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An Interview with Peter Leeson

If you lived around Scotland Road during the construction of the Kingsway tunnel, you would know how it also led to the removal of one of the last remaining communities who resided in Liverpool's legendary Scotland Road.

The years spanning from the late 60s to the early 70s seen the area of Vauxhall experience a high level of social change, as city planning and the housing slum clearances saw the community forced out their homes and left behind deserted streets, empty lots and deprivation.

One figure who captured these years of redevelopment was Peter Leeson, known for his introspective documentary Us and Them, released in 1978. The film captured the atmosphere, emotions and lives of the local people who were directly affected by the city planning committee decisions. Peter also published a book with the Bluecoat art gallery in 2008 called Goodbye Scotland which features an array of photos of the streets and people living in the area.

Scottie Press spoke to Peter and reflected on the past and spoke about the future of the Vauxhall district.

Starting his career as a young city planner in Liverpool, Peter spoke about the excitement of being in the position in such a rapidly advancing city,” it was the place to be as city planner”, he says.

Though, it soon became evident the city plan was paying a toll on the Scotland Road community – driving Peter to start documenting what he saw, “I was just horrified by the conditions people were forced to live in”.

Peter tells us about having a father who lived in the east end of London during the housing clearance of the early 1900s, which made him aware of the effects redevelopment on communities, and how this raised his concerns for the people of Scotland Road.

"I was just horrified by the conditions people were forced to live in"

He explained the shocking contrast between the spirit and humour of local people with the dreadful treatment from city planners at the time, referring to why he portrayed such negativity in the film but tell us looking back he would have liked to include more of the positives of the community pride.

Peter worked mainly on city traffic proposal and was assigned High Cross area to review where he then started attending local council meetings.

Noticing a divide between the residents and the planners, he told us, “When I spoke to people in the housing department in the area…..and, I don’t like to say it, but they seemed to have contempt for the local people.”

Peter decided to leave his job in the planning department and started working for Vauxhall Development Project,  “I was hard up for a time but my wife and I managed to pull through”. He tells us the purpose of the Us and Them film was to pressure the powers that be and bring light to what was happening to the Scotland Road community.

He mentioned some of his colleagues in housing department were sympathetic and how his boss was particularly interested in the Shanklin report and try to object it.

We spoke to Peter about the references he made to football and boxing in the film and the recreational activities available at the time. He notes how good of a job The League of Well Doers and Vauxhall Community Centre did for the community and how determined local people were to get involved in social projects.

Peter Leeson Photograph

Peter asked us what was happening at Eldon Grove, ( the site is depicted in Us and Them in a similar state as we see today), we told Peter about the proposed new plans and how the community expressed concern for the refurbishment. He thought it was a shame Eldon Grove was still abandoned Peter says, “let’s hope they pull their fingers out and get something done” and that  “it was really grim in Us and Them film. 

Peter expressed, “the people around there have achieved so much”, and believes when the community comes together they are very influential.

Peter was thrilled to hear Greatie has remained, “it was a real community shopping centre,” he says, and told us of his memories of Capalies ice cream parlour and how kids would line up in excitement.

After his work in Liverpool Peter went to work in Kuwait “I didn’t even know where it was”, he says laughing and explains how he encountered a similar situation to the redevelopment project in Vauxhall, “I saw kids playing in the rubble just like I’d seen in Liverpool”.

Peter Lesson left a prosperous career for the people of Vauxhall and gave the rights to his film and photographs to the community in a true act of generosity and compassion. He concluded by telling us how much influence his time with the Scotland Road community had on his life and expressed a sincere interest in the future of the district and its people.

Peter Leeson Photograph

Peter asked us what was happening at Eldon Grove, ( the site is depicted in Us and Them in a similar state as we see today), we told Peter about the proposed new plans and how the community expressed concern for the refurbishment. He thought it was a shame Eldon Grove was still abandoned Peter says, “let’s hope they pull their fingers out and get something done” and that  “it was really grim in Us and Them film. 

Peter expressed, “the people around there have achieved so much”, and believes when the community comes together they are very influential.

Peter was thrilled to hear Greatie has remained, “it was a real community shopping centre,” he says, and told us of his memories of Capalies ice cream parlour and how kids would line up in excitement.

After his work in Liverpool Peter went to work in Kuwait “I didn’t even know where it was”, he says laughing and explains how he encountered a similar situation to the redevelopment project in Vauxhall, “I saw kids playing in the rubble just like I’d seen in Liverpool”.

Peter Lesson left a prosperous career for the people of Vauxhall and gave the rights to his film and photographs to the community in a true act of generosity and compassion. He concluded by telling us how much influence his time with the Scotland Road community had on his life and expressed a sincere interest in the future of the district and its people.

Peter Leeson Photograph