Up the workers!!!


Tomorrow I see my friend Richard Lees, I first met him in 1986.  In January 1986 Cleshar Employment Agency sent me to Highbury Grove Adult Training Centre, a pretentious name for a day centre for adults with learning disabilities.  The name was a throwback to the industrial model of day services where units were set up doing repetitive menial work with the people attending getting paid a wage at the end of the week.  With the decline of British industry and the social model becoming more accepted the name remained but it was run with groups offering therapeutic care, social education, leisure opportunities.  It was here I met many current FB friends.  I was based in Special Needs 2 which was supporting clients with learning and physical disabilities.  Special Needs 1 was for clients with challenging behaviour.  They represented a minority of the clients using this service. Straight away I got thrown into the social life of the staff team, attending a party on the first weekend after I started.  Friends included Andy, Heather, Lindsay and Denise.  

Bev joined from an agency and Richard started working as a CSV.  Paul also joined and we became close friends, sharing an interest in football.  Also there were Sue, Bob and Bernard and a number of others.  My future wife Penny also started there a year or so after I did.  In my first week Sue took me round to see a Turkish clients father, she was quick to take advantage of my language skills.  You would think my life was mainly focused on social opportunities, and it was!  I was 20-21 years old after all.  The picture at the top is of me on my feet talking to Don the Escort with Bernard and Paul to my right and the unmistakeable jumper of Bob in the bottom right hand corner.  Others I worked with included Ingelize, Eva, Monica, Tracey, Fran, Anna, Barry, Bill, Jean, Rose, Eleanor, Fathiyeh, Chris, Marshall, Kieran and Kiran.  Yes they had the same name spelt differently, one was male one was female, one hailed from Ireland the other from India.

When I was doing my life story project in 2010-11 I revisited the site with a friend and took the following pictures, it’s hardly changed from when I worked there 30 years ago.248212_1384512750729_640466_n252491_1384516510823_1630500_n260066_1384517190840_5812764_n.jpg

I felt as though I’d landed on my feet when I arrived at Highbury Grove ATC, the staff were overwehlmingly a young bunch, the work suited my aptitude, there was a lot of fun to be had.  I volunteered for escort duties when they were short and would work alongside Don.  Don was a lovely man who had managed a bakery in a past life and had this part time job to keep him going.  He also was also very generous in spirit and Penny lodged there for a few months in between moving from one place to another and Richard also lodged with him too.  On politics we didn’t agree but it never got in the way of our friendship.  I don’t know for sure what happened to Don, the last time I spoke to him about four years ago he was having treatment for cancer and then when I tried to find him I ran into a dead end.  Myself Don, Richard, Paul and Penny would meet up on average once a year for many years until we moved to Hastings and it became less.

I was at Highbury Grove ATC for 2 and  a half years, six months after I started I obtained a permanent position and on Thursday’s Securicor would arrive with our pay packets.  My weekly wage was about £105 per week, in cash, thank you very much.  I was a Care Assistant, a manual worker, and I joined the National Union of Public Employees.  The ‘officers’ belonged to NALGO, otherwise known at ‘Not a lot going on’ on account of their frequent strikes.  Lindsey became an officer and a vacancy arose for a shop steward for NUPE and I accepted the invitation.  There was no vote as no one else wanted to do it! Lindsey handed me over a file of papers relating to a claim for a regrading of our positions from Care Assistants to Care Officers on the basis that we were doing more than was in our job description.  I took on the battle with the mightly loony left Islington Council with the red flag outside its town hall along with its jobless figures with gusto.  In truth I was knocking on an open door and although the regrading was agreed there was a process to go through.  Coming off the bus after doing escort duties I was mobbed by my members in appreciation of our victory at the previous evenings committee meeting where Islington agreed to our regrading, back dated it a couple of years, meaning a nice lump sum in our next pay packet.  Of course I say this all in hindsight, at the time it felt like a bloody bruising battle out of which we emerged triumphant with a 50% increase in our pay.  Whilst shop steward the 1987 General Election was called and our local NUPE sponsored MP Jeremy Corbyn attended a union meeting I set up in the workplace.


Bill was a fairly conventional sort, and as such stood out like a sore thumb in such a trendy workplace.  He used to arrive early to open up and we all arrived one morning and he was sporting an injury, the result of an assault.  He never worked again and cynicism about this injury was the result.

Whilst working at Highbury Grove I continued to live in Portobello Road, my friend Robert moved out and went to Brighton Poly to study art.  He was replaced by Michael, Fiona’s brother, and his mate Billy, also from Corby.  Many enjoyable Saturday’s were had in the Warwick Castle, in between diving in and out of the launderette to make sure our clothes were washed and dried for the week ahead.  With the afternoon shutdown we would return home for an afternoon nap and then have a steak from the Halal butchers downstairs alongside some veg from one of the market stalls.  And after drinking, a nap and some supper?  Back to the Warwick Castle for some more liquid refreshment.


Other great boozers in the area were the Portobello Gold, the Earl of Lonsdale and the Sun in Splendour, which did a faboulous Bloody Mary.


Michael’s father needed some labourers to strip out the inside of a building, so one Saturday I had the pleasure of destruction with Michael and Billy.

In March 1987 I moved back to Islington and lived in Seven Sisters Road, near Finsbury Park Station, above a Greek restaurant (now a chicken takeaway).  I lived on the second floor and my rent was £30 per week for a room with shared communal facilities.


Shortly after I moved in my friend Robert abandoned his art course and came back to London and without a bed to kip on, shared my room with me and the rent was reduced to £15 per week.  What a result!  Every Saturday we put the extra mattress back underneath the double bed I slept on and maintained the pretence that I was occupying the room on my own, in case the landlord upped the rent.  Landlord was a shady Greek Cypriot rumoured to be a member of EOKA when he lived in Cyprus, according to the Greek Cypriot manager of the restaurant below.  In any case, he didn’t mind taking my money.  The electric was supplied by a meter, but the meter was broke for some time before the landlord got a bill and asked for donations towards it.

One friendship I maintained during this period was with Blanch, an older lady I met from my previous job in a day centre for older people.  She initially asked if I could pop round to do some planting for her, something her arthritis wouldn’t allow.  Then I visited usually once a fortnight for cups of tea, fags and a chat.  Her house backed onto the Arsenal stadium in Gillespie Road.

One event during this period was the hurricane of 1987.  It knocked the electric out meaning I didn’t get woken up by my alarm clock.  At one point I could hear a terrific noise and could see bin bags being blown about the street before I settled back to sleep.  My mate Paul who used to cycle in but didn’t catch the news before he set off to work wondered why there were so many trees on the ground.  I made the journey on foot that day, it took approximately 40 minutes as public transport was disrupted.

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