From a recorded conversation between Bill and Giles Cooper summer 2019
Bill Shaw was Project Manager for Tong Calverley Urban Fringe project 1976-81 for Leeds and Bradford Councils, the West Yorks Met County and the Countryside Commission who put up 50% funding. Bill was living on Leeds Bradford Road and was chair of the BTCV North Regional Committee. Bill had previously spent two and half years as training officer for BTCV in Scotland.
“One day I got a phone call form John Iles the Regional Officer asking me to meet him at a place called Hollybush Farm. I scratched my head, thinking a farm in Leeds that can’t be quite right. He (John) said it was a Leeds City Council building and there was a possibility that we could rent it cheaply to create a Centre, a Conservation Centre which would give us a local focus.”
“We arranged a meeting, and I was quite amazed to find it was an old fashioned farmhouse, beautiful stone buildings, outbuildings, main farm, barn everything, it was in a strange situation between a railway and a canal, houses all around, Kirkstall Abbey nearby. It was all boarded up and John and I decided although could see the outside, we needed to see inside if we were going to take this on, at £1 a year peppercorn rent, if it was going to take a lot of money, we had no big pot of money there was no Heritage Lottery then. So, we pulled some boards off and got a door open, and it was just amazing inside, it was rough. John explained that City Council had planned to put Parks and Gardens staff in the house and have the rest as a depot, it would have quite been good as that. They had got it part renovated and then it got burgled for all the copper pipes and everything get ripped to pieces. They did it again and the plunderers came back, and this point the Council staff who potentially were going in it said they wouldn’t feel safe and can’t bring up a family in those circumstances. So, the Council were left with a building they didn’t know what to do with, possibly thought it was a wheeze to give it to the BTCV for a pound a year: and we took it on and turned it into something useful. “
“The way it worked was that we (BTCV) had volunteers living in the house, it was quite substantial as I remember it, quite a considerable number of people were willing to come and live there and do voluntary work, they were quite fired up by it, quite different to young people of today (teens, twenties maybe even 30s) living communally in pretty primitive conditions, and get stuck in and create this place. Early days were difficult, the plunderers lived locally, and some were kids, and kept braking in. Had to be organised that there was always someone on site. Some were from the National residential programme, a lot of people came and event, a few stayed long term.”
(Giles) “Late one summer night it was still light, there was a very heavy knocking on the back kitchen door, Giles went down billhook in had with Seamus the dog, knowing I was likely to meet with unpleasant posse folks, and opened the door and there on the back landing there was maybe half a dozen local kids all raring to have a go at me, for no particular reasons other than from their point of view it was “their place” not “our place”. And Seamus sat with me a few minutes and looked at the situation, and he went out and sat with them turned to me, bared his teeth and growled at me. And everyone just fell about laughing. It just broke the ice completely, Seamus, dog and a half was just brilliant, they just couldn’t believe it, that my dog would go and join their gang, he (Seamus) was safer with them than with me.”
Bill had MSC teams at Tong. “If you had a certain number, I think 12 people on the scheme you could get extra money for a supervisor. By hook or by crook you could keep supervisors on for a couple of years before they got a professional job elsewhere. The people on the schemes got paid a wage, it wasn’t like the schemes that carried on afterwards and became New Deal where people got an allowance, they were paid a proper wage, the age range 16 – 30, a couple of graduates and the usual ‘arum, scarums’ from Bradford and Leeds, the prospects for them weren’t great at the time, but eventually they all mucked in” .
Bill Shaw “Bridget running the schools team with local kids , and that one of the ways the residents became known to the local kids, and in some way those kids became part of the wider Hollybush community, they were accepted, we knew if you turned your back whatever it was would be gone, but we didn’t chase them off, they were invited to get involved and they did. “
Bill Shaw “The BTCV was really influential in the lives of many young people up to 30s, in giving the skills, the imagination, affirming their creativity and skills to go and use them in later life. This happened before in the National Conservation Corps, before BTCV (1970) a number of the people I met on the summer circuits across Scotland, week by week or fortnight, hundreds of people encouraged to go on and some ended working for the Nature Conservation Council and others, and you would see their names associated with something and you knew where they came from.”
“There was great tool storage in the barn, little workshops for tool repair, lots of racking everything well looked after, oiled and put away. Volunteers who didn’t respect tools got their ears chewed. We had lots of stuff, they were almost magical days, if you look back and think could that be done today, in terms of regulation, health and safety, I don’t recall any serious accidents, we took safety seriously, safety talks at the start of everyday. Task leaders had to make sure everyone did it properly.”
Bill Shaw I had learnt how to call ceilidhs when in Scotland so on several occasions we got round to clearing the barn, part of the social activities to keep the ever changing Hollybush community together.
Giles “The land from the farm to the canal was completely covered in piles of cobbles and old tarmac that Leeds City Council had dumped from somewhere. John Iles had persuaded Hargreaves a transport company to clear this area for nothing, it would have cost several thousands of pounds which we didn’t have. They brought in a huge truck and a digger, they worked solid for days and days. I remember the transport manager screaming down the phone at me, saying it had gone on too long, he needed the truck for other things. I went down and asked the digger driver if he ought to stop and he said ‘no’ he would carry on until he had finished the job., and I was so gratefully. We then made into the schools nature area.”
Bill “ the opportunities were terrific, just the space, the buildings for storage for making and mending. “