|Issue 15 - September 1973|
|The Kids Aren't Alright|
|On the afternoon
of Thursday 16 August, I was sitting having a quiet read in the sun
on the balcony of my luxury 3rd floor penthouse council flat in Bessemer
Park, Spennymoor, when I heard a hell of a din coming from the direction
of the town hall. It sounded like kids singing 'We shall not be moved',
so I thought I'd see what was going on.
In the car park at the back of the town hall there was anything from 50 to 100 kids, with a few mams and dads, all equipped with banners and good strong lungs. One of the banners read 'Baths YES, Bingo NO'. Very sensible, I thought, so I asked someone what was going on.
A little girl told me that they were protesting to the council because they wanted a swimming baths in Spennymoor. She explained that at one time there had been five cinemas in the town (but that must have been 20 years ago, I could only ever remember two) but now there was nothing but bingo halls and pubs - in fact, nothing at all for kids (there are two well equipped youth clubs, but lots of kids don't like being organised). While I was talking to her, and a Mrs Gee who explained that the kids all had their parents' support, the noise was getting louder and louder, but still no-one in the town hall seemed to have heard.
Eventually the kids got a bit sick of waiting and stormed the town hall. Most of them were stopped but a few managed to corner the town clerk who shakily told them that the council were to hold a special committee meeting the next Thursday and that the committee would consider the kids' petition and allow them to attend the meeting as long s they kept their mouths shut (children should be seen but not ... etc). The kids weren't very satisfied with this and nearly brought the house down by chanting "All a load of rubbish".
After threats of removal by the police, the kids decided to make their presence felt elsewhere and marched round the shopping centre and up the main street three times, stopping to take up a platform on the empty market stalls where they entertained the shoppers with a medley of football songs with the words changed to sit their protest. I asked lots of people what they thought of it all and most of them seemed impressed by the kids using their own initiative. One old lady said "I think it's about time the bairns took it into their own hands but they shouldn't have to".
Most of the kids were from Bessemer Park where they can't see anything but concrete (even the swings and climbing frames are embedded in it) and the park is on the other side of the main Newcastle / Bishop Auckland road. This stretch of the road is very fast with only one badly placed crossing so most kids can't go to the park unless their parents take them.
Well, why the demonstration? Spennymoor is a large industrial town with a population of over 40,000. The main employer is Smart and Brown with over 8,000 on the payroll.
A swimming baths is really needed. Anyone who wants to go to the baths has to travel either 5 miles to Bishop Auckland or 8 to Durham. A baths would be really well used. So why isn't one being built?
Well, a few months ago, a swimming baths was rumoured to be on the books but what finally emerged was squash courts and some general purpose halls. Even though a swimming baths is more necessary, this complex is better than nothing. But then more rumours started to circulate about why it had been decided to build this complex instead of baths.
The local factories, especially Smart and Brown's, try to cultivate a paternalistic attitude towards their workforces. They encourage all kinds of (non-political) clubs, especially of the sports variety. Naturally, the firms don't want to spend too much money on such activities. They don't have to. By being major ratepayers, rumour has it (but only because of libel laws) they can bring pressure to bear on the council. For example. About 10 years ago the council decided to build 3 football pitches a couple of minutes' walk away from the town centre. Smart and Brown gave a £5,000 'donation' towards the development on condition that they would have first option on the use of one of these pitches. The football field has a permanent groundsman who is paid about £30 a week, and the council maintain it (grass-cutting, goals and nets, pavilion, marking out etc). Smart and Brown pays about £10 a season for these services. So for a £5,000 down-payment 10 years ago and £10 a season, Smart and Brown has 1¼ acres of fully maintained land with facilities near the town centre. The rest of the town has to make do with 2 pitches for the popular Saturday and Sunday leagues etc.
So, rumour has it (yet again) that a possible reason why the squash courts etc complex is being built instead of a swimming baths is because Smart and Brown wanted it that way. Most people think that once the complex is built, they won't be able to get into it, due to it being almost always fully booked by Smart and Brown. Thus the ill feeling against it and the anger at the decision not to build baths, especially from the kids who know what chances they'd have to use the squash courts and the halls.
We haven't found out anything to substantiate these rumours, but all rumours have some truth in them and some rumours a lot of truth.