I’m working on a project based on the flats I used to live in for most of the 80s. The notorious Kelvin Flats of Sheffield. The poem ‘Milk’ is set there, too. Kelvin was the last built and most reviled of the Brutalist housing developments in my fair city. I’ve long held that the only people who loved them were the people who lived in them. The negativity and outright hatred is largely from people who never experienced them as a tenant.
I loved my time there. Absolutely adored it. For all it’s quirks and characters, it’s the place that had the strongest community spirit I’ve ever been privileged to be part of. In researching the flats via oral and video projects – books seem to gloss over Kelvin’s existence in a sentence or two, sometimes less – I came across the following story. I’ve fictionalised it a bit and added detail from my own time the but the story is essentially hers.
I don’t know her name, but if she sees this, please get in touch and I’ll credit your story!
The piss filled lift was out
when I crept in to look around
before the demolition.
So I climbed the exposed stairwell
buffeted by winter gales,
to the eleventh floor and along
the landing through the soft
sodium shadow to my old
In the last days when only twenty
of the one thousand flats were occupied,
we were given walkie talkies by the builders
to contact the site office, our lifeline
should something go wrong.
When my time came the walkie talkie –
a poor replacement for the chatter
and gossip served only to emphasise
our isolation – was returned.
But I hid my keys, not returning them
as I should have done. I made a show
of fumbling in my hessian bag,
but the woman in the council office didn’t mind.
I wasn’t the first to lose them ‘and anyway’,
she said, understanding, ‘we have spares’.
The door opened and my flat – all but empty
save for a few pieces of unwanted furniture
and a carpet, threadbare from the endless visitors –
was not my flat.
Builders had repositioned the abandoned sofa
and it looked wrong against the long wall.
So I moved the rug and put the sofa back,
tidied the room, dusted the worktops
and polished the grease smeared windows
with Lemon Pledge and windex from under the sink
and I was home again.
They had left a walkie talkie, it’s red light blinking,
battery almost expired but I couldn’t resist…
So I called out:
‘Edith 171. Is anybody there?’
To dead air.