Giles Coren is wrong. To measure the desirability of an area by the opening of an expensive chain restaurant is to miss what makes a neighbourhood beautiful.
Kentish Town has never been a “shithole” and has always been a healthy mix of working-class and middle-class residents. The area had wealthy people living here twenty years ago – and has plenty of poor people living here today. This genuine diversity is what makes K-Town attractive and exciting; and I believe the Soho House venture on Highgate Road represents precisely the opposite of this.
You can hang out in, say, Pizza East and easily fool yourself you’re in Hampstead, Richmond, Chelsea or anywhere. Is the cultural heritage and thriving vitality of the neighbourhood beyond their doors respected? Are the communities catered for, cared for?
However, Giles Coren is right that there have been demographic changes in Kentish Town in the last two decades. Political and economic movements since the 1980s have led to rapid gentrification. On the political side, Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy followed by New Labour’s failure to build enough new council housing, led to a severe housing shortage for the low-paid and unemployed. The coalition government is completing this purge of the poor from inner-London with a cap on housing benefit which is forcing 2,816 people to leave Camden, the borough where many of them were born and have established lives.On the economic side, an unsustainable housing bubble – the same one which caused the global financial crisis in the US – has driven house prices in central London up to phenomenal heights, making the concept of owning your own home out of reach to anyone but those with inheritance or bankers’ salaries.
In spite of these pressures from above, Kentish Town has thankfully not become a sterile village. Why? The same reason that Camden produces the best state schools in the country: the people who live here are well-integrated, open-minded, big-hearted and recognise the strength of cohesive, unified community. Alongside gentrification, Kentish Town has nurtured its unique charm and warm authenticity.
Gastro-fied boozers such as The Abbey, Junction Tavern and Dartmouth Arms still have the same crowd drinking there as when I was a child. The sadly-closed Map Café served up poetry readings from locals with affordable grub and a hip-hop radio station operating upstairs. The delicious food at Guanabana comes from the same owners as Bintang which has been in Kentish Town for decades. The area is full of options for good food in pleasant surroundings offered by local businesses catering for a diverse clientele.As individuals, there isn’t that much we can do about rising house prices and the decisions of politicians. We can, however, choose where we eat, relax and who we surround ourselves with. Where we put our money determines what is valued in our community.
My 25 years living in NW5 – born and brought up in Queen’s Crescent, attending Gospel Oak primary and Parliament Hill school – have been marked by house burglaries, fights and stabbings, but, more importantly, by making friends from all walks of life, witnessing strangers help each other and being part of a community which pulls together in the aftermath of tragedy.
This openness and togetherness is Kentish Town’s real strength and it has nothing to do with hipster burgers, pricey pizzas or companies owned by billionaires.
Laura Murray has worked for the Greater London Authority since 2006, including doing PR for the Mayor of London, and is currently in a policy role for the London Assembly.