I’ve lived in this street for 23 years and I know nobody. This top left corner of the Borough of Camden doesn’t have much of a community feel. There’s only one park, hidden behind Kilburn High Road, and it’s full of shifty men sitting around on benches. There’s a tree with trainers hanging up on the branches. I’ve been told that’s a sign of where to buy your drugs.
There’s nothing for anyone to do. Kilburn High Road is full of chicken shops and kebab shops. If you don’t eat meat, it’s a culinary disaster zone.
My flat is constantly dirty from the traffic going up the A5, the old Roman road, Watling Street. Like many places in London, rich and poor live cheek by jowl. Council flats next to private houses. The council flats often have better cars because they aren’t spending all their money on the mortgage or rent.
The schools round here aren’t particularly good so families with a choice don’t move here. It’s renters and refugees, and couples who, once they have a kid, want to move on and out.
So I decided, in a moment of madness, to celebrate the coronation (or more accurately lunch) by organising a street party.
This street represents the globe: we have Italians, Polish, Macedonians, Chinese, Filipinos, British people of Caribbean and African descent, Irish, Syrians, Afghans, South Africa, Denmark, everywhere.
In fact the council flats next to my house have changed enormously since I first moved here. There were always a bunch of rough and naughty kids, but since the preponderance of Muslim tenants the kids are now well-behaved.
In the street we have a half-way house of homeless people from St Mungos and quite a bit of housing association tenants and social housing.
I wanted to do something nice for us, the people. I had a picture in my head of a big, tableclothed, sit-down table with food from all over the world – representing London today.
I applied for a grant from Camden Council: the limit was £2,000 but they gave me £250. I asked Visit England and they didn’t bother replying. St Cuthberts Church at the end of the road gave us £50 as well as the loan of 70 chairs and 13 tables. Vicar Hugh was a huge help. He also hosted the three meetings I held to try and rouse support.
The first meeting four people turned up, two of whom were from the half-way house.
The second meeting, nobody came.
The third meeting, one guy, a musician called Geoff, turned up.
It felt a bit depressing. I’d created and delivered leaflets, knocked on doors, stapled posters to every tree and lamppost, put a piece in the local papers. Nobody cares, I thought. My family said I was crazy. Why do you do this to yourself? they asked.
I’d arranged for the road to be closed. I didn’t realise this also meant that all parking spaces would be suspended and everyone would have to move their cars. I got phone calls, one from a mum who lived in Hertfordshire saying her daughter, who would be on holiday, had a car parked in the street that wouldn’t start. I can’t do anything, I said. But wondered why a working adult would make her mum ring up. I also thought, perhaps uncharitably, that if she had enough money to go on holiday, she had enough money to fix her car so it wasn’t taking up a residents’ parking space.
I used my food and drink contacts, announcing the event on social media. Three companies kindly helped out: Devon Cove vodka, made from potatoes, to my mind the smoothest vodka, sent three bottles; for mixers Luscombe Drinks arranged for me to pick up 20 large bottles of a variety including Sicilian Lemonade, Elderflower bubbly, St. Clements Orange.
Finally a small company, Cider is Wine, sent cider with beautifully illustrated labels: King of the Orchard, and Queen of the Orchard. They also provided some gorgeous Ice Cider (like ice wine but made from apples). Tasting some of these wines, made with fruit other than grapes, was a revelation. Why do we insist on grapes?
The drinks made things go with a swing, giving a classy feel to the event.
I haven’t had a kitchen for weeks and the builders finished at 4.30pm on the Friday. I spent the evening cleaning and moving things back into the kitchen.
The actual day of the coronation, it was pissing down. I woke up with a sore throat and a runny nose.
I collected some of the drinks from a van in the Sainsbury’s car park. I bought ice. I bought cheap plastic bunting from Amazon. I wanted to make nicer bunting but I simply didn’t have time. The vegan sausage rolls I’d been promised never turned up.
After shopping I sat down and watched the coronation on the telly. I’m not particularly a monarchist but I love history, ceremony, ritual and magic. Kate Middleton and her daughter Charlotte looked stunning with their beaded headpieces and white gowns. Penny Mordaunt held a four kilo sword for hours while giving Brienne of Tarth vibes.
Charles looked emotional and rather humbled. He must have wondered so many times over the years whether this day would come. After the embroidered panels shielded the secret anointing, we saw Charles vulnerable and stripped in a plain white shirt before the donning of the golden robes, sceptre, glove and purple crown.
It was like the birth of Jesus: archbishops, rabbis, imams, monks, Sikhs and hindus came to pay allegiance. While traditionally religious, it was also very pagan. Even the invitation boasted the foliate head of the Green Man.
My sister rang the doorbell. I had been begging for help. She made scones and I made the coronation quiches – full size and mini.
I woke up later than intended and rushed down to the church to get the tables and chairs. There was one volunteer, Anna. Dismayed, I asked her and my son-in-law to put out desperate pleading messages on the street WhatsApp for help. The tables were very heavy.
A couple of young men and hooray the Italians! arrived. Simona, a live wire from Kingscroft Road, an adjoining crescent, brought her mum and dad who were visiting.
My sister persuaded a Camden council worker who’d done the road closures either end, who was also in possession of a flatbed truck, to help us move the tables and chairs. He was lovely. He swung between our party and another street party in Menelik Road. They had a budget, clearly, because they had a proper live band with a sound system. The drummer was from Kilburn and the High Roads.
But, I was told, at the posh party, they only offered him a plastic cup of water, whereas we were plying him with drink and food all day.
I grabbed wild flowers from my garden, red, white and blue with a few imperial purple lilac stems, and filled jam jars. I used the banqueting roll to cover all the tables, which formed a 60 foot length with a T shape going into the crescent.
I kind of hate plastic/paper cups and plates, so I dusted off my blue willow china for people to eat off and actual glasses. Fingers crossed they didn’t get nicked. (And they didn’t. People don’t, you know. People tend to be good.)
Start time was 12.30 for 1.
Simona had made a sort of Guy Fawkes-style dummy of King Charles. Another neighbour, Vane, grouped a bunch of tall green plants around him. ‘It’s gone a bit pagan,’ he apologised. ‘That’s fine, I’m into that,’ I replied. After all, King Charles loves his plants, doesn’t he?
Within the hour, and throughout the day, about 80 people came. The weather was holding out. In fact, it became a mini-heatwave. My whole family turned up; my brother, a photographer, and his wife Bernie, a brilliant baker, brought a quiche and a red, white and blue berry sponge cake.
My mum brought a smoked salmon quiche and my dad a bottle of bubbly. Although they were alive during the last coronation in 1953, they didn’t get to see it as virtually nobody had TVs then.
Other dishes included: a purple yam ‘ube’ cake; lots of red/white/blue cupcakes; an Afghan pumpkin dish; a Macedonian red pepper dish ‘ajvar’; home-made falafel and tabouleh; Chinese egg fried rice; American corn bread; lasagne and pie from the Italians; salads; French palmiers by my daughter; and countless other dishes.
Geoff the musician turned up with a guitar and a speaker and we sang ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon’ by the Small Faces. The guy from opposite got out his drum kit and the vibe turned musical. My son- in-law James has a fantastically rich voice and joined in with some Beatles classics, as did my brother, sister and sister-in-law.
The guy from Number 7 flew a drone overhead and took pictures.
Kids played in the road, just as they did in my childhood. I met Marco the famous hairdresser who lives on the corner. People stayed until 10pm, the cut-off time.
All in all, it was a great time. I made friends, met people from my street for the first time and everybody was happy.
And we made all the national papers! Double page spread in The Sun, big pix in the Daily Mail, The Star, the Telegraph, Metro and the Guardian. A Camden council photographer turned up, so we might be on the Camden website too?
It’s now Tuesday and I’ve yet to clear up entirely. It’s been a crazy few weeks, more of which later.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you build it, they will come.
#Coronation celebrations are in full swing at St. Cuthberts Road in Kilburn! 🎉
Local residents have come together for a street party to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III.#CoronationInCamden pic.twitter.com/tg2GuTsmau
— Camden Council (@CamdenCouncil) May 7, 2023
Coronation mini Quiches
- butter to rub the tins
- 1 pack puff pastry
- 2 eggs
- salt and pepper
- 500 ml creme fraiche
- 100 g cheddar, grated
- 1 pack broad beans, double podded
- 1/2 pack baby spinach
- bunch fresh tarragon
- preheat the oven to 180c. Butter the muffin tin.
- Put the puff pastry into each hole in the muffin tin, cutting around the top edge with a knife. Use a fork or knife to make holes in the pastry at the bottom.
- Using parchment paper, cut a little circle and tuck it into each muffin tin hole. Then sprinkle some baking beans into each hole.
- Bake for 5 minutes in the oven then remove. Leave to cool, then scoop out the paper and baking beans. (I use the paper to prevent the baking beans getting stuck in the pastry. I don't want people to break their teeth when biting in).
- Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs gently, add salt and pepper, creme fraiche and cheddar.
- Pour hot water into the broad beans and double pod them. Use the bright green inner pod and put this into the egg bowl.
- I didn't cook the spinach, I prefer a slightly fresher bite. I just added it as is to the egg mixture.
- I added the tarragon, cut fairly small
- I ladle a little of the egg mixture into each muffin hole.
- Bake for 20 minutes at 180C.
- If you want to heat it up before serving later, slightly underbake.
- You can serve hot or cold.
Pulled it off again!
Thanks James! See you at the Biennale ?
How incredibly brilliant you are. What a fabulous event. I remember seeing a movie in Sydney with the school that somehow combined the coronation of Elizabeth II with Edmund Hillary conquering Everest. There was also a book I had with pop-out coaches that celebrated Elizabeth’s coronation. Long time ago.
Thanks so much Diane
This is such a brilliant description of the vision, tenacity, courage, conviction, trust, generosity and desire needed, to enable and facilitate the human need for joy and connection. I’m in awe that with so little buy-in, support and signs that this would work, you persevered and pulled-off a day that will live in the memories of all forever. Citizen-led communities IS the way for us to face the challenges we are all up against and nurture a sense of togetherness, across differences, where we all can thrive. Thank you for sharing your journey.
Thanks for commenting. I completely agree that citizen led initiatives are the way forward.
Well done, you! I live in Scotland, and there were no major street party vibes around. I felt quite envious, seeing those community street parties. My sister got involved in her street party in Essex. Apparently that went on to late in the evening, with invites for drinks at neighbours’ houses, ending the day. How lovely.
What a shame! As I say I’m not a frothing at the mouth monarchist but it’s our history, and Scotlands. Our monarchy is Scottish!
Kerstin…OMG, did you pull it off! Read your account (from afar in Washington, DC) with baited breath…and gave a silent “Yeesss” every time you mentioned someone pitching in. A story of our good and happy times. Fantastic. Maggie Hall
I did! Ooh what are you doing in Washington?
Congratulations Kerstin. Your tenacity and spirit certainly paid off.
What a splendid event. Well done Kirsten !
Thanks andy! Long time no see
Well done daughter Kerstin. I was so upset for you when almost no one turned up for the meetings. Arriving on the day, I saw this long empty beutifully decorated table and dozens of chairs and my heart sank as only bout 6 people were there. Suddenly people with plates of food appeared and it all took off with lots of homemade food including your coronation baby quiches and delicious lemonades and other special drinks you had organised.
WELL DONE KERSTIN
Thanks mummy xxx
I wish I had felt well enough to stay until the end but I still enjoyed 4 hours of bliss. Well done Kerstin