When the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea sought to sell off a local college, they reckoned without the passion and organisational skills of local residents, says Samantha Batra.
It started in the wind and the rain outside the gates of the beleaguered college. It started with a gathering of staunch campaigners in 2016 as news leaked out that the Kensington and Chelsea College (KCC) board had sold the land and building that housed its Wornington Road site.
The site was sold to Kensington and Chelsea council who were notorious for “regeneration” development; and it was no surprise that the “Royal Borough” had plans (word had it) to demolish the building and build luxury apartments.
The deal was clandestine but soon rumour spread and it stirred our North Kensington community. At times, members of the regime came out and tried to intimidate the protestors. We were not put off. However, when the Grenfell atrocity happened, the tragic loss of our friends and neighbours traumatised us with a pain that permeates our people still. Our battle to save our precious college was accelerated as our community struggled with a raw, open wound.
At a community meeting at Bevington Primary School in September 2017 we challenged the powers that reigned, though we were repeatedly told by the board and executive and the leaders of RBKC that that there was simply no money left.
Our college was being forced into a toxic merger with Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College (EHWLC) and there was no alternative. They even started to decamp the college assets and ship them out to EHWLC; most of the hairdressing and beauty equipment simply disappeared over a few days.
Emboldened by anger, frustration and sorrow, our campaign snowballed and we reached into the far corners of our community and ensured that people were informed about the skulduggery. Some people were sceptical, but we maintained the pressure, holding a weekly street stall in Portobello Road, handing out leaflets, making videos, circulating mischievous lampoons and staging noisy demonstrations at Wornington Road and even Hortensia Road (the other KCC site). Time and again, we invited people to come and discuss with us the possibilities for our much neglected friend, the “invisible” college. We met in stuffy school halls and other community spaces and all were welcome.
Our campaign group – made up of disparate people – fought on, all of us giving countless hours and our energy. Sometimes we didn’t agree but we had a common goal and we stuck to it. We met ministers and mandarins along the way in the hallowed corridors of power. Some seemed powerless, others listened and took action.
When the outgoing KCC board and executive congratulate themselves on their achievements, as in the FE Week article of January 15, applauding the “new culture of openness and trust, paving the way for the KCC merger”, remember that we have been pitched against them for more than three and a half years. They would have long submitted to the disastrous merger with EHWLC at the end of 2017. It was the Save Wornington College Campaign who pressed for more, who enabled the damning Kroll Report that pointed to the machinations of the council and the rotten governance of the college that led to the sale of the community’s land and buildings.
Now that we have finally arrived at this alliance with Morley College, after months and months of negotiations, we are engaged in the transition of KCC to Morley College, North Kensington.
“The opportunity to achieve this vision is the result of determined advocacy and activism in the North Kensington community, led by the Save Wornington College Campaign,” stated Morley College’s press release on February 3, 2020.
We are determined to ensure that Morley College deliver their promises and honour the Grenfell legacy. They have shown commitment. Now is their chance to show us their integrity and be part of the renaissance of a venerable and precious community college.