Today I had a conversation with Libby from O2’s Community Foundation, because I was referee for a funding application that MaD Theatre Company had lodged. MaD works with young people living in working-class neighbourhoods in north Manchester. Libby was telling me about a similar initiative in Maidstone, Kent, based on, in her words ‘one of those 1960s estates that seems to have inherited – or maybe caused – so many problems’.
Libby’s words, and her uncertainty about who was to blame for those problems, made me think about council housing.
As the credit crunch bites – if a crunch can bite – we’re hearing about schemes to help home owners hang onto their houses. What the government and the Conservative opposition don’t seem to be contemplating is an expansion of council housing. Council estates – which not all council houses were, or are, located on – are often portrayed as ‘sink estates’. Yet the memories on this site suggest people welcomed council housing as a more secure, better-maintained form of housing than privately rented accommodation. What those who moved to estates like Speke or Kirkby in Liverpool found, though, was that they didn’t have many amenities like shops or libraries or schools or parks. These amenities only became more scarce as the years went by and Conservative governments demanded public spending cuts.
I don’t know what historians should focus on – the problems that people living on these estates have had to contend with, or the fact that, despite the problems, many of them carved out satisfying lives and have happy memories of the communities they made there. But we do need to highlight social housing as a crucial issue, even if politicians ignore this.