Barry Dwyer, Senior Lecturer in Management, GSBL, firstname.lastname@example.org
We grew up in ‘social’ housing rather than ‘council’ housing, as our flat in Acton W3 was owned and managed by the ground-breaking Notting Hill Housing Trust, now known as Notting Hill Genesis (https://www.nhg.org.uk/), founded by the legendary Bruce Kenrick, who also founded the iconic housing charity Shelter (https://www.shelter.org.uk/). My Dad would sometimes give me the rent money in cash and send me around to their offices to pay it in.
‘We’ were my Mum, Dad, and three sisters. As the only boy, I was lucky and got my own room, whereas my three sisters had to (reluctantly) share. In their eyes, I was always considered to be ‘spoilt’ as a result – I suppose I was! Before the flat, and before my time, my Mum and Dad lived in temporary rented rooms in the Ealing W5 area, in at least two different locations. Getting a permanent flat would have been a dream come true for people like them, newly arrived from the Republic of Ireland with little money and poorly paid insecure work. Eventually, they both worked in full-time permanent jobs, my Mum with the General Post Office (GPO, the forerunner of British Telecom, BT), and later in local government, and my Dad with Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, as a mechanic, in their depot in Acton W3, and later as a school caretaker. Working full-time and bringing up us four would have been hard work, very hard. Our street had few cars, allowing us to play on the street, but one fine day my Dad bought a car (a second-hand Vauxhall Victor), and people came out of their houses and flats to see it – we felt like celebrities!
At some point, our flat was ear-marked for re-furbishment, so we were offered an identical flat further down the same street, and we moved. A few years later, the same thing happened again, and we moved again, so we lived in three different identical flats, in three different identical blocks, on the same street, first in number 18, then number 6, and finally in number 39. Three addresses in one small street – is this a record? When my sisters and I eventually moved out (we are all home-owners and parents now), and my parents died, the flat at number 39 was returned to the housing association, and although I rarely find myself in that part of London, I often wonder who lives there now, and how different their lives must be to ours.
Growing up on our street meant playing outside all day, in the days when kids played on the street. We even put on plays and performances for our neighbours, in the street! We knew everyone, everyone knew us, and we were all friends, whether black or white, or boys or girls. A boy who lived opposite became my best friend (he later emigrated to Hawaii of all places and ran an art gallery), his elder sister became my elder sister’s best friend, and we are all still in touch, some 50 years later.
A small park was nearby, and when we weren’t on the street, we were in that park, larking around until all hours, especially in the Summer, when games of football or cricket would go on until dark. A girl in my class at school played in the park too, we often sat on the grass and talked, and everyone said we were in love. Maybe we were. I still hear on the grapevine about old friends from those days, where they live in the world, who they are with, what they do. One or two became quite famous, one as an iconic DJ, another as a professional footballer. Tragically, I sadly just heard of an old friend from those days, one year younger than me, who had recently died of complications from epilepsy – he was star as a kid, a great footballer, a tough fighter (yes, we had fights, but always made-up afterwards), a great runner, and left behind four kids of his own. Although I hadn’t seen him for over 30 years, it was still very sad news.
Around the corner from us, on a main road, were some derelict houses, which we played in and called ‘the broken-down houses’. A quick search on Rightmove will show that these houses are now worth over £1million+ each. Any sociologist observing us growing up in our flat, on our street, and in our park, would have categorised us as lower working-class, leading culturally depleted lives, yet our lives were abundant, caring, joyful, carefree, and we felt like millionaires, just like the countless numbers of other kids, now mature adults, who grew up in similar circumstances to us.