We say no to Starbucks!



by Shelia Hayman

In 1993 I was making a Horizon film about how digital technology was going to change everything, and inevitably one of the places we filmed was Seattle, the home of Microsoft. It was February and freezing cold, but looking out of my hotel room window, I saw a queue of people – at least ten of them – standing in sub zero temperatures, patiently waiting to get into one of the shops on the square.

That was my first glimpse of Starbucks. Plenty of people must have had holidays in Italy and come back thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be good to have coffee bars like that at home, where you can stop off on the way to work and get a really good coffee and a bun in a few minutes?’ But they had done it. They had not only injected it with American gigantism, they had wrapped it in the American dream – the dream that if you buy something, it will change your life.

Since 1776 America has been bewitching Europe with its dream of youth, equality and freedom. Just like Coca Cola, Starbucks promises that anybody can have that dream, for a price that seems easily within reach.

So what is it that makes us so queasy at the prospect of Starbucks opening up in Kentish Town? Sure, we all know they don’t pay their taxes, but apart from a few zealots, that doesn’t affect people’s spending habits (Apple? Google? Amazon? Boots?).

It’s surely something more deeply to do with a horrible sense of phoniness; that we’re living in a world where nobody tells the truth – not even politicians – because the truth may not be palatable, and none of us wants to take responsibility for that. A world where we’re so lonely and insignificant that even being known by name to a minimum wage, zero hours worker in a coffee shop makes us feel someone cares. After all, if we really cared about zero hours and crap working conditions, about cutting out paid lunch hours and the first day’s sick pay – we might have to pay more for our coffee. Or even pay more taxes ourselves.

Here’s what Starbucks says on its website, to prospective ‘partners’:

‘Being a Starbucks partner means having the opportunity to be something more than an employee… We offer the opportunity to be connected to something bigger, and become the very best you can be….Working in a Starbucks store, you are creating genuine moments of connection with our customers and making a difference in their day. You will handcraft delicious beverages, and build relationships with our customers…’

Really? Maybe it was once the case, maybe back in that first store in Seattle, when the company was small and new and every employee really did count. But now?

If that seems – to take a generous view – to be putting a positive spin on the life of a ‘barista’, here’s what Starbucks says in its application to open in Kentish Town:

‘Kentish Town must have a Starbucks because a Starbucks coffee shop is needed to increase the vitality, viability and vibrancy of the centre. It will be conveniently located and will have an excellent level of accessibility [to public transport] and …prolong shopper stay within retail frontages….Starbucks is a compatible use to existing shops and services in Kentish Town Road.’

Well, last time I looked, the actual block of the proposed Starbucks has the following:. next door is Tolli at 327, an independent coffee, tea and patisserie shop. Opposite under the canopy is the Bean About Town stall.. A few doors away at 315 is Flapjacks, a Council-owned coffee and tea shop benefiting people with learning disabilities. Almost opposite at 244 is Café Renoir, an independent coffee, tea and food shop. Not to mention Costa and Pret, two chains who’ve already got past the Camden planners.

They are all “conveniently located” and have “an excellent level of accessibility [to public transport”.

So what value can we attribute to Starbucks ‘ claims, when it is perfectly clear from these facts that all it can possibly do is cannibalise the business of competitors, and drive the less well financed independents to the wall – even though their coffee is better, fresher, more fairly sourced and maybe even served with a more authentic smile?

In the latest issue of the Camden magazine, our council claims to be all in favour of localism.

The government makes this claim too – except they too appear to be suffering from a disconnect between what they say and what they do. In practice, Camden has no power to fix rents, to stop the endless ratcheting up that is driving out independents and letting in chains. They do have some power to fix business rates – but then, what becomes of Sure Start, of libraries and social care?

The one power Camden has, however, is to decide that an application does not benefit the local community, and that it’s better to leave a property empty for a bit than to let in just anybody. It’s not just in Kentish Town that people feel this way; in the whole of the UK only 14 Appeals have been granted in favour of Starbucks and only one in central London.

On balance, at the risk of depriving a Starbucks partner or two of the chance of creating genuine moments of connexion with me – I hope they fail here too.


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From Toxic soup to Natural solutions for plant health




Most people use pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers as they don’t feel they have any other choice. There are however, lots of solutions to keep pests and diseases away through natural controls, to create a balanced eco system. Below is a list of ideas all of which will help form a part of an integrated pest management plan:


  1. Maintain soil health. Correct watering, soil composition, mulch, organic matter comfrey tea, green manures, www.Gardenorganic.org.uk
  2. Right plant, right place. Shade v sun. Exposure etc.
  3. Companion planting. Plants have natural substances in their roots, flowers, leaves that can alternately repel and/or attract insects. Companion planting can discourage harmful pests without losing beneficial allies. Use them as a border, backdrop or interplant in your flower or veg beds. Use plants that are native to your area, so the insects you want to attract know what to look for! Plants with open cup shaped flowers are the most popular with beneficial insects. Example:

The allium family (which inc. onions, garlic, leeks,chives) are helped by carrots, to deter slugs, aphids, carrot fly and cabbage worms.


  1. Homemade sprays: Neem oil from the neem tree has been used for centuries to ward off insects. Garlic oil spray made from water, minced garlic which you leave for several weeks and then spray on stems and leaves. Simple soapy water can also work! Pepper mix has even been suggested by some, as has rhubarb spray to control aphids (although some claim the oxalic within it adds toxins to the crop)
  2. Biological control. The term for when a predator controls a pest. Add beneficial insects, ladybirds, certain nematodes, parasitic wasps to take care of insect problems. https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/pdfs/biological-control-suppliers
  3. Attract insect eating birds. Provide safe nesting sites, habitat, food. Plant year around nectar rich plants. www.ofbutterfliesandbees.co.uk
  4. Crop rotation. https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=124
  5. Bug club!!! Get the kids out there and start plucking up those snails and make a snail racing track!!


We will be running a natural solutions for plant health workshop in March/April.


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Come to a film screening of ‘Toxic Soup’


Transition Kentish town and Friends of the Earth Camden present a screening of this hard hitting doco about pesticides and the politics of pollution.
When: Wed 27/1
Where: @Thegraftonnw5
Special guest speaker Nick Mole of Pesticide action network.
C’mon folks, join in the campaign (hashtag) pesticidefreecamden

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Urban Harvest Fest!

Urban Harvest Fest

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For those of you with smartphones, an interesting new app called OLIO is spreading around North London.

It’s a free app which connects neighbours with each other and local shops so that surplus food can be shared – either for sale, or for free – not thrown away.

We’ll be launching OLIO officially in Kentish Town at our Urban Harvest Fest on 26th September, but meanwhile they need people in our area to sign up in advance of a launch.

Check it out at www.olioex.com

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The campaign against glyphosate

The World Health Organisation’s cancer agency has declared that glyphosate – the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Round Up, the world’s most widely used weedkiller – a “probable carcinogen”. With the EU officially reassessing glyphosate at the moment, Avaaz has launched a big petition to “immediately suspend approval of glyphosate”.

Sign the Avaaz petition

Last year we wrote to Cllr Sally Gimson, the sustainability lead at Camden Council, asking them to review the Council’s use of glyphosate on Camden’s streets, parks and estates and consider a proven alternative, a technique called weed steaming which is being used already in Southwark and Kensington & Chelsea. The letter is reproduced below.

We have not yet heard back from the Council and are following up on it now.

Letter to Sally Gimson on glyphosate

27th November 2014

Cllr Sally Gimson

Camden Town Hall

Judd Street

London WC1H 9JE

Dear Sally,

Re: Glyphosate spraying on Camden’s streets, parks and estates

We are writing from Transition Kentish Town, a community group working to make Kentish Town less dependent on fossil fuels, and a happier, greener and more neighbourly place to live.

We’d like to ask you to re-visit the issue of glyphosate spraying on Camden’s streets, parks and estates, and we can suggest an alternative method of controlling weeds.

There is a growing amount of research that indicates glyphosate is a toxic substance, which persists in the soil, in water and in plants, doing damage for many years.

The bioaccumulative effects of glyphosate have been deliberately downplayed by the herbicide industry. Friends of the Earth Europe commissioned laboratory tests on urine samples from city-dwelling volunteers in 18 countries across Europe – including the UK – and found that 44% of samples contained glyphosate. This was the first time monitoring has been carried out across Europe for the presence of the weed killer in human bodies.

Meanwhile, the weeds that develop glyphosate resistance grow tall and strong. So far, 23 species of new glyphosate-resistant weeds have been recorded, and counting.

We have been told, and have noticed that the street cleaners still do some hand weeding. We would strongly suggest they should be spared the toxic exposure to the glyphosate chemical, and given a little extra time for the hand weeding, or weed steaming (see below). If Camden residents knew of the toxic nature of what is sprayed on their streets, they would certainly tolerate the odd weed.

We have been told that glyphosate has been used “for years” in Camden’s parks and estates. Given the fact that glyphosate bioaccumulates in soil and water, it seems irresponsible to use it in public parks. As for spraying on estates, this is effectively spraying toxic substances in people’s gardens, since that is how estate land is often used. Has anyone spoken to the residents about this? We doubt it.

So here is our proposed alternative: a technique called weed steaming, based on an old method of killing weeds with simple hot water. A London-based company called Weedingtech offers a weed steaming product called Foamstream, which uses no harmful chemicals and is already being used by water companies and councils. In London, the boroughs of Southwark and Kensington & Chelsea are using Foamstream in parks using the contractor Quadron Services.

We ask you to look at this simple alternative and consider putting an end to the use of a toxic substance on Camden’s streets, parks and estates. It is well worth sitting down for a talk with Weedingtech or Quadron Services. We know that budgets are very tight, but there are solutions that can work for Camden financially without sacrificing residents’ health and our environment.

Yours sincerely,

Transition Kentish Town Core Group

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Community Gardening in Kentish Town!

On March 7th, five of us gathered at Montpelier Gardens (address here) on a lovely spring morning, tidied up the beds, harvested some lambs’ lettuce (yum) and agreed a planting plan for the season.


Planting plan 

Bed 1: Potatoes (two varieties).

Bed 2: Herb bed. Already there & beginning to grow again: feverfew, oregano, chives, mint, sage, lemon balm. Plant: coriander, parsley, fennel, dill, Greek basil, rosemary.

Bed 3 Nettle bed. Runner beans, mangetout, broad beans, yellow courgettes. We were offered gem courgette seeds by a generous resident when she saw us working on the beds! We also have some spaghetti courgette seeds.

Bed 4 Salad bed. Kale, red mustard plants, rocket, chard, spinach, sorrel.


March 21st 10am – the Big Dig

This month, we’ll have two communal sessions, it being a busy time for gardens – the first being 10am on March 21st eg. the Big Dig – please come along! No experience needed, just a willingness to get your hands dirty.

Otherwise  we’ll have a communal session the 1st Saturday of the month at 10am. Below is the list of March jobs. If you can pop in & do some work on the beds any time, that would be great.


March jobs

1. Get some small but sturdy stakes with which to label the plants – very important if starting from seed.

2. Get the potatoes & chit them.

3. Break up chive clumps & spread.

4. Get woodchips  for potato bed. Transport from park gate.

5. Start propagating seeds.


Hope to see you soon!

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Get your hop plant now

Our popular hop growing project returns for a second year!
The idea is that we all grow hops in our gardens and balconies, we harvest them in the autumn to brew a batch of local beer, then we all drink it together.

Last year we harvested 9kg of hops. We’re hoping to do even better this year!

Article about last year’s hop growing on The Kentish Towner website

If you’d like to join in you can buy a hop plant for £12. Place your order using the Paypal button below. We’ll have them ready to pick up in the week of 16th March. Traditional planting day for hops is St Patrick’s Day! We will close the orders on 5th March.

Transition Tipple hop plant

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Darn It!

The inaugural Darn It! event took place at the Grafton on a sunny January afternoon in January.

Cake was eaten and Bloody Marys were drunk. Plenty of sewing and darning took place – there were new logos, patchwork jumpers and numerous holes repaired – take that moths! There was a really nice mix of darn pros and rookies so even those with zero experience (come moi) were able to get stuck in. There was even an ‘Embellisher’ (come next time to find out more). What a lovely afternoon!

We can’t wait for the next one – needles at the ready!

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Darn it! Sunday 18/1 2-5pm @ The Grafton


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