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The Battle of Byker

Finnish photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen moved to Byker, near Newcastle, just over 40 years ago.

She arrived just as a whole community was being transplanted from rundown terraced houses to bright modern apartments. The demolition balls and bulldozers were busy eradicating Byker's past and in its place a massive, imposing, multi-coloured screen known as the Byker Wall was constructed. Below this unusual form of residence more new homes were built, all looking to carry Byker into the 20th Century.

From the moment Sirkka got there she began photographing Byker's residents and over three generations witnessed poverty, demolition, regeneration, and the local peoples' ongoing fight for Byker's soul.

In this programme, Sirkka remembers the old, sometimes forgotten, community. She meets some of Byker's original residents in what's now known as 'new Byker' and shares memories of the bath house, soot smattered streets, pub sing-alongs and up to five houses sharing just a single outside water pipe.

She also discovers Byker has an ancient history, hearing about the area's coal mining heritage, how it related to neighbouring Newcastle and why eventually those in power could no longer tolerate the poor living conditions, seeking to replace them with contemporary accommodation.

Sirkka eventually meets Byker's 'new residents' and hears how the area has often supported victims of conflict and persecution including a Bosnian who escaped the war.

Finally she learns that today's residents are fighting to take control of their own destiny by creating the Byker Community Trust and that they might finally get to make decisions about their own and Byker's future.

Producer: Russell Crewe
A Made in Manchester production for BBC Radio 4.

30 minutes

Last on

Fri 1 Jul 2011 11:00
BBC Radio 4 FM only