Four years ago I took on the Chandos Arms pub in Colindale. It was the kind of pub that people would cross the road to avoid – literally. Had I researched the area and the history more deeply I would never have taken it on. It was a stronghold for violence, drug dealing and general nonsense of that kind.
But like many of the community projects I’ve been involved in, I tend to trust my gut instinct and dive in without too much thought.
As a practicing Christian I’ve come to recognize this is the work of the Holy Spirit but you can call it whatever you like, maybe blind optimism.
Having worked in community projects for most of my working life, alongside a professional music career which has taken me around the world and back again, I have come to understand that for whatever reason, my calling is to help build community cohesion wherever I land - usually though the development of some kind of under-used building. But it’s never really been the building, - be it a church, a pub or a community centre, all projects I’ve headed - but really it’s about the uncovering of talents that lie dormant in the people who make up the community
On week two of entering the Chandos Arms, after putting on the hat of landlady for the first time, I stood out on the corner of Colindale Avenue and asked this question out loud, ‘where are the people of Colindale?’ Having cleared out all the violence, drugs and barred the main culprits, I found myself with an empty pub, bleeding out my life’s savings.
Previously, I’d worked in Hackney for about 10 years, where you can’t move for musicians, writers and artists all gathering down the local boozer. Now, I was in Barnet and I was starting to get a bit nervous about how I would approach this new area which seemed so different. My call was heard, by one of the most eccentric members of Colindale community, Colin the Clown.
Formerly a professor at Middlesex University, a revered academic, a member of the Magic Circle, part-time juggler and (as I found out a few years later from the Daily Mail) a frequenter of sex parties. I met Colin in the post office and we got chatting and I only mention this because, Colin was somehow my in. He was someone who knew everyone. He’d lived and worked in the area for decades and though him I began to meet other people. It quickly became evident that there was a great desire for a good local pub, a pub where people felt safe, could enjoy a cold pint, some reasonably priced food and most importantly a good chat. People began to come out of the woodwork, Polly, a local comedian who’s dream was to host a monthly comedy club, Rick, a cousin of a former manager of mine popped up and began the now hugely successful Chandos Arms Jazz club, soundmen, DJs, gamers, teachers, the RAF museum, people just started getting involved. Neighbors turned up with furniture and bric-a-brac to decorate the bar and so a movement began to help me to create this much needed and wanted establishment. Last year we won Community Pub of The Year in Great British Pub Awards, the Oscars of the pub world. It was thrilling that the industry recognized the communal effort that has taken place to transform the culture that surrounded this pub.
My belief is that the importance of our community buildings - our pubs, our churches our libraries - cannot be over stressed. When they are gone, they are gone for good! And when those buildings have disappeared and we cooped up in our shoebox offices and apartments, gorging on the algorithms that we are fed though social networking, I feel that great hope of equally and social justice for everyone, which I know many of us cling onto, will begin to fade for good.
Because every great revolution started in a tavern. It started with people talking to each other, with the exchange of ideas, with plotting and hope of change! Amen to plotting, because that is really what we are up to today, we are gathering together to overturn and explore how we can dig out the talents that lie dormant in our community. The last time I came to a meeting Christina said something very important, she said "nobody wants to be a project". So how do we give voice to the hidden talents that lie dormant in our community. How do we encourage people not to be projects but to get involved in projects, to start their own projects, to rise up and use those talents and join us in our mission to transform some of the negative culture in that is here in Barnet. In the same way that a small group of people got behind their local boozer and transformed it into a nationally recognized award winning pub.
As community leaders how do we realize the transformation of Barnet?