The inaugural AGM of the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum was held at Hampstead Community Centre on 6 March 2014. About 80 people attended. This marked the formal establishment of the Forum: a constitution was adopted, area boundaries approved and a committee elected. Afterwards, there was an informal brainstorming session. This is the report on what was said:
How to Improve Living Hampstead: Suggestions from a community brainstorming session
People who attended the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum’s first AGM were invited to circulate around tables at which particular topics were discussed. The ideas below come from local residents and people who work in Hampstead. Some people may disagree with some of them. Some of the suggestions might be for things already being carried out by the Council or other organisations. Though these ideas represent a great start, they will need to be explored further before becoming a coherent set of proposals that could make up a Neighbourhood Plan.
Theme: how to encourage work opportunities in the community, especially for young people?
1) According to a South End Green business owner, there is demand for apprentices that is not being met by teenagers and young adults. Participants made suggestions to address this:
- Could the Forum host or promote a network to connect area youths with area employers? Perhaps this could be done through the Forum's website, or by making other communication links between local employers and local schools: for example, by fostering job fairs and encouraging local business associations to post information on opportunities on school databases.
- Short-term work placements (such as holiday or one-week placements) are difficult for employers to accommodate, especially small independent businesses. There may be more opportunities for longer-term commitments to after-school or weekend positions
- Perhaps an employer/youth network could be expanded (with the Forum's encouragement) to include people who work from home, not just high street shops/businesses, so that people who work from home in the community may be able to gain access to volunteer or paid young talent for particular projects
- Similarly, to encourage youth volunteering, perhaps the Forum could host and promote a youth/elderly network to better connect teenagers with elderly people in the area, to encourage voluntary services that teenagers could provide, such as dog-walking, high-street shopping.
2) Can the Forum's Plan encourage the retention or expansion of business/office sites through planning policies? Perhaps by restricting offices/business locations from being shifted to residential or other use?
3) Could the Forum (through the Plan or otherwise) encourage vacant shops to be used as sites for pop-up shops, which often are initiated by young adults who cannot afford permanent sites?
Theme: how to improve play areas for the area's youth?
1) Designate certain streets to be closed to traffic at specified dates and times, to allow children to play in the street. This would have to be coordinated with residents to minimise disruption, and may involve broader traffic plans to re-route traffic during designated play times. (Gardnor Road is a designated Play Street though in practice this does not mean any kind of street closure.)
2) There is a lack of good playgrounds for older kids (not just pre-school). It would be good to have another adventure playground in the area, perhaps inside the Heath off East Heath Road. Could a place for a skateboarding ramp be found?
3) Play areas, especially for pre-schoolers, could be made dog-free.
4) Could other areas within Hampstead be identified that could be made child-friendly – for example, the fenced-in area surrounding the large tree on Oriel Place?
5) It is difficult for people to know where on the Heath they are permitted to cycle – could better mapping help guide cyclists and make cycling on the Heath more enjoyable?
Streets and traffic
Theme: how to make Hampstead a better place to walk in, an easier place for older and disabled people, and an easier place for children to get to school?
2) Pedestrianise Heath Street and/or the High Street - if not permanently, then at least on certain days of the month, for example at weekends.
3) Create better and safer pedestrian crossings.
4) Build a better-planned, safer and more pleasant environment. Elements of this would include improved lighting; no street clutter; more benches; good, even pavements; drinking fountains; hanging baskets; public toilets; tidy up streets cluttered with recycling bins; safer cycling routes; encourage planting by residents – a competition?
5) Ensure easier access to shops and services for wheelchair users and people with disabilities – for example, handle bars. Make Hampstead tube station accessible.
6) Encourage enforcement of the laws on dog mess, driving while talking on mobiles, cycling on pavements
7) Safer walking for children to school, and encourage them to do so (with ‘eco-points’?).
Hampstead as a Heritage Project
Theme: what should we protect and encourage, and what not?
Many residents are concerned about basements being excavated in the area, because of the powerful impact that such developments have on adjoining properties and residents. Some people want traditional styles and materials to be used when renovating old buildings and constructing new ones. The following specific ideas were put forward:
2) Produce a map showing the location of basement additions and investigating effects on adjoining properties and residents.
3) Make suggestions for ways Camden’s Basement Impact Assessment document can be improved and adapted for our area.
4) Highlight the diversity of architectural styles that make Hampstead so attractive, as a way of persuading people that good modern architecture is worth celebrating.
5) Through talks and discussions, draw attention to Hampstead’s old houses and the way they are constructed.
6) Form a group to study Camden’s Supplementary Planning Guidance and propose suggestions for adapting this to our area.
7) Celebrate Hampstead’s cultural heritage through, for instance, poetry competitions in local schools.
8) Include representatives from the local literary/cultural/artistic population on the Forum.
9) Acknowledge the place of good modern buildings – of which there are not enough in Hampstead – in the area.
Trees and Open Spaces
Themes: how to protect and enhance trees? Where to stop and sit?
1) Several people were keen to open up the space around the large plane tree in Oriel Place, to which the gates have been closed for years. Camden, which owns it, could be asked to look for ways to open it during the day. It should be a place where – with better lighting and attractive landscaping – shoppers could drink coffee or eat fish and chips. Sponsorship by Gails or Melrose & Morgan was suggested – with staff locking the gates when they close their shop, in return for a board advertising the sponsorship.
2) Other small spaces were identified on The Mount and Holly Hill. These and others could be brought up with Camden.
3) The loss of Play Streets was regretted – with memories of a mother who blocked off a small road in the Frognal area with her car and supervised children’s play with neighbours. It was suggested that a mapping exercise for Hampstead could include childrens’ play areas such as Spedan Close, the bottom of Downshire Hill, the dog-free play area on the Heath etc.
4) Another feature for mapping was benches and places to sit.
5) People were keen to map trees, such as those subject to Tree Preservation Orders, ‘interesting’ trees such as the gingko in Gainsborough Gardens, historic trees such as the oaks, trees important for biodiversity, and loved and beautiful trees.
6) This could include looking for gaps between bigger and older trees, such as those in Fitzjohns Avenue. Younger trees of the same species could then be inter-planted, ready for when the big old trees died in the future.
7) This led to discussion about mapping being able to monitor tree health and watering. More vulnerable trees such as newly planted ones could be highlighted on the map at times of low rainfall so that people could click on the ones they could water regularly, ensuring they were all covered. A Facebook page could enable people to ‘like’ individual trees, adding support to efforts to preserve them during planning and building.
8) A wish was expressed to have a say in which tree species are planted. (Camden tree officers are actually very keen to discuss this with local people.)
9) Trees should always be replaced: preferably, more should be planted than fall or are felled.
10) Concern was expressed about utilities and developers digging too near tree roots.
11) Dog mess was a big issue: “those people who run with their dogs and don’t stop to clear up the mess”; “people who put it in plastic bags but leave it on the ground”; “You never see a policeman walking in Hampstead, so nothing will happen.” It was suggested that photographs of offenders could be posted on the notice board on Flask Walk.
Working And Shopping
Theme: could more people work here? If so, where to shop? Who shops here? How to make it better.
1) Pedestrianise the High Street. If this cannot be done permanently, perhaps once a month the High Street could become “pedestrians only” say from 10-2pm, and events such as a Farmers Market could take place. But we would need to take into consideration what would happen to the traffic.
2) There are too many shops selling the same thing, for example mobile phones and property. Would it be possible to look at planning use and diversity when a new business proposes to set up? It was noted that in the past, two shops trading in the same thing could not be next to each other. Could this be looked at?
3) Improve the feel and look of the High Street area:
- Shop fronts to be the same (cf Regent Street) with permission required to put the name of the shop in a particular style. This could improve the feel of the area and eliminate tackiness. “Conformity and agreed design”.
- Continue improvement of street waste bins and lamp-posts. The more lamp-posts the more possibility for hanging baskets and Christmas decorations and a more pleasant feel to the High Street.
- Some wish for a big supermarket, but it was noted that when this has been suggested in the past, lack of space for deliveries has been a problem.
- Wish for more variety of shops, for example, a tailor, a shoe shop for men.
- Lobby Tesco over what products they stock, and a wish that they would sell what the locals want to buy.
- Keep the crepe stall.
5) A protocol could be developed for discussion with the Forum at an early stage in the planning process when a proposed plan failed to conform with the Neighbourhood Plan. This would allow the possibility of informal conversation between Camden and two or three selected people from the Forum. Perhaps local councillors could be involved - aiming for “positive negotiations” with the local authority, and a great opportunity for shared planning and conversation.
6) There is great concern over the high levels of rents and rates. Existing businesses find it hard to afford to remain in the area, and new businesses are discouraged from starting up. What can be done about this?
7) We need to remember that there are two work/shopping hubs in the Forum area – the “Village” and South End Green.
8) There was a conversation around how to bring back the “golden” feel of the Sixties to Hampstead and South End Green – a quality that is hard to pin down and articulate. One suggestion was that there were no parking restrictions; there was an Art Fair that took place annually at the top of the High Street and there was recreation at Whitestone Pond eg boat sailing, donkey rides, family time. (It was noted that model boats can again be sailed on the Pond.) How to create new golden times?
Festivals and parties
Theme: what to celebrate and when? New ideas for events. Reaching new volunteers
1) Local Residents vs. Visitors
Some participants felt overwhelmed by the throngs of visitors coming to Hampstead for the summer and winter festivals. Others were proud and delighted that they generated interest – that it is a wonderful way to ‘show off’ the village. The winter festival was considered to be a real success in that regard.
2) Big vs. Small
There was quite a bit of debate around the appropriate size of festivals. Some people would prefer more street festivals to generate more of a local neighbourhood feeling. Some thought the winter festival had become far too big from a crowd management perspective. Others thought it was terrific and that it generated a really positive energy across the village.
3) Commercial vs Non-Commercial interests
Some participants felt there was generally too much commercial focus on the summer and winter festivals. All the focus on generating footfall on the High Street seemed to be more about attracting people into Hampstead for business than doing a fun festival for locals.
· Street festivals could happen at around the same time to create a unified general ‘Hampstead Streets Festival’ that would feel more ‘local’ and also attract visitors
· Generate ‘successful street party guidelines’ based on well-established ones like Gayton Road.
· Go beyond ‘street’ parties and have other immediate neighbourhood activities based on other sorts of gatherings:
- An annual gathering at a resident’s home
- Wine tasting
- Picnic on the Heath
- Cupcake competition
- Pot luck suppers
- Morris dancers
- Burns Night at Burgh House
· Get restaurants and pubs/bars to sponsor local street parties and set up stalls for food and drink as part of regular events
· Have ‘themed’ festivals that go beyond a ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ festival:
- Arts Festival
- Dickens Festival
- Bastille Day - July 14th Festival
- Literary Festival
- Mary Poppins Festival
- Octoberfest or Harvest Festival for all the pubs - potentially linked to Literary Festival
- Magdala: comedy
- Duke of Hamilton: show and party downstairs
- Hollybush: wine tasting
Theme: what else might we do as a community? What could we ask for?
Health and Wellbeing: for example, dementia
Objective: Making sure elderly people get the correct care.
Problem: Without the right knowledge, well-intentioned effort care can lead to the wrong care solutions.
Remedy: Ensure residents know and call national helplines to ensure support for elderly neighbours in need.
Beautify frontages of houses
Objective: A consistent sense of beauty walking through Hampstead
Objective: Create a vibrant bohemian atmosphere in Hampstead
Problems: Artists, writers, etc. have to move out of Hampstead due to high rents and property prices and the lack of affordable housing. Local pubs and cafes, which used to be community meeting places, have been replaced by ‘sanitised’ gourmet pubs and chain cafes. Local shops have closed because they cannot afford the high rents. Some people think conformity of buildings and shops has been prioritised over diversity.
1) Close down main or side-streets once a month to have
- Farmer’s (Food) Markets
- Community celebrations / festivals
- Art markets
- School or charity festivals
- Local shopkeepers’ markets
3) Establish an ‘Artists / Writers in residence’ Scheme
· Artists / writers can live in Hampstead for 3 months / a year (for free or minimum rent).
- Artists could live with interested families in big properties over the summer and get a ‘local credit card’ with a credit of eg £ 500 to use in local pubs, shops and shops.
- A ‘local credit card’ could be arranged with one of the big retail banks in Hampstead accepting payment to participating pub-/shop-owners.
- Studio space could be improvised in schools, community spaces, etc, for example during the summer break
- Set up an ‘Artist village’ on the Heath (for example, at the fairground) for three months
· Artists / writers / musicians could work with schools for a year and enter a contest for the best music event / arts project publicly exhibited.
· Have an exhibition / concert / reading event in prominent place at the end of the year.
4) Establish a leaflet scheme (weekly or monthly) to post all local events in that specific week or month, together with local press.
Volunteers distribute leaflets to households, at stations or in shop windows.
Pictures: Miki Yamanouchi