In David Cameron’s recent article in The Sunday Time, he raises the issue of the negative influence of housing estates on people’s lives, stating that “some of them…. are actually entrenching poverty in Britain”. The Prime Minister argues that attempts to regenerate estates in the past had “failed”.
While I’m sure there will be examples of “failed” regeneration attempts, there are also many examples across the country and indeed within Riverside, where regeneration has uplifted estates and in doing so transformed people’s lives. None more so than in North Bransholme.
North Bransholme had been blighted for years by rows and rows of derelict and vandalised properties. It was an area which attracted anti-social behaviour. An area that lacked, not from the within the community at least, a long term vision and hope for the future. Walking around the estate looking at these boarded-up properties was extremely unsightly and cast a dark shadow of neglect across the area, which the residents of North Bransholme simply had to accept as the normal environment they lived within.
Following concerted efforts by the community, led by residents association URBaN, the estate was transferred to Riverside in November 2010. Five years later, the estate has been transformed.
Initially, one of the biggest challenges was to ensure residents didn’t lose faith in Riverside. Many false dawns on North Bransholme had come and gone where residents had been informed of possible regeneration plans for the area, to no avail. It was clear to all of us that we needed to start the regeneration and improvement works as quickly as possible.
There had been no significant amounts of money invested in the area for more than a decade. In early 2011 we embarked on installing secure by design external doors to all properties, as well as starting building and renovation work to 160 long term empty properties. Within the first year, we had brought back the majority of the empty homes. To complement the renovations, selected demolitions were undertaken to rid the area of those properties deemed not safe or viable.
It was the turning point for the area and created an improvement to the landscape of North Bransholme, which hadn’t been seen in years and was a huge positive outcome for those people living among the rows of vandalised properties. Since Riverside took over, we have invested more than £18.5m in North Bransholme.
We also inherited over 40 boarded up bedsits that were attracting anti-social behaviour. Our innovative solution to bring 14 of these back into use as one bedroom houses has been a real success story. We demolished the remaining bedsits which were uneconomical to improve. This is a prime example of our can do approach within Riverside and the North Bransholme community, in this instance to help mitigate the impacts of the “bedroom tax”.
While we were working on the empty properties we were also making improvements within existing homes such as gas supplies to all electric properties, new boilers and radiators, modern kitchens and bathrooms. We also undertook a huge energy efficiency improvement programme through installation of external cladding to hundreds of thermally inefficient homes.
We have built 44 new properties, the first new-builds in the area for 40 years. These houses and bungalows helped uplift the area to a new level and complemented the external cladding works and the recently renovated properties.
Families who left North Bransholme years ago have moved back and people are now wanting to stay. The physical improvements are a really positive sign and paints a completely different picture to what the estate used to look and feel like.
But to regenerate estates it take more than just improvements to the bricks and mortar, helping to improve and shape people’s life chances and opportunities is a key ingredient to uplifting an area. What makes our work on the estate really stand out is the investment and commitment we continue to make in the community, through supporting and participating in community events to introducing various employment programmes, including a job club for local people. We also provide money advice and affordable warmth advice for our residents.
North Bransholme, located on the edge of the East Yorkshire countryside, also has a lot of green open spaces and we have focused our efforts on these areas to improve the quality of those spaces through regular maintenance via our locally employed Your Place environmental services team. In addition to the day to day enhanced maintenance provided, in 2014 we completed a tree planting scheme to create the Pennine boulevard and in 2015 a new skate park was opened, which has seen scores of children of all ages use the improved facilities. Furthermore improvements and upgrades were made to two existing play parks which has resulted in unprecedented numbers of children using the outdoor spaces on their doorstep.
The local woods, fondly known as the Ash Plantation, is packed full of wildlife and working closely with the local community we have developed some plans to enhance the natural environment even further. Our proposals will include improvements to existing footpaths and provision of learning zones for local school children through the creation of an outdoor classroom to encourage learning with seating spaces for group activities.
One of the greatest things about North Bransholme is the community spirit. We don’t want to lose that and want to continue to work closely with our residents. The improvements are there for all to see, but more importantly the improvements are there for the residents of North Bransholme to benefit from.
So, the news that the Government are committed to regenerating some of the most run-down estates in the country is very much welcomed, but there are some shining examples of how estates can be regenerated, with the community at the heart of it.
We have definitely achieved what we said we would. Riverside is about transforming lives and revitalising neighbourhoods, and that sums up North Bransholme.