For more than three decades London’s least-loved council estates have been stigmatised as delapidated, crime-ridden, antisocial slums where hope and aspiration have perished, contributing to housing problems rather than offering any solution to them.
But ambitious renewal projects, spearheaded by a new type of public-private partnership, aim to transform troubled estates and the lives of the people who live on them.
With hindsight, London’s hastily constructed post-war estates were probably always destined to bring trouble because of the way they were built.
Once judged an exemplar of social housing, Woodberry Down in Hackney had 1,890 homes in low-rise blocks. Yet by the Nineties, the estate was so grim it was used to depict the Warsaw ghetto in the film Schindler’s List. Drug dealing and stabbings were part of daily life.
Today the estate is in the early stages of a 25-year redevelopment programme that entails bulldozing the old homes and building more than twice as many new ones, about 60 per cent of which are for private sale and another 788 for shared ownership.
TAKE A TOUR OF WOODBERRY DOWN IN HACKNEY
Woodberry Down: Hackney
Woodberry Down: Hackney
New beginnings: a partnership between Hackney council and developer Berkeley Homes is transforming Woodberry Down estate with smart new apartments. Prices in some blocks start from £283,000, or £70,875 for a 25 per cent share.
Crisp new apartment blocks are linked by a series of pocket parks and open spaces.
Yvonne and Ian Kleinberg have lived at Woodberry Down since 1979 and now have “a lovely big new apartment, like something out of a partnership between Hackney a magazine.”
Developer Berkeley is making much of what it calls “social sustainability” — getting local residents into better homes and more engaged in their community through initiatives and activities.
...These schemes range from apprenticeships for unemployed youngsters to classes in nutrition, IT and yoga in the newly built community centre and library.
Woodberry Down sits in Zone 2 and occupies a waterfront position alongside two vast reservoirs and the New River.
A sailing club uses one of the reservoirs for water sports, while the other is a nature reserve with a “trim trail” for joggers.
Berkeley Homes, the private developer collaborating with London Borough of Hackney, has made a strategic decision to take on such large-scale projects because they bring steady, long-term profits — good for business as well getting brownie points from planners and policy makers.
One in every four new homes the company builds in London is on the site of a former council estate. Kidbrooke Village, the reborn Ferrier Estate in south-east London, is another such project winning plaudits from architects and home buyers alike.
Prime Zone 2 location
Critics claim it is about social engineering as much as regeneration — an attempt to impose gentrification, with well-paid young professionals and buy-to-let investors displacing council tenants.
This is the method by which poor people are cleared off valuable land to make way for the rich, detractors allege, the patch broken up to suit an international company selling homes to those who can afford mortgages. The fact that the council is leading this dismemberment has made some especially angry. But is this judgment too harsh?
Berkeley is making much of what it calls “social sustainability” — getting local residents into better homes and more engaged in their community through initiatives and activities that also promote personal wellbeing and foster neighbourhood pride. These schemes range from apprenticeships for unemployed youngsters to classes in nutrition, IT and yoga in the newly built community centre and library.
Coming later is a new school and lifelong learning campus, a street market and more convenience stores.
Tenants stay in their existing homes until the new ones are ready, rather than being decanted to a remote address, never to return. And the consensus, borne out by resident surveys, is that Woodberry Down is generally a much better place to live, a place where fear is not a daily emotion.
It is not difficult to see why the new homes are attracting buyers, most of whom are “normal, working Londoners priced out of inner districts”, according to Berkeley’s Piers Clanford. Woodberry Down sits in Zone 2 and occupies a spectacular waterfront position alongside two vast reservoirs and the New River.
It is an impressive and unexpected setting, 64 acres in total. A sailing club uses one of the reservoirs for water sports, while the other is a nature reserve with a “trim trail” for joggers. Crisp new apartment blocks are linked by a series of pocket parks and open spaces.
Panoramic city views
Previously the waterfront was inaccessible from Woodberry Down but it has been opened up and enhanced by new landscaping. “I hadn’t realised how beautiful it is, especially at night,” says Geraldine Forbes, who has lived on the estate for 15 years.
She recently moved into a new one-bedroom flat and has become a volunteer cook in the community centre. “It’s like a fresh start.” Designated Sites of Metropolitan Importance, the reservoirs are an educational and environmental resource, and have become a popular destination for buggy-pushing young mums from the wider area.
Residents have formed Woodberry Down Family Group with the stated aim of “bridging the different sectors on the estate”, while “tenure blind” architecture means there is no visible difference between private and tenanted buildings.
Interiors have broadly the same specification, but “good design is not enough”, says Simon Donovan, the enthusiastic director of the Manor House Development Trust, a community support organisation.
“We have to make sure the problems of the old estate do not come back, and that means behaviour change, so there has to be a 360-degree approach — training people to NVQ standard, helping them to get jobs and empowering them.”
Skyline, the latest phase of homes, comprises 135 south-facing apartments in a 30-storey tower, designed to capture panoramic views over the reservoirs towards the City. Residents can make use of the 24-hour concierge, spa, gym and underground parking, which ups the game for the area, too. Prices from £425,000. Call 020 8985 9918.
Shared-ownership flats in other blocks are exclusively for first-time buyers. Hackney borough residents get priority. Prices from £283,000, or £70,875 for a 25 per cent share. Call Genesis housing association on 033 3000 4000.
Getting on the ladder
Tenants moving into a new home retain their right to buy, and the expectation is that a good number will use it, receiving a discount on the price. One of these is long-term resident Gloria Obliana, 43, who has a 20-year old son. “It’s an encouragement to get on the property ladder whereas before there was no incentive,” she says.
Ian and Yvonne Kleinberg have fond memories of Woodberry Down before its spiral downwards. The couple moved to the estate in 1979 and raised their children there, one now an osteopath, the others teachers. “It was well-maintained and safe and you could leave your door open,” says Mr Kleinberg, 63, a retired tailor. “English Heritage even tried to list the estate. But after 1999 Hackney council did nothing for 10 years and it became a hellhole.
“The transformation now is unbelievable. We have this lovely big new apartment, like something you would see in a magazine.”
Time will tell if this regeneration model can live up to the promise. Some residents still living in older blocks are very angry, while a number of former locals claim they moved out because they couldn’t afford the overheads now imposed on residents.
People still in the older blocks, particularly those north of Seven Sisters Road which splits the estate, say they are in limbo because of Berkeley’s development focus on the more desirable reservoir-facing land, where private homes are easier to sell. On this level at least, some might claim that segregation exists.
Berkeley Homes: 020 8985 9918
Photos: Daniel Lynch