Popular Politics Project
Interview transcript: Carole Bell
Date and place of birth: 1947, North Shields
Interviewer: Elizabeth Burn
Date of interview: 22 November 2011
Location of interview recording: Tyne and Wear Archives
Italics used for editorial voice of interviewer
E: Right Carole …where were you born?
C: I was born in North Shields
E: … What date?
C: 1947 and we moved…it was slum clearance. We lived in terraced property that was really dated, so we moved up here when I was about between 5 or 6 years old
E: So that’s the Meadow Well?
C: Onto the Meadow Well Estate, it was actually called the Ridges Estate at that time.
E: Was it?
E: And when did it change its name?
C:…em they changed its name…we’ve been modernised three times, the estate’s been modernised three times, and the first time they did the regeneration they changed the name to Meadow Well.
E: Can you remember when that was?
C: Oh, it’s got to be about 25, 26 years ago.
E: So it was before the riots?
C: Oh yea, a long time before the riots.
E: So what were you doing when the riots started?
C: …I was a single parent
E: How many children?
C: I had 4 children… and I used to work in a sewing machine factory.
E: And you were living on the Meadow Well?
C: And I was living on the Meadow Well Estate and because I was living here, you know, you got used to having no street lighting. You got used with burnt out cars and all the rest of it. But me youngest son started to get into trouble
E: How old was he?
C: At that time he was 12
E: And this was what 1991?
C: At the time of the riots… he was 19…but the reason I got involved was because he was starting to get into trouble
E: He was younger, so this was before the riots?
C: Yes, he started to get into trouble and I thought …all his friends, all his age group, it was like we’d lost a generation of young people
E: So this was in the 80s?
C: Well, the late 80s yea, so that’s when I started volunteering of the Estate, to find out…and I was quite amazed at how many active women there were on the Estate at that time…when I got involved there were quite a few projects already set up
E: Such as?
C: Well we had, the Credit Union was set up. We had the …Meadow Well Resource Centre- which was a group of people running a food co-op…and we also had (the) Cedar Wood Centre, which was run by a priest, which is actually still going now, run by a priest, you know, trying to help people out of poverty and there was another section of the Estate we had a training company- they were all run by local people
E: And it was mainly voluntary?
C: It was voluntary. They did get grants for workers, but the …active residents were voluntary.
E: So you were quite active before the riots?
C: I was just …coming up to the riots I’d started getting active yea.
E: So, ….what happened when the riots happened?
C: Well… should I tell yer how I found out about the riots?
C: …I was sitting at home, me husband used to go to sea, cause I meet me new husband at this time…
E: So, you’d re-married?
C: I’d re-married…and he rang us and he went “Carole what’s happening on the Meadow Well?” And I went “nothing” And he said “It’s on the Home Service, you’re having a riot there”. And I went “really?” I opened me front door and seen the flames, and that was the first I knew about the riots…it was horrific, I mean young people running around with sticks and things, but I do think it gets portrayed worse than it was, because it was…the Community Centre that got burnt down. It was a couple of shops, but when you see it portrayed on the television, the burnt out houses, they were there before the riots- a lot of the destruct (ion) and everything that was on…they were pictures…that’s the way we were living before the riots.
E: So did you speak to the press? Did the press speak to you?
C: No, I kept well away from the press, I think what happened then is we had organised so many people would speak to the press, so that you know…the press can turn your words and some of the activists had been trained in how to deal with the media… so it was allocated that…so just so many of them would speak.
E: And then what happened?
C: After the riots?
C: Em…I just got involved in all kinds of things and …we started, obviously consulting with residents, to get the Estate back on its feet again. There was a huge consultation took place.
E: With whom?
C: With the police. I think the police accepted a lot of the responsibility for the riots
E: Did they?
C: As did North Tyneside Council, because I mean we were living with no street lighting…you reported repairs, people weren’t coming out to do them. Even the police, you reported a crime and nobody…they had like ‘it’s just the Meadow Well’ attitude. (5 mins.)
… And that is the stigma we’re STILL trying to fight (for) today. ‘It’s only the Meadow Well’! So ….there were lots of consultations started and every street had a meeting with the police…lots of money came to the Estate, obviously we got Estate Action money, we got City Challenge money, …this Community Centre was built with City Challenge money
E: And when did this Community Centre open?
(see Annual Report 2011, Meadow Well Connected).
C: The community centre’s been open 18 years now…so I think we had to build up trust with …the residents did not trust the Authorities anymore and it was building that trust up that was the first step and I keep saying, when I seen what was going on in London: “Why aren’t they listening? Why aren’t they LISTENING to why people are doing this?” Because there’s a reason behind it, and they don’t want to listen, they’re always quick to blame: ‘Oh they’re just yobos, they’re breaking in to get what they can.’ There’s a reason behind that happening. …So, yea, the consultation and these big talks happened and we started the regeneration, and I think you’ll agree we look very nice now?
E: It’s excellent,
C: The one thing I will say is a lot of money was put into the bricks and mortar, but not a lot of money went in…for the people. We’ve still got high unemployment, we’ve still got the problems, they’re not as bad, and I don’t think we’re worse than any other area now, because the unemployment and the crime’s hit everywhere now, hasn’t it! The drug and alcohol problems are right round the country, they’re not unique to Meadow Well. BUT we still have people saying ‘oh, we can’t go to Meadow Well. We can’t park our car in Meadow Well’.
E: So, when did you get your MBE?
C: I got my MBE, golly it’s got to be about 8 year ago, or even longer 10 year ago…And this sounds really cliché, but honestly I will say it…I took that MBE for other(s), it was group, it was a lot of people came together, to work together, you know and I’m NOT just saying that, I mean I loved getting the MBE and it was lovely taking my daughter down to the palace, BUT, that was a lot of hard work done by a lot of people: the activists that came up behind us and in front of us; everybody worked very hard to make things work on Meadow Well.
E: And what do you think about the future?
C: I’m worried about the future, because obviously times are tough and going to get tougher…I don’t know how much more… (emotional). I worry about people who have been long term unemployed, long term sick, they’re getting kicked down and kicked down and they are going to get kicked further down. I worry about old people, I worry how anybody’s going to manage in the economic climate we’re in now. I think we’re going to see a lot of unrest…
E: Thank you very much indeed for agreeing to be interviewed.
C: …You’re very welcome.
Interview took 8.22mins, and was carried out in the Meadow Well Community Centre, please refer to: ‘Meadow Well Connected Annual Report 2011’ for further details of the Centre.
Carole Bell MBE, is still the Managing Director and continues to live in North Shields. She was interviewed at 2.30pm on 22nd Nov.2011, by Elizabeth Burn, who also transcribed it.