The People's Place
People's Place was a converted Victorian church, bought by the
Claimants Union in 1971, and used for many of the activities described
in this book. The disused Unitarian Church was bought by South
Shields Claimants Union for £12,000 from the proceeds of
the sale of property 4 Lawe Road, a large, three-storey, Victorian
house, overlooking the Marine Park.
The house in Lawe Road had been bought at a
knock-down price and rooms were rented out to students and young
unemployed. Most were claiming DHSS benefits (which included rent
and subsistence allowance) which covered running costs and mortgage
The sale of 4 Lawe Road resulted in a hefty
profit-at that time house prices were rising rapidly, but not the
price of deserted churches which littered most Northern towns (and
The SSCU intended that the People's Place be
used as a base and an alternative community centre. They intended
that the premises be owned by the community (the people) and were
surprised to find that all things (and especially property) had
to be 'owned' by named individuals or a registered company.
The SSCU sought to resolve this dilemma by
registering a company name 'People' (the name is still registered)
and by setting up a group of reluctant 'trustees' - a feat of organisational
gymnastics as the CU operated without officers.
The People's Place consisted of a large upper
hall and two lower semi-basement rooms and a kitchen. It survived
for around ten years funded and run by the various user groups.
These included: pensioners, students, trade union branches, strikers,
the unemployed, youth groups, women's groups, jazz bands, dance
groups (ballroom and formation- yes, really!) peripatetic theatrical
groups, judo classes, rock groups (very heavy-metal), a food co-operative,
various political groups (the Anti-Nazi League was notable), the
Youth Theatre, the Blind Social Club and, from time to time, various
homeless people. Its main function was however as a base for the
The activities at the People's Place, and the
work of the Claimants Union and the Trades Union Council soon attracted
national publicity. This drew the attention of many social and
political bodies including international revolutionary groups.
A visit by the then student revolutionary Tariq Ali (now writer
and TV producer) was memorable chiefly for the post-meeting fish
'n' chips supper. Members of the Redgrave family (of the Workers
Revolutionary Party) paid a visit with a revolutionary theatrical
production - and played to a somewhat bemused audience. It says
something for the organisational structure (or lack of it) that
all the various usually warring groups worked together in harmony
while, no doubt, following their own agenda.
The building was handed over to the South Tyneside
Blind Social Club in 1982.