Apparently, I Live on a Rough Estate.
Panorama on Tuesday evening was entitled “Trouble on the Estate,” about life on one of the UK’s poorest estates. It got me thinking about housing estates and the reputations they end up with.
I am lucky enough to live in an area where there aren’t really many truly rough parts. The estate I live on has a bad reputation locally, and a friend who moved here from London in the 1980s told me it was the roughest place he’d ever been. Before I moved here the only time I’d set foot on the estate was 15 years ago, on my way somewhere with a friend who knew where they were going. It was raining, and kids were setting off fireworks in the street. Another friend has told me of the time she took her Cycling Proficiency on the roads around here, and someone chased her with bolt cutters, trying to cut the wheels off her bike.
Since then, there have been changes: the large blocks of flats were demolished and replaced with houses and lower blocks (maximum 4 stories as far as I know). There have been various community projects run by local churches. There is an estate office and the bloke in charge assures me that he wants to know if I ever have cause to call the police, or if there is an issue with noise or kids congregating in the car park below my flat. Also a lot of people who move away from this estate end up wanting to move back. People who don’t live here seem a bit shocked by that but I can see why.
When I was told there was a maisonette for me here, I was a little apprehensive; the place has a reputation, and I was to be a young woman living alone with a child. When I moved in, S’s father stuck a curtain over my kitchen window and told me not to take it down until I’d bought nets; if anyone saw the contents of my kitchen they were sure to break in and steal it. Apparently he thought cans of food were at a high premium. To be honest, I was happy to be living here; it’s close to the city centre and didn’t seem so bad from what I’d seen since picking up the keys. The first night I slept here though, I was walking home in the dark that evening and was followed up the road by a young man. I was petrified… until I realised the road I take to my flat is the same road every inhabitant of this estate uses to get to and from town. The young man was just going home. Or to his dealer’s house. Who knows?
Before living here I lived in a street that’s apparently notorious for drugs. I had no idea when I moved in, and I have to say it didn’t particularly bother me. There were a lot of ambulances about on the weekend, and sometimes the police were around, but whatever people were doing, they were doing it quietly – there were no needles lying around or anything. Quite often in the mornings you’d see the addicts heading off to Boots to get their methadone. One of the local residents took offence to the fact the local council seemed to be housing drunks and addicts in his line of sight and wrote copious letters to the local paper, the council and our MP about it. It did seem there was a high concentration of people with problems, but people have to be housed somewhere, don’t they – and I didn’t have any trouble, the entire 3 years I lived there.
There are a lot of drugs around here. One of my neighbours pointed out to me 3 or 4 doors visible from my flat whose inhabitants apparently deal. I’ve no idea what they deal; I’ve never enquired because I don’t particularly care. I’m guessing it’s probably just cannabis. One young school lad heard I was living here and mentioned the cannabis; I said I’d no idea, and he asked, “can’t you smell it as soon as you get onto the estate?!” Actually, yes, sometimes you can. But it’s not like there’s a shop front selling heroin and dirty needles to the disaffected youth; whatever is done, I’ve not seen it or evidence of it.
The majority of households around here, certainly around where I live, are families with children. Rather irritatingly, one young mum pointed out to me the other day that every single flat on my (first floor) balcony has a mother with a young child and a push chair to bump up and down the stairs if she wants to go out. Quite why they housed us all on the first floor is beyond me, but I suppose they have to put people wherever there is a space. When I moved in I (naively) asked the estate officer if I could have one of the sheds in the car park. He told me that most of them are affected by a leaky roof the council can’t afford to fix, and any way they’re meant for the block that runs adjacent to my block. The block I live in used to have drying rooms and storage space in large areas off the stair wells – but some kids got in and set fire to them, so now they’re boarded up and people lug their prams and bicycles up and down the stairs, and dry their clothes on flimsy lines attached to the balconies.
The family next door to me have four children in a three-bedroom maisonette. They’re waiting to be housed, but they’re fairly low on the council’s list of priorities, so the parents have their two-year-old in their bedroom with them. This summer was a nightmare for them; having no garden and not wanting to let their kids run around alone, they either had to drag all four children out in the rain together to the park or wherever, or stay in and get cabin fever. There are a lot of kids round here; none of them seem to be hooligan asbo teens though; any mischief they do get up to seems to be from boredom. A lot of the younger blokes tend to drink through the day because they don’t seem to have anything else to do.
One thing that does get to me around here is the noise. Because of the way the buildings run at right-angles to each other, and my position close to the stair well for both buildings, the noise tends to carry somewhat. Most of the time it’s just noise from people coming and going; they’re not deliberately being inconsiderate of those of us who go to bed early. Every now and then though, there seems to be a party on the stair well or the balcony that’s the same level as my bedroom, and the noise is as if they’re standing in the corner of my bedroom. That being said, I did discover this morning that when I close my bedroom window you can still see daylight through the top of it, so perhaps that would account for some of the noise level.
For all the complaining about noise and drugs and whatever else one wants to throw at an estate that’s been labelled rough though, there is a real sense of community. People know each other and help each other out. My neighbours have offered to babysit a million times and have said several times if I ever need anything I’ve only to ask. I’ve a friend living in the adjacent block that sends me a full roast dinner every Sunday, and often sends her kids up with other things such as pot plants and books. My neighbours all know each other by name and look out for each other. And at least once a week, someone will stop and carry my push chair up or down the stairs for me. They have also stopped and helped visiting friends with push chairs. Most touching of all, when I was having unpleasant issues with S’s father, my friend downstairs told me, “if he comes to your door just shout my name and someone from my house will come up and help.” It’s doubtful things would ever escalate to a doorstep altercation, but it’s good to know that if they did, there would be help. That friend’s sons also seem to keep an eye on my front door, and if they see a man they don’t know heading for it, they tell him I’m not in!
Nobody around here is well-off; I would imagine a lot of my neighbours are in a similar position to me financially. But they look after each other in a way you don’t find in more affluent areas. And knowing that people will look out for you if you need them to is worth a lot more than being able to afford a nice new telly.