Ada Lombardi bought an end-of-terrace property in Hull in late 2006 but on the day she was completing on the sale, the local authority was signing off a different kind of deal – the demolition of her new house and hundreds of others in the immediate area. The area progressively emptied, until – in January 2009 – Ada was the last occupier on her row. To say she is unhappy would be an understatement. She and her daughter Camilla – who dropped out of university in Brighton because she was so worried about her mum – feel unable to leave their house unguarded for any length of time. They say there is constant vandalism and fear that one day their home could be burned to the ground. As if that’s not enough, the demolitions which are going on around them are adding to the stress. Ada’s health is fragile and she says she is only prepared to move for what she feels is a fair compensation settlement. She was recently told that the homes directly opposite hers in this photo will be demolished next month.
I had a heartbreaking encounter yesterday that is still weighing heavily on my mind a day and a half later. Widower and war veteran Elijah Debnam will be 90 years old in June and has lived in his home in Derker, Oldham, for the best part of six decades. There is now a Compulsory Purchase Order on his terraced property under the town’s Housing Market Renewal regeneration scheme and he is being pressured to move out. Not one brick has been laid under the scheme so far in Derker. The one thing Eli – as his friends call him – dreads more than anything is ending up in an old people’s home. I am sure there are many other very elderly people around the region who share his sentiments, but many are afraid to speak out.
The Big Issue in the North kicked off a series of regeneration stories from me today with this piece about Alicia Rose, a very unhappy homeowner in phase three of Liverpool’s Edge Hill/Wavertree renewal scheme. Weekly from next Monday there will be three larger features on aspects of the Housing Market Renewal scheme – looking at the Welsh Streets in Liverpool, at West Hull and also featuring an interview with consultant and academic Brendan Nevin, architect of the programme. A number of other stories will hopefully follow, looking at some of the other communities I’ve visited lately, and those which aren’t being published in that sense will appear on my blog. After a long lull, HMR has been in the national comments pages over recent weeks, with Matthew Engel at the Financial Times and Charles Clover, formerly of the Telegraph but now at the Sunday Times, also taking another look at the scheme. Nevertheless I’m finding it impossible as ever to get any national commissioning editors interested in anything that I’ve put forward.
To read the Big Issue story, click on the image above….click on the links down the right hand side of this blog to hear out other stories from my home/castle project and check back for more…I’ll be putting one or more onto my blog each week.
I have to say, I find it quite unbelievable that these Victorian homes in Bootle, Merseyside, are being condemned to demolition to make way for boxy little new builds (having seen them I can attest that some are truly hideous). But it’s happening and the few remaining residents were served with Compulsory Purchase Orders about 10 days ago.
The three I met – Pat and John Dunn (pictured above) and their friend John Gillespie (below) are determined not to be bullied out of homes they have lived in for decades and raised their families in. For them the issue is not so much financial – they simply don’t see why their homes should be snatched away from them under the Housing Market Renewal scheme. Before Christmas, the plans for the area were criticised by the Commission for the Built Environment (CABE).
I wish them the best of luck in their fight and will be watching carefully as their battle moves towards a public inquiry.
I’ve been tweaking the other sections of my website a little and have now got around to uploading a small selection of my street fighter portraits on the photo page (click the pic above). The first audio/photo profile went up on my blog a few days ago (HERE) and more will follow shortly. This project is consuming me at the moment….yesterday it took me to Merseyside for something like the fourth time in a month, and on Saturday it’ll take me to Cumbria. It may well only be of interest to myself and the people who are directly affected by these issues. Feedback would be welcome.
Maureen and Terry Walsh are pensioners from Derker in Oldham. They’ve lived in their house almost all their married life but learned a few years ago that their terrace was going to be demolished under the government’s Housing Market Renewal scheme, which aims to tackle what ministers and some academics say are failing housing markets in areas of the North of England. The couple – not natural activists by any stretch of the imagination – were part of a group which challenged the Compulsory Purchase Order in the high court on various grounds where they believed mistakes had been made. They reached the end of the road in October when their case was rejected. They must now start looking for places to move to, but like many in their situation – especially those who have paid off their mortgages and are now retired and on a fixed income – they complain that low compensation payments will put them back in debt, or into social housing. This is a common complaint: why can’t we get a house for a house.
People who know me or my work will know that urban regeneration is a subject I’ve covered a lot as a writer over the past three or four years. Well, since I’ve become more interested in photography it seemed natural to continue with what has become something of an organic project for me in a more visual way. I’m not sure I’m necessarily achieving this, but over the past five months or so I’ve been busily visiting people all over the north of England who have been affected in some way by publicly-funded regeneration schemes. In that time I’ve been from Manchester to Middlesbrough, Liverpool to Hull and many places in between. So far I have 25 portaits and audio interviews, each of which I’ve edited down to a few minutes long. I think most of the people I’ve met so far would say they have lost out as a result of what they’ve been through – but this project is far from finished. I’ve simply started with who and what I know….I hope balance in that respect will come with time. I hope, of course, to get this work published once it is ready….certainly a few of the individual stories have already been used in different ways. It may be of little interest to many people but I want to do the individuals I’ve met the service of getting their voices ‘out there’. I think that is important in itself.
I’m not claiming to be objective or scientific, but hopefully some will appreciate its value as a document. I’m wavering beteen titles – Street Fighters has a nice ring to it but isn’t appropriate for the more positive stories….Home/castle is the most neutral I can think of for now.
One thing I can’t help wondering when I visit these urban wastelands – many of which have been largely tinned-up for five years plus now – is what the future holds. These Housing Market Renewal or HMR-inspired projects rely on large chunks of taxpayers’ money, as well as PFI involvement from volume housebuilders. Neither central government nor the building industry are exactly cash-rich at this point in the recession. Not to mention the fact that houses just aren’t selling at the rate they were when Pathfinder was conceived. With people unable to get mortgages it begs the question, who are we building for .
Two things seem to be happening, from what I can tell. In some areas houses are just standing derelict and presumably will continue to do so until market conditions improve. In other areas vacant homes are being demolished and land banks created for future development…by developers known or unknown. Meanwhile, thousands of people are stuck on housing waiting lists in towns and cities across the country. It just doesn’t make sense.
With developers left, right and centre putting projects on ice until market conditions get better – and a likely change of government around the corner – it makes me wonder what is going to come over the next year. These are not areas with potential Tory voters, and given the huge spending cuts on the horizon, surely it’s unlikely HMR will continue in its present form if (or when?) David Cameron wins the next election. What will that mean for Anfield, Oldham, Salford and the like? I can’t quite see how this is going to have a tidy ending….perhaps we are seeing, for all the good intentions of some of the regenerators, a return to the dereliction and social blight that marred many of these neighbourhoods during the 70s and 80s.