Celebrating 50 years of the Belsize Society and its predecessors

Posted on 20/11/2021

We asked Averil Nottage, former Chairwoman of the Belsize Residents Association, to address our 50th anniversary event.  Here is what she said. 

As we celebrate 50 years of the Belsize Society and its predecessors, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of our key achievements.  So here is a whistle stop tour of 50 years in five minutes.

Our greatest achievements were usually secured through campaigns.  Our first campaign, in 1971, was probably the most significant.  There was a plan to build a London Motorway Box that would cut through Belsize, destroy swathes of Victorian houses and St Peter’s Church, and split the community in two.  Fortunately, faced by widespread opposition, the plan was dropped.

Amongst other successful planning campaigns, we helped to:

  • conserve six significant houses in Haverstock Hill as co-operatives to house local homeless single people
  • preserve Hampstead Town Hall, St Stephen’s Church and the Spence-Webster houses in Belsize Park Gardens
  • save public spaces in Belsize Wood and Swiss Cottage
  • persuade Camden to ban estate agents’ boards in the Belsize Conservation Area.

Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t stop planning permission being granted for the 24-storey tower block in 100 Avenue Road.

Our campaigns have also had a significant impact on traffic and parking in Belsize.  We argued forcibly, and successfully:

  • to stop a complicated one-way system being introduced
  • for parking controls to stop people from outside the area parking near the local underground stations
  • to pedestrianise Belsize Terrace and so block a busy rat run and create a peaceful oasis in Belsize Village
  • to support the introduction of green travel plans for local schools
  • to improve pedestrian crossings
  • to reduce the planned impact of HS2 traffic in the area.

We hope that the results of our recent survey of air pollution will help to inform future traffic policy.

Taking part in campaigns about public services has had mixed success.

  • The first four campaigns to save Belsize Library as part of Camden’s Library service were successful although the opening hours were reduced.
  • The fifth campaign in 2012 failed, but we are fortunate that the Winch stepped in to run the library as a community resources.
  • Sadly, we were unable to save the sub post offices in Belsize Village and England’s Lane.  We were very pleased to regain a sub post office in Budgens on Haverstock Hill.
  • Campaigns to save local police and fire stations unfortunately failed.
  • Wheelie bins were introduced despite our protestations.

When the Society was formed 50 years ago, it was called the Three Roads Association. Shortly afterwards, it became the Belsize Residents Association.   In 2019 the Belsize Society took over its role, structured in a way that is better suited to the contemporary world.   It is impossible to count the tens or hundreds of thousands of hours that committee members and other volunteers have devoted to conserving and improving Belsize over this time.

Alongside conservation we have always seen it as important to organise social activities to bring people together.  Some key events were:

  • the Belsize Festivals that were held annually from 1973 to 1989 until a series of washed-out events dampened the organisers’ enthusiasm
  • annual garden parties and carol singing
  • historic, architectural and tree walks
  • new members’ lunches and local neighbourhood get-togethers.

Apart from the Belsize Festivals, the most popular event was the jointly sponsored premier of David Percy’s first Belsize Story film at St Stephens.  Although nearly 300 seats were available, we still had to turn more than a hundred people away! 

But that is probably enough history for now.  I hope you’ll agree that after fifty years we have plenty of achievements to celebrate.

For our account of “Shaping Belsize and the BRA campaigns” see our website at www.belsize.org.uk/features/2021/shaping-belsize-and-the-bra-campaigns