My earliest memories of my formative years are mostly of those from the 1980s, when my family lived on Malvern Avenue, part of an estate on the borders between Hapton and Padiham in Lancashire. A quick search on Google Streetview shows me that our old family home is still standing – although the estate is looking much more manicured than it ever did in my childhood. I wonder if it is still all social housing or if there are more privately owned homes there now? The playpark, which was situated directly across from our front door, is also still there (although, again, looking much less like the death-trap it was in the 80s) as is the plentiful greenbelt that surrounds the estate, something I took for granted as a kid! I now appreciate that not every child living on an estate has the luxury of running wild on a field when the horse trials aren’t taking place.
The estate included accommodation for senior citizens and my mum served as their warden – visiting them twice a day on her ‘rounds’ and being on-call 24/7 via an intercom that was positioned in our living room. On school holidays my brother and I would sometimes go on the rounds with her, primarily enticed by the promise of sweets (one of her service users always had Quality Street – an absolute decadence that our family only purchased at Christmas) but also I think we both enjoyed the fact that we had so many adopted grandparents to make a fuss of us and ask us about school. I think this experience has definitely stayed with me and inspires a passion for intergenerational ministry in the Church to this day.
My brother and I attended the village’s tiny Church of England/Methodist Primary School, which meant journeying everyday up the steep hill into the ‘posh’ part of the village. We often received some gentle teasing from schoolmates for living in ‘Legoland’ (the imaginative name given to the estate due to the not-so-attractive pebble dashing on the houses) but I don’t remember minding too much, because the estate was a fun place to live. There was a significant number of families living on the estate and we all called the other children’s parents ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle’. Childcare was shared and there was a palpable sense of community, whether it be the regular raids on my mum’s kitchen once she’d done a bit of home baking, a whole gang of us working together to chase down a neighbour’s escaped dog or my friend’s dad giving me a lift to Brownie’s on the back of his motorbike when my dad had to work late. My memories of that time all feel rather wonderful, viewed through the rose-tinted glasses of childhood – I wonder what it felt like for the adults around us?
As I approached my tenth birthday lots of things changed rather rapidly, my baby sister was born, my dad got a new job in a different town and my parents ventured into the scary world of mortgages and home ownership. It took me ages to forgive my parents for uprooting me from the estate I loved – although I now appreciate the enormous sacrifices they made in order to give us a bigger home for the expanding family. Even after the move and the new house we weren’t – by any means – a wealthy family. I did manage to go to university through a combination of government grants (I am very grateful they were – only just – still a thing when I applied), student loans and saving up my part-time earnings.
I really like the expression “muddle class”, coined by the comedian Jason Manford, to articulate who I am today. I would not change my upbringing one iota – the hard work (of both my family and me) that went into getting to where I am today makes me appreciate it all the more. And, as much as I enjoy a nice meal out somewhere, I’d readily swap it any day for a bowl of my mum’s corned beef hash (her go-to when money was getting tight – it could feed us for days!). Most importantly, my roots as a council estate kid inspire me in my youth work and I have a special love of those young people who are often overlooked or written off because of where they live. I currently do volunteer youth work for a local free church, working with teenagers from a large estate in the town I now live in, and I love every second of it. I’m proud to be a small part of the NECN movement.