Half a century of British economic progress in one street

November 25, 2013


St Luke’s Terrace, Cobholm on Google Streetview

I was born in the front bedroom of the two bedroom house my grandparents rented from the council. It was February 1965, The Kinks at number one for homes with record players and without teenage mothers. A year later, my brother was born in the same room.

The front bedroom was for being born in, the back bedroom was for dying in. At any rate, the back bedroom was the room in which, three decades later, my grandfather’s cancer killed him.

St Luke’s Terrace in Cobholm was a poor place all my grandparents’ lives. It was a poverty that pools coupons crossed off, a poverty unanswered in the weekly knock of insurance collectors, clean and hard and smelling of coal tar soap.

It wintered as grey fog without and grey smoke within, cigarettes and chimneys back to back, lines of black mould on steel window frames and the syrupy vapour of the maltings. It was a poverty of spirit without companionship, except the radio. Too poor for pubs or clubs, too proud for church or chapel congregations.

My grandparents, like my father, are dead now. What has half a century of progress done for this place and the people that are like them – now living? No more coal fires, no more maltings, PVC window frames. Half a century of progress…

Here are the words of the ACORN survey:

This category contains the most deprived areas of large and small towns and cities across the UK. Household incomes are low, nearly always below the national average. The level of people having difficulties with debt or having been refused credit approaches double the national average. The numbers claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance and other benefits is well above the national average. Levels of qualifications are low and those in work are likely to be employed in semi-skilled or unskilled occupations.

The housing is a mix of low rise estates, with terraced and semi-detached houses, and purpose built flats, including high rise blocks. Properties tend to be small and there may be overcrowding. Over half of the housing is rented from the local council or a housing association. There is some private renting. The relatively small proportion of the housing is owner occupied is generally of low value. Where values are influenced by higher urban property prices these are still lower value relative to the location.

There are a large number of single adult households, including many single pensioners, lone parents, separated and divorced people. There are higher levels of health problems in some areas.

These are the people who are finding life the hardest and experiencing the most difficult social and financial conditions.

These are the people…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Irene Ogrizek November 26, 2013 at 14:48

My parents experienced hardship of a different sort–they were post-war refugees (not on paper, but in spirit) and had two years of an indentured existence in Canada before they were free to improve their lives. My mother did a variety of restaurant jobs — mostly baking or washing dishes — and my father worked in the gold mines of Val-d’Or, Quebec. They eventually bought a farm and worked hard all their lives, but then, when my mother needed to be hospitalized, at 77, the system failed her terribly. She was seen as expendable, which is what roused me to start writing.

We forget about the unfortunate, the diseased and the elderly; they remind us of our own fears. Deprivations, ignorance and abuse grind down the spirit in ways we don’t want to acknowledge.

Thanks for sharing this story.


Kyle Packer November 27, 2013 at 15:32

This was really interesting to read, thanks for sharing. When I was growing up in a council house, I thought somehow that the mould, bad insulation and limited manoeuvring space were justifiable shortcomings for subsidised housing that was, after all, affordable for a relatively poor family – From what I can tell, the way we live and create money pretty much mandates poverty for a certain percentage of people, a lot to provide for. Now I rent privately in London, and I pay more than double for a one-bed than my mother still does for that three-bed council house. And then there is the council tax, and what it pays for, like the people harassing me on Sunday mornings because I haven’t registered for the electoral register yet. But it’s worth it, right? After all, my chimney has only collapsed once this year, and the mould on the walls comes right off with some bleach if you catch it fast enough :-) “The tax mans taken all my dough, And left me in my stately home” as the Kinks said. I think a large percentage of the ‘middle class’, those ‘too wealthy’ to qualify for shoddy state assistance, live a strikingly similar kind of existence to those just one pay check away from homelessness.

The sad truth is that ordinary people are lucky to be offered even that much dignity. “Progress” has now seen the majority of the council houses on my old road sold off, leaving only my mother’s and maybe one other. Let’s not worry about it, just switch the TV over to the BBC and watch David Cameron lecture ordinary people about austerity whilst he stands in front of a collection of ridiculous gold things: http://static3.businessinsider.com/image/528221c969bedd732e60db2c/heres-david-cameron-calling-for-permanent-austerity-in-front-of-all-kinds-of-ridiculous-gold-things.jpg


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