A former resident writes on their experience of the Free and Independent State of Frestonia, a unique 1977 rebellion in Kensington and Chelsea by a community which today is under threat from London’s rampant gentrification monster.
Last month marked the 40th Anniversary of The Free and Independent State of Frestonia and as we celebrated, we also fear for our future…
As a small child I lived in a derelict old squat. I didn’t know then that I lived in one of London’s most revolutionary places. I just loved playing freely in an epic communal garden and was scared of spotting the odd rat. It gave me a lifelong passion for community, justice and social housing. And a dislike of rats.
Frestonia was created in response to 120 people facing eviction from the derelict properties they called home. In response they declared themselves a free and independent state, applying for membership of the UN and issuing their own passports. They became one family, all adopting the surname Bramley (after Bramley Rd) making it impossible for the GLC to evict them all.
They were given a life line by the Notting Hill Housing Trust and became Bramley’s Housing Co-op who redeveloped the original buildings with consideration and consultation, and where many of the original Frestonians live today. Frestonia was built on the dreams of activists, hippies, punks and misfits coming together and uniting for a common cause. My earliest memories of Frestonia is playing with all the other children surrounded by corrugated iron and the broken details of once beautiful Victorian cornicing.
Buildings that had long been neglected and were given new meaning. The message of a united community, a fight worth fighting for and the importance of filling unwanted space with humanity, was embedded into my soul. I still live there today with my own family, a few doors from the neighbours I grew up around. We care about our homes and shared environment, we are truly invested and committed.
This isn’t just idealistic theory. Here, we hear others, we know who they belong to and where they’re from, people are not strangers. We are a living breathing proof that social housing works. But now our homes are at risk of being eaten up by the insatiable hunger of the private market. NHH is no longer a “Trust” and apparently thinks nothing of breaking the trust of its residents.
NHHT was born from the socially responsible Bruce Kendrick who moved to North Kensington in the ’60s and was shocked at the slums people were living in, often at the mercy of rogue landlords. Bruce decided to buy these run-down properties and make them decent, respectable and genuinely affordable homes for people in the area. He started with a fundraising stall on Portobello market raising a very reasonable £24! He put these properties in TRUST offering security for generations. NHHT were the heroes, championing our cause and working with us.
Now they are quickly becoming the greedy neglectful landlords using changes in legislation to change our terms and their ethos. And most frightening of all, without our consent they have agreed to a merger with one of London’s most notorious housing associations, Genesis. I feel a sharp pain of betrayal cutting through our homes and communities.
My dad was born in a tenement just off Goldborn rd, when his family moved into the new council estate around the corner as a young boy he felt like he had moved into 5 star luxury as they had an inside bathroom and their own front door. He remembered the Lancaster West Estate, including Grenfell Tower, being built. They were exciting times when people were being lifted out of poverty without shame, but with pride, respect and ambition. Making a society that cares and offers opportunity.
Somewhere along the line someone has changed the agenda from home making to profit making. Turning a Trust…into a Group…and then into a Merger. Attempting to take away pride and break community; exhausting them by lowering expectations and standards while raising rents and dumbing-down tenancies.
What they haven’t accounted for is the spirit of North Kensington, where recent tragic events has awoken in us a unity like no other. We are all born from a community that have had to power our way through. I want to be involved in my neighbourhood because it is a part of me. Here there is a history, roots grown over decades. We are strong and refuse to go back to the bad old days. Our voice is loud and proud, listen …
Please get involved! Sign the “no to corporate housing merger” petition at change.org and follow the campaign at listen-nhh.org or find us on Facebook.
This article first appeared in the founding newsletter of the Radical Housing Network [pdf]