Keir Starmer

The Commonwealth comes to Camden

On Friday I was delighted to show a group of MPs from across the Commonwealth something of our area.

Andre Fortin, a Canadian MP from Quebec, (standing, left) Wilson Duncan from St Helena, Abdikadir Ore Ahmed, who represents a seat in north-eastern Kenya and  Helena Pik-Wan Wong from Hong Kong joined me for most of the morning.

Read more below.



We started the tour at the Royal Free – in the constituency of my friend Tulip Siddiq – but which serves many residents of Holborn & St Pancras. It was a chance to meet the hospital’s voluntary team. Elaine Donnellon, who manages the service and Chris Burgess, the Chief Executive of the Royal Free charity briefed us on their work.

It is a remarkable story. Volunteers provide a huge range of services from meeting and greeting patients as they arrive to sitting with elderly clients and helping them with their meals. An astonishing 600 volunteers are involved in 63 different roles. And the charity raises a staggering £50 million a year for the hospital.

This is used to run the voluntary service but also to provide support to the full-time staff. This includes everything from paying for staff training to funding the gym and swimming pool that they use. It was also a real pleasure to see Monique Lucas, whom I met during her visit to Parliament!




From there it was on to see one of the burning issue facing Camden: housing.

More than a third of those who come to meet me in my weekly surgeries live in overcrowded, cramped conditions, often with sub-standard accommodation. Camden Council is engaged in an ambitious building programme, of which Bacton Low Rise, on Grafton Road is one.




It was a chance to show the development to the Commonwealth MPs and to explain just how hard it is to provide decent homes, even in a city as rich as London!

For an MP like Helena Wong, coming from as densely populated city as Hong Kong, this was a problem that she also faces.




Netley School was next on our itinerary.

We were met by the executive head, Bavaani Nanthabalan and Tara Coffin, deputy headteacher – and many of the pupils, all of whom kindly showed us around. Everyone who visits the school is immediately bowled over by the warmth and enthusiasm of the children and the staff. It is drawn from a diverse a community.  

Some of the pupils had been to see the work of the contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and were keen to explain what they had learnt.




We also visited the schools’ specialist Autism Resource Base, Woodlands.

 The children  - aged 3 – 11 are taught in three special classrooms, each with a class teacher and teaching assistants who have been trained in teaching children with Autism.

However, there is a real problem.  The Ofsted published data on the school do not take into account of the specific needs and challenges of children in the resource base. I have taken this up with the Minister concerned, Edward Timpson, and he has agreed to meet me to discuss the issue.



Our final stop was in Drummond Street: to meet members of the local community and to see the wonderful range of Bengali restaurants and to enjoy a lunch!

Sue Sommers, who represents local residents, explained to the MPs just how HS2 might blight their lives. I outlined the campaign in Parliament and how the petitions around this issue are now being tabled with the HS2 Committee.

We were joined by Mohammed Salique, who owns one of the restaurants and has been taking a leading role in the HS2 campaign in the area. Again he underlined just what the current plans could do to stifle this vibrant community and the businesses that have been built and nurtured over many decades.