Zannthie Bennett: King’s Cross dynamo

21 Mar

Everyone has a story on the Islington Faces BlogWhen Zannthie Bennett was made redundant she volunteered to set-up a Neighbourhood Forum for King’s Cross that’s helped her find a connection with the area she never expected. Zannthie is now ready to hand on the role, please read all about it below the Q&A. Or go join Zannthie, 39, and the N1 WI (yes there really is a WI in Islington) in May 2013 for an historic tour of the King’s Cross area. Edited by Nicola Baird.

zannthieQ:Where do you live?

I first came to London from a small village in the middle of nowhere in East Sussex for University. I studied Environmental Policy and Management. I’ve been living at the bottom of Pentonville in the edge of the Kings Cross Ten Estates since they were done-up, and taken over from Islington Council by Peabody Trust in 2001, for nearly 12 years

It took a long time to find a friendly community in King’s Cross. When I first moved in, there were derelict offices which I overlooked and I could see through a gap to the road and hear the Routemaster (Jo-Jo’s) churning their way up the hill to the Angel. At one point I had five building and demolition sites on every point of the compass around my flat!

Q: What made you click with the King’s Cross area?

When I began work at the London office of the national charity BTCV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers) – now known as TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) – based on York Way, by Crinan Street N1, I was dismayed to find that not only did I wake up to banging and shouting from the builders at home, but would also be aware of building work when I got to the office as it was directly opposite the site of King’s Place. I felt the pile-driving and breathed in the dust as new builds emerged all across Kings Cross during a very special era.

Growing up in a very countrified area has given me a real joy for helping others to learn the value of green spaces in urban areas. I did a lot of local history research in order to find the original use of the three-storey BTCV building. It was used for light industry, and looks quite like a big brick house with a tiled roof and chimney. It is opposite some of the large wharves that line the canal basin (Battlebridge Basin), and had been used since the mid to late 1800s for various manufacture including as a doll factory, and latterly the British Legion Poppy Warehouse until this moved to Richmond. I ran a competition to come up with a new name for the ‘House’ when the postal address was corrected from 80 York Way to 11 Crinan Street – the doors had never faced York Way and it caused great confusion. One of the companies operating from it had been called Bridgewater and so it was decided to name the building after this to make an obvious connection with the nearby canal and bridge. Poppy House came second.

Q Why do you have to hand over the Chair of the King’s Cross Neighbourhood Forum at this time?

I need to pull out all the stops to get my career back on track. I have also taken on the task of redesigning the courtyard where I live to provide communal gardens, laundry drying spaces, secure cycle storage and a dedicated children’s play area, and thus help to meet the needs of my micro-local community. I have proposed a communal food growing area  in a bid to bring the two buildings which stride the courtyard together as it is a very mixed community of ex-council tenants, housing association tenants, private residents and private tenants, with folk from all around the world and transitory students as well. It’s really important that we all get to feel comfortable and understand each other and get a social cohesion so there is less anti-social and nuisance behaviour.

Q What’s to love about Islington?

  • The stretch of Regent’s Canal from Thornhill Bridge to St Pancras Moorings – a world away set apart from the busy and smelly streets. Once I was haplessly strolling and turned a gentle corner to be faced with a heron  – I never saw one that close in the countryside. And there are always water birds chirping and wind to be heard blowing in the trees. I have to remind myself to journey up to the New River Walk from Astey’s Row, where I first lived in Islington, to Canonbury and Alwyne Villas – I always find it astonishing that this was masterminded to bring fresh water to London (and in wooden elm pipes) and that it has been able to remain as a shaft of freshness, like the canal.
  • The cobbledy old back streets of King’s Cross where the old stables and smithy’s were before cars waged their war on us, cuts out the busy one-way system. I enjoy hearing the bouncing of the trains on the cut and covered Metropolitan line and contemplating the route of the River Fleet under St. Chad’s Place.
  • Regent’s Quarter with its ramshackle of old metal works, warehouses, courtyards and linkages, and the juxtapose of new offices – the presence of prestigious and internationally busy companies. There are some great vistas to be seen and mused upon on a sunny afternoon or wintery dusk light from the well-placed public seats.
  • The grand spacing and houses of Claremont and Myddleton Squares EC1 (still Islington Borough!); the obtrusive St Marks church in the centre with steeple and hilltop view, and also St Mary’s Churchyard accessible from Upper Street for its quietness and the water pump.
  • I like to walk or cycle to places that change my outlook and give my human size a different perspective. I guess I feel a bit hemmed in inside my flat behind the tall office building on Pentonville Road.
  • I like many of the newer bars in King’s Cross as well as the real old London pubs, but for atmosphere, The Kings Head Theatre Bar on Upper Street does it for me every time. I love the buzz of the tiny theatre and it’s where I first sang with a London band.

Info

Join Zannthie’s historical walking tour of the new N1C area and ‘souped up’ King’s Cross for N1 WI members in May. Info at www.n1wi.typepad.com/

King’s Head Theatre Bar, 115 Upper Street, N1 http://www.kingsheadtheatre.org/

For more detail about what’s happening at King’s Cross, read on…

zannthieNFbannerThe Steering Team of the Neighbourhood Forum for King’s Cross is looking to a practical solution to get neighbourhood pangs and ambitions off the ground. A small group of local folk have been researching and progressing the set-up of the forum for nearly one year. A Neighbourhood Forum is the necessary and legal vehicle for a Neighbourhood Plan, a new governmental approach to getting locals involved and powered-up in planning issues under The Localism Act 2012. Zannthie Bennett, volunteer chair and facilitator for the project explains it all.

It is my greatest wish that there exists a sustainable Neighbourhood Forum for the whole of Kings Cross, however, as I step down…after a year, there is no able committee and not enough active patrons to continue the original plan.

It’s a real shame because not only have we ‘cut the ground’ when it comes to such new local powers with much good work achieved, but the idea of a ‘Pan Kings Cross’ group which spans both Islington and Camden boroughs would bring everyone together for the first time. I have been compelled to be involved since I first heard of the possibility via Kings Cross Development Forum, who conducted the initial work but needed locals to take it forward.

I think we had assumed that more folk would come forward as the word got round and we got the message out as well as we could with little time and resources between a very small team. I have always tried to inspire and motivate others as planning is something which effects everyone everyday of their life, and a project like this is a great opportunity to build up skills, to network and to meet new people. I’ve met some wonderful folk as a result of being made redundant and spending my time, I now see, very wisely! I know my neighbours and urban community far better and have had the privilege of being mentored by senior members as part of the process. I intend to work with some of the characters and contacts I have met along the way, and its fair to say that I cannot walk down a street anywhere within the proposed boundaries without feeling the community vibe as I say to myself: ‘Oh, thats where Chris, or Peter or Lizzie lives!’.

Moreover, by bringing the Neighbourhood Forum into existence, “it means that all those difficult, stressful and often angry battles fought by individuals and comparatively small community groups can be usurped by what would become the Neighbourhood Plan – without this the individuals have no legal power or advantage and would be forced to repeat this activity when any planning application comes up – if they see it in time. A good example of this is the relatively ‘famed’ Camden Town Hall Extension Building for which is submitted a proposal for a replacement 26 story tower once the occupants have taken up residence in their brand new premises at Pancras Square NC1 in 2015. Friends of Argyle Square immediately adjacent to the plot took on the ‘fire-fight’ and have a certain assurance that this height specification is now removed from sales and marketing strategy, however, the outcome is still to be confirmed. A network of Kings Cross workers and residents and users could have been involved very easily through the established forum even before the plan is accepted, and the plan itself could pre-determine reasonable heights for this section of the Euston Road opposite the gracious and recently refurbished St Pancras Grand building.

I did a few vox pops on this proposal, greeting and asking folk as they moved across the streets and station concourses in the eye of the site. I was met with horror and surprise as young and old alike were puzzled to think that anything like this would be allowed to happen – yet if they didn’t say what they felt, who was to know? Even bus users taking the journey past the iconic building were inspired to get clued up once I pointed out the peril to my fellow passengers.

The first Neighbourhood Plan in the country was adopted following public consultation last week (March 2013). The Upper Eden Neighbourhood Plan in Cumbria covers 17 parishes, with voter turnout in the referendum higher than the figure for the recent police and crime commissioner elections. The plan is due to be formally adopted by the council on 11 April 2013 so ‘it becomes material in terms of planning applications for development in the area covered’.

So, the most desirable set-up is competing with the most practical way forward due to the need for progress in areas where there are active residents and workers coupled with delaying commentary by Islington Council over its areas for inclusion.

The Neighbourhood Forum for King’s Cross current steering team have agreed that the most practical alternative to a single ‘Pan’ Kings Cross Neighbourhood Forum is to establish a collaborative approach between existing and emerging active groups and networks covering smaller areas and districts in and around Kings Cross, unless there is made known other groups of committed individuals who can drive forward the original aim.

It’s not too late to put this right if you want to get involved to club together in the most desirable set-up. You will however, need to be able to commit to a certain level of action – but an action shared is more than an action halved, right? See how to help in the contact info below.

More info:

The last meeting of the current steering team is 7-9pm Thursday 4 April 2013 in The Council Chamber at Camden Town Hall, Judd Street WC1

You can read the article in full – Summary of Intent for Final Meeting at: http://kingscrossneighbourhoodforum.com/2013/03/19/summary-intent-march-2013/

And get the lowdown on results fast by Twitter and Facebook:

Facebook:  www.Facebook.com/KXNeighbourhoodForum

Twitter:  www.Twitter.com/KXneighbourhood

Over to you

Thank you Zannthie, for all the work you’ve done, and good luck getting more people to breathe new campaigning energy into this. Are you like Zannthie? What made you get involved in Islington life – do you find it a way to make friends or something to be proud about doing?  By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

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