Streetfighters – Joan Diggle

Joan Diggle has lived on her street for 77 years but is now the only resident left on her terrace. She doesn’t want to leave but the situation is becoming frightening and she would love to find a bungalow. In December 2010, however, the handful of households left in phase two of the Derker regeneration area received a notice warning there was no money left to acquire their homes. The council blames this turn of events on government spending cuts which have left Oldham’s programme with £2m less in its coffers, with the long-term future of the national pathfinder scheme uncertain. Derker is now a ghost town, with grass and cherry trees standing in the place of many terraced homes which are already demolished. More on my Streetfighters project here.

one last kick in the bricks

Following on from this, I’ve taken one last look at my Elijah Debnam photofilm for a uni multimedia assignment. This is my final version. (You can watch it larger and see a transcript over here)

There has been an exciting development in my Streetfighters work, which I hope to share soon. Watch this space.

‘they’ll have to carry me out in a box’

I took a trip back to Oldham today to catch up with Elijah, my Street Fighter who has touched people most. It’s getting on for 11 months since I first met him (I’ve been back numerous times since then) and precisely nothing has changed in his situation. He is now 90 years old and his property is technically owned by Oldham City Council, following a compulsory purchase order. The council still wants to get him out and to demolish the house, which is younger than its owner.  This is despite the fact the bottom has fallen out of the building industry, followed by the axing of the Housing Market Renewal Initiative – the budget funding this, ahem, ‘regeneration’ scheme – by the coalition government. Elijah is still determined to stay put – he said today they’d have to ‘carry him out in a box’. Most of the surrounding streets are totally empty now and many have been torn down. Grass seed and cherry trees have been planted where lives were once lived.

Elijah’s story, and others, can be viewed over here.

HMR on Channel 4 news

Channel 4 News did a great piece on HMR’s collapse tonight, focusing on Werneth in Oldham and Anfield in Liverpool, and briefly speaking to Brendan Nevin, whose research underpinned the regeneration programme. It’s great to finally see the national media sitting up and giving this debacle the attention it deserves – because until now very few outlets have been interested. There are limits to what you can squeeze into 11 minutes on a subject like this – despite it being a really long time for a news package – so the piece really focused on what has happened since the ConDem coalition came into power in May and took away much of HMR’s funding. I still think it’s worth pointing out though that this whole scheme was a disaster from the start – I didn’t feel that was made clear enough. The pathfinders took on too much at once and did it quite often in an inhumane and cack-handed way, led (in my view) by developers and an overheating housing market. The new government has made things worse by decisions which mean the whole thing will drag on for far longer – at the expense of Kadija in the piece and other householders like her and like the people I have met in the past four years. But make no mistake – disaster was well underway under the previous government.

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The background of the HMR pathfinder and its impact on ordinary people like Kadija can be seen on my Street Fighers site

Bulldozers for Bootle

Even as the infamous Housing Market Renewal regeneration initiative lies in tatters – with half-empty terraces and vacant plots of  land littering the nine annointed areas of the north and midlands and little available public finance to finish the job – the juggernaut staggers onwards. This week two public inquiries took place in Bootle, Merseyside, with the aim of relieving the few remaining home owners of their properties. As always, all most of them want is a fair financial settlement which would allow them to find an equivalent home at now cost to themselves, but as has so often been the case they have been dragged through an expensive and protracted public hearing they have little to no chance of winning. Plus ca change.

If you can face learning more about HMR, I’ve been documenting the process in words, images and multimedia for four years and it can all be found here.

bricks/walls

I’ve reached something of a brick wall with my regeneration project and am having to think about new ways of moving forward with it and funding it. I only ever had a few clients which were interested in this as a subject and one has no commissioning budget whatsoever this year. The other is limited and in any case doesn’t cover the geographical area affected by housing market renewal, the policy I’ve been mainly covering. Besides, I’m becoming more and more dissatisfied with editorial as a means to support this work, which has accidentally turned into something of a long-term project. Not something I intended, believe me, but it feels like something I should stick with.

This is something I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to recently, even more so since the project got a shout-out in the Guardian. There must be some but I can’t think of any other independent (and therefore permanently skint) writer- journalists who have tried to cover a subject in this kind of long-form way – unless it’s for a book.

There are of course many examples of photographers who do this all the time, and it seems to me that they are increasingly funding their work through grants. I haven’t investigated this fully but from a day or so of online research I’m not convinced that I am going to fit into the various pigeonholes – I’m a journalist and certainly not an artist so surely arts grants are out. I’m not a charity so charitable trusts are out. And so on and so forth. Some people seem to seek support from relevant foundations or organisations in their field but there’s not point in me going to any regeneration bodies, housing associations or similar because they don’t tend to like my work in this field. I can’t think of other organisations which will have any money to spare – all the housing campaign groups I’m aware of seem to seek donations for themselves on their websites.

I’m still looking but it’s quite an alien world. When applying for these things you need business plans, budget forecasts and timetables. Then there is the question of dissemination. How can I get the work out there if no one will print the stories in the first place? And I still need to find a focus for the project. Overwhelming is not the word.

What is certain is that unless I find a solution, I’m going to be unable to do anything other than the occasional story – and even then I won’t get beyond the North West. I want to spend more time in the more far-flung – and for me forgotten – areas affected by HMR, such as Gateshead, Middlesbrough and Hull. But with university fees to pay later this year and another 18 months of studies to finance, even the train fares are looking unlikely. To do things properly I would want to spend a few days at least in each place. So for now the research continues….

Please check out my latest Street Fighters story, below:

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“No regrets”

Eve Maley, Stoke on Trent

Eve and John Maley lived in their Stoke on Trent home for 43 years. But the 19-terrace block (above) – overlooking a Victorian park – was condemned five years ago after council surveyors declared them unfit to live in.
The Maleys and their neighbours spent thousands of pounds of their own money fighting the authorities – fighting them through a public inquiry and several high court hearings. They reached the end of the road in November 2009, and the final residents were forced to move on.
Despite the battle taking five years of their retirement and costing £12,000, Eve insists she would do it all again.
The Northwood scheme is being funded through the government’s controversial Housing Market Renewal scheme.

** I have consolidated all my regeneration work – including four years worth of written pieces and more recent multimedia pieces – on a dedicated website, STREET FIGHTERS. Please check it out **

Streetfighters in the Guardian

I had a nice surprise today when I learned the Guardian Society blog was running a story on my Street Fighters project, after hearing about it through a post I’d written for New Start yesterday. I’m touched – and encouraged – by how nice they were about the work. I was starting to lose heart with it all again – I have phases where I really get fed up with the indifference I feel like I meet to all the subjects I cover and I’m going through one of those at the moment. My fault no doubt for picking unglamourous and rather ‘worthy’ topics but I frequently miss the support and instant feedback I used to get when working on daily newspapers. So thank you Patrick and Society for giving me heart. Now to find some funding because working unpaid while also studying part-time is not good for my mental state….