The words Annual General Meeting once bored dread into my heart. But in the case of our resident’s association at least, they now fill me with anticipation.
Founded in 1984 The Gayton Residents Association (GRA) has an illustrious history.
It’s thanks to the GRA that Gayton Road (although alas not Gayton Crescent) has retained its Victorian lampposts; and due to the tireless efforts of a small bunch of GRA members those lampposts are adorned with hanging baskets of flowers throughout the summer.
And of course then there’s the legendary GRA Street Party – a festival with a history nearly as venerable as Glastonbury but with none of the mud!
So as you can see, we know how to party. Like many other resident’s associations the GRA has an active social side and over the years we’ve gathered together at quiz nights and book groups, and made full use of local amenities like the Highgate bowls club, the skittles alley beneath The Freemasons, and even enjoyed a few nights sampling the food and drink on offer at Hampstead’s various hostelries.
But somehow our AGMs, despite the lovely venue provided by Burgh House, just didn’t generate the same enthusiasm…no matter how much white wine was on offer!
And then someone hit on the brilliant idea of including food on the menu and nights that were wearisome perked up no end.
That was about five years ago and membership, which had stagnated, has grown like fuzz on a Camembert, spreading to include parts of Willow Road, Well Road and Well Walk.
Fortunately we Gaytonians don’t have any crypto-Faragists or separatist Sturgeons to contend with and the trumperies that get built here tend to be basements, not walls.
That sense of community was ebulliently evident at last month’s AGM that, fittingly enough took place at The Hampstead Community Centre.
It’s somewhere we all take for granted I realised as I enjoyed a pre-prandial pint with my neighbours at the newly spruced-up King Willy. Next-door Victoria, who runs the Montadito Original Spanish Delicacies stall was preparing a feast for 40 in the Community Centre’s kitchen. Using ingredients sourced only from Community Centre traders: cod from Hampstead Seafoods; chicken from Meat Naturally; fruit and veg supplied by Jenkins & Son; and of course her own mouth-watering morsels.
They’re all available, fresh on our doorstep, week-in-week-out – even if most of us can’t serve them up as deliciously as Victoria can.
The more we buy from them, or any of the Saturday market traders, or from the lovely flower stall, or even if we just pick out a few paperbacks at the Sunday book fair, we invest in local businesses. We will also be helping the Community Centre to survive. The reasonable rents it charges allow the Centre to be self-funding and keep costs down for the fun community stuff it provides; such as the parent and toddler clubs, life-drawing and Tai-Chi classes, as well as giving a free Christmas Dinner to 90 older local residents last year!
Having just signed a 20-year lease with Camden and with the hope of receiving a CIL grant to upgrade the kitchens the Community Centre is on a steadier footing than before but it still needs us to support it by using any and all of the amenities it has on offer. It’s all there, slap bang in the centre of our community and whether it’s tulips for our loved ones, more eggs for breakfast or a cheeky Chorizo to snack on, so long as it’s not bought from Tesco, every little helps!
And if you want somewhere to hold a local function then the big hall is available for hire on Thursday nights. As The GRA discovered it’s a great venue. With Victoria and her team working miracles in the kitchen and the wine and conversation flowing, it felt more easy-going than a restaurant and more personal than a gastropub – and it cost less per head!
Once business was concluded and (non-fuzzy) cheese served, the AGM began to draw to a close. Having toasted the spirit of unity that had brought us together, I shared a final glass with a neighbour from Well Walk only to be assailed by doubt. Perhaps The GRA should change its name to reflect its greater diversity? And if so, what to? Should we become The Well-Gay Association or The Gay-Walk Association?!
At that point my wife told me to get my coat…
You can contact the Hampstead Community Centre on 020 7794 8313 or visit their website www.hampsteadcommunitycentre.co.uk. And to find out more about Victoria’s delicious catering contact her va [email protected].