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The People's Place

click me for more info.The 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 payments.

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 still do).

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 Claimants Union.

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.

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