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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