Deprivation Amidst The Leafy Suburbs

Few areas of Leeds have as many contrasts as Moortown. Take a stroll down some of this north Leeds suburb’s leafy streets and you find yourself gazing at homes worth upwards of £350,000. Walk a bit further, however, and you will come across some of the most deprived areas the city has to offer. Meanwhile, employment has climbed by around 50 per cent in recent years. But the area also has an ageing population, with an above average proportion of pensioners. All of which throws up interesting challenges for the Government if it is serious about improving the lives of those who live here.

Carole Gosden, project manager of elderly charity MAECare (Moor Allerton Elderly Care), which covers most of Moortown as well as Alwoodley and Shadwell, says the area’s pockets of wealth often mask the bigger picture.

“There are lots of pockets of deprivation but because they are surrounded by leafy suburbs people don’t realise they are here.”

MAECare, set up in 1995, helps over 1,000 members with everything from gardening to giving them lifts to luncheon clubs and the shops, as well as exercise classes and a walking group.

“The trouble is that elderly people are not going out to work so they don’t have a social structure to go to,” said Ms Gosden. “We’re all the same. Whatever our age, we need other people and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. If you can get people out to a luncheon club, a social meeting, shopping, or just something to get dressed up for, then that is going to improve their mental health and general wellbeing.”

Despite its good work, the charity is forced to scrabble around for funding. Its Government-backed funding through the single regeneration budget has come to an end and the charity is now forced to look anywhere they can to secure the funds to keep going.

Ms Gosden believes the Government should recognise the important work done by groups such as MAECare and give them the financial support they deserve.

She said: “We have got terrific volunteers but their work has to be coordinated, which costs money. People believe in trying to help one another, but the Government has to play its part in terms of steady funding. I spend a lot of my time filling in grant applications for everything from Lottery money to Comic Relief. We need reliable sources of funding that we can depend upon so we can build for the future. We have seen a number of similar schemes across the city which have lost their extra funding and as a result had to cut back on some of their services.

“Our transport scheme in particular is desperately short of funding and if we were forced to withdraw that service we would feel terrible about it.”

On top of her concerns about funding, Ms Gosden also highlighted other areas of worry for the elderly. The insufficient state pension was the chief of her concerns but other issues such as public transport and the closure of post offices also merited mention.

“In terms of transport, in particular bus and taxi drivers, I think there should be much better standards of service – we need to make public transport more elderly-friendly. With post offices, I know that the bottom line has to be obeyed in private business, but when things change it becomes a hurdle to an elderly person. I suppose that is where we come in.”

A few years ago, the Brackenwood council estate in Moortown was beset by problems. Burglaries, vandalism, car crime, youths tearing around on speeding motorbikes and problems with drugs all made for a miserable time for residents. Slowly but surely, though, a combined effort by local people, the council and police helped to turn things around. However, members of the Brackenwood Tenants and Residents Association claim their efforts are increasingly being undermined by Government and council policy for allocating housing.

Great grandmother Joy Harrington, secretary of the group, said: “Most of my family live on the estate and I used to know lots of the kids here. If I saw a kid doing something wrong the chances were I knew him or his mum so I could say something about it. You can’t do that anymore because they are breaking up the community. My grandson and his wife have a flat here but if he wants to move the council can offer him everywhere but our estate.

“My son doesn’t live here anymore because he was told that if he wanted a bigger house he would have to go elsewhere. Houses are becoming available all the time but they are going to complete strangers. We see all kinds of people moving into the estate and some of them are bringing anti-social problems with them because they don’t know anyone here. Tony Blair says he’s all for the family and building up communities but he’s going about it all wrong.”

The view was echoed by Pat Gregory, vice chair of the residents association. She said: “The Government talks about sustainable communities but if families are more or less being told to move out then that is not sustaining the community. As an association we feel we do a lot of good in the community but it’s being undermined by the Government.

“The problem is that the housing is allocated according to a system which is arguably fair but which doesn’t take into account common sense. For instance, an elderly person who can’t manage very well in an upstairs flat will apply for one on the ground floor.
“But the computer doesn’t seem to take that sort of thing into account, so the downstairs flat will end up going to someone who is young and, although it’s not their fault, that sort of thing can cause resentment. We’re just asking for a little more common sense.”

Another key issue as far as residents of the Brackenwoods are concerned is what they view as the looming threat of council homes being transferred to private companies. They recently saw the running of their homes pass from Leeds City Council to an arms length management organisation (ALMO), something the council says it had to do in order to receive Government money to improve its housing stock.

Tenants now worry that they will be hit with higher rents if what they fear will be the next step – the complete sale of council housing stock – goes ahead. However, Coun Les Carter, executive board member with responsibility for Neighbourhoods and Housing, insisted that the council has never even discussed transferring housing stock to private companies and that any proposal to do so would have to be approved by a tenants’ vote.

He added: “The creation of ALMOs has not led to an increase in rent. ALMOs don’t set rent – it is set annually based on Government funding and council revenues. Rent has also been restructured at the request of central government to bring council and housing assocation property rents into line with one another.”

Coun Carter also defended the system for allocating council properties, saying: “The choice-based lettings system is fair and flexible. It is a transparent system with a clear set of rules which distributes property on the basis of need. Our officers give excellent advice to guide tenants and potential tenants through the system. The lettings policy is continuously refined as needs change and improvements are identified. It has the flexibility to allow ALMOs to introduce rules to meet a particular area’s needs, and make the most appropriate use of stock.

“If a three-bedroomed house contains only one person then we’ll work with that customer to find them a one bedroomed flat, freeing up the larger property.”