The Government’s chief scientific and medical officers have made it clear that Britain is “heading in the wrong direction”, issuing a statement on Monday 21 September that we are at a “critical point in the pandemic” and warning that we could be looking at 50,000 new Covid-19 cases a day within weeks, if the current rates of infection aren’t brought down.
Anxiety and indecision at every level
As politicians debate what to do for the best, the divide in opinion between keeping things open and continuing with normal life or shutting down and staying at home is replicated at every level, from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet down to small businesses and families trying to make up their minds whether a sniffle means they should keep their kids off school and not go to work themselves.
Image above: Chiswick Flower Market. Photograph Frank Noon
Chiswick Flower Market
Chiswick’s new flower market is next due to be held on Sunday 4 October and the organisers (of whom The Chiswick Calendar’s editor is one) are now considering whether it should go ahead. The organisers are working closely with LB Hounslow and their officers, and are being guided by the national guidance on open air markets.
The first one had more than 7,000 visitors and was hugely successful in social and economic terms. Not only did the stallholders do well but existing local businesses saw a huge boost to their trade. Open air events are deemed relatively safe, but none of us wants to be responsible for spreading infection.
We may have to consider postponing the market, but we are also making some changes to the way in which we marshal future markets, based on the experience of the first one, including a ‘tender perennials’ hour for older people and those who are shielding, from 08.30 – 09.30am.
Image above: Dom Pipkin performing at George IV, Thursday 17 September
Hospitality and Entertainment
The Chiswick Calendar held its first Jazz at George IV session since March on Thursday 17 September. The layout of the Boston Room was changed, with the tables spaced out and the number of tickets available halved. The law, at least at time of writing (Monday 21 September) is that you are allowed to have no more than six people sitting together and no more than two households per table. The atmosphere was fantastic, with people clearly delighted to be able to see live music again and the artist, Dom Pipkin, equally grateful for an audience.
“It’s something we normally take for granted as live performers, but it’s so good to have you guys here to play to” he said.
Tickets are selling well for our next event, Oriana Curls’ Piaf Remembered show due to take place on Thursday 1 October.
The idea being discussed over the weekend that pubs should be closed again was firmly dismissed by Simon Emeny, CEO of Fuller’s:
“That would be illogical” he said. “Why close down a sector who (a) are regulated. (b) have been successfully working with strict guidelines, (c) have been and continue to work with Government on track and trace. Pubs are not the problem but can be part of the solution”.
Image above: Arts Ed online production Love & Information
Live entertainment is only just beginning to reopen after the summer. In the past week Watermans in Brentford has announced the return of live shows with their Friday night cabaret nights on 2 October.
ArtsEd is back, with students in school but their first performance of the term Love & Information by Caryl Churchill by MA acting students, will be streamed rather than performed in front of an audience. Available to view from Monday 28 September. Their weekend classes are also all online.
The Lyric Hammersmith is waiting to see what happens this week before they decide what they are able to offer in the run up to Christmas. They have already cancelled this year’s pantomime, postponing it till next year. Currently they are allowed to put on plays, but with social distancing the capacity of their 600 seat auditorium is reduced to 180.
“We’re waiting to see what happens and we’re trying to work out what we could do. Obviously the number of seats we could sell and social distancing back stage hugely dictates the kind of show we might be able to put on” their spokeswoman Amy Belson-Read told us. For the time being they are just running theatre courses for young people online. Courses in dance, ‘theatre making’ and directing for people up to the age of 25 start this week.
Images above: Watermans Cabaret nights planned for October – Lili La Scala; Nikki & JD – Knot – Photograph by David White
The Chiswick Playhouse is likewise in limbo. They were due to announce their autumn and winter schedule this week, but are now holding off to see what the Government announces.
Their 96 seats are reduced to 40 with social distancing. Currently they have a programme of one night only performances – a concert of musical theatre on 25 September and an evening of comedy and magic on 2 October – which they are holding outside in the pub’s courtyard. They are also advertising a musical Now Hear This, with a cast of four to be performed inside the theatre. Now Hear This is scheduled to run from 27 – 31 October.
“We are desperately doing everything we can to stay open and viable. We are determined to keep going until this thing is over” owner Fred Perry told The Chiswick Calendar.
Like everyone else he is watching and waiting, wondering which school of thought inside the Cabinet will win the argument as to whether personal safety or the economy should be considered more important at this point.
The children’s theatre classes on Saturday mornings, which Chiswick Playhouse launched at the beginning of September, are proving hugely successful. The theatre will continue to run them unless told otherwise.
Hogarth’s House reopens
Hogarth’s House has only just reopened to visitors on Tuesday 22 September. You can book timed entry tickets here in groups of up to six people.
Chiswick House is still haemorrhaging money. They have raised £75,000 in donations since they launched their campaign at the beginning of the summer. Their aim was to raise £120,000 by the end of September to replace the revenue they lost from commercial events and private functions such as weddings. They have been able to host small weddings, with a maximum of ten people inside the House and 30 people outside. The Chiswick Festival brought them a little bit of revenue, but they are still reliant on the goodwill of local people to make up the continuing loss of commercial revenue.
Lightopia, from the company which brought the Chinese lantern festival to the Gardens, was briefly advertised, but the organisers pulled out because they didn’t think they would be able to make enough money on it this year, as even though it’s an outside event, the costs of running events have been substantially increased by the coronavirus.
Director Xanthe Arvanitakis told The Chiswick Calendar she is hoping to run a Halloween event for families and some form of Christmas market in Chiswick House Gardens and some form of carol concert, depending on what will be permitted.
Image above: Fortitude Bakehouse, Turnham Green Terrace
High Rd Businesses
Paradoxically the High Rd appears to be having a mini revival. Whereas a year ago we were all bemoaning the 30 or so empty properties on Chiswick High Rd, these days empty properties are hard to come by. The take up of properties and the level of enquiries in the last two months has been “incredible” says Whitmans Commercial Director Jeremy Day. He has had 25 enquiries from people wanting to rent the property that was Byron burger restaurant and the good news, he says is that they’re all either restaurants or retailers such as grocers who want to sell things we might want to buy.
The combination of the fall in rental values, the holiday on business rates and the coronavirus inspired sudden love affair with all things local has brought many of the businesses who were doing well in central London and now find they aren’t any more, to try their hand at doing business in the suburbs. Fortitude Bakery, Hush Hush and Beleaf are all cases in point.
Image above: Grove Park surgery
GP surgeries are still not seeing people in person unless it’s absolutely necessary. Anecdotally, booking an appointment to talk to a GP locally, unless it’s urgent, takes about a week to ten days. Middlesex Hospital are still not doing any elective surgery and were unable to tell The Chiswick Calendar when they might resume.
Three major west London hospitals have gone on the record to explain how the coronavirus pandemic is causing a huge backlog on waiting lists for elective treatments and appointments.
The board of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust (ICHT), which runs Charing Cross Hospital, St Mary’s Hospital and Hammersmith Hospital discussed a report in July which outlined the size of the problem. It said then that by that stage hundreds of patients had been waiting a year for a variety of different treatments, after being referred by their GP. Elective surgery has now been resumed at Charing Cross and Hammersmith hospitals.
Image above: Chiswick School head teacher Laura Ellener
The lack of available testing has been playing havoc with children’s school attendance. About one in every 20 children in England is out of school because of issues linked to the pandemic, according to Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield.
Social media has been full of comments like this one from Dr Emma Kell:
“I’ve been trying to get a Covid test for my daughter, who has a cold, since Sunday. I’ve refreshed the site thousands of times. There is NOTHING. She and her sister had just started school again. We can’t go to school. It is at best frustrating, at worst a scandal”.
The frustration of parents like Emma has been echoed by headteacher of Chiswick School Laura Ellener. When Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee tweeted:
“Eton Head confirms to me that every pupil had a Covid test on arriving at school. Imagine if every child and teacher in the country had access to those private tests. Instead growing numbers stuck at home for lack of a test..”
“This is the inequality that makes me mad. Not because they have it but because we don’t. I can provide everything: good teaching, aspiration, character and values but some things are simply about £££££££££”
Chiswick School has moved to a two week half term holiday this term, in line with private schools such as Latymer and Godolphin and Latymer (19 – 30 October) but teachers will still be providing classes for Year 11 students in one of those two weeks because they have missed so much this year.
“It is a source of great frustration that the testing facilities are not as straightforward as they need to be” she told The Chiswick Calendar. “School leaders have urged the government to take action to ensure that the testing facilities are readily available”.
Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar
See also: Londoners expecting Covid restrictions