Faced with a mountainous backlog of emails the other week I did what any responsible politician would do and took off round our Town Hall for a bit of a stroll.
I no longer harbour any delusions that my sudden appearance on the shop floor will lead to an increase in productivity à la the Hawthorne effect; in fact, the best I managed on my perambulation was a “good afternoon” from a rather eager graduate trainee and a barely perceptible nod from a press officer up on the third floor. But that doesn’t bother me at all. Not in the slightest.
Anyway, one of the pleasures of walking the town hall corridors is remembering them as they were. I have been on the Council for about thirty years and in that time, the Town Hall has undergone some profound changes, decoratively, demographically and culturally.
Gone are the old brown carpets and with them the coffee stains of yore. Gone too are the hundreds of little offices varying in size according to seniority. Today, pretty much everything is open plan and much brighter and airier because of it. Also gone are the phalanxes of typists, the boxes of carbon paper and blotting paper, the fax machines and the bottles of Quink – apart from the one on my own desk that is!
There are far more senior women around, and far more people from ethnic minorities. There are also far fewer suits being worn which some claim is liberating, though personally I can’t imagine feeling freer than one does when wearing a well-cut suit and a nicely polished pair of brogues.
But some things are the same. There is still a great deal of good-humoured exchange between members of a team, between different teams, and departments. And as a result there are a great many friendships and relationships in the town hall which contribute to our mostly very pleasant working atmosphere. But then, from time to time, existential realities intervene.
The other week the Council lost Anne Lehane, a solicitor with Kensington and Chelsea for over 20 years. Anne specialized in social care and was known to be formidable in defence of the vulnerable people of this borough. She was also a woman with a quick wit who had many close colleagues and friends at the Council. One day she was amongst them, vital as always, the next she was gone. Passing by on my walk, the shock and grief up on the third floor where Anne worked was palpable. Faced with such an enormity there is nothing much one can say. All we can do is try and remember her, and her work. This piece is a small contribution.