Last Friday, Mapping for Change joined a group of residents at the Abbey Road Community Centre for their weekly coffee morning. The centre is situated on Belsize road, midway between Kilburn High Road and West Hampstead Overground stations. We were welcomed to their garden room with coffee and custard creams, and spent a couple of hours nibbling away, and discussing people’s experiences of the local area.
The centre itself is a wonderful venue for many residents, with lots of exercise classes, educational activities and drop-in sessions. Everyone was very happy with the facilities it provided:
The centre is a really great venue. When you’re on your own, it can be hard to meet new people. The centre helps me get to know new groups of people, and gets me out of the house. I come to the over 50s exercise classes every week, and the coffee morning too.
Some residents occasionally used the Community Library and swimming pool at Swiss Cottage, but much less frequently than the facilities at Abbey Road. When asked about any friends on the other side of Finchley Road, many residents explained that there are no facilities which connect groups of people from either side of the road:
There are no meeting places for people from either side of Finchley Road. Community centres and facilities exist on either side, and people don’t cross over to visit the others.
Some amongst the group felt that the road reinforced other social barriers between the wealthier neighbourhoods around Hampstead to the East, and less affluent areas to the West:
I don’t know people on the Hampstead side of Finchley road. It’s a ‘posh’ area.
Like the majority of residents that we spoke to at the Swiss Cottage Farmers’ Market, a lot of people used the Sainsbury’s on Finchley Road. When it came to other shops and facilities that line Finchley road however, people were less inclined to visit them:
Most of the shops along there (Finchley Road) are rubbish. I wouldn’t ever go and shop in them.
Some even tended to purposefully avoid Finchley Road, and chose to do the majority of their shopping elsewhere:
I don’t like going to Finchley Road. I generally do my shopping at the Morrison’s in Chalk Farm. I get a lift there from my neighbours once a week, and we all have lunch in the café.
As with our consultations at Swiss Cottage, problems of air pollution along the busy Finchley Road also deterred people from going there:
I’m concerned about the quality of the air there. I can feel it affecting my breathing.
I find it difficult to go there, particularly when I need to use the underpass, as the fumes are so strong.
However, others felt that Finchley Road was no worse than the other main roads which surround the centre:
If you don’t like busy roads, don’t live near central London. We are surrounded by them here; there’s Finchley Road, Kilburn High Road, Abbey Road and Belsize Road. Everywhere’s polluted. Finchley Road is no worse than the others.
We would like to thank Laura and all the residents from Abbey Road Community Centre for their warm welcome.