The Girls’ Hostel

They handed over their wages every week and an allowance was given to each of them.

 

In 1972 I left my job at Stanley Miller’s, the building contractors and civil engineers in Benton Square, to work at the Girls’ Hostel in Killingworth, run at that time by Northumberland County Council.

I had an interview in the hostel and found the salary was much more than my office salary, with £50 extra per annum because of my age – I was 49 years old. I received a further £50 per annum due to my previous experience. My starting date was to be 1st May 1972. My nephew John was to be married on 8th July so I made arrangements to have that day off before I accepted the post.

The hostel comprised of two adjoining three-bedroomed council houses and catered for six girls of 16-18 years of age who had come from various local children’s homes. (Once you reached 16 you had to leave a children’s home, and once you reached 18 you had to leave the hostel). All the girls had full-time jobs in Newcastle. They handed over their wages every week and an allowance was given to each of them. We also had a cleaning lady called Flo who lived nearby and she had a teenage family, so she understood the girls.

My first day and I was feeling anxious. The first rule was that the girls would address me as ‘Auntie’. I thought they should use my Christian name but the Warden insisted on ‘Auntie’, so I complied. I didn’t want a bad start. My day off was Tuesday as well as alternate Saturday and Sunday afternoons. My other time off was by arrangement as someone had to be on cover all of the time. It was a totally different life. All food (just the best) plus household goods were ordered and delivered by the County Council. The invoices would be retained until the end of the month and forwarded to the County Council with the girls’ wage slips and petty cash statements.

I missed shopping for small items, such as a loaf of bread and meeting and chatting to people on the way, everything now was supplied in bulk. I thought the hostel was more like an institution than a home for the girls. There were so many rules. The Warden, Eva, and I shared the cooking, a cooked breakfast at 7.30 am and a cooked evening meal for everyone at 6.00 pm. No beans or spaghetti on toast, or a glass of milk and a slice of jam and bread if you slept in. No long lies-in on days off, no untidy kitchen, bathroom or bedrooms – Flo the cleaner arrived at 9.00 am. The girls did their own laundry on allotted days. TV programmes and reading matter were vetted by Eva. We all went to the church service in Bailey Green School each Sunday morning and the ‘Aunties’ had to show a good example.

We had to keep the outer door shut to stop ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ coming in without permission. At home, I had been used to friends calling in without invitation, so I had to forgo all that. The girls had to be indoors by 10.00 pm and we had to know where and with whom they were spending their time. If they didn’t return at midnight, the police had to be informed and whoever was on duty had to stay up until the girls were found and escorted home by the police. Each of the girls had a social worker, who occasionally visited the hostel for a chat with her client.

I had to do a day release day course in childcare at Rutherford College, Bath Lane, Newcastle on a Thursday. To cover my absence from the hostel a young married woman, Elizabeth Warkup, was employed part-time. She also worked part-time at Woolco, a large department store in the centre of Killingworth. She soon became endeared to the staff and the girls. She lived in one of the Towers, a group of multi storey flats in Killingworth, with her husband and daughter. Her husband worked in one of the shipyards. When management at Woolco informed the staff that the store would be opening all day on Good Friday she objected, saying that as a Methodist she considered that day to be Holy and would not work it. She was told that no extra staff would be employed to cover any absentees. She thought of her friends, who would have to cover for her, so she went to work under protest.

My mother had been temporarily re-housed in Alnwick Towers, facing Woolco, while her house was being modernised. She settled in well and welcomed visits from girls living in the hostel. Some of them called to ask if she needed anything from the shops and on the way back they had a cup of tea and a chat with her. However, Eva objected, she didn’t want the girls to make casual visits. Both my mother and I couldn’t see any harm in it. After all, they were just ordinary teenagers. My mother asked me if this was what I wanted to devote my life to – petty restrictions – I didn’t. After fifteen months of working in the hostel I tendered my resignation and found myself out of a job I thought I would have until I retired.

That weekend I went to Minsteracres, the Passionist monastery near Consett in County Durham, where I occasionally helped at the Retreat House. There I met the chap I had worked with at Stanley Miller and he told me my old job was vacant. So back I went to Stanley Miller’s until I was made redundant in 1977. My leaving gift was a Parker pen which I am still using to write my memories.

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