I haven’t blogged for an awfully long time, and that’s just because life has been incredibly busy and all new. I have so much I want to share and will do over time, but for now I felt compelled to write something here after yesterday I found that stories from Mill Lane, my old bake-a-boo stomping ground, seemed to be coming back to haunt me.
As well as slacking off blogging I have completely neglected my own social media and lost touch a little bit with the world and my old life, which I never wanted to do and aim to rectify as soon as possible. However yesterday morning I went on twitter to see that @whampstead twitter handle had tweeted about there being an application for planning permission at the old premises on Mill Lane that used to be home to bake-a-boo.
When I left Mill Lane, my 10 year lease was up, it was either renew, or leave, and I was ready to leave and had plans for a new life. I did know that the landlord wanted to do some work on the building and that meant he did not want a tenant in there to take over bake-a-boo, and it wouldn’t have worked out for that person anyway as they would have had to contribute to the cost of the work and that just wouldn’t have appealed to anyone. I was happy to walk away and draw a line under bake-a-boo. Keep it for what it was to me for a decade and leave it as that. I had no burning desire for it to continue under someone else’s reign. As far as I know I left on good terms with my landlord and with everyone on Mill Lane, and really and truly I haven’t looked back, apart from occasionally picking up some post and seeing my old mates in the locksmiths, glass shop and the lovely Achillea girls.
I’ll admit I initially felt sad to read that planning had gone in to turn the premises into a two bedroom flat. I felt sad for the businesses on Mill Lane who I know would benefit from another retail outlet, and I think this is how many people will see this news at first glance. However I also think it goes deeper than this, and requires more thought than initial disappointment. There were some responses on Twitter about luxury flats being built. These are assumptions and having spoken to both my landlord and some of the other people on Mill Lane yesterday – I think there is often a case of Chinese whispers and a lot of ‘he said’ she said’ and a lot of emotion surrounding proposed plans. It’s difficult to know the story behind a planning application – peoples initial thought is greed and selfishness on the part of the applicant in most planning applications – their space will take over mine, it’s not fair, etc etc. I don’t think people always look at the bigger picture of these decisions and are fuelled by the annoyance of the situation. This is perhaps a controversial thing to write and I’m sure there will people who don’t like what I say on this, but I am entitled to my opinion and this does impact my life and my memories and is something I do very much care about.
I grew up in West Hampstead – in fact just off Mill Lane, I was born in the Royal Free, I went to Beckford and Hampstead school and lived in West Hampstead from birth to the age of 21, and from the age of 24 I had a business there for 10 years. I care about West Hampstead, the people, the community, the businesses and it’s my ‘hometown’. There are a lot of changes going on in West Hampstead at the moment and things are developing and the chains have moved in. It’s really tough for the little guys, and I can speak from personal experience. There were times I really struggled with my business. A lot of that came from my own lack of experience and many problems I faced with my health, but I also kept it going and made it work for 10 years, and it was something I was determined to see through when people came and went around me, and I sold my youth to my business! However, being a West Hampstead girl, I was under no disillusion that Mill Lane was ever going to be an easy street. It’s never quite shone perhaps like it should. When I moved in there I had more plans for my business outside and was surprised at the success of the shop which prevented me from doing that – slowly other great business crept it – The Kitchen Table, the Physiotherapist, Inside story, Achillea flowers and in later years George the greengrocer returned, Monsters of Art popped up, the village haberdashery made us get in touch with our crafty side, and Passionate about vintage bought us a bit of Hollywood glamour, and these are just a few of the people who’ve come and gone in my time there. But it’s never been easy for any of us. We will never be West End Lane, never have the footfall of West End Lane but will always be impacted by what happens on West End lane. The restaurants are busier – I heard there’s a Gails there now for cakes, you can pick up your fruit and veg from Waitrose and soon M&S. As much as we all say we want to support local businesses and want to shop local, we all know that sometimes convenience and living our time poor lifestyles just takes priority. I know when I closed people came to me with forlorn faces saying how sad they were we were closing – BUT I had never seen them before – if you want the businesses to stay you simply have to use them, no matter how short of time you are, and it’s as simple as that.
Anyway the point of this is to say that I spoke to the Landlord of 86 Mill Lane and he answered some of my questions about this. I had some calls yesterday asking me if I knew about these plans when I left, as if I’d somehow betrayed people! Well, there was no planning application when I left. I have not seen it personally or investigated it any further than seeing a tweet and speaking to the applicant himself, which is what I would urge people to do – speak to the right people and get the correct facts before becoming emotionally charged about it all. I could have predicted that the building or at least some of it would be developed and that housing may be the most feasible option, for the simple fact that it was a big premises – whilst there was the tea room we also had a large basement kitchen and a garden – the rateable value of a property like that is very high, something I don’t think people realise, and those rates go up every single year and they are killers for small businesses. I know how hard it would be to find a tenant who would thrive there and would stay the duration of the lease as I had, just due to being able to survive – you have to sell a lot of cupcakes to pay those rates – believe me I know! My landlord was luckily understanding of my hard times and did what he could to support me during those times. However, I did hear a rumour yesterday that apparently, I left owing a years’ worth of rent which is just completely ridiculous, and this is why I say don’t believe everything you hear and get your facts in line before you go on the attack.
He told me yesterday that the property at 86 Mill Lane, will be developed into a flat in the basement. Development will have to take place to put in its own entrance through the entrance to the other properties above the shop. But the shop front will remain. It will be a small retail space and probably won’t be able to have the same use as it did when I was there, but ultimately it will be a shop front and it will NOT be a luxury flat development. Response to this is that the space that will be left would be too small to be a retail outlet and will end up being an office or business and will be unhelpful to the other local businesses and not encourage footfall on Mill Lane. This is perhaps true – but I urge you to really think about this. I closed the door on the 30th May last year. The property has sat empty, with the windows frosted and the old gate still hanging on the door. It’s derelict and abandoned and every time I drive past it I feel sad. The 30th May was almost 10 months ago. That’s how long it has sat there abandoned. As much as an office isn’t helpful to the street, neither is an empty building. None of us know what it will end up being in there, but it will have a shop front and it will also be a flat underneath, which most of the other shop fronts a long that parade also have. I don’t see it as being all bad, and I urge you to really think about that before contesting this development. Empty shop, or filled shop? Can we really be so picky about what come there or not? I believe the plans state to extend at the back of the building – again this doesn’t impact Mill Lane or change the appearance of the building. If anything, it will look cleaner and there will be some life back in there again. Isn’t that a good thing? I give you further information about these plans straight from the horses mouth and I know that lots of people are very upset about these proposed plans, but I don’t think they have really thought about the deeper impact and they are forgetting how bloody hard it is to thrive on Mill Lane. One more office or one more flat isn’t going to take away from what Mill Lane has to offer – instead of putting energy into fighting this, I suggest perhaps putting that energy into getting yourself down to Mill Lane, having a coffee or buying yourself something nice. Making a cake at home with some fresh fruit and veg and picking up a holistic juice or some exotic tea you have never tried from The Curled Leaf. That’s how we support Mill Lane, not by fighting its development. I hope what I have said here clears up some of the so-called stories and rumours. It’s not all doom and gloom, but it will be if they wait to find someone to take over the retail space as it is – because it’s too big and too expensive and it will NOT survive. There will be a shop front, hopefully it will be someone or something good and useful to the area and there will be a lovely (but not luxury!!) flat filled with new customers and people who will soon discover the greatness that is West Hampstead.
Affectionately known as Boo to my friends, I opened bake-a-boo in 2006 and after 10 years of making cake dreams come true, hosting fabulous tea parties and releasing a cookbook I have now closed the doors of the tea room. Plagued with severe endometriosis and several food allergies I’m turning all the bad into something good and after being a great patient, I’m now training to hopefully become a ‘great’ nurse! Here I’m sharing my journey, and talking health, my inspirations and life after bake-a-boo…..and of course CAKE! You can take the girl out of the cake shop but you can’t take the cake shop out of the girl so find out here how I can still help you with cakes and treats and parties galore x