Getting on your bike to look for work, once encouraged by Norman Tebbit and now by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, has always been a feature of working-class life, yet the perception remains that people living on council estates are both “stuck” in their communities and hostile to incomers. A new book, Moving Histories of Class and Community, debunks these myths while examining the deep attachment to place shown by residents of three Norwich estates.
“The movement to council estates is one of the biggest mass migrations that has taken place,” says Taylor. The poet Paul Farley has compared the building of massive estates on the periphery of British cities, to which millions of former inner-city dwellers moved between the 1920s and 1970s, to the Highland clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries. One way in which people coped with their new surroundings was to form fierce attachments to them, which were broken by further state-assisted migrations into national service or on to work programmes.
Other families were fragmented, in body if not in spirit, by individual members’ emigrations to Australia and Canada; yet even what Taylor terms “micro-migrations” of a few streets, deeply troubled some interviewees. What emerges is a collective sense of tension between the safety and belonging felt by those who have grown up and lived their lives on the three estates and their often precarious circumstances as a result of living there.
Residents are aware that all three estates carry a bad reputation within Norwich, yet on the whole care less about outside perceptions than about maintaining privacy, esteem and respectability as individuals in their local area – qualities Taylor hopes that she and Rogaly have preserved. “One woman we interviewed told us that she really feels [the book] has affirmed what she felt and gave her a voice. To capture something that people knew they felt, but hadn’t put into words before, that is key.”
- Moving Histories of Class and Community: Identity, Place and Belonging in Contemporary England (Identity Studies in the Social Sciences)
- by Ben Rogaly, Becky Taylor
- Buy it from the Guardian bookshop
Background: “Since 1945 Liverpool and its dockland have changed almost beyond recognition. Devastated by war and then transformed by post-war strategies to address some of the appalling social conditions, initiatives to attract industry to the area and the registration of dockers with schemes to decasualize port employment, the economic, social and cultural life of the dockland has been turned upside down. One of the most significant changes however, has come with the attempts to tackle the enormous problem of housing. Slum clearance programmes decanted many thousands of families from dockland Liverpool to purpose built overspill estates on the outskirts of the city. One of the most significant of these outer developments was Kirkby, located at the northwest edge of the city. This was a village of around 3,000 inhabitants in 1939, which by 1961 had grown to become a new town for over 50,000. Ultimately envisaged as a self-sustaining community with its own economic, social and cultural functions, Kirkby’s further expansion was ensured when in 1965 Liverpool Corporation committed itself to the clearance of another 30,000 ‘unfit’ dwellings, mainly from the traditional dockland areas.
The growth of Kirkby was not without its difficulties. It has often been cited as a classic illustration of the failures of planning and mistaken overspill development. The image of a tough community, uprooted and placed by an uncaring local authority in a bleak estate with no facilities or services, suffering high unemployment and racked by vandalism was a caricature, but nevertheless contained elements of truth. Problems with housing in Kirkby, particularly the poor quality of design and construction combined with a long backlog of repairs, were manifest from the earliest days. On the whole women were left with the responsibility of tackling the local authority about these problems in what were predominantly family homes. Furthermore, when in the early 1970s factory closures and growing unemployment further threatened Kirkby, women on the Tower Hill estate formed a discussion and support group to help themselves and their families through the crisis. However, when the 1972 Housing Finance Act resulted in a further £1 rent rise, this brought grievances that had been bubbling under for the previous decade to a head. The women formed an Unfair Rents Action Group and responded by organizing a 14-month long rent strike.
Militant collective organization no longer remained the preserve of male members of the household. In the new setting of the overspill estate, women recognised the value of the militant tradition. Outside of the labour movement or the factory floor, women in Kirkby mobilized to forge their own solidarity and collective organization. This movement sought not only to benefit the household economy through the fight against unfair rents, but for a time would also campaign for the benefit of the whole community. Traditional dockland militancy and community solidarity had clearly evolved to remain of use in its new location.”
Wake up Lefties, start finally dealing with the real issues which are in our communities, the issues haven’t changed and neither have you!