Chairman’s Report 2018

Madam Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea, Vice-Presidents, Member of Parliament, Members of the Council, Members of the Society, Chairmen of other amenity societies and Honoured Guests.

I thank the Members of Council for their dedicated work over the past year. They believe the future of Chelsea is worth fighting for, as enshrined in our principal Object: to preserve and improve the amenities of Chelsea for the public benefit.

Our Constitution requires three members of Council to retire each year, though they may stand for re-election: Jennifer Grossman, a tireless campaigner on the Crossrail issue, has completed three years’ service as Secretary, despite this coinciding with family illness worsened by perpetual building work right next to her. She is not standing for re-election and we thank her warmly for her contribution to the Society.

Terence Bendixson and Michael Bach are retiring but are both willing to stand for re-election, and they have the support of Council in doing so. Since no other members have applied, they are re-elected as unopposed candidates. New candidates are always welcome, and applicants for the posts of Treasurer and Secretary are warmly invited to come forward.
Chelsea is vibrant, and part of that vibrancy comes from pneumatic drills. Every inch of soil is dug, lanced, stabbed, rattled and rolled, in search of extra space, and every resident is bothered and bewildered, not to say punched and pummelled by this scramble for opulent dungeons.

Facing this onslaught is the Society’s Planning Committee, which comprises its Chairman, Michael Stephen; Sir Paul Lever (Brompton and Hans Town Ward); Martyn Baker (Chelsea Riverside Ward); and Chris Lenon (Royal Hospital Ward). Laura Carrara-Cagni was the member for Stanley Ward, but she retired on 23rd October because her architectural practice is booming, and we thank her for her voluntary work on the Society’s behalf.

Our website shows you how much work this Committee does, including writing detailed position papers on:
The William Sutton Estate; Permitted Development Rights; proposals on Empty Flats and Houses; the London Bus Service; the Old Police Station in Lucan Place; proposed Tower Blocks on the Cromwell Road; the dropping of objectors names from Planning Applications; Noise from motorcycles and some cars; and congestion on the King’s Road and very many other matters.
Regarding the Sutton Estate, the Chairman and Vice Chairman attended the entire public enquiry from 9th to 18th May and the Vice Chairman gave a 24-point Closing Submission which is on our website. The Secretary of State is expected to decide the matter by 17 December. We urge all trustees of such social housing estates to respect and preserve the intentions of their founders.

We want to know your views on the principles and priorities of social housing. Should priority be given to key workers in hospitals, schools and other public services? Should developers provide housing on site, or in places where three units could be provided for the price of one in Chelsea? Our Planning Committee believes that priority should be given to key workers who need to live close to their work, and more generally to those with real connections with the Borough. Let us know your views.

Property owners are free to develop their buildings subject to restrictions in the public interest, but we think that planning law does not attach sufficient weight to residents who are affected by development, who continue to suffer from disruptive building work for many months or even years, putting up with far more than they should be expected to endure.

We are urging strong enforcement of regulations covering building work and noise.
RBKC agreed to make Chelsea the pilot scheme area for a new enforcement regime, and progress has been good, but much remains to be done to streamline internal processes so that residents can quickly report problems, and so that RBKC can rapidly respond with effective action.

We lost 56 beds for the elderly at Thamesbrook care home, and in March St Wilfrid’s will close, losing another 44 beds. RBKC has promised us a care home on Lot’s Road, but building has yet to start. We will continue to demand a like-for-like replacement.

We want to maintain the look and feel of the Chelsea riverside and are opposed to large residential houseboats on Cadogan Pier and also to any proposal to extend the pier downstream towards Chelsea Bridge. We do not want it to look like a floating caravan park and we want it to remain available for boats navigating the river. Our Chairman of Planning, Michael Stephen, has met with the owner of the pier and they are working together to agree some acceptable restrictions. This is an innovation for the Chelsea Society, and the Council of RBKC has offered to help if necessary.

Crossrail 1 has overrun its budget and timetable, and if Crossrail 2 ever gets built it is unlikely to come to Chelsea. The powers that be may have been convinced by our arguments, or they may just want to save a billion pounds. As has often been observed, being rich is better than being poor, if only for financial reasons.

Turning to our own finances, members’ subscriptions now cover the costs of producing and mailing the Annual Report, Newsletters, and Notices of events. There will be no increase in subscriptions this coming year, but we may make a small increase in the following year as postal and printing and other costs rise.

Hiring space in Chelsea has become very expensive. Two hours in a hall costs a minimum of £2,250, so if you have a big room with garden available, we want to hear from you. Party food and drink prices in festive places have also increased, and we are trying to control those costs for our key events.

Our lectures and events have exceeded expectations this year. We now have a regular group of Eventers, and attendances have risen considerably. Gaye Murdoch and Jo Thornycroft, assisted by a growing group of helpers have made this aspect of our Society flourish. Overall, events are almost making a cash surplus, and your participation has boosted our ability to defend Chelsea.

We maintain reserves to cover any legal costs on planning issues, and to carry out charitable ventures. Our very low internal administrative costs have risen slightly because some voluntary posts have become hard to fill. We are therefore paying for book-keeping services, and have put in new systems which will save us money from now on. Cadogan Hall is doing our event bookings at Charity rates, and we are most grateful to them. We are always looking for the best ways to serve members, and to make it easier to join the Society.

We have received welcome offers of meeting-space from the National Army Museum and the Chelsea Arts Club. We thank them, and we also thank Waitrose for contributing to the refreshments this evening.

I thank our Membership Secretary, Allan Kelly, for all his work. We continue to search for ways to simplify our systems from the Members’ point of view. We remain one of the country’s largest amenity societies, with 1047 fully paid up members. If you have changed your home address or email address, please let us know. If we have failed to communicate with you, do not hesitate to communicate that grievous failing to us, with details so that we can update our records.

Michael Bach has produced Newsletters on his own, and we now have Bulletins so as to increase the frequency of our communications.

Under the editorship of Dr Sarah Ingham, the Annual Report is going from strength to strength. Last year’s 90th edition was memorable, and I am most grateful to her. We have been able to attract new advertisers, and I thank them all.

Amalia Cebreiro has guided us on social housing and licensing matters. Fleur de Villiers and Jane Dorrell continue to help us with many matters, and my thanks to them all.

Volunteers are most welcome, and do not have to join the Council. Letting a  Council member or helper know that you are willing to give a hand next time, and giving a contact number is the best way to assist.

Implementing innovations takes time.

We are reconsidering proposals for our Architecture Prize. The virtual demolition of unpopular buildings proved a bit tricky. It was a stick of gelignite too far. Next year we will be inviting architectural practices to discuss their work in Chelsea with us, and also helping them to understand our preferences as part of a dialogue in advance of any planning applications.

Next year we will offer local schools Chelsea Society prizes for essays about Chelsea. We want to encourage students to think about the history and style of their locale, and what could be improved about it.

The Cabman’s Shelter on the Embankment near Albert Bridge is now covered in graffiti, but we hope one day our offer of help might be accepted, and we will be working with RBKC on this matter.

The Society Lectures and visits are flourishing.

The Annual Dinner last year was attended by 58 members, who heard Professor Robert Tombs, professor of history at St. John’s Cambridge and speculate on the course of world history if the UK had not sought to maintain the balance of power in Europe.

In February we visited the Worshipful Company of Drapers, on the site of Thomas Cromwell’s town house, and viewed the grand rooms and the Company’s special collection of works of art, silver and other artefacts.

In April 40 members had the unique opportunity to see “behind the scenes” at the Mansion House. The tour included the fabulous gold and silver plate, one of the finest collections in the world, with the Pearl Sword with which Elizabeth I opened the Royal Exchange in 1571, and the only example of City of London plate to survive the Great Fire of London in 1666. We also saw the Harold Samuel Collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings dating from the 17th century.

Later in April, in a Chelsea Society innovation, we held two local election hustings chaired by Sir Paul Lever and Fleur de Villiers respectively. We invited the newer candidates rather than the seasoned orators, and all candidates were interrogated about Chelsea issues. There was enough passion, individualism, reasonableness and eccentricity on display to confound autocrats everywhere. No riot police were required, and all candidates were commended for being part of the democratic process.

In June we visited the Churchill War rooms, an underground maze of rooms that once buzzed with round-the-clock planning and plotting, strategies and secrets. Here the most senior figures of Britain’s Government and its armed forces worked and slept whilst the blitz raged above. It remained the nerve centre of Britain’s war effort until the lights were finally switched off in August 1945.

After a long search for affordable venues, our Summer Party was intended to be a drinks and canapes event, but Council members felt the price to members was too high. We found another venue but could not publicize it in time to make it viable. It was a pity, but the Society’s Council wants the meeting to be accessible to all members, and that is proving hard when the starting price for room hire is over £2,000 for two hours. I am so sorry for this disappointment, but we have begun our search for next year, and the date, place and price will be agreed well in advance.

All was not lost, because in September we effectively held a late Summer Party at the Spanish Embassy. In the grand setting of the Ambassador’s residence in Belgrave Square over 60 members inspected the principal rooms with their many fine examples of European art, had a lecture on Spanish art, and then enjoyed some Spanish food and wine.

Later in September we paid a private visit to the old Baring’s bank art collection including stately 18th and 19th century portraits of the Baring family and 20th century works by Stanley Spencer, John and Paul Nash, L.S. Lowry, John Minton and Keith Vaughan and fine watercolours by Samuel Palmer, Edward Lear, Francis Towne, and Peter de Wint. Members were very astute questioners, with much knowledge to contribute about the artists.

September was a busy month. Ex-Council member Patrick Baty is called ‘The Paint Detective’ because he discovers the historic colours used in the decoration of all manner of buildings. Thanks to his detailed investigations he has identified the precise room in the house in Chelsea where Whistler painted his famous portrait of his mother.

September was another busy month. The Society held its annual residents meeting together with the King’s Road Association of Chelsea Residents. The lead member for Planning & Transport of RBKC, Cllr. Will Pascal,  explained the  pilot enforcement initiative, and residents raised local issues.

In October over 65 people heard James Stourton, former Chairman of Sotheby’s UK, and author of many art history books, speak about the magnificent buildings which have served as residences for British Ambassadors around the world. His talk was a skilful blend of deep architectural knowledge, historical context deftly summarized, and the human touch of the individual ambassadors and their impact on world events. There were former Ambassadors in our audience who had lived in some of the houses.

Finally, in October a small group saw Coutt’s art collection, including the fabulous Chinese wallpaper in the board room, and extracts from the bank’s records of some of its notable former customers.

I thank all the speakers, and the audiences, who were knowledgeable and contributed to excellent discussions. We offered 13 events, at a time when we were without the Town Hall for almost a year, and we have a long list of lectures, events and visits ready for you next year.

Finally, on 5th December (a mere 8 days from now) the Society is holding its 91stAnniversary Dinner at the Caledonian Club, where guest speaker John Lewes will recount the early history of the SAS which his uncle co-founded. Book the remaining places via Cadogan Hall Box Office, or give us a cheque this evening. If you want to sit with particular friends at a table, just let us know.

People wishing to join the Society do not have to live in Chelsea, but just need to support our objectives. The boundaries of Chelsea are determined by where people stare at you just because you’re wearing pyjamas.

Chelsea is a delight. There are so many connections between all the people who live and work and visit here. Yes, it is a village, but one which is known across the world. One of the delights of Chelsea is recounting stories about residents.

A member greeting his Rolling Stones neighbour the morning after the second of the Stones in the Park 2016 concerts said how much he had enjoyed the gig. “Oh, you were there yesterday, were you?” Charlie Watts enquired. “Yes” said the member: “I was there yesterday, and the week before, and in 2013 and in 1969”.

And on that theme, the member managing the sale of a stupendous property on Cheyne Walk waited 45 minutes for the 2 pm client to show up. When he finally arrived, the member told him he had just 15 minutes to view the property. “Why is that?” Mick Jagger asked, “Someone more important than me coming around?” “Yes” replied the member: “Margaret Thatcher”. Why has no-one written a play about an imagined meeting? It could run and run at the Royal Court.

Not all residents are famous, though they may eventually become so. A single one of my early mornings involved meeting a Society member in his bathing suit at the Chelsea Sports Centre who told me that his obituary on the painter Theo Ramos was almost ready for next year’s Annual Report.

Coming out of Waitrose another member discussed the treatment of Korsakov psychosis, and later explained the physics of barrel roll aerobatics and noted, inter alia, that WWII Mosquitos stalled at a higher speed than Spitfires, causing unwary pilots to crash.

After that, walking down Flood Street with my shopping I saw a mother turn around to her smartly-school-uniformed and very young son, who was following her several yards behind and say: “If you persist in pointing where I should go, you should walk in front of me, not behind me”. Give him another year he will be able to say: “Mother, at the junction with the King’s Road, turn left and proceed Westwards.”

Our President has survived many dreadful events, including near death by thoroughly unfriendly fire, but it was the Chelsea cricket match in 2016 that nearly did for him. When I asked him about his brush with death he was unperturbed. He replied: What a glorious day! What a glorious match! And nearly, what a glorious way to go! Chelsea is unique, and we aim to keep it so. We like it as it is, and want any change to be an improvement.

The Society will continue to preserve and improve Chelsea, to be enjoyed by all who live, work and play here. May it delight them all.

That ends the account of our activities, in this the Society’s 91st year.  It is the Chairman’s Report to the Members for the year two thousand and eighteen.

 

 

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