It was a bank holiday on Monday. Maybe that’s why I read so much of The Guardian. Anyway, three articles rang bells, or possibly the same bell with me.
There was an article about the Post Office suggesting the most ‘desirable’ postcodes in the country were SP9 (Tidworth), GU46 (Yately) and CA27 (St Bees). Now I’ve been to Tidworth, it’s on Salisvbury Plain and it’s dominated by a huge army camp. No wonder the crime level’s low!
I had a very good curry in Tidworth. The army does a mean curry – it’s all that time they spent in India. The curry was served on Royal Doulton china with silver cutlery … out of camouflaged field flasks, in a leaky lecture theatre. It was a very strange mix that seemed to echo Britain’s confusion over its place in the world. But that’s another story.
The postcode story was really about the 40th anniversary of the introduction of postcodes, but their list sparked a number of articles.
Paul Mason then used a list of the ‘best’ cities in the world to argue that Melbourne and Toronto might have low crime rates and high educational attainment, but are boring. He argued that cities need things like a grassroots arts scene, a share of sleazy bars and a tradition of protest to be really interesting. He cited Barcelona, but I think Leeds would come close although its too far from the sea and too cold for his liking.
I was reminded of the Leeds List article which put Beeston and Holbeck as one of the least desirable places in the city to live. This was based largely on crime and deprivation statistics rather than actually living here.
When I talk about the area South Leeds Life covers: LS10 and LS11 (postcodes eh, what did we do before we had them?) I describe the area as the ‘unfashionable end of Leeds’. I choose this word carefully. There are definitely fashionable parts of the city and they are generally in north Leeds.
I’m involved in a charity that works with young people across the world. Most the families in the Leeds branch live in North Leeds: Headingley, Adel, Bramhope, Moortown and yes, Chapel-bloody-Allerton. When I go up to North Leeds I’m struck by two things. Firstly there is street after street of large houses with gardens and hedges. Secondly the streets are empty. There are cars zooming about, but there’s no one around. It’s quiet, too quiet … and it’s boring.
But these places are fashionable. They have low crime, ‘good’ schools, which fuel house prices and everyone knows that high house prices mark a ‘better’ neighbourhood. Depending on your point of view it becomes a vicious or a virtuous circle.
Now before someone labels me a poverty tourist like the girl in Pulp’s ‘Common People’, let me say I don’t think “poor is cool”. I may have moved to Beeston because of low house prices, but I’ve stayed (it’ll be thirty years next month) because it’s an interesting community. It’s interesting because it’s diverse, not just ethnically, but economically, educationally and everything-else-ly.
The more attentive amongst you will have noticed that I’ve only mentioned two articles from Monday’s Guardian and I promised three. The third article was about the distribution of government funding cuts across the country. We’ve referred to the budget cuts Leeds City Council is facing elsewhere on South Leeds Life. I’ll remind you that the council has lost £175m over fives years – that’s about 40%.
The article quoted our own Hilary Benn, in his capacity as Shadow Communities Secretary, pointing out that: “Councils covering the 10 most deprived areas of England – measured according to the index of multiple deprivation– are losing £782 on average per household, while authorities covering the richest areas are losing just £48 on average.”
I would call it a postcode lottery, except there’s no element of chance involved. Every government rules to the advantage of its voters and this government is ruthlessly pursuing an agenda of slashing local government. Its communities policy is to replace support for the poorest in society with free market loan sharks and zero hours contracts. Leeds and especially South Leeds is suffering as a result.
Some of you might have been expecting me to comment on the Rotherham child abuse scandal. I was going to, but yet another Guardian writer, Suzanne Moore, has said pretty much everything I wanted to say. I recommend you read her column.
I’ll be back in next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.