In my Liverpool home
First Published 15 September 2016
Ricky Tomlinson on how the city’s community spirit has gradually been eroded since his childhood in Halewood.
I grew up in Liverpool, in a two-up, two-down council house. There were six of us with my parents and my three brothers. The front door opened on to the pavement and the toilet was at the bottom of the yard. We weren’t allowed in the front room so six of us crammed into the back.
I started work as soon as I left school. My three brothers had jobs. Both my parents worked -it was the culture. Mum worked until she was into her 70s. You had to work, trying to do the best for yourself and your family. I’m still working at 69 and my eldest brother has just retired at 71.
I ended up going to jail from 1973 to 1975 and I used to count the bricks in the wall. When I had done that seven days a week, I started to wonder what I would do if I had a million pounds. All I wanted was security and a roof over my head. I have a four-year-old grandson and feel guilty that I spend more time with him than I did with my own children. When they were growing up, I was out working on the building site from 8am until 6pm.
But that’s the way it was and people had a lot of pride. I remember when Mum was 86 she was still scrubbing the front doorstep and cleaning the windows. There was a great community in those days. In places where there’s social housing left, there’s little community spirit. Few local shops remain and they’re closing post offices left, right and centre.
Nothing is wrong with social housing.
I wouldn’t say to my next-door neighbour, ‘What do you do for a living?’ It doesn’t matter to me. But stigma does exist and it’s undeniable that some estates are dreadful. You can put as many police as you like on those estates but nothing will change. You need new estates with better facilities so people can have pride in where they live. People want to live in a good environment and if you give them something, they will look after it.
I have just been to a place in Liverpool where there are three council-owned multi-storey blocks with lovely facilities for pensioners.
They asked me if I would come and cut the ribbon. A woman said to me, ‘we’re made up to see you here -we’ve even given up our bingo session for you.’
In the 1960s, we all moved to flats and the community disappeared. Nobody knew anybody. I was raised in Halewood, which was pretty rough, but within that mile radius there were 12 boys’ clubs.
We went out three or four nights a week and it kept us off the streets and out of trouble. I made a TV programme recently in Halewood but none of the clubs remained. The houses might be nicer now, but there’s nothing for kids to do and no jobs.
We should be giving kids clubs to go to -boxing facilities, running facilities and more parks. Put the facilities there for people to use. The pub is all there is. Kids go out to the pub, get drunk and cause all kinds of trouble.
I get angry when I see that so many people have become homeless this year because they can’t keep up with their mortgage payments through no fault of their own. They have been laid off or made redundant.
As an ex-builder, I can’t understand why there’s anyone in this country without a home. There are tens of thousands of brownfield sites, a quarter of a million building workers on the dole and brickyards, timber yards and suppliers full of stuff that they can’t sell. So why can’t we build the homes for people? We’re talking about three million unemployed. I could put 250,000 of them back to work tomorrow!
The government doesn’t seem to care. The working class built the country and they deserve better -housing should be provided. We’ve spent billions in Iraq so why can’t somebody build homes to bring our children up in?
For anyone who’s got kids, that’s all you want. Where you live and how you live is important. You shouldn’t knock social housing and blame people who live there for all the ills. We have a responsibility to the people who live in these conditions to help them do something about it.
Ricky Tomlinson is an actor.