Taking a tea break
It is a fine winter’s morning when I meet Hillview caretaker Khaled Ali, the sun beaming down from an impossibly blue sky. As we sit down to chat in the courtyard of Whidborne Buildings amid the luxuriant shrubbery it is hard to believe we are a stone’s throw from the Euston Road with its crowds and traffic. There is not a soul about and the chirruping of a bird completes the illusion of a rural idyll.
“It is so nice here,” says Khaled nodding contentedly. “I love the green and the quiet. You wouldn’t think you are in the middle of the city.”
Charlwood and Kellet House courtyard (left) and Midhope Court (right)
Since eight o’clock this morning, the start of his working day, he has been busy sweeping and clearing away any rubbish, checking that the communal lights work and the lifts are clean.
Things are already looking spick and span; on a sunny day like today, positively gleaming even. When a tenant passes by he throws Khaled an appreciative glance. “If the place is not looked after properly, things quickly deteriorate and people stop taking a pride in where they live,” he explains in his softly spoken way. “I always make sure I do a good job and residents like it.”
But his attitude is not just down to diligence. Employed at first by an agency in 2014, Khaled now works directly for the estate’s landlord, One Housing, following the intervention of the Hillview Residents Association, which wanted a permanent caretaker on site.
“It is good for them and it is good for me,” declares the 49-year-old smiling.
“Although the agency was OK I now have job security and things like paid holidays. The residents really helped me and I am extremely grateful for this.”
Originally from Yemen, Khaled came to this country in 2006, having run a tailoring business. He now lives in Kilburn with his wife and two young daughters and loves the English way of life. “It’s so easy going here,” he says with genuine feeling.
I ask him about the war currently tearing his country apart. He sighs but tells me that his family are relatively safe in the capital San’a.
Later he shows me around with a proprietorial air, pointing to the bin sheds where he regularly finds homeless people who’ve shacked up for the night.
“It’s become a much more noticeable problem over the last two years. I feel sorry for them especially in cold weather but you have to tell them to leave, which they usually do anyway.”
It’s break time and after a cup of tea in his cosy office cum storeroom we walk across to Midhope House, a smaller block positively bursting with greenery. There’s a spectacular splash of bird muck on the courtyard slabs and Khaled needs to remove it. I take my leave and he gives me a cheerful wave before purposefully setting to work again.
To hear a residents take on Hillview Estate, check out John Mason’s story here
Story and photos by Angela Cobbinah