In research I came across an article which said Laygate was the best example of integration in Britain. And it was. It is one of our best examples, so why haven’t people heard about it ? I would just like to do it justice and spread the word about the unique area where we lived. I would like other theatre’s to see it and try and play it to a wider audience. I’ll push it as much as I can. The story deserves to be told.
I met Ann at The Word in South Shields just down river from Laygate, an area where she grew up…..
I was raised in the community of Laygate after the 2nd World War and seamen settled in the area after the war. It had Arabs, Africans, Somali’s, Malaysians, it was a very tight community. The area wasn’t looked upon fondly by some people outside that community.
My grandfather and step grandfather where from the Yemen, so my dad was really dark. My mam was from Scotland, she had a terrible time from her family because she was married to a black man. She was ostracised from them. He was a seaman who was away for 2 year stretches and the money wasn’t there. No Social Security or Health Service then.
Not long ago somebody asked me ‘Did you really live in Laygate ?’…I said ‘Well I wouldn’t lie about it would I’. It had, and sometimes still has, for whatever reason, a bad reputation, but it was the friendliest, welcoming, community spirited place you could ever go. Nothing has been written about the community from this angle. Most stories are about the Arab riots, but I wanted to show what a great place it was to grow up in.
I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and I still see most of the people that lived there. I bumped into one of the girls I know and we got talking about Laygate, and she said ‘All of that will be lost, all those stories, those memories, you should write it down’. So I went away, thought about it and started writing things down.
My friend’s dad had a Somali cafe, well it was a sitting room with chairs and tables in. He would get a chicken, kill it in the backyard, and we would pluck it’s feathers out.
Once I remember coming from the shop’s with some bread and I was walking up our back lane when Hanratty was there with his horse. He would collect scrap or old clothes with a cart and horse. He often gave out balloon’s to kid’s who got him scrap. Well, I was desperate for a balloon so I gave the horse the bread. When I got in the house, my mam went mad, she nearly killed me, because she had 4 kids to feed.
So with more stories like these I rang Ray Spencer, Director at The Customs House and asked him would he be interested, could he see it playing at The Customs House ? We met up and after reading through them he said a definite yes.
What is the play about ? It’s about how we got on, the relationships we had, the abuse we suffered sometimes from outsiders, and it’s mostly based in our backlane, Laygate Place, with other scenes in our sitting room and Holy Trinity School.
I wanted to show how we lived together in that community, you could say from a woman and child’s perspective. Not just my family, but the Arabs at the top of the street, the Somali’s down the road, the Arab cafe just along the way. We may have had our fights and arguments as kids, but at the end of the day we are all still lifelong friends. Some I’ve known for 60 years.
How long did it take to write the play ? About 5-6 months, but with re-writing and editing, it has taken nearly two years. I got together with Susan Evans, she wrote a play for The Customs House and she showed me the format she uses, which was a great help.
How many characters are there ? We’re looking for actors for the play. We need 14 in all with 7 of them being able to play children so they should be about 16-18. It’s hard trying to get a Somali actor locally, so if anyone feels like auditioning, contact me via Facebook.
Because of cost’s involved I’ll be fundraising for the production. If people would like to donate I’ve got a GoFundMe page gf.me/u/wz89xz or they can contact me through Laygate Play Customs House on Facebook.
We’ve also got a fundraising Batty Bingo night at Armstrong Hall on 18th April 2020. The last one we did had a great turnout, great tributes and the tickets for this one are selling fast as well. It’s £10 a ticket but well worth the money !
‘When the Boat Comes In’ written by Peter Mitchell has recently played at The Customs House, will it have a similar look ? It is the same as being set in the North East and we all have Geordie accents but that play dealt with unemployment, strike’s and an affair. This won’t, it’s centred on a small community.
What is your family background ? My mam had a really tough time bringing us up. We had to rely on family and friends. But, during the ‘50s and ‘60s nobody had anything, so it didn’t bother you as much as today when they want the latest games or trainers.
Having nowt we did feel it, but you just got on with it. We eventually had to leave Laygate when the Housing Act came in because it was classed as a slum. That is where the story finishes, 1968.
Where you sad to leave Laygate ? Yes and no. I think if our house had an indoor bath and toilet I would have liked to have stayed, but it was classed as a slum. If you wanted to go to the loo you had to go down the backstairs and into the yard. We had the blackest backsides known to man because of the newspaper we used as loo roll (laughs). We were moving to a house that had an indoor toilet and a bathroom. It was like a palace to us!!
While I was writing the story, I organised a reunion at Trimmers bar with all my friends and people from Laygate. I told them what I was doing and that I wanted to include some stories about what they did as kid’s.
We finished by asking what was Laygate like for them growing up, and they all said it was the best time, it was lovely, it really was. We’re all proud to be from Laygate. It was great bringing back all those memories.
It’s called ‘Our Laygate’ because to us, the kids of the ‘50s and ‘60s, when it was mostly an integrated community, it is ours. I know it’s still integrated today and it’s still a great, vibrant community – but to us, that era is ours.
Our Laygate is on at The Customs House 14th & 15th July 2020. Tickets £12.50
Interview by Gary Alikivi September 2018.