How to Create a Community
by Jenny Woodhouse

When Ruby and her husband moved in, in 1965, the flats were new. Most of the poky little tumbledown houses around had been bulldozed to make space. They had fitted kitchens and night storage heaters. There was a communal garden where you could sit, after work or at weekends. Ruby had been sad to move away from her old neighbourhood. But it was worth it to have a clean home and a proper bathroom.
    Now, fifty years on, the blocks were dingy and run down, however hard the council tried to keep them up to date. And Ruby was old, and Jack was dead. The lift was often out of order and it was hard to carry her shopping upstairs. And when they weren’t vandalising the lift, the kids were charging up and down the staircase, just beside her flat. All night, she told Sally. She still talked to one or two of her neighbours like Sally on the fourth floor and Mark, whose wife had been Ruby’s best friend until she died of cancer. They all agreed the block had gone downhill. The council moved in all sorts now. And the older residents were trapped. If they rented, the council wouldn’t move them. If they had bought their flats, they couldn’t sell.
    Across the road one of the old terraces had not been demolished when the flats were built. Those poky little houses had been done up like little palaces, and now sold for over £200,000. It simply wasn’t fair.
    In the old days there had been no children in the block. Once a young couple started a family, the council moved them to a house with a garden. But so many council houses had been sold and they weren’t building any more. So the kids rampaged over the garden, kicking their balls and killing the wisteria on the end wall. There were at least three upstairs, running around above Ruby’s head. Even when she was well that bothered her.
    Mark advised her to speak to the housing officer, and eventually she did. Tracy was young and brisk, but she said she couldn’t do very much.
    ‘Not unless we have evidence,’ she told Ruby.
    ‘There’s needles in the garden. And they climb onto the roof of the garage block and goodness knows what they get up to there.’
    ‘If some of you keep a diary,’ Tracy told her, ‘And note down what you see and when you see it, we might be able to take some action.
’     ‘I don’t know,’ said Mark. ‘Not with my back. If them big louts came after me, there’s not a lot I could do.’
    Ruby told Sally what Tracy had said.
    ‘It only needs a few of us to give evidence.’
    ‘I’m sorry, my lover,’ said Sally. ‘I can’t see anything at my side. I’d help if I could.’
    Tracy called a couple of weeks later.
    ‘Still having problems, Ruby?’ she asked.
    ‘Mrs Brown!’ Ruby wanted to correct her, but she knew it wouldn’t make any difference. No respect these days.
    ‘It’s been bad,’ she said. ‘The kids play their music until three or four in the morning and their parents don’t seem to care. It’s not right to have to put up with it when you’re ill in bed.’
    ‘Have you put anything in writing?’
    ‘Oh, I haven’t been up to it. I’ve been to the doctor’s with my nerves.’
    ‘Maybe when you feel better?’
    ‘Oh, I don’t know, I really don’t know,’ said Ruby. Since Tracy had come to see her the first time, worse things than used needles had been appearing on the stairs. There were two lads on the ground floor with big dogs with thick collars on chains.
    ‘You can’t be the only person this is affecting…’ Tracy prompted her.
    She’s only a kid herself, thought Ruby. Nothing she can do. ‘I expect it’ll blow over,’ she said, ending the conversation.

Back at the housing office, Tracy told the Senior Housing Officer.     ‘They’re tormenting that poor old woman. We’ve got to do something.’
    You know the drill,’ said the Senior Housing Officer. ‘First we need a formal complaint. Then we collect evidence. Then maybe we can try to get an Asbo. Then…’
     nTracy stopped listening. There had to be another way. She wouldn’t tell her boss, but she was going to knock on a few doors.