Last Friday Leeds-List published an article called ‘Best and worst places to live in Leeds’. Beeston and Holbeck featured on the list, but for my money in the wrong section. The article kicked up quite a storm on Twitter. Leeds-List were criticised by people who like the area (and Seacroft and ‘Studentville’) and by others for lazy journalism.
I think their problem was that the way they posed the issue set one neighbourhood against another. In defending Beeston, I found myself wanting attack Horsforth. “We’ve got an older historic building than you”. Apparently “LEEDS-LIST.COM is all about showing off what a great city Leeds is to live in” and as you’ll have guessed by the title, they do like a list. I was invited to write a response to the article and did so I hope they use it.
People choose to live in a neighbourhood for all sorts of reasons, including not having a choice. What is true is that property values are low in Beeston and Holbeck and the area are unfashionable. The same is true across most of inner city Leeds. Phil Kirby has called it the ‘doughnut of despair’ which has a certain ring to it (geddit?) but in its own way this is just as trite and broad brush as picking three areas to call ‘worst’.
I sometimes (often) feel schizophrenic talking about the place I live. On the one hand it has so much going for it: green spaces, good if expensive transport links, proximity to city centre facilities, good schools, many and varied community organisations and events. On the other hand, and especially when writing funding bids, most of the area is in the 20% most deprived areas in England with poor health, fuel poverty, food banks, low educational achievement and high crime rates.
Which is it? – well it’s both.
Thirty years ago my Other Half and I decided to buy a house. After looking around the choice came down to Beeston or Chapel Allerton (I know! Chapel-bloody-Allerton!). The difference in price was £10,000, not a lot now, but more than half as much again and for a smaller house. I know lots of people who have been drawn to Beeston because houses are affordable. These are people who see beyond Location, Location, Location and don’t mind living in the unfashionable side of town.
The low house prices lead to an interesting mix of people coming into the area. It’s led to a large private rented sector to go with the council and housing association properties. A lot of people move in as tenants because they can’t get a house in more ‘attractive’ part of the city. Asylum seekers are placed in the area, they don’t have a say in where they live.
Other migrants gravitate here because of the cheap(er) rents and then because others from their home country are here. It’s been happening since the industrial revolution. First drawing in people from the countryside, then Irish, Jews, South Asians and Eastern Europeans. Many of these groups put down routes hence the catholic churches and the mosques. Over time sections of these communities have become more affluent and moved out to the suburbs making room for the next wave.
People social housing are often rehoused when they have problems. It might be that losing a job has led to mortgage problems and they’ve lost their house. It might be ill-health, or a relationship breakdown. They get a house, they gradually sort themselves out, perhaps using the many services in the community, get a better job and move out.
These patterns all lead to something called ‘population churn’. I’ve talked about it here before, it causes difficulties in schools because you don’t get to work with the same children throughout their journey through school, children are always coming and going. It makes housing expensive to manage because letting and re-letting properties use a lot more staff time than managing a tenancy. It has consequences for litter and anti-social behaviour because people aren’t buying in to the community – they don’t plan to stay.
But churn also enriches the community. We have shops where you can buy every curry spice you can imagine. Where I can discover the delight of dried, salted broad beans as a snack. Asylum seekers and refugees get a very bad press, but many of these people are highly skilled. You need skill, enterprise and probably money to get out of the world’s war zones, I’ve met doctors, professors and engineers who have so much to give.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.