The view from Pam Cole’s Montcalm House flat across the Thames is certainly something to savour. It’s one that she has enjoyed for more than 35 years – and that she is determined to protect for many more years to come. But her surroundings on the Kingsbridge estate weren’t always as attractive as they are now
“It’s a wonderful view out over the river. I do love it, it’s very soothing, and we get wonderful sunsets,” says Pam. “But when I first moved here it was hard to let, nobody wanted to live here – it had been neglected quite badly.”
Brought up in north London before living in Kent, Pam moved onto the Isle of Dogs in 1981, returning to the capital to study a degree in sociology and politics at the City of London Polytechnic. “The degree was hard work,” says Pam, “but I really enjoyed being a mature student.”
She described moving to east London as “a culture shock”, but it wasn’t long before she became involved in community organisations and activities. “Once you start to get involved, it’s hard not to stay involved,” explains Pam, who belongs to the Friends of Island History Trust, and was a member of its predecessor, the Island History Trust. Pam’s also involved in the Kingsbridge TRA – she is currently secretary of the Association – and the 4 Estates Forum, which meets once a fortnight and is “quite intensive.” “I’ve know a lot of the people on the Forum for years, because I’ve been involved in a lot of community groups, especially since I retired,” says Pam, who turned 85 in November.
When she’s not busy with community activities, or spending time with family, Pam is also a member of the Pugin Society – which celebrates the work of 19th century architect, designer and writer Augustus Pugin – and of Tower Hamlets University of the Third Age (U3A).
“One of the big changes on the Island since I came here is the number of flats that have been sold. A lot of people have bought flats and rent them out, so the turnover of residents is a lot higher. I don’t know as many people as I used to.”
However, Pam says there’s still a strong sense of community on the estate – “partly because it’s small, but also because it’s such a good place to bring up children. It’s fantastic for kids, because it’s a long way from the main road, and it’s based around a sort of courtyard, so youngsters are always out there on bikes or in the play area.
“One of the other big changes on the Island has been the number of tall buildings. We really need to watch the light levels, which I feel quite strongly about. They also create wind tunnels in places. We’re battling against too much development on the Island, and we know some developers see this estate as a prime target. But there are plenty of other parts of London that have more space for development than the Isle of Dogs.
“That’s why the 4 Estates Forum is so important, and we’re fortunate to have Mike Tyrrell
as our independent advisor. We understand things will change – we’re not against change, it just needs to be properly discussed, and all the alternatives considered. I know it’s time consuming, but one of the best ways to get everyone’s views and opinions is through door knocking. You can use everything else too, but you need to go and find out what people think.”
And there’s still plenty of positives for Pam about Island life, and the Kingsbridge estate: “The transport now is fantastic – I can remember when all I had to rely on was the number 56 bus! And there are plenty of things to get involved in on the Island, if people want to.
“We’ve got a very good caretaker too, very friendly and knows what’s going on, which is really helpful, and the estate is being kept very clean.”
Pam’s community work was recognised earlier this year with a Women of the Year award, although she says she was “really shocked” to be nominated: “It was a lovely thing to receive though, and it was great to meet other women from other estates on the Island – I think that’s really important.”