When Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen came to the North East of England in 1969 as a founder member of Amber, she set up home in Byker, a working class part of Newcastle upon Tyne. As she began to document the terraced community, she became aware of the plans for its demolition, to make way for the building of the Byker Wall, designed by architect Ralph Erskine. This lent urgency to her work, which continued over until the early 1980s and the completion of the new estate. The house where she was living was knocked down in 1976.
In 1981 Amber began work on the film which, drawing on Sirkka’s images and interviews, on documentary footage and dramatisation, evokes an entire era in British working class life. It is an intimate portrait of a community faced with redevelopment.
The Byker project began with a £150 grant from Northern Arts, and a rent free hairdressing salon in Raby Street from the city council, which Sirkka turned into a studio for free portraits. In 1972 a two year Fellowship in Creative Photography for Sirkka from the Northern Gas Board and Northern Arts brought the collective an income of £2000 a year, but it also meant that Sirkka had to work for the Gas Board part of her time.
Book, exhibition and film were published/released in 1983. When shown on television Byker attracted condemnation by some city councillors, outraged at the promotion of working class culture. The work connects with that on Quayside (1979) and T Dan Smith (1987). Both Sirkka and Amber are currently back in Byker, developing a new exhibition and publication, together with a series of films exploring the Byker Wall Estate, regeneration and cultural change in Urban Tyneside.
Made under the auspices of the ACTT Workshop Declaration with financial assistance from Northern Arts and Channel Four Television.