Hunslet Grange: An experiment

Text of context, MA Curation Practices LAUMACUP703

Hunslet Grange: An experiment and its victims by Hunslet Grange Heating Action Group (1976)

Background

2007108_164879Hunslet Grange, also known as Leek Street flats, was a huge public housing estate in Leeds of 1200 flats, built 50 years ago and opened in March 1968.

It was built to replace a large area of back-to-back housing in south Leeds. Hunslet Grange was hailed as innovative and modern, because it used new building methods and materials. The new tenants were delighted to move into their flats, with hot and cold running water and indoor toilets. They soon discovered, however, many serious faults resulting from the prefabricated structure, causing severe damp and draughts.

These problems were compounded by the electric heating system that was too expensive for many residents to be able to heat their homes properly. Following a long campaign for improvements to living conditions by its tenants, Hunslet Grange was demolished in 1983 – a mere fifteen years after it was opened by the Lord Mayor.

Why this text?

I discovered a number of interesting documents, along with news cuttings, in the Local History Library within Leeds Central Library. These were in addition to archive material used in Module 704: animating the archive.

img_5919From these it became clear what a disastrous project Hunslet Grange had been, not just in terms of the damp and heating problems. The designs of the balconies, stairwells and lifts meant that many people, particularly women, felt unsafe walking there. The view from many of the flats was onto other flats and people found the uniform grey concrete oppressive and depressing. Emergency services had trouble reaching or finding the right flats. Play facilities were small and of poor design.  And many have noted that the place stank – urinating in the lifts and stairwells was common practice by some people.
The most pressing issues for tenants however, were the cold and damp and the fact that many were unable to keep their homes warm, or were having to pay extortionate electricity bills.

Hunslet Grange: an experiment and its victims grabbed my attention. Its bright yellow cover with an illustration of a large drip of water enclosing the word ‘DAMP’, plus its title, were designed to catch the eye and to shock. The intention of the report is very clear.

I was also interested in this report because it was written as a result of collective action by tenants. They had been calling for action since 1972 (Hunslet Grange Heating Action Group, 1976 p. 1) and formed a tenants’ association. They also linked up with tenants on other estates in Leeds who were facing similar problems. Later on they met with tenants from other developments build using the same methods under contracts with the Yorkshire Design Group – a partnership between a number of local authorities.

While the title of this text refers to the tenants as ‘victims’, they did not just rollover and accept their unjust situation. They became researchers and experts in construction methods and housing policy. They took action and fought back.

The context

In the course of my own research, I learned that there is a small monument to Hunslet Grange, on what would have been the edge of the development.

 

The editor of local newspaper South Leeds Life told me he had come across it by chance: a brick plinth with two plaques, on Prosper Street. The first plaque marks the beginning of the building contract in 1967 (although the text is obscured by graffiti). The second, from 1987, notes the traditional housing that was built to replace Hunslet Grange and commemorates cooperation between Leeds City Council and tenants. It bears the names of Councillor Gunnell and other council representatives, along with Ms P. Tallett, Chair of Hunslet Grange Tenants Association.

Prosper Street is a short cul-de-sac off Joseph Street, so very few people pass these plaques. A question to a Facebook group of people who used to live in the flats (‘the leek street flats rocked society’) as well as asking members of Hunslet Remembered, a group that meets monthly in the local branch library, revealed nobody who knew about the memorial. Later, via twitter, I was sent a photograph from a few months ago showing that the monument had been completely obscured by bushes.

By choosing this as my context, I have been able to bring this monument to the attention of a wider audience.

Instances of curation

  1. Presentation at Heritage Show and Tell, 6 March

Heritage Show and Tell takes place a few times a year in Leeds. It’s open to anyone with an interest in local history and heritage and invites people with an interesting project to give a lightning presentation about it. The format is strict: three slides and three minutes to put over your project – what’s exciting about it, how can people help or get involved?

My presentation’s title clearly referenced the Heating Action Group’s report. I called it ‘Hunslet Grange: a short-lived experiment’.  But, rather than characterising the tenants as victims, I emphasised their collective action, their resilience and tenacity. In the end, this got results as Hunslet Grange was finally demolished.

The tenants association and Heating Action Group called for the council to work with them from the beginning. At the time of the report they were still demanding this, and wrote about a lack of cooperation at that stage.

That came later, and the Prosper Street monument recognises the cooperation.

Once the flats were demolished, however, the tenants didn’t let the council off the hook (Leeds Other Paper, 1983 p.3).

  1. A new plaque

I took a new plaque to add to the monument, along with the report. The new plaque read:

This plaque pays tribute to the tenacity of the Hunslet Grange tenants
in fighting for a better standard of housing – for themselves and other residents’ groups.

In the words of HUNSLET GRANGE HEATING ACTION GROUP in 1976:

We have not jumped on the “Knock-Them-Down” bandwagon, but we do consider it an alternative that must be seriously considered along with others.

We also stress that any solution to the problems of Hunslet Grange must be worked out and implemented in an atmosphere of full co-operation between the Council and residents.

And we want action now.

This act emphasised that it was the tenants who endured the conditions at Hunslet Grange, and who campaigned tirelessly for change.

 

Conclusion

The dominant narrative about Hunslet Grange is grim.  Richard Hoggart (1989) described:

Some of the worst, most crass and inhumane public housing I have seen in any developed country: industrial-unit building in concrete blocks of several stories, much less human than the old back-to-back streets, suggesting an attitude to or vision of those who were expected to live in them like that of a farmer using the cheapest mechanised methods for cattle rearing in uniform units.

And there are many other descriptions of the poor conditions of the flats. However, others have happy memories of living at Hunslet Grange, typified by the Facebook group: the leek street flats rocked society (2018). Many of the members of this group remember playing and growing up in the flats. Others experiences a sense of community where friends were always nearby.

In stark contrast, the report, Hunslet Grange: an experiment and its victims, relates many negative experiences. Yet it is also evidence of tenacity, resilience, and organisation. Tenants groups gained skills: research, negotiation, campaigning, report writing, talking to the press. They learned about their community, local democracy, public finance, construction and engineering. And eventually they were successful in their campaigning, as Hunslet Grange was eventually demolished, and the area reverted to “traditional housing”.

This has been a fascinating project. I was pleased to be able to find an inspiring narrative within the texts.

References

Hoggart, R. (1989) A Local Habitation: Life and Times Volume One 1918-40.  Oxford Paperbacks.

Hunslet Grange Heating Action Group (1976) Hunslet Grange: An experiment and its victims. Leeds: HGHAG.

Leeds Other Paper (1983) ‘Three cheers from tenants’, Leeds Other Paper, 7 January.

The leek street flats rocked society (2018) the leek street flats rocked society [Facebook] Available at:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/333104160630/ (Accessed: 6 March 2018).

 

This essay as a Word document (20KB): Text of context overview

 

This weekend’s exhibitions

A large selection of prints from Gideon Mendel’s groundbreaking exhibition of 1993, The Ward, revisited Bradford this week.  I wanted to re-aquaint myself with the collection, which was displayed simply but ingeniously (these large prints mounted on acrylic were not allowed to be fixed to the wall). I remember many of the images from first time round.

The-Ward-5
from ‘The Ward’ by Gideon Mendel

The ward in question was actually two wards where patients with HIV and AIDS were cared for. at London’s Middlesex Hospital. Mendel’s photo-essay gave a human face to the AIDS crisis, when fear, stigma and hatred towards people living with HIV / AIDS was rife and viscious. These images marked a turning point in terms of empathy – amongst many people, at least. They are still powerful and beautiful today.

The photos had been shown at Bradford in the 1990s at the National Media Museum. At that time I was active in the Leeds chapter of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), who carried out protest and direct action around discrimination and poor healthcare affecting people living with HIV/AIDS.

Accompanying the exhibition was a selection from the archives of Bradford’s gay liberation movement from the 1970s – 1990s. Especially impressive were the colourful  screen-printed posters. The owners of the archive are hoping to get the collection accepted by a local archive, perhaps West Yorkshire Archives or Cartwright Hall (linking to their queering project, perhaps).

Great to see both parts of this exhibition at Bradford’s Gallery II – and to read about their move to become a Centre for Socially Applied Arts

Home via Kirkstall and lovely Aire Place Studios where Curl Up and Dye (everyone’s favourite named hair salon) by Bronagh Daly captures the importance of the hair salon to older Irish women – a place to gossip, get (and give) advice and support (pictured below).

Links

http://gideonmendel.com/the-ward/

https://www.brad.ac.uk/gallery/

https://www.brad.ac.uk/gallery/whats-on/

http://www.aireplacestudios.com/

 

Your Consequences Have Actions

img_5479.jpg
Martha Grunenwaldt

29.11.17

Good meeting with Bryon Bond, Artistic Director at The Tetley, getting insight into current exhibition: Your Consequences Have Actions.

This was ultimately for a piece I wrote for Disability Arts Online (2017):  http://disabilityarts.online/magazine/opinion/your-consequences-have-actions/

Discussion around interpretation and labelling, power of art.

Relates to my talk & tour and presentation in terms of issues around interpretation and biographical information.

Background of Tetley is Project Space Leeds, so focus is on supporting emerging artists.  Gravitated towards more solo presentations: limited resources; a good way to push people’s careers forward.

They have the Tetley Brewery archive, so are interested in working with archives, but thinking quite broadly re archives and collections, curatorial. Create dialogues between contemporary artists and collections, influences contemporary art.

Opportunity to support guest / emerging curators.

Sometimes this results in separate shows, sometimes interwoven. Discussion with artist about how to do it. 

Archives provide routes into contemporary arts for new audiences.

Bryon was at Whitworth when the Musgrave/Kinley collection came there. So she knows the collection and the history well.

Outsiders exhibition 1979 at Hayward. First use of term.

After Musgrave’s death, Monika Kinley established their collection as a public collection. (Kinley, 2005). Tried to get space in London, but fell through. Went to Institute of Modern Art Ireland after that for a few years, but Monika not happy with the arrangement, so tried to find a new home for the collection. Asked a number of high profile contacts to help. Nicholas Serota suggested the Whitworth, because of collections if textiles, wallpaper, works on paper. 

The vast majority (over 90%) of this collection are works on paper, although in many cases reclaimed or unusual papers.

Accessioned into the Whitworth’s collection. 

Thought long and hard about how to exhibit works, and about the relationship between the Outsider Art collection and the rest of the collections. One curator said that the outsider pieces “set bombs off” in the collection.

Bryony visited the main outsider art collections in Europe. Found, when isolated, it felt oppressive. Benefits from a conversation between different works.

Collection isn’t all disabled people, broader than that. 

Interpretation of outsider artists tends to rely on biographies, Tetley trying to avoid that. Thinking about impact of biographies on the work.  Although outsider artists do have great stories!

Art is about communication, direct communication with artist across time and space. It doesn’t ask anything of you, you can spend a long time or short time.

This exhibition: more reading is available in the exhibition guide.  Wanted to get across how celebrated and renowned some of these artists are.  Also video in the gallery that gives background.

Martha Grunenwaldt was 71 years when she started painting her lovely paintings, what hope and joy that gives us.

Art comes from everywhere and can be made from anything.

Work made in an institution – you can’t deny that this adds interest to the work.

Story, integrity, means something more.

These artists totally reveal how the art world works, while having absolutely no interest in it or need of it. They are prized by collectors and dealers:

  • Don’t talk about their work much
  • Die before they’re discovered 
  • Consistent style.

Saelia Aparicio – already influenced by Judith Scott but not familiar with other artists.

Some of Saelia’s characters are “visiting” the outsiders in the different galleries.

Connection: all female artists, their work deals with female personas, bodies, portraits, identities

The outsiders would make work even if no audience. Huge drive to make work.

Some combinations more successful than others e.g. Martha Grunenwaldt overshadows, in terms of style and numbers

A better combination is Broken Builder with Marie Rose Lortet’s piece. The builder is visiting, looking over. Delicacy of sculpture reflected in web of cracked glass of Broken Builder.

Judith Scott – one piece looks like a heart, an organ. Weighty substance of her work.

Lee Godie – not one of her photo works, but clearly influenced by photo booths.

Saelia Aparicio – from secret island in Spain

Experimental and getting more experimental:

  • Found objects
  • Anime
  • A bit gross but alluring to look at.

Stools – different physicalities of the bodies. Sit on stools and contemplate the mural.

References

Crawshaw, G. (2017) ‘Your Consequences Have Actions’ Disability Arts Online, 12 December. Available at: http://disabilityarts.online/magazine/opinion/your-consequences-have-actions/ (Accessed: 13 December 2017).

Kinley, M. (2005). Monika’s Story. London: Musgrave Kinley Outsider Trust

Your Consequences Have Actions (2017) [Exhibition] The Tetley, Leeds. 30 November – 28 January 2018.

 

M&S Company Archive

Our MA group visited the Marks & Spencer Company archive on the first week of taught sessions. Like many archives, a lot of people I’ve mentioned it to have never heard of it. But the archives are open to the public and there’s a good sized, beautifully presented,  exhibition of fashion, marketing material, packaging and other goods through the M&S ages. This is just the sort of thing many people like to look back on and remember – indeed, the archive has done some brilliant reminiscence work with people with dementia, using items from the collection. I particularly liked the uniforms worn by sales assistants across the 20th century, which started out looking like the staff were in service or nursing, moving on to synthetic overalls of the 1970s.

Archivists at M&S gave us an overview of the collection, and some general info about archives which, while perhaps basic, was helpful to an inexperienced researcher like me: archives are not libraries! you can’t just turn up and browse; know what you’re looking for – do some research in advance and check the protocol for the archive you’re visiting.

E8C445FF-4F22-49DC-9FAF-EB5A3A17B64DFinally, a bit of object handling, packing away a range of swimwear from the last quarter of the 20th century. This brought into focus one of the essences of archiving and indeed curating, as objects magically change their status and take on new meanings. The functional and used / worn swimming costume becomes an item of historic, social, aesthetic and technical interest. From rubbing up alongside other clothes in a chest of drawers at home, once in the archive preservation is paramount, and the item is treated accordingly, padded and wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and stored in sturdy archive boxes or tyvek (breathable yet protective) wrappings at a low temperature.

According to the M&S archivists, this treatment amazes some of the people who donate items because few people take such care of their clothes at home. It would be interesting to talk to some of the people who donate to find out why they do it and what value they think their items will have in a collection.

I’ve been to this archive a few times and I’ve been struck with the contrast between my memories and impressions of M&S clothes while growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, to how they strike me now. Seeing the garments now, they look completely of their time and so typical of the fashions then. But growing up, I wouldn’t be seen dead in St Michael’s brand fashions, because they weren’t seen as fashions at all. Rather they seemed somehow diluted versions of current trends, filtered through the sensible tastes of adults.

https://marksintime.marksandspencer.com/home

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