Wild Lavender gay men's housing project

Andy talks about setting up and living at the housing co-op Wild Lavender, and the Gay Men's Weeks at Laurieston Hall, Edinburgh, in the 1980s.

Duration 07:46


Photo of Edward Carpenter (1905) from Wikipedia.


ANDY: Back in the early 80s I was involved in setting up a gay men’s housing project – the idea was that we were going to kinda move into the countryside and set up something like Edward Carpenter’s place, but we ended up in Chapeltown! [laughs] But anyway we were trying to do something like that… We smoked far too much cannabis though, which kind of got in the way, but we did set up something called the Gay Men’s Weeks at a place called Laurieston Hall in Scotland, that was, the first one we did was in ’85. Out of that came something called The Edward Carpenter Community Trust, which is still going, I think, hundreds of members. I don’t think they do Gay Men’s Weeks at Laurieston Hall anymore, but they were running for about 30 years.

INTERVIEWER: What went on at the Gay Men’s Weeks?

ANDY: Oh what didn’t go on?! Laurieston is an amazing place – I haven’t been actually up there for about 20 years, but it’s a kind of working – I think they’re taking a break at the moment – but it was like a massive big house in masses of grounds, with woods and a lake. So we kinda grew all our own stuff, pretty grand, not like [?], but it was a chance for like 60 men to go up there twice a year and just do all sorts of stuff… Boating on the lake, swimming, midnight saunas, in the woods. It was transformative to lots of men – somewhere I’ve got a lot of photos of it. There’s a site, you can look at, the Carpenter Community. Yeah, it was kinda my idea actually. I’m one of these characters who operates on the margins, and I’m always the kind of the naughty one, the one that drunk, the one that did far too many drugs [laughs] but, somewhere in a footnote I might be recognised when they write the history, that it was my fucking idea – sorry tape recorder. Yeah…

RH: What was the housing – did you say it was in Chapeltown? [inaudible]

ANDY: Yeah, we set up a housing co-op called Wild Lavender. It was a bunch of guys who came together – we looked at various places around the country where we might do an Edward Carpenter. We looked at so many wrecked barns here, there and everywhere, but actually an opportunity came up in Leeds – three of the guys lived in Leeds. There was some huge Victorian houses on Sholebroke Avenue in Chapeltown. They had a what’s called short life – they were gonna demolish it in three years – but we had use of this amazing house for about three years, and the personnel kinda changed but there was a core group of about six of us, and we lived there for three years. And that was kind of interesting because it was a bunch of white gay men, mixed in terms of class, which was good, and it became something of an alternative place to visit in Leeds. So we had kinda connections to GaySoc at the university… And we became a base for visiting activists and things – Gay Sweatshop, the theatre company, they would come and stay with us if they were on tour. What else did we do? [pause] We did a lot – it’s a bit of a dope haze as well.

RH: How many people generally lived there at any one time?

ANDY: Well it – I think at the most we had about seven, but I mean it was a big house, so there were communal areas, a library, we had a big archive and stuff, which has been dispersed now unfortunately.

RH: How did you collect stuff for that?

ANDY: Well most of us brought stuff, y’know. I’m a bit of a hoarder, so I had Gay News going back to issue 1, all the periodicals like Gay Left and Achilles Heel and Spare Rib, and it was an amazing collection of people’s books, it was a library, an archive in itself, but it’s all been split up now. And I’ve given lots away to other archives and things. It was good y’know, I mean you could take the piss out of it now I suppose, we used to have weekly house meetings y’know where we kind of sorted stuff out or not. We even had a sleeping rota at some point.

RH: A sleeping rota? How does that work?

ANDY: [laughs] Well it was kind of let’s experiment by all sleeping with each other and stuff. I didn’t fancy most of the guys there, so I kind of pulled out of that one pretty quickly [laughs] but y’know, people used to come and stay and we had a room that was just mattresses and stuff, so sometimes men would bunk up, that could be quite fun. Yeah and we were involved in a couple of men’s groups, which we set up, which were mixed sexuality-wise, they were kind of interesting. I think we even curated – there used to be a paper called… oh I think it was Achilles Heel we curated an edition of that. God, this is going way back. Yeah, but anyway, we had that house for three years and then we had to move because that side of the street was being demolished, I think it’s all new buildings now, and we joined – what was left of us – five of us I think – another co-op in Harehills called Tangram which still exists, but we were still known as, we had a house in Tangram, it was small, four bed, but it was always known as Wild Lavender. So Wild Lavender kind of dispersed – some of the guys went to London, set up another couple of Wild Lavender houses, one in Hackney, one in… south of the river. I stayed behind and kept it going until I moved to London in ’88