Fitzrovia – Iceland freezes out the locals

By Denise Julian

It is said that no matter how great communications become, working from home will never replace the benefits of the work place or office, because it is human integration that brings about creativity for new ideas and solutions.

So imagine the eclectic community of Fitzrovia, coming together to work an allotment. A collection of artists, musicians, and writers mixed in with regular folk and eccentric characters, all amateur gardeners, debating and complaining about various problems of our modern age. What ideas and solutions might they come up with? The temporary allotments could well provide inroads to bring about a workable solution to problems.

But this chance has been put on ice, because Iceland have pulled out of the deal negotiated by Councillor Rebecca Hossack, to allow the Middlesex grounds to be used as a temporary allotment while the grounds lie empty. The site named “Noho Square” was the £1 billion project of the Iceland Bank Kaupthing and the Candy brothers. It was bought for £175 million in 2006 with the purpose of building flats and offices, but that deal fell through. Hence, the idea to use the grounds for the allotments arose. That idea in its self is radical but logical and fantastic. But now Kaupthing have decided to halt the project at the eleventh-hour, and put the site back on the market with no thought of all the hard work done by Rebecca Hossack, or the feelings of the community. Furthermore, it is very likely that the site will remain empty because the asking price is unreasonable. Ian Marris, head of residential development at Knight Frank, said “ the Icelandic Bank has to be more realistic or it won’t be able to sell while the economy is as it is”.

Rebecca Hossack hasn’t given up. She is holding on to the 800 grow bags and storing them, while continuing to fight for Fitzrovians to have a chance experience growing their own vegetables; to cultivate green skills, to teach children about food production, rediscovering old skills while getting exercise, and engage in the real world as opposed to the virtual world of the on-line culture, because, even if the grounds were sold tomorrow (which appears very unlikely), it would still lie empty for a long time while architects and lawyers sieve through the paper work and navigate around the bureaucracy. So it makes no logical sense preventing this project from evolving. I can understand Iceland’s reluctance to allow something new due to the current economic climate, but they really do not have anything to lose. Surely getting the community on side is in the best interest of who ever buy’s the ground.

Fitzrovia has a very strong community spirit. Various groups work extremely hard to maintain a high standard of living here from the many neighbourhood watches who keep the police informed, to street parties and “high culture” with opera in Fitzroy Square. This is a means to bring about an inclusive society regardless of wealth, background or ethnicity. The allotments would have extended this culture, which could have been a trial test for other neighbourhoods nationwide. With the increasing depletion of natural resources, making good use of vacant space is a logical way forward in cultivating green practices and behaviour.

And there could well be reciprocal factors. If large companies were to do business with a social conscience, they may well find that there are also benefits for themselves, like the cooperation of the local community and increased work satisfaction, which in the long-term may reap greater profits. The balance between innovation and secure business practices is a hard one to strike. But then, a little courage to venture outside “the box” could reap great rewards.

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