Friday, 18 September 2020

George Michael grew up round here

A topical one-off “special” local history article by Philip Grant.


As part of Brent’s London Borough of Culture 2020, and “Brent Biennial”, a 9-metre high mural by the artist Dawn Mellor is due to be unveiled in Kingsbury Road on Saturday 19 September. It will celebrate the life of the singer George Michael, who lived and went to school in the area. Many people may not know much about his early life, and this seems a good time to share what I know about his Kingsbury connections. As George said himself, in a line from a song he wrote about growing up “Round Here”: ‘So come with me, let me show you where I've lived.’


 1. Three images of work in progress on the George Michael mural, and its location, 13 September 2020.


It was not just people from the Caribbean (“the Windrush Generation”) who came to live and work in this country following the British Nationality Act, 1948. Britain’s labour shortage in the post-war years meant that anyone with the newly created status of ‘citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies’ could do the same. In 1953, young Kyriacos Panayiotou and his cousin left their village in Cyprus, and came to London for a better life. He worked as a waiter in a restaurant, and through a shared love of dancing, married Lesley in 1957. Some people thought it was wrong for an English girl to marry a Greek Cypriot, but love is stronger than prejudice.


2. Holmstall Parade, Edgware Road, 2019.


Kyriacos and Lesley already had two daughters before their son, Georgios, was born at their flat in East Finchley in June 1963. Within a year they had moved to a larger home at 3a Holmstall Parade, above shops on the Edgware Road, close to Burnt Oak, in what was then still the Borough of Wembley. Kyriacos Panayiotou, commonly known as Jack Panos, worked in a Greek Restaurant in Edgware, becoming a partner in the business. Although Holmstall Parade looks similar now to what it did in the 1960s, the Asda superstore and Capitol Way just down the road were then a Frigidaire factory, on a site first used by the Aircraft Manufacturing Company, “Airco”, during World War One.



 3. The Redhill Drive street sign, at the corner with Holmstall Avenue.


By 1967, the Panayiotou family had their own semi-detached suburban home, nearby in Redhill Drive, then part of the recently formed London Borough of Brent. No.57 was where Georgios (or George as he would become known) lived for about ten years. He soon had friends to play with, and his best friend was David, who lived just up the road, and was a year older than him.



4. 57 Redhill Drive, Burnt Oak, in 2019.


When it was time for George to start school, he went to Roe Green Infants, then the Juniors, in Princes Avenue, the same as his sisters (and David), as that was the local state school. In those days, that was what most children did. They probably walked to school. 



Figure 5. Roe Green Infants and Junior Schools, Princes Avenue, Kingsbury, in 2019.


Years later, George wrote in a song: ‘And I remember my, my first day at school. And I remember trouble and thinkin' I was so cool.’ Whether this was about his very first day at school at Roe Green, or when he went on to secondary school, I’m not sure. You wouldn’t think this young Georgios would get into trouble, would you? Or perhaps you would.



6. Georgios Panayiotou, at primary school age. (Image from the internet)


Trouble or not, he must have been quite a bright student, although having encouragement from a good creative writing teacher at school (probably Ian Greenwood then) must have helped. Only just eleven years old, two of his poems were included in Roe Green Junior School’s end of year magazine in July 1974. How these came to light, shortly after George’s death in 2016, is a story in itself. A girl who knew him at the school had kept her school magazines. Years later, her older sister met a former classmate, Melanie, at an awards ceremony – and Melanie was with her brother, Georgios, better known by then as George Michael. The sisters had never guessed that the music star was the quiet boy they knew at Roe Green Juniors!



 7. The cover of the Roe Green Junior School magazine, July 1974. (Image from the internet)


The first of the poems, ‘The Story of a Horse’, appears above the name Georgios Panayiotou, 4S, but the second reveals his nickname. Whether this was one he invented for himself, or what his friends decided to call him (because he was brainy?), Professor Whatsisname (alias G. Panayiotou, 4S) was the author of this imaginative piece, ‘Sounds in the Night’.



8. "Sounds in the Night" by Professor Whatsisname, from "The Junior", July 1974. (Image from the internet)


From junior school, George moved on to the local secondary school in September 1974, again just as most eleven-year olds would have done then. Kingsbury High School had become a comprehensive in 1967, when the grammar school in Princes Avenue merged with the Tyler’s Croft Boys and Girls secondary modern schools in Bacon Lane. The lower years of the High School were housed in the Tyler’s Croft buildings, which had opened in 1952. Twenty-two years before George walked through that school’s gates, the first boys to start at the school when it opened had included a young Charlie Watts, from Fryent Junior School, who also went on to become a famous pop musician.



9. Kingsbury High School's Tyler's Croft buildings, beside Roe Green Park, 2019.


The photo above shows that Kingsbury High’s Lower School is next to Roe Green Park, and there’s no doubt that George spent some time there after school. In one verse of his song about growing up, he sings:


‘I hear my mama call in Kingsbury Park
Just me and David and a football that glowed in the dark
Waitin' patiently to make my mark, round here.’



10. Roe Green Park, towards the school, and a wild flower meadow that wasn't there in George's time!


Life sometimes takes an unexpected turn, and it was not in Kingsbury that George made his mark. His father’s restaurant business was doing well, so he decided to move upmarket. He found a house he liked in Radlett, and around 1976 the Panayiotou family moved out of Redhill Drive. As their new home was not quite ready, they lived above the restaurant in Edgware for several months, before George left Kingsbury High School, looking something like this.



11. Georgios Panayiotou in the mid-1970's. (Image from the internet)


The move to Radlett meant changing to a new school, Bushey Meads School, which took students from much of the western side of Hertsmere District, just north of London. One of his new classmates was Andrew Ridgeley, and they were soon friends. The two teenagers shared a love of pop music, and a desire to make a that their career. The result, in 1981, was Wham!



12. Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael as the duo, Wham!, mid-1980's. (Image from the internet)


From then on, Georgios Panayiotou would be known as George Michael, and you can read about his musical career, his generosity and his sometimes troubled private life, online, or by borrowing a copy of the biography “George”, by Sean Smith, from your local Brent Library (ref. no. 782.421 on the adult non-fiction shelves).


Although no longer living in Brent, George’s career brought him to Wembley on a number of occasions. Wham! played several concerts at the Arena in 1984, and their “Final” concert together at the Stadium in 1986, before the duo went their separate ways. George Michael was one of the stars who performed at the 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley, and at the 70th birthday concert for Nelson Mandela in 1988. George’s singing of “Somebody to Love” with Queen, at the Stadium’s Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert to raise money for AIDS research in 1992, was highly rated, and the live recording featured on a follow-up EP.



13. George Michael, with Brian May of Queen, at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. (Image from internet)


George Michael was a prolific songwriter, and in 2004 he recorded a song about his memories of growing up. Called “Round Here”, it wasn’t a big hit for him, but it came from his heart and tells his story before he became famous. There is an online video of him singing and recording the song, with brief clips of film included that show various scenes from Kingsbury, and London more generally. If you watch carefully, you’ll spot glimpses of 57 Redhill Drive (at 0:05), the flats at Holmstall Parade (0:25), Roe Green Park (1:17) and Roe Green Junior School (1:35) and Kingsbury High [Lower] School (1:41), plus other places you’ll recognise. 





                          14. The CD cover for "Round Here", 2004. (Image from the internet)


George Michael, who sadly died in 2016, aged just 53, is not the only famous person who has lived “Round Here”, in the north of Brent, but he is fondly remembered by many for his music and his humanity. That is why he was chosen as the subject for a mural in Kingsbury, which celebrates his life. I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out about his local connections.


15. Kingsbury Station signs, including for the London Borough of Culture 2020.


Next time you come out of Kingsbury Station, turn right, and after walking about 60 metres you will find the mural, on the end wall of a block of shops with flats above. You can’t miss it – it is 9 metres high!

Philip Grant.


Next weekend, we welcome a new member to the “local history in lockdown” team. Don’t forget to join us, to discover what part of the borough her weekly series will cover!


Sadiq Khan calls for new restrictions to be imposed early, rather than full lockdown when it's too late

 Following on from the previous two post this is a statement made by London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, today:

“The Prime Minister has said that we are now seeing the start of a second wave of COVID-19 across the UK. Londoners should also know that I am extremely concerned by the latest evidence I’ve seen today from public health experts about the accelerating speed at which COVID-19 is now spreading here in London. This is made worse by the uncertainty caused by the lack of testing capacity in the capital.

“This afternoon I held an emergency meeting with London council leaders, the Government and Public Health England to discuss the next steps. It is increasingly likely that, in London, additional measures will soon be required to slow the spread of the virus. We will be considering some of the measures which have already been imposed in other parts of the UK. I am of the firm view that we should not wait, as happened six months ago, for this virus to again spiral out of control before taking action. The best thing for both public health and the economy is new restrictions imposed early, rather than a full lockdown when it’s too late - but the government must urgently ensure there is a fully functioning testing system.

“I strongly urge all Londoners to be as cautious as possible over this weekend. Please think very carefully about your actions - strictly follow social distancing rules, regularly wash your hands and wear a face covering to help reduce the spread of the virus.”

New Test & Trace site to open in London Road, Wembley

Will Covid19 restrictions disrupt Brent Biennial?

A further 4,322 coronavirus cases and 27 deaths have been reported in the UK, according to the government's daily figures.

This is the highest number of cases reported since 8 May, when there were 4,649 cases. The government is considering what measures should be taken nation-wide.

I understand there is local concern about the rising number of cases in Brent with figures said to be above 20 per 100,000. Government action occurs when figures reach 30-50 per 100,000 but there is discussion about whether Brent Council Public Health should pre-empt such action. 

Certainly, I was concerned when earlier this week I saw crowds of school students outside Ark Academy at dismissal time with little social distancing and few face coverings. They mixed with the general public at the Wembley Park Station bus stops.

Unfortunately, this concern coincides with the Brent Biennial which kicks off tomorrow as part of the ill-fated 2020 London Borough of Culture programme. I understand that the opening of local libraries for 4 hours on Saturday and Sundays until December had been planned.  Brent Council might be encouraging people to attend a number of events when they are at the same time considering possible restrictions.

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Councillors call in the Stonebridge Annexe Works contract connected with 1 Morland Gardens development

Councillors Abdirazak Abdi, Chan, Perrin, Lloyd and Kennelly have called in the decision to place a contract for Stonebridge Annexe works occasioned by the need to decant Brent Start facilities when the controversial new build takes place on the 1 Morland Gardens site in which the landmark Italianate will be demolished.


The call-in will be heard by the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee on September 23rd. I understand that its new chair Cllr Roxanne Mashari will not be able to attend.


Decision: Authority to Award Contract for Appointment of Engie Regeneration UK & Ireland as Works Main Contractor under a JCT Intermediate Building Contract with Contractor's Design 2016 Edition for Stonebridge Annexe, Stonebridge, NW10  0ST Date of decision(or date of public notice for officer decisions): 26 August 2020


[Editor’s note: In correspondence Brent Council noted that the decision was actually signed off by Nick Ljustina (as Operational Director – Property & Assets) but this was on behalf of the Strategic Director, Regeneration & Environment, which they say is permitted under the Council’s Officer Scheme of Delegation.]


The group of councillors gave the following reasons for calling-in the decision.


1.The above decision relates to the placing of a Contract for the works of refurbishment to Stonebridge Annexe ("Enabling Works") enabling the decanting of the Brent Start facilities from 1 Morland Gardens, NW6, preparatory to the demolition of the existing buildings on that site, and the erection of new mixed use buildings under planning application number 20/0345 (the"1 Morland Gardens Application").


2.The tender for the Enabling Works was concluded on or around 9 July, and, according to the Report leading to the Decision, dates (described in the Report as "anticipated")are set out for a Letter of Intent (14 August), a Letter of Award of Contract to Engie Regeneration UK & Ireland (31 August), with a view to Contract Start on Site on 14 September.


3.Having today enquired of officers in Planning and Employment and Skill, I have been informed that this Contract for the Enabling Works would not be placed, if the development under the 1 Morland Gardens Application does not proceed.


4.Issues have come to light regarding the 1 Morland Gardens Planning Application:


·Consent to the 1 Morland Gardens Application is awaited from the GLA;

·Notwithstanding the clear recommendations in paragraph R1 of the Preliminary Bat Roost Assessment dated February 2019 by Middlemarch Environmental ("Middlemarch Report") - based on a survey made in December 2018 (and repeated in paragraph 206 of the Planning Report) that at least 3 emergence/re-entry surveys be carried out during the period May-September, no evidence has been supplied that any such surveys have been carried out.


There are no surveys amongst the planning papers. Enquiry of officers today has not so far revealed any surveys were undertaken.


Condition 13 of the draft Planning Consent for the 1 Morland Gardens Application includes a requirement for adherence to the recommendations of the Middlemarch Report; however, if no surveys have been carried out, works under the 1 Morland Gardens Application must be deferred until after those surveys have been undertaken, results available and appropriate response formulated and actioned to ensure no criminal offence is committed. This would appear potentially to be in autumn 2021.


Appendix 1 to the Middlemarch Report sets out the legislative background; Regulation 41 of the Habitats Regulations 2017 states that a person "commits an offence if they...deliberately disturb bats; or damage or destroy a bat roost (breeding site or resting place)." If the surveys have not been carried out - then the whole process must be delayed until autumn 2021 to avoid the Council's committing a criminal offence.


5.I understand the Enabling Works relating to this Decision do not need planning consent. However, the provisions of the 2017 Regulations would still apply if any part of those works had the potential to disturb, or damage or destroy bats and their habitat in the Stonebridge Annexe as referred to above.


The Stonebridge Annexe is a building constructed in or around the 1930s, with a substantial area of trees surrounding it, and with strong potential for bat roosts and potentially on a Bat Corridor to the Welsh Harp and with Green and Blue Corridors in the other direction.


Accordingly, the Enabling Works may have the potential to disturb bats, and/or damage or destroy their habitats, if any are present. However, no preliminary bat roost assessment was commissioned, which should be undertaken prior to the Contract. There is no evidence that such assessment forms part of the Enabling Works. Indeed, with the timetable referred to in the Report, the programme outlined gives no time for such assessment to be undertaken, let alone any time for any action which may be requisite to comply with statute, should evidence of bats/roosts be present.


6.We understand that it has been agreed by the Chief Executive that an investigation should be undertaken by the Strategic Director following the raising of what I am told are serious concerns by a member of the public about the Morland Gardens Application. This investigation is ongoing and could impact on the Planning Consent for the 1 Morland Gardens Application.


7.The award of the Enabling Works Contract is premature, as there is still no certainty that the scheme envisaged by the 1 Morland Gardens Application will go ahead. Nonetheless, having regard to the importance of the project, I have spoken to officers as to the requirement for an urgent placing of the Contract for the Enabling Works in context of the project. In context of those conversations, I do not understand the reason for the urgency. Unfortunately, the Decision gives an impression of pre-emptive action. It will commit the Council to expenditure which may be wasted. It is at least possible to anticipate that, if delays in the development under the 1 Morland Gardens Application were to arise as a result of one of the factors referred to above, alternative proposals may result.


8.There is no compelling urgency to place the Enabling Works Contract before the above matters are resolved. By contrast, unless the Decision is called in, the Contract will be placed, and the Council will have irrevocably incurred an expenditure of £1.2m, which may be wasted – hence the reason for this carefully considered action.


When a decision is called-in the councillors signing the call-in are required to put forward an alternative proposal. This is their statement.



The decision should be deferred until:


1.It is certain that the proposals for 1 Morland Gardens comprised in the 1 Morland Gardens Application have received all necessary consents, including GLA consent; and

2.The legislatively required minimum of three bat emergence/re-entry surveys between May and September in one year have been undertaken, consequent assessments undertaken, the results considered and appropriate response actioned; and

3.The potential requirement of bat surveys for the Stonebridge Annexe considered and (if necessary) dealt with as above.


Scrutiny Committee will agree to one of the following outcomes:


1. The Committee does not wish to refer the matter back to the decision maker or to Council, at which point the decision is deemed to be confirmed and takes effect immediately following the meeting; or

2. The Committee decides to ask the Strategic Director – Regeneration & Environment to reconsider their decision, in light of any observations of the Committee; or

3. Having had regard to the advice of the Director of Legal and HR Services or Chief Finance Officer, the Committee considers the decision is contrary to the Council’s Budget or Policy Framework, at which point it refers the matter to the next practicable meeting of the Council, subject to the provisions of Standing Orders


The investigation referred to in 6 above is that instigated by indefatigable Wembley Matters contributor Philip Grant who has requested to speak to the Committee.




Victory as electronic arms fair cancelled in the face of broad-based Liverpool campaign

Liverpool Against the Electronic Arms Fair declared victory today  after organisers of an international weapons show cancelled plans to use the city’s Exhibition Centre in November.

The Electronic Warfare Europe show, organised by Clarion Events on behalf of the Association of Old Crows, was due to be held at the Exhibition Centre from November 16-18. Organisers declared that the exhibition would now be moved to Seville, Spain in 2021.

Campaign founder, Green councillor Lawrence Brown, said: 

‘We are delighted that these merchants of death have recognised that there is no welcome for them here in Liverpool.

‘In just a few short weeks we brought together peace groups, local councillors from across the political spectrum, faith groups and anti-war activists to demand that the council, which owns the Exhibition Centre and manages it through the ACC company, close the door on this event.

‘This cancellation is testament to the efforts of all the people who have signed our petition, sent emails to our MPs and councillors, and planned for online and public demonstrations in the coming weeks.’

Electronic Warfare Europe blamed the threat of a further British government Covid-19 lockdown on the decision to move the exhibition to Seville in Spain next year.

However, the announcement followed a public call from Right Reverend Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool who signed the cancellation petition and said:

‘In this time of pandemic the nations of the world should be helping one another, not shopping for clever new ways to kill and oppress people. I hope that Liverpool will say no to this Fair, and will say yes to life.’

Campaign chair Martin Dobson pointed out that the cancellation was made after plans were announced for a national Day of Online Action this Saturday and mounting pressure on Mayor Joe Anderson, who sits on the Exhibition Centre Board.

The Green Party had put down an emergency motion to be debated at the next Council meeting, Labour MPs had pressed the Mayor to cancel and Labour councillors were planning to force a debate at the Labour Group.

Mr Dobson added: 

 ‘Whatever, the reason, we’re pleased this arms fair has been cancelled, but we will be contacting our friends and colleagues in Seville and offering to support any campaign they launch to close it down there.

‘This must also act as a wake-up call to the Mayor, Council and Exhibition Centre Board to develop an ethical booking policy to ensure such a damaging event is never allowed again.'

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Action promised on BAME access to GPs as Brent's Covid19 response comes under scrutiny

Melanie Smith, Brent Director of Public Health, told last night's Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee that during the early months of the Covid19 pandemic many in Brent's BAME community felt disempowered and lacking in agency. Lessons had been learnt and Brent had realised the importance of engaging with the many different BAME communities in Brent and their community leaders. They had concentrated on Alperton and Church End which had the highest number of cases.  Messages had to be consistent and make sense to the communities concerned, for example over shielding in multi-generational households.

Confirming that access to primary healthcare was a major issue, Cllr Abdi Aden, who is of Somali background, said that many in the community who had been feeling sick had problems making appointments with their GP.  They had waited for hours in a queue at the medical centre only to give up and go home without receiving any help.

Cllr Mary Daly backed up the claim. Chair of the Committee, Cllr Ketan Sheth, interjected to say that many in the BAME community still suffered from a poor GP offer.

Dr MC Patel, chair of Brent CCG and NW London NHS lead on inequalities, offered to go with Cllr Aden to the surgery to address the issue of practices not affording access. He said unnecessary denial of access should not be tolerated.  He offered to talk to groups of 5 or so from the community to listen to their experiences and take action. 

Government guidelines recently issued should mean more face to face appointments with GPs rather than on-line arrangements which discriminated against those without internet access or lacking in English language,

Earlier in the discussion the high rate of BAME Covid deaths initially had been attributed to people not going to their GPs early enough. A speaker from Brent Healthwatch said that many residents had been hesitant about going to Northwick Park Hospital and were wary about getting infected there. Cllr Janice Long asked if late admissions to hospital was the cause of the higher death rate in Brent. She pointed out that there was only one medical centre in hard-hit Church End and asked what was being done to encourage people to go to their GP.

Cllr Ahmad Shahzad pointed out the structural issues affecting the BAME community including lack of opportunity and poor housing and said the death toll must not happen again - the Council had to safeguard the population. He said Public Health England and the BMA had been side-lined by the government.

Dr MC Patel said Brent CCG and NW London NHS were looking at devising an additional shielding list for Brent, that would include more people than the government list, and give them appropriate advice. The initial list did not include ethnicity as a factor and experience of the first wave means more needs to be done to include the BAME community, especially those with underlying conditions. Once offered it would be up to the individuals concerned to decide whether to be included in the vulnerable list.

Recently elected councillor, Gaynor Lloyd, said the elephant in the room was whether people would isolate as a consequence of being included in the list. She expressed doubt about a proposal to educate landlords about Covid19 and the risks stating, 'we all know about some landlords.'

 Dr MC Patel said that this was an opportunity for the local authority and health to work together. Joint work and shared commitment were necessary to make things happen and for 'Brent to do it differently.' He cited the response on care homes as being one example of success and said local hospitals had done well.  There was now a clear message to GPs to see patients face to face if that is what they wanted and the CCG were also looking at hot hubs for Covid patients.  It was a matter of 'making the best of what we've got.'

Simon Crawford of NW London Hospital Trust said that the emergency pathway at Northwick Park Hospital was now 85% of the pre-Covid level. Segregated pathways at A&E meant there were clear pathways for non-Covid patients. Presently there were 12 Covid patients in the hospital, a slight increase compared with 8 or so recently.  Patients' temperatures were taken when they first entered the hospital. Patients due for an operation were tested 3 days before the operation was due.  He emphasised, 'We are open for business. If you have an appointment, keep to it!'

He said that Northwick Park had been the busiest hospital in London at the peak and had been supported by other hospitals There had been positive coverage recently and they had been innovative in going with oxygen treatment rather than ventilating machines.  He said that Northwick Park had never run out of oxygen, contrary to reports.

The Trust has signed private sector contracts with Clementine Hospital and the London Clinic. Cancer referrals that had dropped by 50% were now coming back.

Cllr Neal Nerva, recently appointed to the Cabinet as lead member for Public Health, Culture and Leisure, said he was going to introduce a political dimension into the discussion.  Testing had become a matter of private competition and local government had been side-lined. Cllr Shahzad had been right about Public Health England being side-lined and there was also the failings of Test, Track and Trace.

Despite this, he said, the Council could not stand back, too many people were at risk in Brent.  He expressed confidence in the NHS and said people need to be seeking help for non-Covid conditions. The Alperton and Church End meetings showed the need for a wider Brent policy on social distancing and engaging with BAME communities.  Structural issues such as Housing, jobs, co-morbidities, learning for the Covid19 experience, would feed into the Council's new Health and Wellbeing Strategy.

All in all it was a useful discussion, although much more needs to be investigated and acted upon. The trio of councillors, Daly, Long and Lloyd, looked particularly effective as scrutineers.