Sunday 23 January 2011

A Tale of Two Villages

I just went to visit my Mum and Dad. They still live in the same house I grew up in, surrounded by many of the same neighbours, using the same hairdresser, the same village store and the same butcher that they always used.

The house is in a nice little village in Sussex - hardly the badlands. I'm sure there are some official figures, somewhere that show the residents are in some upper quartile of the blah blah earnings blah with high housing demand and above average blah.

But figures never tell the full story do they?

In the optimistic wave of post war improvements of the late 40s and 50s, the village went from a few genteel rectories and Georgian piles to become one of the largest villages in the country. Streets of social housing appeared - built sturdily around nice village greens with horse chestnuts and elm trees to climb.

These were joined in the 60s and 70s by a maze of less aesthetic boxes, but were quickly crammed with eager residents. The streets I grew up in were equally populated by the "worthy (read working) poor" and total scallies. Ducking and diving was a way of life, fights broke out over wheel hubs and abandoned mattresses, and street parties held us all together with trestle tables and community spirit.

But scallies many were. If Shameless could ever have been set in the South East (?) It would have been filmed on our estate. My school was rougher than a cat's tongue and I think more 13 & 14 year old girls got pregnant than took their GCSEs.

I knew a boy who had his own car and the boot was crammed with knives and nunchuks and scary looking  spinning orbs set with blades. Another boy I knew shared joints with his 10 year old brother. Many went to prison and others disappeared.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, most didn't have much and we were usually only a dodgy look or a knocked pint away from violence. Nothing much has changed. I'll take you to my old local if you like, it's an eye opener I tell you. Actually I probably ought to take David Cameron and George Osborne - firstly because they might learn something, and secondly because I'd love to see them that scared.

When we arrived, there was a parish magazine laying on my Mum's coffee table. Like many others, the village has held together so successfully over the years, only because Cameron's Big society was already alive and kicking. Church groups ran the local youth group with just a little state assistance, elderly ladies ran flower shows and fetes - the neighbours still mow my (now elderly) parent's lawns every week and look in daily to check my Dad hasn't had a fall. Charity collections and stunts can be so regular that it's easy to forget if you're donating for the new playground or the teenage "Extreme Wheels Ramp" or a new roof for the village hall.

And I quote from the magazine :

"It's crunch time for our village Youth Centre after some 70 years of operating, the County Council looks set to pull the plug and close the facility in March 2011 as part of its cost-cutting/savings measures. This alongside the proposed closure of the Youth Wing in the next village, sadly looks like a broadside attack on our rural villages and our youngsters.

It seems the decision has been taken by WSCC to make some 2m of savings on the Youth Service"

It concludes with a weak appeal to the Big Society. "Will you save it yourselves?"

Maybe they will, but they can't save everything, and it's clear that there just aren't enough hours in the day. The church groups, the home-care volunteers, the willing-mowers and neighbourhood watchers are finally starting to realise that if they want the dog-pooh picked up or the youth centre to stay open or the sick to be cared for then they need to do even more. Cuts are no longer something that will happen "to them" they are becoming something that will happen "to us".

My laid back, non-political husband wondered if closing Youth Groups was altogether a good idea at a time police numbers are to be slashed and schools are being cut back. If you want to explain to your elderly, Telegraph reading neighbour or boss why some cuts might be a slash too far, then surely that innocent question is a good start?

Young people with nowhere to go, tricky home-lives and little educational aspiration will soon be vandalising slides and smashing windows and daubing filth on pristine sheds. If we tell them they're worth nothing to us, they will become their own caricature. Before you can say ASBO, that previously concerned community becomes torn apart, fighting against one another, no longer pulling together.

Some cuts save nothing. They just open up a whole hornets nest of trouble.


  1. A very interesting post Sue. In my area, Cowdenbeath, Lochgelly and Benarty we have had very strong community. However since the 80's its been falling apart. Basically it started when the pits closed, that tore the heart out the community, it pus most people on the dole but worse, places like the miners institutes, the pubs, the churches and Co-ops died along with the pits. That was the biggest damage, all those places had been community hubs. 25 years ago there were 5 church of Scotland, each was a community, each had a hall and the halls were used by groups such as cubs, scouts, brownies Guides, Boys Brigades etc, youth clubs flourished in them. Now we have one church serving the whole area and this can all be pinned on the last Tory government. They ripped out the jobs, they destroyed out community, the guides, scouts cubs, youth clubs etc all went. However we were recovering and just one example was TIBAL. Its was a charity set up by the churches and other faith groups. It meant Together in benarty and Lochgelly. We had youth clubs, football, we worked in schools, we set up various clubs, we had sex education, condom distribution, drug rehabilitation. It was great we were making a huge difference but of course it costs. Sadly we are no discovering that Camerons big society really is the big con. We;ve run out of money, no more is coming in, we;ve applied to various sources but we need thousands and the money is just not there. We had a meeting 3 weeks ago and basically if we don't get fund by March then we'll close meaning job loses. youth club closures, drug projects ending and School trips over. The Tories almost destroyed out community in the 80's and 90's but we fought back. They are back and and about to finish the job they started back then

  2. It is so important to invest in Young People.

    The savings obtained by funding early intervention, to keep the young and those vulnerable families on the straight and narrow, and ensure that all teenagers know the value of education are amazing.

    Letting people slip through the net often leads into a life of crime, often inflicted on others, poverty and more and more children born into a spiral of decline.