1970s

Posted May 2nd, 2011

Large-scale housing demolition was still in full swing as the 1970s began.

One of the streets depicted in the 1971 film ‘Get Carter’ (Frank Street) fell to the bulldozers shortly after being filmed. However as the decade progressed, there was shift towards a new policy of improving homes where feasible, rather than resorting to wholesale demolition, and a significant part of the old terraces was saved.

Many active residents associations sprang up in this period to defend the homes that could be saved, and to fight for more sensitive re-housing policies for those whose homes were destroyed. As people were re-located on the new housing estates such as Buddle Road, they often took their experience of community organising with them and set up new tenants associations in their new communities. In the terraced areas that remained, new residents associations were also set up. Their main aim was to ensure better living conditions in these older housing areas by fighting for housing and environmental improvements.

The redevelopment schemes of the 1960s and 1970s also had an impact on the patterns of shopping and social life. In particular, Scotswood Road was transformed from a busy street of shops, pubs and churches at the heart of a dense residential area into a sterile through route intended to enable vehicles to travel into and out of the city centre as efficiently as possible). Further north, on Adelaide Terrace, many of the existing shops were demolished to make way for a new concrete shopping centre. This was labelled a white elephant almost as soon as it opened and, after remaining more than half empty for years, was eventually demolished in the 1990s.

Meanwhile the rate of job loss continued to accelerate. By the mid-1970s, employment at the Vickers factories along the West Newcastle riverside had fallen to little more than 3,000 – less than 16% of the previous wartime figure. The Vickers Scotswood works closed altogether in 1979, despite a lengthy campaign by the workforce, supported by their colleagues in the other two local Vickers factories – Vickers Elswick and Michells.

This story can be repeated for other factories in and around the area. The 1970s were particularly disastrous years for local employment. During the last two years of the decade, for example, almost 1,500 jobs were lost from the eleven biggest local employers – representing a decline of 22% – and two of these eleven had closed altogether. Not only were thousands of workers thrown on the scrapheap during these years but the rising generation were left in many cases to face long-term unemployment or dead-end jobs.

One of the factory closures during the 1970s was the famous sanitaryware makers Adamsez, whose toilets adorned bathrooms across the nation. Adamsez had been a family firm until the 1960s when it was sold to new owners who appeared to want to keep it as a going concern. Prior to the sale, a new managing director had been brought in to knock the company into shape for a profitable sale. He sacked 40% of the workforce in a brutal manner. The new owners, who were from the booming fringe financial world of the 1970s, turned out to be interested in quick results rather than investing in the company to update its equipment and processes. When it failed to perform as hoped, they closed it down in 1975 with the loss of 170 jobs.

It is not surprising that by the early 1970s Benwell and Scotswood had been officially classified as an area of deprivation by being allocated a local Community Development Project (CDP) as part of a national programme which was Britain’s first and only poverty programme and its answer to America’s War on Poverty. The Benwell CDP was given five years to research the causes of poverty locally, and to try out ways of tackling this at a local level. The Project’s research showed that the social and economic problems of the area were rooted in de-industrialisation: too many jobs were disappearing from the area and most jobs were in the low-wage, low-skill service sector.

Following the CDP, the west end of Newcastle has experienced a long series of special national initiatives. These have gone under a string of different names – urban policy, inner city policy and most recently regeneration policy – all of which have tried to tackle the bigger problems of poverty and industrial decline by putting in limited amounts of money at a local level.

Benwell and Scotswood benefited from the Inner City Partnership programme, which started later in the 1970s and continued for over a decade. This was was an annual fund which financed many of the community-based voluntary organisations still active in the west end today, and therefore has had a significant and enduring impact on the community infrastructure of the area. In many cases, it provided the resources to allow local ideas developed by local people to be put into practice.

The community of Scotswood has a long history of community action, self-help and voluntary work. It was Scotswood residents who set up the first credit union in the morth east, for example. The original Scotswood Tenants Association campaigned vociferously in the 1970s for improvements to the estate, and later ran the Tenants Hut which provided a lunch club, children’s activities and other community facilities. Fergusons Lane Tenants Association was set up later on to represent residents from the upper part of the estate. It set up its own premises, which are still in operation today as the Fergusons Lane Hut, providing a community meeting place and also volunteer-run activities and services for almost a hundred older people a week from across the west end.