If these walls could talk: On the Hyson Green flats

The flats in Hyson Green were built with a huge amount of optimism – and yet somewhere along the line, they became unfit for purpose and were brought to the ground with little remorse from the authorities.

The rabbit warren-like complex, which was where Asda now stands, has been the subject of a local history project called On the Flats (see my earlier post) which is currently being shown as an exhibition at Nottingham’s Brewhouse Yard.

These post-War flats were assembled using a Bison frame structure. Vast sheets of concrete meant they were built quickly to house the growing population. Bombed-out streets and dilapidated houses were cleared to make way for affordable, modern flats, just like the ones people in continental Europe had been living in for decades.

The complex included balconies, courtyards and walkways and for many of the residents – who had lived in slum housing with outdoor toilets and tin baths – they were the height of modernity.

But the flats, along with countless others across the UK, did not live up to  expectations. Planned communities and social housing soon meant neglected ghettos; as one former resident of the flats points out, there were no projects or business opportunities that could have made the community more sustainable.

By the time they were demolished in 1988, they had a reputation for temperamental heating, damp and rubbish piling up which led to infestations of rats and insects.

This exhibition also sheds light on some of the broader social issues of the time. Poverty and racial tension proved a catalyst for the violence that erupted in 1981. One of the inhabitants remembers seeing a mum with a young baby tearing off pieces of her skirt and handing them over to a man who used the fabric to make petrol bombs.

But the flats were also known for their strong community spirit which continues to thrive in Hyson Green today. Residents host blues parties when you could wander along the balconies and turn up at any number of gatherings.

Strong bonds formed between neighbours but many people lost touch when the flats were finally pulled down. The On the Flats project has been a great opportunity for them to catch up with old friends, as well as giving us a unique insight into a part of our recent social history.

The exhibition runs until 15th January.

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