CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Things are looking up in Queen’s Crescent!

12 April, 2019 — By John Gulliver

Young people outside the Arts Foundation gallery in Queen’s Crescent with Debbie Clark, far right. Photo: Jacquie Cox_GOLPP

LAST week the shutters had been pulled down and locked on an exceptional “arts” club for children in Queen’s Crescent, Kentish Town.

Lack of cash meant it couldn’t meet the council’s demand for an annual rent of £10,000.

But this week – as this picture full of glowing faces shows – the shutters are back up. And today (Thursday) the “club” – also known by its official name, Sir Hubert von Herkomer Arts Foundation – is due to stage an Open Day for local youngsters in time for the Easter school break.

As I wrote last week the council had a change of heart and told Debbie Clark, chief executive of the Arts Foundation, the premises were theirs free of charge for a year.

The battle to keep it open after it closed down last September had been won!

In the campaign to save the club Debbie probably never thought for one moment, I suspect, that the council would yield to the point of letting the Arts Foundation move in rent-free.

But whatever arguments may have been used about tight budgets, it seems the council eventually came to terms with the community caught up with the crisis of growing knife crime.

There is a little proviso that part of the space will have to be used by a council “regeneration” team of officials but Debbie, the hundreds of children in the neighbourhood and local families don’t mind one bit – there’s somewhere to go at last for children who would otherwise be wandering the streets, a “home” where they can learn how to design clothes, paint, make music and create graffiti.

I met Debbie briefly on Tuesday night at a packed hall in the Queen’s Crescent Community Centre full of anxious people – some still in a state of shock – trying to come to terms with the senseless murder a few days ago of 22 year-old Calvin Bungisa, knifed to death in nearby Grafton Road.

The atmosphere was sombre, faces strained, voices occasionally raised by speakers among the audience.

Top cop for Camden and Islington chief superintendent Raj Kohli spoke about “tensions” in the area and how, above all, he wanted youngsters to be able to fulfil their hopes and dreams.

This is what has inspired Debbie, a talented photographer, who grew up in a neighbourhood similar to the tight streets and blocks of flats in the Queen’s Crescent area.

A turning point for her, perhaps, were the riots of 2011 and from conversations with her husband Mark about the philosophy of his great-grandfather, a famous painter, Sir Hubert von Herkomer, there grew the idea of creating this unique club in Queen’s Crescent.

Debbie’s face was aglow when, to applause and cheers, she told the crowded hall that the Arts Foundation would open its doors today.

When I rang her yesterday she was busy arranging her first classes on fashion and textile design. Outsiders are helping – a BBC film maker will be working with some of the children on a documentary on Queen’s Crescent while fashion designer Melania Press of Primrose Hill, will also share her talents with the children.

To some extent the shadow of knife crime and murders has lifted a little in the area.

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