Moving To The Byker Wall Estate, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Last year I moved home, into the Byker Wall estate in Newcastle Upon Tyne.  It’s a place that’s had its ups and downs, the downs leaving it with a reputation that at this time is undeserved.  Mostly, I’m loving being here.

Before I moved people gave me all kinds of warnings about the horrors of Byker.  They tried to dissuade me from moving here, told me to move to some other part of the city.  I’m sure I’d have liked those parts too – and somewhere like Fenham has more little shops that cook their own samosas and flat breads.

Close to the estate is Shields Road, the main shopping area in Byker.  Last year there was a list of 1000 shopping areas in Britain, ranked from best to worst.  Shields Road was on that list.  In 1000th place.  I think that’s completely unfair.  It has a supermarket at each end but still boasts greengrocers, small food shops, a butcher and a baker.  It has good charity shops, hair salons, some wonderful cheap cafes, Wilkos, and much more.  It’s a great street.  Not many places have somewhere as good, just a mile from the centre of a largish city.

The following is about the warnings I was given.  I confess I’ve exaggerated.  But not as much as you might think.  I also confess that people who know Byker or know people who live here – or are people who live here – had other things to say about moving here.  This is really about the bad reputation of Byker, lingering from the days of much higher crime and deprivation, of inadequate maintenance, of continued unfairly low funding from council services, and of characters like Rat Boy.

If I have time and can work out how, I’ll read this and get the audio posted to YouTube.  I want to do that with quite a few short pieces that are waiting to be edited (or not edited because I’m lazy) and posted here.  This writing probably works better spoken than it does on a page.

Big steps for me last night.  Big step one, I attended my first ever regular spoken word event.  It’s been running for 18 months and every month I’ve told one of the organisers that I hadn’t got the mental ability to go but would get there one day.  Big step two, I performed something in the open mic section of the night. This piece. Roughly.  In performance, words alter themselves.  Those are massive steps for me and I could write a blog post about all the stories I’ve told myself that needed to be challenged before becoming exposed on a stage with my writing.  All the things I told myself I couldn’t do.  Where do those ideas of incapability come from?  Perhaps that matters far less than challenging ideas and stories we irrationally believe.

 

Byker

Don’t you ever entertain the suicidal notion of moving there. Don’t be a fool.

It’s the walled, forbidden city.

All manner of evils lie behind the imposition of the wall.

Everyone’s a druggie. You can’t step outside without getting stung by HIV needles.

They said.

 

The wall’s full of criminals. You’ll be mugged, beaten, robbed.

You’re gonna end up dead. All gentle people die on those streets.

Or suffer worse fates, dragged into the rotting, mouldy, collapsed concrete infrastructure.

They said.

 

Don’t approach the wall. And don’t under any circumstance stray underneath,

Across the frontier between the civilised City of Sanctuary

Into the war-torn, no man’s land of the Wall estate.

It’s Beirut. It’s Aleppo. But worse.

They said.

 

Gangs roam the streets. Armed gangs.

They’ll shoot you. Gut you. Don’t go there. We fear for you.

Even ex-special forces veterans won’t live there.

They’re too frightened. And you? You’re just a wimpy nerd.

They said.

 

If you must go, just for a look, take protection.

Alarms. Company. Don’t dare to go alone.

Take a crack force of armed bodyguards on loan from the President.

But don’t go. Please. Stay safe.

They said.

 

And if you really must go, assuming you survive, make it quick.

You’ll see. Instantly. You’ll thank us for the warnings.

You’ll sign a sacred contract to warn others.

Move to Byker? Nobody would choose that dreadful fate.

Think you’ll survive? Sounding southern? Sounding posh?

You really think the scum of Byker will suffer a trans woman to live?

Not a chance. You face certain death.

Your epitaph will read, “She was warned.”

They said.

 

Over and over. The repeated reputation of an invisible estate.

Stubborn, I refused to listen.

I moved into that most notorious of death traps.

They were wrong.

 

Byker is sanctuary, beauty. It’s fragrant in unvarnished realities. It’s all kinds of poverty, full of the problems of the poor and dispossessed, pulling together into some kind of wonder. It’s multicoloured houses, stone lions, and community spirit struggling to grow in a world in which we are taught to be afraid of one another. It’s a place of artists and music where we’re all just about managing. If we’re managing at all.

It’s simple. Byker Wall estate? It’s the friendliest place in the country. And that’s official.

I moved to Byker.

I call it home.

There’s no fear.

Just overwhelming gratitude for my Byker blessings.

6 thoughts on “Moving To The Byker Wall Estate, Newcastle Upon Tyne

  1. Hi Clare
    I’ve had the same sort of reactions to moving to some of the poorest areas – Hexham Avenue in Walker, The Racecourse Estate in Houghton le Spring and my current home in Barmston Washington…

    In all of these places I’ve found warm communities happy to welcome those who will walk alongside their new neighbours and join in…

    In Newcastle we had to move from a fairly “posh” private estate, where I felt you would bleed to death in the street before anyone would help you to Walker. Someone was stabbed by a young man in the street but the whole community came out and saved the life of this stranger according to the paramedics who eventually arrived…

    I know where I’d rather live!

    Like

    1. Bridget Wilson Hall

      Like

    2. Hi, good to hear from you.

      When we moved to Newcastle we were given a list of places not to move to. Byker and Walker headed the list. I’m glad we moved where we did though for the sake of the nearby school. Not that Fawdon is exactly posh – I think it’s still the sixth poorest area of the city meaning it doesn’t get the extra council funding given to the top five and ends up worse off than them in some ways.

      Officially this part of the wall has the highest crime level in Newcastle. I looked. And there are some problems with antisocial behaviour which is unsurprising given wider issues in society. I was chatting with someone from the community trust recently about the projects they want to start that should lessen ASB but not at the expense of the people participating in it right now. Perhaps I should send her this web address. From a person who likes Byker.

      I’m loving it here. Loving the view from my bedroom window. Loving starting to find out what goes on in the estate including the amazing community centre. People too. Always people.

      And of course the ease of getting places – I can’t forget my love of being so close to Metro and several dozen buses an hour. That too is a selling point.

      Byker is great. Then again, when I still did churches, I generally preferred the more “working class” congregations – and the people around me in the Jesus Army in the mid 90s where many had been “under class”. Those churches were often richer in relationship and community support. I may just have gone to the wrong posh churches though!

      Like

  2. Hello
    Ive lived in Byker 8 years now, it def has problems but Ive heard similar warnings to you and its not the case. Sure if you look for trouble and live a troubled life you will find bother. But Ive also been surprised by accepting and friendly people are.
    Ive had periods of having to deal with problems but Im still here willingly. and happy. And I dont exactly fit in with the regular look round here, Ive been described as looking ‘arty and gay’ (I had to admit that was quite right lol) and I go round head up and making no apology and have been fine. Ive befriended unlikely people who have surprised me with their acceptance and relaxed attitude to someone quite different to them.
    I live in the actual wall near the Metro and its been great me for me, hope you will hav a similar feeling.
    Anyway , I could go on but most of what I would say would be easier said than typed, so if you ever see me say hello, Im usually in my trilby (furry warm hat atm) and Dms and frock coat, There cant be many of that around. I hope haha
    Some of those warnings are so funny, simply does not tally with what I have found.
    And there are good opportunities to get involved in the community to feel more mixed in.
    Shields Rd even has a vegan fast food place now!
    Good luck in your new home, A.

    Like

    1. I was thinking of someone this morning, trying to remember his name. The name that came into my mind was Andrew. He may be you. If so, we’ve already met – starting one evening in Broadacre when I was having a rough time, more recently at the community centre when I wasn’t. Say hi to me too. I’m a lost and lonely newbie to the estate. Or something.
      The line that got the biggest laugh in the Cumberland the other night wasn’t one of the exaggerations.
      If that is you, I’ll see you around. If not, I’ll probably say hi to every random trilby wearer I see.

      Like

  3. I moved to Byker from Scotland back in December. I got told the exact same warnings, that it wasn’t safe to bring up children here etc. And so far I can’t say I’ve had any concerns or worries. Compared to my hometown, Byker is lovely! Definitely more community spirit than people give credit for.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close