Two legs risky

Traffic barrier, Greenford Road (Albertina McNeill 2014)
A couple of weeks ago I had a surreal moment, as I walked around a corner into Oldfield Recreation Ground and found a red helicopter, about to take off. The reason for the air ambulance being there was all too real  An elderly man had been struck by a car as he crossed Greenford Road and even though, on this occasion, the injuries weren’t life threatening there have been fatalities in the section between Rockware Avenue and Greenford Flyover. Speed cameras were installed there following a pedestrian death involving a large commercial vehicle but I was surprised to have a householder who lives in that part of Greenford Road tell me that his neighbours are convinced they’re only there for the sake of appearance. They don’t seem to have had an impact on the number of accidents, which is a cause for serious concern in a residential area with schools. There are two sets of zebra crossings and one pedestrian island on this part of the busy, vital route for heavy goods vehicles travelling between the A40 and business parks in Oldfield Lane North but you could be forgiven for thinking that pedestrian safety comes second to the need to keep traffic flowing on the A4127 and the streets around it.
Air ambulance takes off from Oldfield Recreation Ground (Albertina McNeill 2014)
Constructed in the 1920s, Greenford Road bisects the suburb from Sudbury Hill/Harrow Road in the north to Uxbridge Road in the south. Accidents involving cars and motorcycles have been a cause for concern for the Members of Parliament for the area from the earliest days of motoring and by 1967 pedestrian safety in the constituency of Ealing North was a matter for debate in the House of Commons. The Member of Parliament at the time, William Molloy, spoke on the issue, especially with regard to children on their way to school. He mentioned incidents in which they had been the victims of accidents, even when escorted by their mothers. “In this day and age, with all the dangers that exist, we should make every effort to alleviate this situation. This area is in the permanent grip of a massive traffic thrall. Dangers to children in going to school are enormous.”
North west slip road, Greenford Flyover (Albertina McNeill 2014)
I wonder what Mr Molloy would say about the situation in today’s Greenford which, in spite of the construction of the flyover in 1979, is often in the “grip of a massive traffic thrall” during the morning and evening commutes. A number of the footbridges and pedestrian crossings in use today are there, in part, because of his efforts to raise awareness of the dangers caused by traffic at the time, including the metal bridge connecting Runnymede Gardens with Leaver Gardens, near South Greenford Station. It was built after pedestrians had been killed trying to cross the A40 there rather than walk to the footbridge near Greenford Roundabout in one direction or the subway at Medway Parade in the other. It gave in to a desire line of sorts but would Mr Molloy have approved of the plans to give in to those who cross at the slip roads at what is now Greenford Flyover by providing surface crossings? In 1967 the MP described the efforts of responsible mothers to get their children safely across local roads on the way to school. In 2014 irresponsible mothers lead infants through standing traffic or run to avoid fast moving vehicles directly above subways that would allow them to cross in safety. I’ve seen some do this while using mobile phones, setting a poor example to the pedestrians of the future.
Bus stop at sliproad, Greenford Flyover (Albertina McNeill 2014)
I’ve never been convinced that they’re too afraid to use the subways because so many others (including me) do that every time they need to cross at the flyover. Those who take a more hazardous way can see where they want to get to and consider time spent using the designated route as time wasted. The positioning of a bus stop where it can be seen from the northern side of the Flyover must encourage some people to take chances. If surface crossings are put in and pedestrians push their luck to catch a bus it may be just as dangerous as it is now, the only difference is that it will have cost the taxpayer a lot of money to find that out. The plan was first mooted when Greenford Green ward was under Conservative control but is being pursued by the newly elected Labour councillors. I have been advised by Bassam Mahfouz, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment that the council has “secured funding to…install level pedestrian crossings north/south across the Greenford roundabout in the next few months.” There are now five schools within a few minutes walk of the Flyover, one (William Perkins Church of England School) is in sight of it, so it’s important that Ealing Council gets it right.
William Perkin School, Greenford (Albertina McNeill 2014)
The approach to providing safe pedestrian routes around traffic systems seems to be changing, roads are more likely to go through tunnels while those walking or cycling tend to be provided with bridges. Perhaps the theory is that people feel safer when they think they can be seen. From personal experience I would say that a lonely footbridge on a dark night is no safer than a subway. I’d still be on my own if someone decided to block my route – I doubt whether many passing drivers would feel obliged to stop and rush from their cars in an effort to help me, should they even see me as they race along the A40. By contrast I rarely encounter anyone else, let alone a mugger, in the subways around Greenford after dark. Most people are too frightened to use them in the evenings and thieves know it. Problems with subways include flooding, after heavy rain the one connecting Medway Parade with the Haymill Estate under the A40 can be inaccessible. The layout of some subways can make the installation of CCTV less straightforward than most people realise. Those with sharp bends (sometimes referred to as “doglegs”) mean that more cameras are required to cover the space from all angles, making it even more expensive to provide.
Subway, Greenford Flyover (Albertina McNeill 2014)
Even some existing crossings don’t seem to afford the safety that pedestrians are entitled to. The western section of Rockware Avenue, between Oldfield Lane North and Greenford Road, was the location of a fatal accident in 2012. The victim was knocked down close to the entrance to the Wincanton depot. Apart from being closer to the bus stop that position gives a view of traffic from both directions whereas the crossing at the traffic lights forces you to peer around the corner into Greenford Road, just in case someone jumps them. I’m certain that at one time there was a sign advising pedestrians to be aware that this might happen. The designated crossing doesn’t feel safe.
Rockware Avenue/Greenford Road (Albertina McNeill 2014)
The danger to pedestrians that results from narrow pavements and the presence of a large number of HGVs, supermarket delivery vans and trucks carrying aggregates from Station Approach is compounded by the fact that buses terminate in Rockware Avenue. At times it can be difficult to move along the pavement without being forced off the kerb as a mass of passengers wait at the bus stop near the junction of Rockware Avenue and Oldfield Lane North. The issue of an improved terminus area was raised at least three years ago at a Greenford Green ward forum but I was told that difficulty in contacting the owner of the land to the north of the railway embankment had prevented any progress.
Bus stop, Rockware Avenue, Greenford (Albertina McNeill 2014)It isn’t just about safety. This is, for many people visiting Westway Cross retail park, what they first see of the area when they walk there from the station. It isn’t much of a welcome yet we’re supposed to be encouraging visitors to travel to Greenford by public transport rather than by car. It’s even signposted as being on the Capital Ring at a place where it can be awkward for more than two people to pass by or wait for the lights to change because bushes have been allowed to grow over the pavement. It would make a considerable difference to pedestrians if these were cut back or removed altogether but, for the moment, it’s hardly surprising that they avoid crossing there.Rockware Avenue, signs, Greenford (Albertina McNeill 2014)

The Rockware crossroads is one of the A4127 junctions where vehicles come first and pedestrians seem to be a nuisance that planners are forced to factor in. Further north along Greenford Road, where it meets Whitton Avenue, the junction has been designed to cope with large volumes of commuter traffic at certain times of day. It means a long wait for drivers and those on foot as they wait for the lights to change in their favour so both take risks. Drivers jump the lights and pedestrians cross when they think the coast is clear rather than when they’re supposed to. Large pedestrian islands are provided halfway across Whitton Avenue to the east and west of Greenford Road, with signs to indicate when it’s safe to cross.
Whitton Avenue West crossing Greenford (Albertina McNeill 2014)
For those crossing Greenford Road there are smaller islands but no crossing signs. I remain unconvinced that the buttons available to press when you want to stop the traffic at Whitton Avenue/Greenford Road are anything but a sham. When it is safe to cross at this junction you’d better have your running shoes on because the opportunity is a short one – not much help to the elderly or infirm. It’s astonishing that this crossing has been allowed to remain like this for so long because it must be used by a considerable number of pedestrians walking to and from Sudbury Hill Station and the bus stops near it.
Whitton Avenue at Greenford Road (Albertina McNeill 2014)
Those on foot really do seem to come off worst in Greenford. Some pedestrians take unacceptable risks but I’ve seen equally bad behaviour displayed by drivers at the zebra crossing near the junction of Greenford Road and Uneeda Drive. Drivers turning left take advantage of poor road positioning by other drivers to come up alongside them as the rest continue north along Greenford Road. I’ve almost been hit on two occasions because those doing so seem oblivious to the presence of people using the zebra crossing. They often speed up as they head along Uneeda Drive, ignoring the 20mph limit.
Uneeda Drive junction (Albertina McNeill 2014)
Drivers in the southbound lane also seem determined to speed up, having escaped the traffic lights at Rockware Avenue. I discovered just how dangerous this can be about twelve years ago. A car had stopped for me and I began to walk forward when I found that my path was blocked because it had been shunted forward by the car behind. I had one of those slow motion moments as I found myself folding forward gently over the bonnet of a vehicle that shouldn’t have been there. My feet, despite their being so close to a front wheel, were uninjured. The second car sprang back with the force of the collision, scattering broken glass across the road. One of the passengers was taken away in an ambulance. I walked away from it shocked but unhurt. If the incident I’ve described had involved one of the many articulated lorries that are now so common on this section of Greenford Road I would probably have been seriously injured or killed. An increasing number use the route from Auriol Drive and Ockham Drive to the A40, turning into Greenford Road at the Rockware junction where damaged barriers often testify to the risks faced by pedestrians. Even as they emerge from the Greenford Park industrial estate off Oldfield Lane North they present a challenge to those walking past the entrances. Ockham Drive has a pedestrian island halfway across the very wide junction there, intended to make it easy for large HGVs to turn right and left. Auriol Drive, equally wide, does not, yet it is on the way to Greenford Station for residents as well as those employed at Greenford Park.
Auriol Drive, Greenford (Albertina McNeill 2014)
One area where improvements to pedestrian crossings would make a considerable difference is at the junction of Ruislip Road (Greenford Broadway) and Greenford Road, a place often described as “Greenford’s main shopping area”. This may have been the case thirty or more years ago but, as in many local high streets, hair and beauty salons, fast food outlets, charity and pound shops are now the most obvious presence. It’s clear that better off residents mainly shop somewhere else. A one year experiment with a street market was forced out by certain shopkeepers. The Red Lion pub has been demolished, its place soon to be taken by a development called Red Lion Court. There has been considerable debate about ways to regenerate the area around Greenford Broadway but I have never heard anyone point out that the biggest hurdle to making it a good place for retail therapy would be to slow down the traffic that thunders through it. Safe pedestrian access can be the key to success in these cases but, again, those on foot come second to drivers. According to the “Good for Greenford” plan on Ealing Council’s website improvements were completed in 2010 except for “Changes to existing traffic lights at the junction of Greenford Road and Greenford Broadway.” It’s now 2014 and I can’t say I’ve noticed the benefit of their efforts. Pedestrians still have a long wait and drivers behave with impunity. Cars end up on pedestrian crossings, blocking the way until the lights change with people wandering past them whether or not they are supposed to. The gridded area, meant to be kept clear, frequently isn’t. It makes me wonder whether drivers are ever pulled up for doing this because I see it happen so often.
Junction of Greenford Road and Ruislip Road Greenford (Albertina McNeill 2014)
Greenford Road is going to become even busier in the next few years, especially once the development at the former GSK site is completed. The proposed supermarket is bound to draw many more cars to the area, apart from those belonging to new residents. It is absolutely essential that the main road through the suburb is ready to meet the increase in traffic. However I also feel that, as Greenford absorbs more and more people, along with all their bad habits, we should be doing as much to improve behaviour as we do to improve the places where road users and pedestrians interact. That means zero tolerance when it comes to rule breaking by drivers and pedestrians. It means public safety campaigns that impress upon adults the responsibility they have, as pedestrians as well as drivers, to set a good example to the next generation.
Junction of Ruislip Road Greenford Road (Albertina McNeill 2014)
The pensioner who was airlifted to hospital might once have expected the car that hit him to have slowed down enough or even stopped to let him pass (older drivers still do that in Eastcote – I’ve found myself wailing “But you have right of way!” as they hold up the traffic out of politeness). Today he might count himself lucky to be allowed to reach the other side of a designated crossing without being hit. All road and footpath users contribute to the safety or otherwise of their area but somehow it has become easier to give in to an increasingly common sense of entitlement than to remind them of this. Asking people to behave themselves will hardly win votes and there are certainly roads that need improvement but I suspect we’d be paying the council a lot less to ensure a safer environment if residents used what’s already provided in the way that they’re supposed to.

Click here to donate to the London’s Air Ambulance.

Images and text © Albertina McNeill 2014. Please do not reproduce without permission. All rights reserved. Do not add any of these images to Pinterest or similar sites as this will be regarded as a violation of copyright.

A home of one’s own

The Red Lion Court development, Greenford Road, London Borough of Ealing (photo Albertina McNeill 2014)

You can hardly walk down a street in the London Borough of Ealing these days without seeing builders at work, on an extension to an existing home or on the demolition of landmark buildings like the Red Lion pub, to make way for blocks of flats. There is money to be made from property in this suburb, which will eventually have Crossrail (“the new high frequency, high capacity railway for London and the South East”) passing through it. The prospect of easy commuter access to the centre of London and beyond has encouraged new developments and boosted the value of homes in the area. This is great news for property owners, especially those who have reached retirement age and are thinking of downsizing or moving somewhere that might better suit their needs as they grow older. It is bad news for their children who are going to find it harder and harder to afford to live in the place they call home.

When we first moved to Greenford in 1991 we had neighbours whose sons and daughters hadn’t moved very far away when they became financially independent, renting rooms in nearby streets. More recently they have been priced out, obliged to settle further afield or remain with their parents as they save up the deposit on a first property. In fact, the parents they leave behind may have to move to smaller homes themselves if they are reliant on housing benefit for the rent since the introduction of the under-occupancy charge (“bedroom tax”), because the British government is no longer prepared to pay for “spare” bedrooms. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of elderly residents I know who still rent their homes. One has lived in the same house since he moved to our street as a child of six in 1939. As the members of that generation find places in care homes or succumb to old age the houses they have occupied are often bought and renovated by those wishing to profit from the lucrative “buy to let” phenomenon. There was a time when those tenants would have made way for families with children but that is no longer the case. I doubt if there are many long term Greenford residents who do not regret the effect this has had on the area.

Demolition of Red Lion pub,  junction of Greenford Broadway and Greenford Road, London Borough of Ealing (photo Albertina McNeill 2014)

None of us expected rents to increase as they have, along with the number of people arriving in the London area looking for work. We could not have predicted that the popularity of buying to let would lead to the rise of the HMO (“house in multiple occupancy”) or the physical, demographic and democratic impact that it would have on Greenford. The prevalence of part time, low paid jobs that will never provide the level of income needed to pay to rent anything more than a shared room has meant that a five bedroom house might be occupied by three times that number of tenants, who spill out into local parks for privacy or a beer. To someone like me, fortunate enough to share a home with only one other person, it seems a miserable existence, to be tolerated for a while in order to make money to send home to countries of origin. In recent years, as I’ve walked home in the evenings, I’ve sometimes said “hello” to those smoking a cigarette on the doorstep but more often than not I’ve been ignored. They won’t stay around long enough to become true neighbours so, as far as they’re concerned, the effort isn’t worth it. A transient population cares little about local decision making, the local environment or local people.

Speculator's banner, Greenford Road, London Borough of Ealing (photo Albertina McNeill 2014)

Even those living in such circumstances must count themselves lucky compared to the hidden poor who inhabit the outhouses that have sprung up in so many suburban back gardens. Landlords sometimes maximise the amount they can make from a property by constructing a substantial “shed”, often with toilets and running water, that they rent out to even more tenants. “Beds in sheds” have provoked considerable anger from those whose homes are close to these structures, especially as their presence can knock thousands of pounds off their value, but it isn’t just about protecting their investments. Firefighters are often called out to deal with blazes caused by tenants trying to cook inside or heat these unofficial homes and the failure to install proper plumbing can result in the leak of human waste onto neighbouring properties. For an increasing number of exploited people these places are, quite literally, death traps. An outhouse which we were told would be a “home office” now stands two metres from our kitchen window. Neighbours who watched it being built told me that it has a shower and a toilet. It is the second structure of this kind to be built adjacent to our property. The other was being used as accommodation for the drivers of a company that operated from the main house until it was forced out by Ealing Council.

Outhouse under construction, Greenford, London Borough of Ealing (photo Albertina McNeill 2014)

The borough now has a team dealing with “beds in sheds” but so great is the problem that it has a backlog of cases to deal with. We were able to make them aware, even as the structure next to our home was being built, of our concerns but the incident made me wonder if those who these “sheds” have been built to house are the only ones being exploited. As I shouted at the three uninvited workmen I found on our side of the boundary I realised that one of them was translating my angry words for the other two. It is not unknown for economic migrants to be paid far less than the minimum wage they are legally entitled to because they cannot speak English and are unfamiliar with the rules. Anyone prepared to work for less than £6.50 an hour and feel grateful for it must have come from a far worse situation than most Greenford residents can begin to imagine, especially if they are willing to hand over some of their meagre earnings to share poorly insulated and dangerous accommodation in someone’s back garden.

Development, Locarno Road (photo Albertina McNeill 2014)

It does not surprise me that some migrant workers have resorted to spending the night in wooded areas and empty buildings in Greenford. In recent years the activities of such squatters have had tragic consequences. Two closed pubs have burned down resulting in one fatality. In another case a man suffering the effects of drug misuse who had also been violently assaulted was left to die by others in a squat in Greenford Road because they did not want to lose access to the property by alerting the emergency services. My heart sank when I saw the house on the news because I had photographed it for my 2012 blog, Greenford 365. The semi-detached house stood out because it was one of the very few left with its 1930s period features still intact, its interior probably untouched since the death of the owner. I remember seeing a man who resembled the victim, Zbigniew Michniewicz, painting the front door. He beamed at me as he smeared white gloss paint onto the oak door, a treatment that had already been applied to the metal framed windows. I hadn’t seen a “For Sale” sign but assumed that he was the new owner and he certainly looked delighted to have a place of his own. At the time it infuriated me that a building that should probably have been given heritage status was being ruined but I find it desperately sad that this man met such a lonely, terrible end in the same place that he had experienced some happiness. The house, which stood empty for years, has now been bought by someone who lost no time in ripping out all the things that made it special and I have no doubt that it will become another HMO.

Dairy Close, off Greenford Road, London Borough of Ealing (photo Albertina McNeill, 2014)

In the meantime, developers have begun to change the face of Greenford, from large projects such as that proposed for the former GSK site (bounded by the Grand Union Canal, Greenford Road and Oldfield Lane North) to small ones like the house extension at the junction of Locarno Road and Greenford Road. Unless local people make their voices heard the kind of structures that the commentator Simon Jenkins has described as “ghastly slabs” will take the place of factories, pubs and, in the opinion of many Greenford residents, heritage buildings that ought to be saved. An example is the former Starlite Ballroom in Allendale Road, once a venue for great names including the Kinks, Eric Clapton, David Bowie and Pink Floyd. It is now at serious risk of being demolished, in spite of a campaign to turn it into a community space, to make way for thirty-nine flats. The concern at the impact that this development will have is not just that Greenford will lose its last music heritage asset. It is likely to become home to around one hundred and fifty new residents, with all their medical and educational needs, at a time when resources are already overstretched. Queues at local surgeries have become longer and school places have become harder to find. Even the effort to park a car close to home has become more difficult as the tenants of shared properties beat homeowners to a precious space. Add to this the frustration felt because the number of affordable homes that large new developments are supposed to provide can be renegotiated and reduced. With all that in mind you might wonder whose side local councillors are on, especially as they put so much effort into supporting these planning applications. Ealing Council is itself engaged in development at the Allen Court site in Ridding Lane, where private homes will be built on the site of social housing once tenants have transferred to newly built homes from the ageing tower block. It is to be hoped that Greenford can absorb all the new residents (and cars) that this effort at regeneration and improvement will bring.

Those who insist that buildings such as the Starlite must make way for profitable apartment blocks cannot guarantee that these homes will be set aside for those who’ve grown up in the area, rather than foreign nationals with money or ambition. There is even a chance that some of Greenford’s new homes will attract the attention of foreign investors, for whom a flat in a sleepy London suburb is a better investment than gold. Once purchased these properties can remain unoccupied for years. The coach loads of Chinese businessmen who descend upon the Eight Treasures Restaurant in Ealing Broadway may be a sign that our borough is attracting that kind of attention. I doubt if they come all that way just for the food.

The Starlite Ballroom, Allendale Road, Greenford, London Borough of Ealing (photo AlbertinaMcNeill 2014)

Those who protest against new developments are charged with fearing change by local Labour councillor Shital Manro, who is firmly in favour of the Starlite’s destruction. Another Labour councillor, Aysha Raza, has described the Starlite campaign as a vanity project, which suggests that she does not understand what the term means or what the campaign wants to achieve. I have found such a sneering and dismissive attitude to be quite common. Pragmatic to a fault, those who encourage such poorly considered developments are in danger of having vast suburban dormitories as their legacy. They rush to build homes but overlook the less easily identified needs of the communities they are building, failing to provide the opportunities for networking to occur. The places where informal encounters that help to build a resilient, self supporting community can happen, small shops, post offices, pubs and libraries, are disappearing. Instead, we are seeing the creation of a society where the authorities are the first port of call for a resident in need of help, rather than a neighbour who is an unknown quantity. We’re closing our front doors to the world and turning to screens to communicate, isolating even further the old and the poor who cannot access such things. Twenty-three years ago our new neighbours told us to bang on the wall if there was ever an emergency. Today we would be more likely to make a phone call to a complete stranger.

I know that I am not the only one who feels helpless in the face of the juggernaut of unwelcome change in Greenford. I meet local people who wonder why no one cares enough about the place they love to take their beer cans home with them rather than leaving them strewn about open spaces. They wonder why they are less and less likely to be consulted about local developments. They live alongside people who have come to the UK for a better life but are being ripped off by landlords who have no emotional investment in our area. They are governed by councillors who are desperate to meet housing quotas, and are less interested in the views of the people who elected them than they are in those of developers. Increasingly, the opportunities to speak out against unpopular changes, especially those in the built environment, require the user to access the internet, something that the elderly and impoverished cannot understand or afford. Unless those sidelined by “progress” get a chance to express their opinions the relentless tide will sweep them aside, along with any remaining sense of community.

Images and text © Albertina McNeill 2014 (with exception of Blog Action Day image). Please do not reproduce without permission. All rights reserved. Do not add any of these images to Pinterest or similar sites as this will be regarded as a violation of copyright.

Facebookinstagramsocialtile2-300x300  A post for Blog Action Day 2014.

Hanwell spirit

positivegreenfordfindinghanwell1enlargedA

Over the last month the neighbouring area of Hanwell has become the focus of attention for the worst possible reason. The delicate features of Alice Gross have become familiar to us through the posters put up around the borough but these have melted away following the discovery of her body by a police search team. A “missing person” case has become a murder enquiry.

Hanwell will now be associated with a tragedy but I think it will also be remembered as a place with a manifest sense of community, something that was evident long before yellow ribbons began to flutter on the traffic barriers and lamp posts of West London. In a statement confirming that Alice’s body had been found Inspector Susan Hayward, Safer Neighbourhood Inspector (Ealing Cluster), said “I have worked on Ealing Borough for over 13 years and dealt with a range of very sad and challenging incidents. I have never seen a community pull together to the level it has in respect to the Alice Gross investigation. As the local community Inspector I have seen the community display unity and community spirit that we so often feel is not as strong as it used to be.”

In recent years it has become apparent that Hanwell’s “village atmosphere” is more than just estate agent spiel. Yet this is a “village” with the busy A4020 as well as a river running through it. It seems appropriate that for the last two years there has been “A Minute of Loud” to commemorate Jim Marshall, who sold his amps to Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend from his small shop in Uxbridge Road. For a moment the soaring screech of an electric guitar drowns out the traffic and kicks off a great deal more noise in the form of the Hanwell Hootie, a one day music festival spread across venues in the area. Wearing last year’s Hootie t-shirt at this year’s event is a new tradition. At a time when suburban pubs are closing at a rate of eight a week those in Hanwell appear to be thriving. Recently I attended the YUM W13 event at the Forester pub in Leighton Road, a collaboration between local food producers and retailers. The open area to one side of the pub was packed with local residents enjoying meals as small children, giddy with happiness, danced in front of a live band. Hanwell’s high street is always busy, it has retained its post office and although there are some empty shops there is a general sense of prosperity.

Those who live in Hanwell are proud to do so and those born and brought up there never lose an opportunity to let you know it. I spent almost two hours in the company of a local historian and after the first hour I had to ask him to stop comparing Greenford’s residents unfavourably with those of Hanwell. As cynical as I’ve become about the apathy prevalent in the place I’ve called home for over twenty years his comments had begun to grate. By the time we parted company it had been established that Hanwell people really care about their heritage, unlike those in Greenford. I did try to point out that I was speaking to him because I was interested in local heritage but my plea fell on deaf ears. I left feeling slightly ashamed that I did not have the good fortune to have been born in Hanwell or, at the very least, to have lived there, even for a day.

I’ve wondered if the Victorian domestic architecture that characterises Hanwell has had a part to play in all this, if higher density housing and a more intimate streetscape has made it easier to know and interact with neighbours, compared to the wider streets lined with 1930s semis that are typical of Greenford. Online networking in the area, through social media, seems to overlap comfortably and productively with that which goes on face to face. In Greenford online interaction seems to exist in silos defined by languages, nationalities or age groups. My perception of Hanwell may be distorted, there are bound to be some who feel disconnected or choose to set themselves apart from the rest, but it has every appearance of a community that cares about, well, everything.

It does not surprise me that the village that raised this child recognised that a thousand If Onlys would be a poor legacy compared with positive action that could bring Alice back to them. I have no doubt that the community that rallied to ask the world to #findalice will embrace and support her family with the same intensity. The “can do” attitude that brought praise from police and commentators will become one of “can care”. I hope that the residents of Greenford will take note of what is happening across the river and develop some of that spirit, because right now the people of Hanwell have much more to be proud of than their heritage.

“Stand By Me” – Ben E. King

positivegreenfordfindinghanwell1enlargedB
Images and text ©Albertina McNeill 2014. Please do not reproduce without permission. All rights reserved. Do not add any of these images to Pinterest or similar sites as this will be regarded as a violation of copyright.