Socialist Worker

'There's nothing for these kids to do'

Salford is one of the most deprived cities in Britain. It is also in the Asbo capital, Greater Manchester. Tash Shifrin visited the Lower Broughton area of the city and talked to local residents and young people. Pictures by Jess Hurd

Issue No. 1930a

THe spike Island tenants committee

THe spike Island tenants committee


Lower Broughton in Salford is a community ripped apart by anti-social behaviour. Streets have been left devastated and derelict, community members dispersed. Rows of wrecked houses awaiting the demolition squad back onto a lumpy green wasteland. The place is a ruin.

Virtually every house is boarded or tinned up in Lower Broughton’s Kempster Street. Some of the boards carry a message: “Everything of material value has been removed.”

But this is not all that has been removed from this street - the tight-knit community that once lived here has largely gone too.

You would need military hardware to do something more anti-social than this to a neighbourhood.

Tony Blair claims anti-social behaviour can be tackled by slapping Asbos on menacing youths and troublesome adults. And Salford council is very keen on Asbos.

Salford is the 28th most deprived local authority out of 354 in England - and Broughton is its most deprived ward. The city is in the Greater Manchester police area, which has seen twice as many Asbos handed out than Greater London.

Encouraging the Asbo spree is Hazel Blears, Salford’s local MP and former councillor. She is also the government’s Asbo minister.

Salford has dished out 113 Asbos, nearly three quarters of them to under 18s. A total of 42 have been breached, 27 of them by children. The council is unable to say how many people have been imprisoned as a result.

But this destroyed community will not be rescued by Asbos. Kath Tyson, who still lives in her well kept house amid the wreck of Kempster Street, says, “I blame the government and the council. They’ve let the people down.”

Mess

There were 11 fires in the street in the week of Bonfire Night. But Kath says the local kids didn’t create this mess.

The council and the government have let the terraced streets - a mix of council and private houses - be systematically run down for 15 years.

The houses are good brick Victorian buildings with real slate roofs and York stone in the cellars. They would cost a fortune somewhere trendier. But here they have fallen into disrepair and will soon be knocked down.

“They could have been OK if they’d had investment,” Kath says. “I was after a repairs grant in the 1990s and they kept refusing. Now I know why.”

The wrecked buildings are a draw for bored youngsters. “The kids have been getting in. They come round at night and smash the windows,” Kath explains.

“But why didn’t the government foresee this? They’ve pulled everything down, left nothing for the kids. The nurseries and the schools went - they’ve just left the people. There’s nothing for the kids to do.”

There’s nothing for them when they grow up, either, she adds. “They should have kept apprenticeships alive, but they didn’t. My grandson had a hell of a job getting work - he’s 24.”

The council says it now has a plan to rebuild the area after knocking down Kempster Street and neighboring Earl Street.

Public and private sector housing is to be regenerated in “partnership” with Countryside Properties - a private company that made a £12.6 million profit last year.

Close community

But it’s too late to save the close community that lived here. Kath’s husband was born in the house she lives in 63 years ago.

His parents lived up the road, two daughters opposite, another in the next street and her grandson nearby. Now families like Kath’s are scattered.

“What they should have done before they started emptying is build somewhere for us to live as a community,” Kath argues.

It isn’t hard to find the local kids. They are watching an armed police raid across the main road at the Spike Island estate, made up of council houses from the 1960s and 1970s.

They know all about Asbos. “I’ve got one,” says 14 year old Shaun (not his real name) quietly. “Mine’s for criminal damage. It was on an old house, smashing it up. It’s shit, proper boring. I’m not allowed to hang around with more than three people or I get nicked.”

“I’m banned from the estate over there,” he explains, pointing in the direction of the boarded-up houses. “If the police PNC me (pull me up and check my details on the Police National Computer), I’m fucked.”

Darren (not his real name) says he’s got an Asbo too “for the same as him”. He is just 11 years old.

Kelly is a few years older than Shaun and a mother of two small kids. She says, “There’s nothing for the youths to do. There used to be a youth club, but it’s gone.”

“The police are pricks,” Shaun says, angrily. “They didn’t give me another chance. They didn’t ask why I did it.”

Hoodies

It’s cold, but Shaun says there’s a good reason for keeping his hood down: “They’ll PNC you if you’ve got your hood on.”

“If he’s a male with hoods up and gloves, then they’ll say he’s up to something,” explains Kelly.

Apart from the estate, the only place to hang around is a park, but the kids call it the “paedo” park. “People are raped down there,” says Darren.

Shaun doesn’t like the park either: “I wouldn’t walk through there on my own.” The only way he’d go there is with his mates, he says. “But then I’d be nicked because of my Asbo.”

Kelly says the police put round leaflets with the details of those who have been given Asbos “saying grass on them - but round here, we don’t grass on people”.

“It’s a close-knit community. There’s no racism and I’ve never even been burgled,” says her friend Tasha, who is black and also a young mother.

Young people have fought back against the police, Kelly says. “There have been riots here where people have bricked the police. But they come round here harassing the youths because they’ve got the power.”

She would like to see a few grand spent on youth clubs - one for teenagers and one for under-13s - instead of them sitting around on street corners drinking: “Every Friday and Saturday night they’re all getting drunk on WKD and vodka.”

“I was in hospital on Friday through drinking,” says Shaun. He has been kicked out of two schools and now gets just two hours education a day: “You don’t learn nothing.”

Childcare

Kelly and Tasha says they would both like to go to college but can’t, because there is no childcare for their toddlers. You have to go into town on one of the infrequent buses even to use the internet, Kelly adds.

Several of the local lads say they also have Asbos, while others, like 12 year old Robbie (not his real name), say they are on final warnings. “It was just for being naughty in the street,” Robbie says. “Playing tiggy-it in someone’s garden, daft things.”

Down the road is a “community house” where the Spike Island tenants’ committee gathers. Freda Rimmer, Debbie Prince, Mal McFarlane, Madge Kelly and Mary Preston are there with cups of tea and toast. They talk about what anti-social behaviour and crime means on the estate.

Debbie gives short shrift to Asbos. “They’re crap. Most of the time they don’t work. It makes it look as though the politicians are doing something.”

“It’s flavour of the month with Tony Blair,” says Freda. “It’s the same as when he said fine people on the spot and take them to the nearest cashpoint. I thought, ‘Where are you living, Tony?’”

Full of warm wit and humour, the women respond to a request for a photo by pulling their own hoods and collars up, mocking the authorities’ image of people from the area.

The police, they agree are “everywhere - except when you want them. Then it’s two or three hours.” But they say the crime is petty stuff and joyriding, not violence against people. “There’s none of that,” says Mal, “nor any housebreaking.”

Mugging

One or two pensioners have been frightened when local youths “whizz about in cars”, they say, but Mal adds, “There’s never really been any mugging here. I wouldn’t say anyone lives in fear.”

Some of the women started a youth club on the estate a few years ago and got small grants from the council. But when it became too much for them to run as volunteers the council did nothing to bring in paid workers.

Youth and community workers in Salford are just as frustrated. “There’s a real problem with resources,” says one. “In Broughton, maybe three or four years ago, there were 25 detached youth workers. That’s all gone now.”

The nearest youth club now is too far for the Lower Broughton kids - and there are now no “outdoor” youth workers on the street in the whole of Broughton, he says:

“Compared to an Asbo, that’s cheap, really cheap. And you can target the group rather than stigmatising an individual. But councillors and MPs want a front page with an Asbo.”

Tony Ormonde, a Unison union rep at a Salford school, sees kids’ behaviour problems at work. “I’m personally opposed to Asbos,” he says.

“People want to start looking at the causes of crime as well. Asbos don’t frighten the kids at all. As something to deter the kids, it doesn’t work.

“The biggest single cause of petty nuisance and crime is that all the facilities have been shut down - including some primary schools and high schools.”

A swathe of schools across the city have been closed or merged over the past few years. Tony says this has increased exclusions, as displaced kids struggle to settle after being shunted to a school outside their area.

Lower Broughton lost both a primary and a high school. And there’s a closing down feel at the one remaining corner shop serving Kath Tyson’s desolate street.

Running down

It’s an old fashioned shop, with the goods on shelves behind the counter and big jars of sweeties. Ebenezer Adesile, known as Ade, opened up in 1972. He is still here, unable now to sell his shop, slowly running down his stock.

Within four or five years of his arrival the council announced plans to pull the housing down, Ade recalls. More houses once stood on what is now bumpy wasteground:

“Families were there - teachers, people who helped maintain the area. At one time the people around here were a kind of community, they combined to make something between them.”

But when the council came and “smashed the community up” the area changed, he says.

Now there are problems with vandalism and stolen cars, but Ade has also known all the local kids since they were born. “They do give you a measure of respect,” he says.

At about 9.45pm we find the Lower Broughton boys sitting in a row on a low fence bordering the wasteland - there’s nowhere else to go. They joke and chat, and compare London to Salford. Like everyone we meet in Broughton, they are friendly and easy to talk to.

But their primary school, secondary school and youth club have all been taken away from them. All that seems to be on offer for them are Asbos.


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