We had come from living in a 'rent to buy' property in the West Midlands. The year after our son was born riots hit the country, although they didn't hit Walsall, with it's police doing a great job of lowering tensions via Twitter with Tweets such as, "Walsall Police Station is not on fire (photo). It is very not on fire." We were living 10 minutes away from the town centre, and had only viewed our home during the week in the day time (top tip there - go and see new properties at a variety of times and weekdays - it turned out to be the red light district). A month after we had moved in, our son was born scarily early and proximity of that house to the Manor Hospital, which we had not taken into account when we moved in, suddenly became of overriding importance. I could walk there after I was discharged, an emergency C-section having left me not able to drive. He survived and I'll never forget how small he looked taking him into the town centre for the first time in his pram. I almost turned round and came straight home again. We miss Walsall for friends, a lively and diverse community, for my step family and for our little church at the end of the road, where we found Aunty Becky (our son's Godmother) after an appeal by the pastor for someone who would like to come and 'cuddle a baby'. There was swine flu around when our son was born so I avoided all public places for the first three months and felt isolated. Becky stepped into the gap and has been part of our family ever since.
After the riots though, came a couple of bomb scares. A Muslim man rushed past me in the opposite direction as I was headed into town and urged me and others to turn round and go back home. I didn't want to live in the city any more, so an 18 month job search began. With family on the northern edge of the Forest of Dean and in Devon and Cornwall, job offers popping up suddenly in Gloucester, when we came to test out a tent in the last weekend of the summer and visit my Godson at the same time in Lydney, it seemed like a great solution all round. We moved. The house seemed lovely. It was right by the local park.
It's been a bitter-sweet experience. We love the Forest and can go and visit my family there and back in a day. We love our friends here and the lovely Welsh-borders accent our son is developing. Oakdale Links started on that night when I was 'just looking' really. The developers for Lydney had bought www.oakdale-lydney.co.uk but had not bought www.oakdale-lydney.org.uk so a mischievous impulse lead to me purchasing the domain name for £10. I decided to use it to put down all the information we had searched for about our new home town and the area. It had been hard to find for us and I thought maybe I could turn this into a business opportunity with advertising space. There is still room for that on our website if anyone is interested! After a tortuous and unbelievably stressful process and with generous microloans and gifts that covered our fees from friends and family, we were able to use up the last of our savings and buy our shared ownership home. Given the conditions we had been living in and the fact that we had been homeless for two weeks as we had to make a decision not to renew the rent for another six months, our home seemed to be a miracle for us.
So that's why we fight for it.
It quickly became apparent that there was tension between the earliest residents (all social tenants) and builders, with JCB's driving recklessly fast past young children playing on bikes. A new friend took pity on us as we were peering over the fence at our house being built and invited s in to look around her house. Three years later, she was later evicted, which seemed symptomatic of a darkness that seemed determined to destroy any sparks of human happiness here. In the mean time, having spent a year giving her lifts to the doctors and to get shopping, with no sign of a promised bus link, we decided that we should do a petition. We got everyone on the estate at the time to sign it (apart from four people who were out) and talking that night, my husband and I decided it was time to take the momentum and form a residents' association.
From the very earliest days, we worked across tenure types. We started out following a traditional committee set up but a couple of years ago, our Facebook group took off and with the difficulties in making meetings accessible (the right time and day) for working people, parents with children and the general business of life, combined with no central meeting place except our outdoor spaces, we have evolved so that all important decisions are put to the whole group. We know this is not perfect. We campaigned for a notice board so we can be inclusive, but this was hijacked by the Town Council administration who put up an official one. We were offered a key to it and a panel to use, but neither offer came to fruition.
We went through a time when we hand delivered newsletters to everyone, but this requires funds and we wanted to remain open to everyone living here and so didn't want to impose membership fees. Not everyone is on Facebook, but most are. We have built a local economy, with one of the rules being that if someone posts something for sale, it's only put on once per week and not artificially bumped up the posts. We are able to react quickly to events such as the regular car crashes at our roundabout. On one occasion a local paper, the Gloucester Citizen contacted us through Twitter and within 12 hours, they were helping us in our campaign for a safer junction. People have shared information that helps everyone, found new friendships, we've co-ordinated events and a community Christmas tree for the annual festival at St Mary's, our Parish Church. The overwhelming impression, despite occasional spats, is that the vast majority of people here care deeply about their neighbours and their community. Most have family living nearby, some families have several members within Oakdale itself, aided by the differing tenure types in some cases.
In other words, what we are doing works and we are doing it in the face of an onslaught of negativity towards our estate from the outside - inaugurated by local politicians who sought to capitalise by gaining votes from those opposed to new housing developments. We struggle with schools being full - I talked to someone last night who was told she had to (without a car) get four children to four different schools (luckily she had the guts to go to appeal and win). We struggle when it's wet and muddy as residents have had to create their own path to get children to school across wasteland. We struggle with getting off our estate in one piece if we do have cars as there is one roundabout, poor visibility and no speed limit reduction on the bypass that is our only route anywhere and that is one of the most dangerous roads in the country.
But we are here, we have hope for the future and we are in it for the long-haul, for our children, so that our little six and seven year olds can go on being so proud of where they live that, like my son, they can call out to the entire coachload of the school trip as they go past, "That's Oakdale! That's where I live!" without being shushed by neighbours on the bus who don't want the other parents to know where they are living. One day, hopefully before his lovely innocent happiness about where he lives is shattered, people might be on a waiting list waiting to get a home here. We will be ready to welcome them when they do.