Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Where the ‘bad kids’ live

It is strange how the English word ‘estate’ has different meanings. It may mean the plush land-holdings of the aristocracy, or a social housing development, for the working class and poor.


Steve Latham


When I was growing up, our town had an ‘estate’, in this latter sense.

As children, we all ‘knew’ it was where the ‘bad kids’ lived, and we avoided it.

But, ironically, during secondary school, it was also where my two best friends lived, so that I visited many times. And guess what? It wasn’t that bad.

Now we live in a Council Estate in London.

A surprise still, to me, that I, a northern lad, ended up living in the capital, which always seemed so alien to us, when we were growing up.

I feel a little guilty about living here though. We bought the house, because was the cheapest in the neighbourhood.

But it was one of the properties sold, under Thatcher’s ‘Right To Buy’ policy, which encouraged working class ownership; and also permanently reduced the stock of social housing.

The estate itself, was built in the 1970s, to replace an earlier development, which had been erected a hundred years before.

Initially state-of-the-art, with inside toilets and bathrooms, by the 1950s it had devolved into a slum, due to inadequate investment and repairs, becoming a haven for criminal gangs.

The present buildings express the brutalist brick design of the 70s, replete with covered walkways, and ramps, forming a long, continuous construction.

However, it soon demonstrated the same problems of the previous scheme: the walkways providing excellent escape routes for teenage gangs from the police. So that residents began to live in fear.

Consequently, alterations were made. Iron grills and security gates, operated by electronic fobs, created safe, if isolated, islands from the surrounding community.

When we arrived, there was still, nevertheless, a group of four young men, who hung around our door, smoking weed.

Trying to reach out to them, I explained, to their utter surprise, that the older people were frightened of them. But, as I had expected, within a year, they had vanished: their apprenticeships completed, they were in work, and had graduated to better things, able to afford expensive clubs – and girlfriends.

Some of the original tenants are still here, now in their 90s, and provide a welcome element of continuity.

The past is also echoed, in our garden, where there is an olive tree, planted by the initial Greek Cypriot resident when he moved in.

The gentrification, of which we are part, still continues apace, however; socially cleansing the area of working class inhabitants.

Young professionals have also moved in, paying market rents for flats, purchased by their initial occupants, to provide an income, while they left London.

Our walkway also exhibits an incipient class divide, with one end kept tidy, and the other filled with rubbish.

In the future, I would guess the estate may be replaced by high-rise blocks, to meet ever-increasing housing needs; making this perhaps a temporary period in its history.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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