Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Report on Home Visits by Assistant housing officer – Tenancies commencing Dec 1970

No of home visits = 141
                revisited = 19
 The name of one elderly person was notified to the Secretary of the Livingston Old People’s Welfare Council.
One lady expressed the wish to help in the delivery of Meals on Wheels and also to visit an elderly person. Three people volunteered to help with work at Craig’ Farm. These offers of help have been passed to the agencies concerned.
On several visits, it was found that the tenant (and/or his wife) had given up jobs on moving to Livingston and have been unable to find employment. There are danger signs with one or two families and they will be revisited during February to assess the latest position. Young people are still finding difficulty in obtaining work. A call at the Department of Employment confirmed the fact that jobs are extremely scarce.
Visits to the Ladywell area proved to be much more time consuming that visits nearer the centre of the town. Tenants were eager to know everything there is to know about the facilities provided in the town and the activities. Mothers are still anxious about the schooling as it appears that even with the new school due to open in Howden in the near future, children from the same family will go to different schools at Primary level. The transport problem causes much worry to parents in the Sedgebank-Ryebank area. The service bus does not always arrive and the children are late for school.
Complaints have been few from tenants in Ladywell – no condensation problems reported from this area. However, tenants in Burbank complain of excessive noise from Potterton Warm Air Heating Units. The level of noise is not acceptable – it interferes with enjoyment of radio and television and causes unnecessary irritation in families.
Bison flats visited brought the usual complaints of dampness – these were all reported to the District Office.

Public Artwork was integrated into
many of Livingston's new housing areas

Stray dogs are once again causing a nuisance in the town.
A post card conveying the good wishes of the Development Corporation and offering to revisit homes is now being left at houses where the tenant is out when a call is made.
February 1971.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The New Town Blues

I am a bit pressed for time this week so I thought I would just write a short entry explaining the title – the New Town Blues. I was going to wait until it came up in the housing visitor reports but I’m going to have to jump the gun –
“I have been discussing the problems of loneliness with quite a number of tenants. This problem is known as the New Town Blues and is widely recognised.  Its avoidance lies in the development of a sense of community.”
This problem was oft commented upon at the time. New Town Blues came to represent hte isolation and loneliness people felt in this new town, cut off from friends and families, and, often even without a house telephone on which to ring home. The Livingston Development Corporation went to great lengths to combat the Blues (see the previous posts about the number of social groups that was started up in Livingston. The resulting community spirit is still felt today.)
Anyway, one specific attempt to combat loneliness at the time was the “Bureau for Lonely People” which was kind of like a dating agency but for those who only wanted friendship. Those who wanted to sign up gave their details and the Social Relations/Community Development Department kept an index on filing cards and matched up prospective friends. The Head of the Department, Leslie Higgs, was rather proud of his idea and it garnered nationwide press coverage, including appearing on the BBC. In the end, it matched up about thirty families. This bureau is also an example of the difficulties of using archives as evidence – you know it existed, but how do you prove it? After much scouring, in the end, I was only able to find a couple of brief mentions in our records, including these in the Corporations’ newspaper ‘Location Livingston’, in 1973:

Friday, 15 February 2013

Report on Home Visits by Assistant housing officer – Tenancies commencing Nov 1970

No of home visits = 112
Revisits = 19

Three names of Old Age Pensioners have been notified to the Livingston Old People’s Welfare Council and three people have expressed willingness to help in the delivery of Meals on Wheels. One lady has volunteered to assist an elderly person to cultivate their garden. This lady is a keen gardener but is now living in a flat. These offers of voluntary service have been passed on to LOPWC.
Livingston in the 1970s, many of the first residents moved to
Livingston from old Glasgow tenements and slum housing,
and to have perks such as private gardens and central heating was a novelty 

It is now obvious that a percentage of women work either part time of full time and that it is not possible to make contact with them during working hours. Perhaps evening visiting might be considered in appropriate cases.
The main complaints come from tenants in Bison flats who are “humbugged” by “dampness”. In most cases they are using their storage heaters properly and keeping their windows open slightly as they have been instructed – this does not seem to cure the trouble. The unheated bedrooms proves to be a source of trouble and tenants in some cases feel perplexed at having to provide extra heating. These cases were brought to the attention of the area housing officers.
There have been few criticisms this month but these are worth of note. One tenant pointed out that paint spattered over the woodwork is almost impossible to clean off (this applies mainly to thresholds) and that it is seemed a pity to spoil a new house by such poor quality painterwork. This must be the sentiment (if not expressed, certainly thought) by all housewives. Low fencing seems to create difficulties where people own dogs and there have been requests for permission to erect higher fences at the tenant’s own expense. One tenant suggested that the disinfectant used in washing the flooring in the Mall might be changed for one which is not like that used in public conveniences!

Planning for the Almondvale Shopping Centre. Craigshill is the residential
area seen in the background, much of the foreground has now
been developed into housing and commercial property.
For over twenty years there was constant construction
in Livingston and the landscape changed considerably.

It would appear that there is a shortage of jobs for the under twenties as well as part-time work for women and according to tenants, the Department of Employment & Productivity hold out very little hope of any immediate improvement. Two cases of men having given up their jobs to move to Livingston came to light. This could be a mounting problem with all its attendant difficulties.
Three homes were revisited because the assistant housing officer considered on her first visit that the women were unsettled and depressed. She is glad to report they all seem to be much happier mainly because they have now made contact with neighbours and have someone to chat to.
Once again, it seems obvious that people are doing their best to make a good life for themselves in the town despite the lack of the usual amenities tenants have been accustomed to in established communities. Children seem very happy at school and the Ladywell parents easier in their minds about the transport problem with the opening in the near future of the Howden School.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Good neighbours abound.

When our Assistant Housing Visitor talks of good neighbours abounding, they are not exaggerating. One of the striking things about the relatively short history of Livingston is the level of community engagement and action. Many of the first residents –  “the pioneers” - moving to Livingston from around Scotland from 1964 onwards, moved to a building site, a place of “dust in the summer and mud in the winter”. It was a town that had no established community; no established, groups or societies; no cafes, cinemas, parks, or sports fields. Yet by 1973 there were over 230 community organisations, one for every 100 residents in the town. Community spirit in Livingston had flourished.

A Department of Agriculture testing station until 1962, Howden House
was renovated in 1964 using a £64,000 donation from
the Carnegie UK Trust. It became Livingston's first community centre,
as well as the location for the board meetings of the Livingston
Development Corporation.

The growing of this community is reflected in the archives in a variety of ways. The first direct community action in Livingston was to save Craigsfarm, a 19th century farm and steading that  was located scheduled for demolition during the creation of the first residential district in Livingston, Craigshill. In 1966 the farm was saved by community action, led by Church of Scotland Youth Worker Max Cruickshank. The Church of Scotland bought the farm, renovated it, and then donated it to the community at a nominal fee. In the archives we hold the papers of the Reverend Dr James Maitland, first Church of Scotland Minister in the Livingston Ecumenical Experiment (which deserves its own blog post!). Maitland's papers contain correspondence regarding the  Church of Scotland’s decision to purchase and renovate the building (catalogued in the archive using the reference number WL26/1/14).
We also hold papers donated by Craigsfarm itself, which detail many of the activities that the community centre went on to perform and its vital place in the community – at various times it was to host a “rock school”, a community launderette to help the long term unemployed find work, a furniture restoration workshop, a cafe,  and of course many community rooms. As of 2013 Craigsfarm is still a functioning community centre.
James Maitland himself was a pillar of the community. His papers  include notes and draft chapters for his book “New Beginnings: Breaking Through to Unity”, published posthumously in 1997. These notes contain anecdotal stories of the early community spirit in Livingston where there was a sense of camaraderie that is perhaps lacking in many modern towns and cities. This community spirit led to the founding of a town Forum. The Forum was a voice for the early residents, a way to represent their views to the Corporation on how the town should be developed and what services were needed. Some of its news sheets “News Flash”, informing resident about what was going on in the area, still survive in the Craigsfarm collection. As attendance started to drop at the Forum in early 1970s it was decided to formalise the group and it morphed in to Scotland’s first community council – pre-empting the creation of community councils as the most local form of government in Scotland by two years.
As well as community spirit, there were many formal groups and clubs that grew up in Livingston. The Livingston Development Corporation contributed to start-up costs of many groups. The papers we hold on the “Minor Amenity Fund” reveal what clubs were given money. In February 1982 Lanthorn Junior Club Youth Club received £160 because “Activities that occupy young people should be supported” (LDC/PS/3/1/7/2) whilst a similar reason was given for the donation of £100 in 1981 to Nether Dechmont Outdoor Leisure Club which was “meeting the need of boisterous youth for adventure. Has great potential”.
Given the dearth of entertainment in the new town in the early years, in 1973 the Corporation set up the Livingston Sponsorship Committee whose remit was to attract professional acts to perform in the newly created Howden Parks Art Centre. This group ran for 8 years. From April 1980 to April 1981 the committee organised a folk talent contest, a piano recital, a performance  by Purves Puppets, a German Flute, Lyre and Drum Band, performances by Synthaxis Theatre Co of Hollywood, performances by the Pitlochry Festival Theatre Touring Company, performances by McAlmans, Boys of the Lough, the Scottish Ballet, and, to top it all off, a brass band contest.  

Noel Grimshaw of Livingston Development Corporation's Community Development Department. The Department helped many community groups to get up and running for over twenty years (behind him it is Howden House, again, Livingston's favourite photographic location...)

Not all community activity was spurred by the Corporation though. One of the major successes of Livingston in the 1970s and 1980s was the Livingston Festival, organised by the Livingston Festival Association which was made up of community volunteers. For a time this was the largest festival held in Scotland.

Livingston Festival Artwork, 1985
Many of those 230 community groups in Livingston were run by the hard work of volunteers with little or no money and with little or no resources. The vast array of voluntary groups required some organisation, and the sharing of expertise and sometimes limited resources to which end a Voluntary Organisations Council (VOC) was started in 1973. The Development Corporation collection contains many minutes of meetings and  correspondence with the VOC and, given their collaborative nature, their records provide a valuable insight into the nature, number and scope of voluntary organisations in Livingston during the 1970s and 1980s (LDC/PS/3/3/37/1-17.)

Just some of the community groups active in Livingston in 1973

These are just a few of the records we hold on the community and its spirit and activities in the archive – but they give a flavour of just how strong and active Livingston's community  was in its early years,  a legacy that is still felt today!

Friday, 8 February 2013

"Report on Home Visits by Assistant Housing Officer – Tenancies Commencing Oct 1970

"No of home visits = 103
Revisits = 34
All tenants seemed appreciative of visit and of being given opportunity to ask questions about local activities etc. The elderly, in particular expressed pleasure that the Corporation is concerned for their happiness in the new town, something which they say they did not experience in their dealings with other Landlords."

Hello and welcome to the first entry in a new blog by West Lothian Council Archives and Records Centre. This blog is going to use some of the archives we hold to try and give an insight into the early years of Livingston, West Lothian, as it was built from 1962-1996 by the Livingston Development Corporation. 

The blog is going to be based around the reports of the Assistant Housing Visitors who welcomed new tenants to the town from 1970-1978. The reports give a personal insight into a town that was only in its adolescence in the 1970s and had a variety of growing pains. The reports also record some of the vast social changes in Britain over the last forty years - this was still very much a time when women were meant to be "housewives" and men the "breadwinners".

From time to time we are going to explore some of the issues and themes raised in the housing visitor reports, hopefully to show how archives can be used for historical research, be it amateur or professional.

We hope you find this blog an informative and revealing look into the past, both of Livingston and of society in general . 

If you have any questions about Livingston and West Lothian archives please ask! More information on the Development Corporation can be found here here, on its archives here, and on West Lothian Council Archives and Records Centre here.

Now, back to October 1970 -

"A great deal of time has been spent visiting one very elderly gentleman who has come here from Rutherglen and wishes to be completely independent of his family (they are scattered all over the world). Unfortunately, he is not really capable of coping without assistance and the assistant housing officer is glad to report that several agencies in the town have adopted this gentleman. One of his greatest worries has been dealing with the “new fangled” gas warm air heating!! This confuses him and he worries about the possible cost. Social Security have been informed and are visiting.

Tenants who have complaints about their houses and who have not reported them to the Mall office have been urged to do so. Any case which has not been dealt with (in a reasonable time) has been discussed with the District Housing Officers and action has resulted very quickly.
Tenants in Bison Flats have complained about “dampness”. This is causing much distress, especially to mothers who have young children. If they have not been used to central heating, they are reluctant to accept that they must open very large windows to ventilate.
Burbank tenants complain of the noise from Gas central heating fans, and they do seem excessively noisy. Adelaide Street tenants are annoyed by the public using the pedestrian entrance way to the flats as a short cut to the Mall.
The local news sheets are obviously much appreciated and well read.
There are plenty of signs tenants of integrating into the life of the town quite quickly and 'good neighbours' abound.
It should be mentioned that a good working relationship with the Social Work team has been established."