed by 40% since 2010 and resources are under pressure. But there are things we can do ourselves.

While in no way underestimating the need for professional help for serious illness, they’ve been looking at what might be within our power to do for ourselves and those around us. Working with Mind, the Hounslow Wellbeing Network and Mental Health Mates they’ve put together a display about the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’: “simple steps such as connecting with other people; being active; noticing; learning, and giving can all help strengthen mental health and resilience”.

Between 10.00am and 4.00pm on Wednesday 10 October they would like you to pop in and share your views on how to improve mental wellbeing and mental health services across Chiswick, or just show your support.

“Wouldn’t it be fantastic if together we could develop a programme of events to help keep people in good heart?” says Sally. The Better Mental Health Chiswick display will be up for a week. They hope to drum up support and use the feedback to this initiative to plan useful next steps towards improving matters in our community.

Police take longer to respond to 999 calls

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has admitted that response times to 999 calls across the whole of London has deteriorated.

In response to questioning from Members of the London Assembly the Mayor has admitted that the answering of 999 calls between 9pm and 6am is often very slow. In July the average time merely to answer a 999 call was 41.6 seconds, in contrast to January when the average time taken for a 999 call to be answered during the night was 30.8 seconds.

The time taken to respond to the most serious calls received by the Met has deteriorated.  999 calls needing “immediate” emergency assistance, such as when there is danger to life or immediate threat of life took a minute longer to be answered in June than in January (the average response time increased from 10 minutes 5 seconds in January 2018 to 11 minutes and 12 seconds in June 2018).

Assembly members found that the Met are comprehensively failing to respond in time to 999 calls which are categorised as “significant”, such as road collisions, incidents of Hate crime and also incidents where there is a genuine concern for somebody’s safety.  In January of this year the average time to respond to “significant” calls was 48 minutes 52 seconds for the whole of London, but by June it had reached an average of 64 minutes and 11 seconds. The target response times for all “significant” calls is within 60 minutes.

Bearing out the anecdotal evidence which I’ve reported on before, from constituents’ comments to Councillor John Todd, Assembly members found that many of the boroughs which have seen a deterioration in their response times are the boroughs such as Hounslow which have been merged with neighbouring boroughs to create new larger Basic Commands Units.

In answer to a question by Caroline Pidgeon, it was revealed that the Met police are regularly redirecting 999 calls they receive over night to other police forces. Over the Summer months (June to August) the Met diverted 2820 emergency 999 calls it received onto  other police forces to handle.
Commenting on the Mayor’s admission of the Met’s failure to answer and respond to so many 999 calls Caroline Pidgeon said:
“The Mayor needs to explain to Londoners why thousands of emergency 999 calls are not being responded to by the Met, but instead being bounced onto other police forces. The severe delays in 999 calls being answered during the night is a very serious concern which the Mayor needs to urgently address.
“Most importantly having rushed through the creation of Basic Command Units the Mayor also needs to provide an account for why they often coincide with a deterioration in response times to 999 calls in many boroughs.”