Introduction to 60 years of the Social Council – Angela Spence, CEO, KCSC
At the AGM Angela Spence explained that a wide programme of celebration had been planned to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Social Council.
Owing to the pandemic, a decision was made to use the AGM as an opportunity to reflect on the history of the Social Council, how it started, the reasons behind its start, what it used to do and what it does now.
Angela referred people to the timeline of the Social Council created by KCSC, recognising the value of the organisation having existed for this length of time. View timeline here.
As part of the celebrations the new 60th Anniversary website page and logo were introduced. KCSC will circulate more information, via the weekly e-bulletin and updates on the website, over the coming year.
History of the Social Council presentation – Dr. Tank Green, Local Researcher
Tank Green introduced herself and her research in the local area. Her presentation set out the background to KCSC, which had been formed from a merger between Notting Hill Church Social Council and Chelsea Social Council. The former had started in 1960s by Revd David Mason with Stephen Duckworth as Treasurer and aimed to join people together to fight for better housing, education and fairer deals for black and other new comers to the area. TG paid tribute to the organisation’s secretary Pansy Geoffrey, originally from Guyana, involved in race relations. a busy social worker who was invaluable in what was then a white middle class organisation in the midst of a diverse neighbourhood. The organisation emphasised community partnerships to form coalitions better placed to fight for change and decisions were always based on community’s views drawn from monthly public open meetings: action through consensus.
The main focus was to bring the disparate people together, in partnership to form common programmes of action in an environment of mutual respect. This thought was key to the social council’s success in avoiding the maintenance of the status quo. Key issues were youth, housing and race and conferences were held which received national attention.
Tank referred to the youth work of the organisation through the 1960s where the concerns were over black and white youth segregation, specifically the role of the long running Portobello project in initially bringing these groups together until the early 1970s. Poor quality housing and high rents were raised throughout the 1960s specifically the role of private landlords. Also highlighted was The Notting Hill Summer Project, a grass roots community empowerment project, started in 1967 which was an independent survey of housing conditions which found overcrowding, high rents and racial discrimination.
Tank felt that the Social Council did not attempt to unite the communities into a coherent whole. Rev David Mason preferred involvement rather than unity, creating temporary bridges to facilitate momentary and specific needs. While this sometimes displeased radical observers, this was probably why it achieved so much and still exists, 60 years later.
The Chair, Shelina Thawer thanked Tank Green for her fascinating presentation providing a thorough induction to the history of the Social Council.
Personal account of the Social Council – Albert Tucker
Albert Tucker introduced himself and thanked members for the opportunity to share a personal account of his involvement with the Social Council. He felt that his time in North Kensington with the Social Council formed a strong foundation for his career as a senior leader.
Albert Tucker’s time at the Social Council spanned the mid-1980s to the early 1990s a vibrant time socially and politically. The area had the largest Spanish, Irish, Portuguese, Moroccan, African, Caribbean and white working-class communities alongside some of the wealthiest areas in the country. The local operating environment and police relations had many challenges. Albert reminded members of events at the time such as the Mangrove Nine trial, Brixton uprisings and police shootings. Anecdotally Albert recalled that he had not realised until much later that every time he went to the local police station to get young people out of custody a white trustee would always accompany him to make sure they all returned.
During the mid-1980’s the voluntary sector was the only sector that enabled black people, white women and working-class people to gain experience and skills in management. The Social Council was in the forefront of promoting community lead and user led approaches and provided management opportunities and training as evidenced in the unusual appointment of a black man and white woman in their 20s as heads of the organisation.
After leaving the Social Council Albert went on to work in community development in Watford then onto what became the Fair-Trade movement working with farming communities around the world helping them trade and develop themselves. His time at the Social Council showed him that social enterprise can make a difference.
The roles of local trustees (including Robin Tuck, Cynthia Dize, Stephen Duckworth and Richard Stone) and community leaders was particularly important. A long list of people were active in the community providing support and guidance with many still continuing to do so today. He particularly remembered Pansy Jeffrey at Pepper Pot making him promise to seek advice before doing something difficult. Albert paid tribute to institutional cooperation and the role of the Methodist Church (working with David Read and Ethaline Holder) as well as individuals who had paid a key role in bringing about change through collaboration and partnership. He noted that professional advice was also available from organisations such as the Law Centre and Citizens Advice Bureau but was often provided privately.
As a result of this support and these partnerships the Social Council deliberately never put itself forward as the organisation for the community but rather as one to open doors for the community to be able to do things.
At that time the North Kensington area was not seen as needing finance as it was part of RBKC, a wealthy borough. The Kensington Social Council worked with the Chelsea Social Council to attract funders, they invited five leading trusts to speak to community groups to explain why access to funding was not available. This built greater understanding and enabled community groups to speak.
Members heard that the board recognised the Social Council needed to become more outward looking, with wider networks. Rather than raising money and having multiple projects they would take on the role of facilitator, starting projects and setting them afloat to be independent. Support was given to any organisation providing community benefit.
- Financial training was identified as an area of need this led to the creation of CASH (Community Accountancy Self Help) who could carry out training in finance.
- The Community Festival and Portobello Arts Forum were created as an alternative to the Portobello Arts Festival.
- Work was done with the North Kensington Amenity Trust creating a platform used to both feedback criticism from the local community and to access resources to support the community.
- Support of the Carnival organisation took place, working on the leaflets and volunteer recruitment lead to relationships with organisation like Nova who provided training in desktop publishing to produce the leaflets. NOVA had a varied training programme including journalism, writing and photography.
- Westway Community Transport getting minibuses to provide accessibility. This had not worked previously but by managing minibuses for varied organisations, their time was freed up. The amalgamated new fleet of buses was leveraged to purchase new buses.
Albert still feels a strong connection to Ladbroke Grove area and his experiences following the Grenfell Tower fire highlighted the impact the current funding environment has had on organisations. The active faith-based groups with assets were able to act far more swiftly than others. The contracting out of services rather than the mobilisation of communities to provide services was apparent and meant most organisations had to catch up.
To round up Albert stressed that he felt that continuing to strengthen its role as a convening power and as an organising power is essential as it is more needed than ever. He referred back to the early national influence of the Social Council and its strength in community mobilisation was he saw as now sadly lacking, under the current service contracting funding structures which he felt hindered communities’ ability to voice concerns over safety. He had confidence that KCSC still had convening power and an ability to create a platform for the community.
During discussion, Judith Davey regretted what she saw as a change in the approach towards North Kensington since the start of the century as the eventual removal of Grenfell Tower was part of a regeneration project. Albert drew attention to past warnings to the Council over the safety of Grenfell Tower and difficulties the community continue to have in getting legal recourse.
A former member of staff contributed that having worked for the Social Council between 2005-2013 he was disheartened that the current Black Lives Matter movement was experiencing struggles similar to the past. He felt that the Social Council in this time adhered to the same social values as in the early days, namely mobilising the community, drawing on expertise from local charities and he questioned how the core threads managed to be transfer through time. Albert responded that in the past, the community benefitted from a wide advice network, the organisation was feared and the trustee board was also strongly rooted in the community.
The Chair, Shelina Thawer thanked Albert Tucker for a for a truly insightful account of his personal experiences at the Social Council. She commented that KCSC’s current activities underlined the relevance of the organisation and how responsive it is to the circumstances and the environment.