Regenerating Blackburn. The Fight Against Child PovertyThis essay forms an accompanying narrative to a two-minute media presentation.Child poverty in Britain is a growing problem. Successive governments have recognised this and have attempted to tackle it wi th a variety of initiatives andpolicies, yet current figures suggest that child poverty levels are still rising.The causes of child poverty are not confined to one issue, although one particular statistic, released from Rt. Hon. Ian Duncan Smith, Minister for theDepartment of Work and Pensions, is rather startling.‘1.9 million children grow up in the UK in a home where no-one works. Which is roughly 1 in 6.Higher than almost any other European country, despite the UK being one of the wealthiest.’ Smith, (2011).Child poverty isn’t just about financial poverty. There are many reasons and arguments as to why children are seen as b eing in “poverty”.One such argument is that these children are born into an ‘underclass’ that is welfare reliant, spurning the opportunities of work and education andpreferring, instead, to be kept by the welfare state. This was the view of Charles Murray, an American writer, as cited by Moore (2001). Murray argues thatthere are three features that often are used to identify members of the underclass. These are, a high level of illegitimacy and lone parents, a lack ofcommitment to work and high crime levels, in particular theft and violent crime.Many people who study social science strongly reject the ‘underclass’ theory, as it blames the individual for their situation, rather than the circumstances ofpoverty itself. The ‘culture of poverty’ approach is preferred instead, as it states that it is learnt behaviour in childhood, which means that individuals cannever escape the poverty of their parents. This was a theory first put by Oscar Lewis, also cited by Moore (2001).Are any of these arguments valid?Shadsworth Estate in Blackburn was recently the focus of a BBC TV documentary, which examined a perceived ‘underclass’ mentality among its residents.Shadsworth is a large, former local authority estate, which is now operated by Twin Valley Homes. It was built in the 1950’s, on the Eastern edge ofBlackburn. Together with its own schools and shops, it was typical of many similar estates that sprang up nationally around the same time. This was in
response to the implementation of the findings of the Beveridge report, which identified a need for new housing and schools to help alleviate the ‘fivegiants’ of Poverty. The documentary highlighted ‘problem families’ on the estate, and showed households that were entirely welfare dependant. Itinterviewed several young people who saw paid work as unnecessary and pointless. The documentary also highlighted how drug related crime was an issueon Shadsworth Estate, with drug dealing appearing to take place relatively freely outside what was left of the shops on Ballentrae Road. Is this an accurateportrayal of life on this estate, or was this documentary merely sensationalising the problems for the purposes of ‘good’ television?I grew up on Shadsworth Estate in Blackburn. I spent the first eleven years of my life there, living at 4 Brodick Road, and received my education at the threeestate schools, Shadsworth Infants, juniors and High school until I left full time education at the age of 16. During my time at Shadsworth High School, I wasable to enjoy the benefits of the newly opened Shadsworth Leisure Centre that had been built onto the side of the high school , including the swimmingpool, sports hall and squash courts. Shadsworth High School had the finest facilities of any of the schools in the borough, with the leisure centre operatingas part of the school during school hours. Sadly, despite these fantastic facilities, Shadsworth High School eventually failed, alongside the decline ofShadsworth Estate. Even the Church of England seemed to turn its back on Shadsworth, with the closure of Church of The Redeemer, the Parish Churchwhich opened in the mid 1970’s, forging initial strong links with the high school.My parents both worked, although my mother did take some time off to look after me before I went to school. She then gained part-time employment inShadsworth infant school kitchens. My father initially worked as a shuttle maker for the cotton mills, but following the decline of that industry, became aPostman, eventually working for Royal Mail for over 37 years until his retirement. One of my earliest childhood memories is looking through the frontwindow of 4 Brodick Road, waiting for my father to return home from work on Christmas day, so that I could open my presents. Back then there was apostal delivery on December 25TH. This picture of two parents, both in paid employment, is very different to the one portrayed by the BBC TV documentary.My parents were among the original tenants who moved onto Shadsworth Estate in 1955.These first residents formed a new community that, for the most part, were house-proud and sociable. Status wise, they were ‘working-class’. Income wise,they would have equated to living below todays poverty-line income of under £17000.00 per annum. How then, did Shadsworth Estate decline from what itwas in 1955, to the estate that we see today? And, are the problems on Shadsworth Estate unique? Or have they been repeated i n other areas ofBlackburn, and beyond?
In her introduction to her book “Poverty Street” Ruth Lupton paints a very similar picture to the one of Shadsworth Estate in describing the problem s of“Bridgefields” estate, Lupton (2003). Bridgefields is, in fact, Higher Croft Estate, off Roman Road in Blackburn. Ruth changed the name in her book to avoidfurther ‘stigmatising’ the area, and its residents. She catalogues a story of decline almost from the estate’s birth in 1974. From the early 1980’s, estates such as Shadsworth and Higher Croft were experiencing extreme poverty, and there were many social problems. Many ofthe “decent” families had decided to move out, juvenile crime and anti-social behaviour were rising, and these estates gained unwanted reputations assettlements for “extended criminal families” Lupton (2003).Why did this happen?It is true to say that there was a decline in the ‘traditional’ cotton mill industry around Blackburn from the mid 1960’s, however, this was partly off set bythe rise of local engineering firms, which sprang up on the edges of these two estates at around the same time. I talked to my parents about it, and theiraccount is of the council making poor decisions in granting housing to known ‘problem families’ on the estate, in an attempt to ‘educate’ them intobecoming better tenants. All this policy did was to ‘drag down’ the estate and force the decent tenants out. These problem families were ‘socially illiterate’.They had no interest in keeping their property in good order, and no consideration for other residents on the estate. My parents told me of one familywhom the council had to move out periodically, whilst they fumigated and redecorated the inside of their house, before moving them back in. Anotherexample is of the council workmen arriving to replace all the internal doors to a property on Portree Crescent, due to the original ones being broken up andused for fuel for the fire.Such was the decline on Shadsworth estate, my parents made the decision to move away. In 1977, they transferred to Heys Close on Livesey estate, which,along with Higher Croft, was the last large council housing development in Blackburn. They subsequently purchased their home, following the ‘right to buy’scheme brought in with the Conservative government from 1979. Unfortunately, the problems that befell Shadsworth and Higher Croft have, to a certainextent manifested themselves on Livesey estate, with anti-social behaviour and crime becoming ever more an issue for residents.Looking at the problems on all of these former council run estates, one can see a familiar pattern emerging. Homes were built and the initial families movedin, forming a new community. Due to social mobility, and other factors, a few families move on, and a few socially dysfunctional families replace these.These new families cause more of the original settlers to move away, to be replaced by more socially dysfunctional families, and so the cycle continues. It isin these families that we find a high proportion of children who are deemed to be living in poverty.
In recent times, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council (BwD) has sought to address the problems of child poverty by providing funding for severalinitiatives. One such scheme is the Shadsworth Children’s Centre, on Shadsworth Road. Here is an extract from the latest Ofsted report that describes thefacility.Shadsworth Childrens Centre Nursery was registered in 2008. It is operated by the local authorityfrom three rooms in a purpose built designated Childrens Centre, situated along the main road inthe Shadsworth area of Blackburn. Children have access to a large landscaped, enclosed outdoorplay area. The nursery is open each weekday from 8am to 6pm for 49 weeks of the year,excluding bank holidays and additional closure days.The nursery is registered on the Early Years Register and the voluntary and compulsory parts ofthe Childcare Register. A maximum of 60 children may attend the nursery at any one time. Thereare currently 69 children on roll, some in part- time places. The nursery supports a number ofchildren with special educational needs and/or disabilities and children who speak English as anadditional language. There are 17 members of staff, of whom all hold early years qualifications tolevel 3 and above.(Ofsted report 29.02.2012)Similar community projects are underway in one form or another on other estates throughout Blackburn, such as Livesey Community Centre andGreenfields Community Centre, which is adjacent to Green Lane Estate.
All these projects are attempting to give the parents and children in these areas opportunities to combat poverty by providing centres of education, freenursery places, and a drop in facility where community relations can be forged and built upon. All of this is backed at national level by the government’sSure Start programme.Within a three-mile radius of Blackburn Town centre there are 13 sure start children’s centres, providing free children’s services to families with thegreatest need. The government hope is that child poverty can be targeted at an early age, and that the continuing battle against child poverty can beaddressed.Child poverty remains a big issue in Blackburn, but with local and national government schemes in place it is now being tackl ed head on. There is clearly stillmuch to do. Housing regeneration is still on going, with many of the older terraced housing demolished, and being replaced by new housing schemes. Someof these new housing developments are shared equity schemes, where the houses are part owned by a housing organisation, and the remainder mortgagedby the tenant. An example of this type of development can be seen at Lock 54, in the Infirmary area of Blackburn. As with the earlier ‘right to buy’ scheme,it enables lower income families to become homeowners. The theory behind home owning is that it improves an area, due to the residents becomingstakeholders in it and, thereby, taking more pride in its appearance.Refurbishment and remodelling is also taking place on the large housing estates now operated and managed by Twin Valley Homes. Some houses havebeen demolished to create more open spaces on the estates. New leisure and recreation areas have been developed to help ‘soften’ the previously starksurroundings. One example of this is the Arran Way, a recreation area and nature trail on the border of Shadsworth estate and its neighbour, Knuzden. A‘log land’ adventure play area has been created alongside sympathetic landscaping, pathways, fences and gates. The overall re sult is very pleasing on theeye, and helps to blend Knuzden and Shadsworth in a rural setting.This kind of urban regeneration can hopefully be another vital measure in helping to combat child poverty, as families are taken out of squalor and placed ina fresh and safer environment.Lessons from the past have, hopefully, been learned. As it is clear, new housing alone is not the answer, and this has has been clearly illustrated byShadsworth and Higher Croft estates. It is also by investing in children and parents who are deemed to be in poverty, by education and opportunity, whichthe government hopes will finally break the cycle of poverty and increase social mobility.
BibliographyLupton R. (2003) Poverty Street Bodmin. MPG BooksMoore S. (2002) Social Welfare Alive 3rd Edition Cheltenham. Nelson ThomasSmith I.D. Teather S. (2011) A New Approach to Child Poverty: Tackling the Causes of Disadvantage and Transforming Families’ Lives. Norwich. TSOwww.ofsted.gov.uk Ofsted report 29.02.2012 (URN22671) Online.