I’ve lived here for 40 years. I came in to the area as a student, moving into a shared flat in Gordon Mansions. When the person who was running the flat left, I took it over, thinking I would be there for two or three years – but I’m still here!
Back then there were hardly any community groups and lots of poor housing with outside bathrooms. There’s been lots of change since then, although the housing remained poor ad low cost until about 10 years ago in some ways. When right to buy came in a few people bought their flats - blocks were being bought by developers so the local authority got involved to buy ours. A lot of the residents were elderly actors and actresses who were very unnerved by their block being sold. Like lots of others we set up a residents association - the Charlotte Street Association and Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association were formed then too, to protect residents. Initially FNA involved a representative from each residents association in the area - that interconnection was great. I became chairman of FNA and got involved with our residents association too.
FNA was a centre for organisations but also employed workers, provided advice and set up classes for the Chinese and Bangladeshi residents. At the time some women wouldn’t come out to the centre, so early sessions were held in their homes. Because FNA had these big premises, we were able to store all the local planning applications there for both Camden and Westminster in one place to review. The 1984 Fitzrovia Area Plan was written by Charlotte Street Association and FNA, then Camden took it on and refined it. They even sent planners to FNA for feedback.
Because the Local Authority bought our flats, when they became vacant they went to people on the housing list. Gordon Mansions flats are large, so new Bangladeshi families who moved in then were housed there – we made an effort to welcome them. They came with young children who grew up to be friendly and say hello to their neighbours. The kids are now adults and some have moved out of the area. When new families then move in with older kids they’re a lot more edgy as they have never had a safe environment like this before.
Fitzrovia is like a little village. Despite the noise and lack of green space, I like the sense of community. When I was in hospital my neighbours came and collected me and supported me when I got home. I should have bought my flat like others did, so I would be assured of living and dying here. However in a lot of Fitzrovia people have to have two incomes and full time jobs to pay huge mortgages and so don’t have the time to get involved in the community.
There is a conflict between residents and restaurants - not just here but in all urban areas. Covent Garden and Soho are literally full up now and we’ve been trying to resist those businesses coming here to our back streets. The more you have restaurants and bars, the harder it is to have people living here, so I reckon you’ll start getting a breakdown. This is a mixed use area – there are 50 flats on the first bit of Goodge Street and a lot of families. They need to be catered for - even offices and workers need to be catered for - with amenities and open space.
Camden council may see the Charlotte Street Association as a thorn in their side, but without them the area could be overrun with business. They’re very well regarded. If no one objects to new businesses then the council have to let them open, so it is really important to get involved and get things modified. Before I started at FNA I knew very little about licensing but I think it’d critical to protect local amenities. In the past two years I’ve done at least 200 hearings to try and get more reasonable hours – like tables being taken inside at 9pm. Lots of us have been doing these things over the years.