Last Man Standing

Posted by The Bearkeeper on
Category: Local15 Comments

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Alittle while ago, Razzi and I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie Wright, the last man still living in Ilchester Road. With his Union Flag fluttering at full mast in the breeze outside his house, Charlie lives in the last house standing on the River Street Estate where more than six hundred houses used to stand. He epitomises the Olde World concept that became enshrined in law; an Englishman’s home is his castle. As Charlie surveys the barren landscape in front of his house that was a once thriving community near the Birkenhead docks, home to thousands of workers and families that made up the manufacturing and shipbuilding industries.

Attempts have been made to move him out of the home he was not only born and raised in – one of 10 children – but also owns thanks to Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy policy. Every attempting marauder has been sent packing. Charlie is staying put.

“This is my home,” says the 62-year-old former boilermaker and shop steward. “I’ve lived here all my life. My mum brought us all up here. Why would I move?”

Liverpool’s two cathedrals can be seen from his bedroom window and, now retired following a heart-attack a few years ago, Charlie enjoys sitting on his doorstep and seeing ships being repaired at the rejuvenated docks. Similar rejuvenation plans were made more than a decade ago for River Streets but never materialised.

“We were promised new houses when they pulled all the others down. They were four, five and six-bedroom houses but the council said there were no big families in need of them anymore so they demolished them and said two, three-bed and bungalows would replace them, which sounded good. It never came off.”

The residents were told several years ago that they did not have to move if they chose not to. A vote taken at the local residents’ meeting was unanimous: everyone would stay. “I had my house pebble-dashed, things were done and I had a new kitchen put in. Two girls came round said ‘if you were to move, where would you like to move to?’ I said ‘I’m not moving’.”

One-by-one, however, Charlie’s neighbours did move. Financial incentives and the promises of a bigger or ‘better’ house were made which saw young families leave the estate first, followed by residents who had called the area home for far longer.

Three of Charlie’s uncles and aunts also lived on the estate following the war. The community was built on close knit family ties and when children married and had families of their own they usually stayed on the same estate. It is a situation Charlie laments as society changed and the community vanished.

He remains fiercely proud of his mother who worked hard in a series of jobs to raise her large family. Another woman gets almost equal praise. Charlie gives two thumbs up when describing Mrs Thatcher’s right to buy policy in the 1980s that allowed him to eventually own the former council property.

“When I had a chance to buy the house, thanks to Maggie Thatcher – and good on her – people bought houses and I managed to buy this.”

Millions were spent under the previous Labour Government on the first phase of regeneration for River Streets. Charlie, who was chairman of his residents’ committee for 30 years, points to either side of his house where two boarded up homes betray signs of that early promise. New gates and fences were put up along with windows, doors, and brick walls around front gardens.

However, blueprints for a huge new police command centre opposite remained just that and the regeneration money evaporated. Plans changed. Bushes and scrubs have sprouted where the homes opposite Charlie’s house once stood and mattresses, sofas and detritus litter the area instead.

He remains hopeful that things will improve for Birkenhead. A £4.5bn regeneration project called Wirral Waters is in the pipeline: one half of ‘Peel Waters’, a project its creators, the private infrastructure and investment firm Peel Group, call “the largest and most visionary regeneration project in the UK”.

A “trade centre” with factories and offices is promised if the foreign investment, especially from China and India, can be secured and 20,000 jobs created. The snag is that it may take 30 years for the vision to become reality and Charlie acknowledges he might not be around to see it

“When it does start it will create jobs for Birkenhead. That’s what this town needs. You cannot beat work. Once Peel takes off, things will improve but it’s a waiting game. That’s the only lifeline we’ve got.”

There are no regeneration plans for the derelict land that surrounds Charlie’s home. As a result he is not worried about Wirral Borough Council landing a Compulsory Purchase Order on his doorstep, the usual method local authorities resort to when they want to force people to leave.

“If they had a good scheme to go ahead then they might do that, but they haven’t got schemes for this side. They couldn’t get funding for the police command centre, so it’s just like a tip now. That’s what our regeneration project looks like, you wouldn’t believe it.”

Charlie is under no pressure to move. “The council don’t hound me at all. It was seven years ago since I last spoke to them and they know full well I’m not moving. The only offer the council has ever made is that if I go and find an empty council house that I like they will do a straight swap, but I’ve spent thousands of pounds on this house. This is my castle and I’ve no intention of leaving.”

In the meantime, Charlie has become a cult-hero around the North End of Birkenhead. So much so that local band Western Promise have recorded a song in tribute to the man who refuses to move. Entitled Charlie Wright, it is taken from Western Promise’s album “Here Comes A Revolution”.

See what you think…

Charlie Wright

Charlie Wright

Stick to your guns, Charlie!

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The Bearkeeper

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A sad and lonely old man who used to have a life but it has now been taken over by his dedication to the cause of saving Renault Bears, running Jammy Toast and searching eBay, car boot sales, charity shops, lofts and even under beds for his beloved bears. He has even now taken in Flat Eric to save him from homelessness – his life is no longer his own!

15 Comments on “Last Man Standing”

  1. As soon as you’re born they make you feel small
    By giving you no time instead of it all
    Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all

    They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
    They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool
    Till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules

    When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
    Then they expect you to pick a career
    When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear

    Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
    And you think you’re so clever and classless and free
    But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see

    There’s room at the top they’re telling you still
    But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
    If you want to be like the folks on the hill

    If you want to be a hero well just follow me

  2. I used to know one of Charlie’s old neighbours from my CB days. I was often in and around Ilchester Road as my aunt lived across from Charlie. I spent many an afternoon in the Turny Youth Club! Stay put Charlie, tell the bastards to go run and jump!

  3. It is a dump round there and I bet its running with rats. Take the money and run, mate. There’s some nice new bungalows around there. Put the money in the bank and claim a council bungalow.

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