From Golden Lane… Work in progress

A school and new homes are under construction. And the foundations of better community relations, too

Every month I take a photograph of the building site outside my flat that was once the Richard Cloudesley School. The plot is being redeveloped in a joint venture between the City Corporation and Islington Council. The plan is to build a two-form primary academy school and a housing block of 66 apartments, split equally between Islington and City of London tenants.

The former Richard Cloudesley School in makeover

The scheme is contentious on many levels. There’s a question mark over whether the area needs a new school. Opponents argue that there are plenty of primary school places already available in the existing nearby schools, Moreland and Prior Weston. Then there is the matter of which of the two collaborating councils will manage the new housing block. The current plan is for Golden Lane’s estate management team to do it. Nobody knows whether current Golden Lane tenants will get the opportunity to transfer to a new flat, or how sharing a building with Islington tenants will work out. 

All of these questions, and many more, need answers, but next to hearing angry complaints from neighbours about work on the building site – noise, dust and mini-earthquakes erupting inside their homes – the most fascinating aspect of the project for me is having a top-floor grandstand view of the diggers, cranes, earth movers and bickering construction workers.

My strange interest in the nuts and bolts of a big building project in progress is shared by one of my close neighbours, two-year-old Thomas, who gazes transfixed as the big yellow machines dig holes, fill them in with the stuff they’ve just dug up, press it all down with a massive rolling thing, then move on to another plot. Thomas’s early life is lived in front of this daily spectacle and he is loving every minute of it.

Another of my neighbours is in the habit of referring to put-upon executives as “flak catchers”. These are the people put in the firing line when difficult questions come shooting. It doesn’t sound like a fun job, so hats off to John McGeachy from Age UK, who performed bravely coordinating a recent transport consultation, fielding discontent with good grace.

Residents’ issues ranged from buses stopping with the middle-door exit parked right in front of a waste bin or bike rack, and drivers not waiting for passengers to be seated before jerking away from the stop, catapulting passengers down the length of the bus. There have recently been changes to bus routes not properly publicised or consulted on. Then there are those pesky hire bikes and scooters whizzing around haphazardly. No lift at Barbican station is the biggest irritation of all. 

Hire bikes are a hazard

McGeachy gathered all the information patiently, gave some limited feedback and even last week went on a fact-finding patrol with residents and officers from TfL (Transport for London) to get a proper taste of our problems. The team agreed to return again soon with further updates, so to see the findings so far, or to add to the consultation, email jmcgeachy@ageuklondon.org.uk.

There’s still a chance to enjoy the fun of the Barbican Archive Jukebox, an audio-visual experience featuring six key stories about the Barbican and Golden Lane (told by me). The Jukebox was such a success during the recent Barbican Archive Residency Weekend that it has now been moved to the Library, where it will stay until 29 November.

Other successes during the Archive Weekend included a panel discussion with the building workers who went on strike for a year in the 1960s during the construction of the Barbican, and a presentation by punk historian Stefan Dickers, who is the unlikely figure who manages the Bishopsgate Institute’s surprisingly unstuffy collection of old things.

Dickers included in his presentation a call-out for contributions to the Institute’s Great Diary Project, a mission set up in 2007 to collect and store diaries, journals and personal documents so that future historians and researchers get a more realistic picture of everyday life. The Institute believes that your daily scribblings about what you ate, what you saw on TV and why your children were fighting ranks alongside Big History such as the outcome of the upcoming 12 December General Election. Go to thegreatdiaryproject.co.uk for details on how to submit your long-forgotten volumes to the collection.

Mola is the hot new brunch ‘n’ lunch place to open in Whitecross Street. It replaces a greasy-spoon cafe, which some residents are not happy about. They see it as another nail in the coffin of tradition and further evidence of the neighbourhood’s creeping gentrification.

Whatever your view, Mola is staffed by helpful, polite people serving freshly made food and drinks at a reasonable price and with a warm welcome. 

Mola offers a warm welcome

Hot dishes carry an international flavour, many from the Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa. Vegan dishes are on the menu, as are a good selection of artisan teas and coffees, plus divine cakes to match. And for the die-hard greasy spooners, the full English Breakfast is still available, with the added twist that the bacon is English.

Billy Mann lives in Basterfield House on the Golden Lane Estate. He is a teaching assistant, a City of London Community Builder and a blogger. Write to him at goldenlanegazette@gmail.com

👉 An edited version of this column appeared in the City Matters newspaper, edition 111, p22.