Crying shame

Blighted, poor and beset by antisocial behaviour, it seems the perfect location for Shameless, TV's bleakly comic drama of working-class family life. But there is more to Gorton than you might think, says resident Eric Allison
Picture gallery: life in Gorton

If you have seen the Channel 4 drama series Shameless, you'll know where I live. The pinched, soulless terraced housing, the boarded-up shops, the creeping sense of poverty and disillusionment. It is set in Gorton, east Manchester. I was born in Gorton and, let me say now, I love the place. But let's not beat about the bush: it's a dump - and the miracle is that every man, woman and child on the manor isn't driven to riot in protest.

My daughter tells me she heard Paul Abbott, the writer of Shameless, on the radio. He said something like if he'd been a teenager in Gorton, he'd have ended up on drugs or in crime. Well, it is true that many Gorton teenagers end up just like that. The borough is said to hold the dubious distinction of being the antisocial behaviour order capital of Manchester. Indeed, the local courts issue more Asbos than any other in England and Wales.

Last November, life imitated art. A 17-year-old youth was issued with an Asbo after bringing a "climate of fear" to a Gorton estate. He was the perpetrator, said magistrates, of a series of incidents, including driving a tractor on open land, threatening an Asian shopkeeper and disrupting the filming of Shameless, whose production staff he had persistently intimidated. It didn't put the Shameless crew off. Gorton, suggested the production company, was the perfect setting for a tale about dysfunctional working class family life on a rundown estate.

My manor is a veritable beacon of antisocial behaviour - or, at least, its inhabitants are subject to a highly enthusiastic enforcement of Asbos. In the first six months of 2004, 155 people were made subject to an Asbo in Greater Manchester. This compares, for example, with the 27 orders issued on Merseyside - which has its share of badly behaved people - over the same period. A hefty slice of that number was served up to teenagers in Gorton.

Some might argue that such unruliness is nothing new. Gorton is well used to strife. Legend has it that its name is derived from Gore Town, because the river that runs under it ran red with blood following a battle between the Danes and the native Anglo Saxons at Dane Bank, to the east. To this day, the waterway is known as Gore Brook. It has been a noisy, boisterous place from the industrial revolution onwards, when its huge factories earned it the legend "the workshop of the north".

Dirty and uncouth it may have been, but Gorton has not always been a dump. When I was a boy the area thrived, bustling with energy and lively with the entertainment and commerce that serviced the workforce. The two main factories, Gorton Tank, which maintained rolling stock for the railway industry, and Beyer Peacock, which made more than 8,000 locomotives for destinations all over the world, closed in the 1960s. Peacocks alone laid off 3,000 men. Nothing replaced these big employers, and the rot began to set in.

Gorton is now a wasteland. Many of the original terraced houses were demolished and replaced by drab identikit estates. The one I live on - and where Shameless was filmed - is typical. Two shops, a chemist, a Chinese takeaway, and that's our lot. The post office closed a long time ago, forcing older people to take a long walk to pick up their pension. The year before last, some kids blew up the pillar box on the square. Royal Mail hasn't got round to replacing it yet.

Come to Gorton and you will find the Asbo statistics easy to understand. They say the Devil makes work for idle hands. Well, the authorities in Gorton seem to go out of their way to ensure that young people have nothing in the way of recreational activity. Within at least a half-mile radius of my house, there is not a single patch of land that could safely be used as a makeshift football pitch, or a skateboarding area. As far as I can see, the nearest play area for young kids is almost a mile away. Apparently, there was a playground in the middle of my estate a few years ago. The housing association dismantled it and replaced it with a car park. It says it took that action because heroin addicts were jacking up among the swings and roundabouts. This was probably true. But why should toddlers pay the price?

It cannot be for lack of space that the amenities are so poor. Behind where the post office used to be, a huge chunk of land has lain idle for years. It could accommodate at least two full-sized football pitches, yet I fear it is earmarked for yet another commercial development. Needless to say, it has become a dumping ground, littered with sodden, stinking mattresses and other household detritus.

Ironically, Gorton lies slap bang in the middle of a huge, much trumpeted, regeneration scheme that is supposed to include the whole of East Manchester. Beswick and Ancoats to the north and Ardwick to the south are improving beyond recognition. Millions have been spent on Sports City (where the fine indoor tennis facilities are way out of the price range of the average Gorton kid), about half a mile away. Not a tanner has found its way to our patch thus far. True, the magnificent building that was St Benedict's church is being transformed into a rock-climbing centre. That might help to keep the local kids out of mischief - but it is a private venture, and it remains to be seen if it will be an amenity for, rather than in, Gorton.

Why, some people have asked, do I choose to stay in Gorton? For a start, I enjoy the racial mix. The saris and gowns bring a splendid colour, and I find it an inspiration the way the children mix happily. I also admire the courage and perseverance of the many parents who are bringing their kids up in a decent manner, encouraging them in their education and teaching them respect for others - all in splendid defiance of the overwhelming odds they face on a daily basis. I enjoy the humour and camaraderie I observe regularly.

Perhaps perversely, the place keeps me healthily angry about injustice and the way society demonises young people in deprived areas. There is also little danger, I fancy, of feeling above my station in Gorton.

· Eric Allison is the Guardian's prisons correspondent.

· The View From Manchester, the first solo exhibition by Guardian photographer Don McPhee, covering his 33-year career at the Manchester office of the newspaper, opens on Saturday, January 15, at Manchester Art Gallery.

· Shamelesss is shown at 10pm on Tuesdays on Channel 4.


Eric Allison

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Making connections to get the country online

Sunderland is way ahead in the race to get even its hardest-to-reach residents online. Can other areas learn from its approach?

Rachel Williams

12, Oct, 2010 @3:15 PM

Article image
Islington council's battle to close the gap between rich and poor
Despite its often swanky image, Islington is the 14th most deprived area in England. Now it is taking action to address its differences. Will others follow?

Rachel Williams

08, Jun, 2011 @6:30 AM

Article image
Big society bank aims to boost social enterprise sector

Will the 'big society' bank help social enterprises do bigger business, in the face of cuts? By Randeep Ramesh

Randeep Ramesh

22, Feb, 2011 @4:30 PM

Article image
Digital switchover boss pledges help to the hardest to reach
Peter White, the head of the BBC's digital switchover help scheme tells Saba Salman how he is trying to ensure nobody is left with a blank TV screen

Saba Salman

09, Mar, 2011 @7:30 AM

Article image
Saba Salman meets American social and environmental activist Majora Carter

From a waterfront park in New York's South Bronx, activist Majora Carter set out to use the 'green economy' to combat poverty

Saba Salman

22, Apr, 2008 @11:09 PM

Article image
Has Tesco really helped to revive a poor community?

When a 24-hour supermarket opened in a rundown area of Oldham, there were hopes it would be a catalyst for regeneration. Local traders were not so convinced. A year on, David Conn goes back to check out the claims

David Conn

07, Oct, 2008 @11:01 PM

Cutting universal benefits is a huge shift
The coalition is targeting child benefit and the sacred cows of the welfare state to save money, but what will the ultimate cost be?

Randeep Ramesh

05, Oct, 2010 @3:25 PM

Article image
Will coalition unleash new 'poll tax' protest?

Tom Clark: Giving councils control over council tax rebate at the same time as slashing their budgets is a licence to drive the poor out of town

Tom Clark

26, Oct, 2010 @3:14 PM

Article image
Housing benefit changes will push the poor out of town

Tom Clark: When members of a particular race are cleared out of a district we call it ethnic cleansing. There is no similar term to capture what happens when a particular social class is edged out of town

Tom Clark

29, Jun, 2010 @3:00 PM

Shame faced

Pressure to publicise the names of children who receive anti-social behaviour orders is growing, reports Paul Humphries.

24, Oct, 2001 @1:46 AM