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Primrose Hill blossoms with the spirit of altruism

29 May, 2020 — By John Gulliver

Jennifer Mesrie with her portrait of Angelina. Photos: Christina Jansen

LOCKDOWN has brought out an extraordinary community spirit in Primrose Hill.

You may think this leafy area is just full of celebrities, bankers, and well-off people who want to keep to themselves. But you may have got it wrong.

Hundreds of people in Primrose Hill have come together, with the help of local shops, to make sure the elderly residents of the Oldfield estate in Fitzroy Road – confined in the main to their single flats in sheltered housing – do not go without food and help during the lock­down. You can call it “mutual aid”, a term sociolo­gists may use, but I see it as a simple act of altruism which has blossomed in these dire times.

A long stream of residents eager to do whatever they can to help the elderly of Oldfield have been making their way, loaded down with non-perishable food and toiletries, to drop-off points along the parade of shops in Regent’s Park Road, where, in an amazing military-style operation, the piles of goodies are then picked up by one person – and delivered to Oldfield.

Angelina with her portrait

Playing a big part is Zam Kesh, owner of the post office-cum-corner shop, who has been associated with the shop since the late 1970s and turned it, in effect, into a kind of “community HQ”.

This how a long-term resident, Helen Sweeney, who has by all accounts played a big part in this operation, sees the contribution made by Zam. He was always a “friendly face to chat to” she said but the shop’s “most impactful achievement by far has been mobilising the kind and compassionate spirit of Primrose Hill to help the 249 residents of Oldfield estate”.

Zam said: “We miss our daily chats with our friends from Oldfield. We want to show we care and do all we can to support and keep our neighbours safe and healthy.”

The Primrose Corner shop has played a big part

Many of the independent shops have rallied to help the locals in isolation. Primrose Hill Butchers with a supply of eggs, bacon, sausages; Anthony Deli lets his shop be used as a drop-off point; Zam’s Primrose Corner shop supplies fresh milk, bread and healthy snacks; while the local Greenberry Café regularly sends tasty meals, lasagne and shepherd’s pie – with cakes and biscuits baked by locals and delivered to Oldfield estate.

And to add art and colour to this amazing transformation of Primrose Hill, Kesh has encouraged artists to use his shop windows to showcase striking art work as well as photos by Christina Jansen. capturing Primrose Hill during the lockdown.

But there was something special that caught my eye – a dramatic portrait, painted in sharp acrylic colours, on Zam’s front window, of one of the rich characters of Primrose Hill – an elderly woman, who lives in Oldfield, known as Angelina but for many in the area, perhaps better known as the “pigeon woman” because she always seems surrounded by flocks of pigeons as she feeds them in Regent’s Park Road.

Picking up deliveries from Primrose corner shop

To passengers on a passing bus she would be pointed out as a slightly bent-backed, elderly woman besieged by pigeons but feeding them as if she knows them individually. I met her in Camden High Street once and she told me her father kept pigeons at a time when “pigeon fanciers” competed in popular races, their birds flying hundreds of miles to and fro. And there her sardonic smile looks across at you with her quizzical eyes, caught by a local artist Jennifer Mesrie who tells me that, after she got to know Angelina, she used a photograph of her to paint this striking portrait.

Angelina lives in Oldfield, just one of the locals Zam has become friendly with over the years, and he was more than delighted to let Jennifer immortalise her, as it were, using his window as if part of an art gallery, and all of it part of something special that has happened in Primrose Hill in lockdown.

  • A concert will be performed on Saturday and streamed at 6pm to raise funds for Oldfield estate and St Mary’s Church – check it out at


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