South of the River – Bottom of the list?

Compass-SouthComment logo 2What makes a neighbourhood a good or a bad place to live?

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.

Jeremy Morton Aug13So living here is contradictory. It has problems, it can be challenging, even depressing, but it’s always interesting. Personally I prefer that to a bland safe suburb.

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.

8 Replies to “South of the River – Bottom of the list?”

  1. Am not sure I would give Leeds List too much credibility for reliable journalism on the social realities of the city. At the end of the day they’re just a guide to the latest trendy cocktail bars for their target audience of hipsters and the advertisers bankrolling them.

    So a naive young writer came up with a groundbreaking piece about how leafy suburbs are nice whilst anything working class is dirty and horrible. Best just smile, nod and forget about it…

  2. I love South Leeds, love Belle Isle and Holbeck. Am excited by all the small ventures we have like SLATE and Cafe Me’n’u, Aberfield Gate, and many more. But have no worries being low on a list. It’s like our secret, outside of South Leeds they think we don’t have much to offer, but little do they know.

  3. Just give me nice friendly neighbours here in Beeston/ Holbeck over anything other parts of the city have . I’ve loved it here for almost 40years now.

  4. I found the article more interesting in the absence of reference to potential, most lists of this type do. It would’ve been interesting to read about recent investments such as the new supermarkets and private housing village in Middleton.

  5. I can understand your point on this Jeremy. When I met my partner Louise some 14 years ago she came to my house and asked to watch Eastenders or one of the other soaps on tv, to which I replied “Nope – if you want to see drama then just open the bedroom window and look outside. This is Miggy and there’s more going on here than on the tv!”
    That wasn’t meant as a critcism of Middleton, just as a basic fact and it’s why I always loved living here.
    Of course, now that I’m a bit older I’m glad to have moved into a quieter street, but it is that vitality that would probably stop me from ever moving away.

  6. Don’t take “serious” journalists too literally or seriously unless you know them as competent. I’ve lived all of my life south of the river. With a few exceptions we tend to be nice people living in a nice area. North of the river has its slums. Parts of Harehills are worse than any part of Beeston.

  7. Honest, thoughtful piece Jeremy. And the comments above reinforce your point.

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