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The following fragment is taken from the field notes of Neil de Reybekill of Life Research, who conducted a study of attitudes to risk among young people in the Bletchley area of Milton Keynes.

“Freezing cold and gloomy again, but the grass and shrubs have been trimmed.
My previous visit left me with three images. First, a mother and baby outside a block of flats, mother squatting down in the sun smoking, the child asleep in the pushchair. Second, on the walkway between the low-rise blocks: litter, broken glass – were there syringes? And a dead rat.
The spaces between the blocks are paved and planted with all the appropriate bushes and defensive groundcover, but it is overgrown to such an extent that low growers were at head height or above. But that is not the third image. Third is the path which had been broken and beaten through these high bushes from one point on the paved way to a ground floor window – a regular escape or entry route.
Two of these elements figured in this visit. The bushes and paths had been tidied up. The access route was still evident although the bushes had been trimmed and bark chippings laid as a mulch between the patches of vegetation.
The mother and child are still living there, although in the middle of winter they were as happy to be indoors as we were to come in from the cold. Or, perhaps not. Sharon and Sam – her two year old son – have a bed-sit some 8ft by 10ft plus facilities, to live in. A double bed fills much of the space. That, a cot and a huge television (what more can a modern family want?) mean there is little room left for visitors.
Sharon is a Somalian refugee and aspires to better for herself and her child, but she is very isolated. Milton Keynes roads do not have pavements around here, so a mother and pushchair are in danger from cards bombing around the through routes. Granby residents are transient (“and criminal”, says Sharon), so she does not have much to do with them.
There are no facilities for children as this was not designed to be a block for young parents. Twenty-five year old Sharon sees only an isolated housing development that backs onto a modern industrial estate (whatever happened to zoning plans?) and lots of young parents who don’t speak to each other. Sharon has no social life beyond caring for her son. She has no more space than her 10 by 8. But she is positive about the SRB project that has set up a drop-in centre for parents and toddlers. “The most we’ve had so far is five mothers and children, but we are going to change the day and date to a more convenient time and hope that will help to get more to come.”
Not only Sharon is totally isolated for weeks on end, so is her son. Sam is unable to meet children of his own age in the complex as there is no space for children to play. In fact, there is no functioning social group for pre-school children whatsoever. If you are the only child of a single parent in this housing development, you are not going to learn to interact with other children or adults. This is not a good preparation for life in primary school. But what is the option?
Since my last visit I am sure that more windows have been boarded up. Sharon’s son has language delay – he stands six inches away from the TV screen and is over-powered by images – very intense interaction. Sharon mentions that Sam had never seen another baby, so, when he was around younger toddlers, he was quite forceful with them and had to be shown how to be gentle with babies.
For most parents, the environment of this small, seemingly attractive development, is too threatening to allow their children to play outside at all. Is this part of a paranoia bred of TV news and short, cold, dark days and all too little space? Only the cluster of wreaths and bouquets beside the newly trimmed rosa rugusa tell what no-one else would say. The inscription on one bunch of flowers reads: ‘For our darling son Andrew, who died here.’

Maybe the mothers are right not to let their children out to play.”


From → Policy, Practice, Research

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