IT WAS designed as a fresh start for the town. Built in the council housing boom following World War Two, Wildmill offered working-class families good-sized, modern and reasonably-priced accommodation.
It replaced prefabricated housing erected as a temporary measure for returning soldiers and their families. But its architects were not only building a physical community.
Using a layout known as the Radburn design, which was seen as revolutionary at the time, road access was diverted away from front doors to culde-sacs at the rear of properties, leaving houses accessed by footpaths, alleyways and green communal areas. Other estates based on Radburn include the Gurnos in Merthyr, Tudor in Maesteg and Duffryn in Newport.
With no obvious boundaries between individual properties, Wildmill’s design aimed to bring people together, fostering a feeling of community. Even the heating and hot water system – powered by one massive central boiler house – was communal.
But the build quality of the houses meant they quickly deteriorated. The flat roofs leaked, the central boiler system proved unreliable and the high-density housing and narrow alleyways allowed crime, particularly anti-social behaviour and drug use, to thrive.
Like other Radburn estates, Wildmill’s layout is also incredibly confusing, making it easy to become hopelessly lost among the properties, of which there are approximately 1,000, housing around 2,500 people.
The streets are not named, instead sections of houses and flats are communally branded Maes-y-Felin, Tairfelin, Tremgarth and Glanffornwg, and the house numbering makes little sense. Wildmill is no friend of the postman.
High-voltage power lines are strung directly over houses with a huge buzzing pylon smack bang in the middle of the shopping precinct car park and no more than 15 feet from the balconies of a block of flats.
Situated on a former flood plain and marshland next to the River Ogmore, damp in the properties remains a huge problem, according to residents. And, as it’s bounded by the river and railway lines, access is also difficult. It can only be reached by going underneath one of three low railway bridges which date from Brunel. It’s rumoured to have affected the type of bus that can access the estate and means it’s on the “red lists” of delivery companies, which must dispatch smaller vehicles than normal.
Emergency access is another ongoing worry. Ambulances cannot always park near enough to their patients.
Even recycling and waste collection has proved a problem. Wildmill’s design means residents cannot have individual recycling containers like other county borough residents. Communal waste points were established instead, but the bins are too small and, coupled with a lack of frequent collections, they overflow, leaving waste to blow around the estate and attract rats. Nothing is easy in Wildmill. But, as the estate prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the building of its first homes, multi-million-pound work on refurbishing the exterior of the houses has begun. Residents and councillors have also spoken of their hopes to reignite the passion and pride which the estate was designed to nurture.
“I have spent the last six months getting to know the community and I have been really impressed by the community spirit, which is alive and kicking,” said Bridgend county borough councillor Nicole Burnett who, along with fellow Labour member Stuart Baldwin, was newly elected to serve the Morfa ward in May’s local election.
Working together, the pair have started Muck In For Morfa sessions, which has seen them clean the play park – they want to paint it next – and Stuart trim shrubs on communal borders and replace the decorative stone chippings which had been scattered around the area.
“I can see a lot of positives,” said Nicole.
“And a lot of people who really look after their houses and care about their community and the way it’s going.”
One such resident is Anne Evans, 79, who has lived in Wildmill for 45 years. She has occupied an immaculate property in Glanffornwg for the last 32 years, but she first moved her family into a property in Maes-y-Felin 45 years ago.
“When I first came here I was delighted. It took the pressure off us financially, to be absolutely truthful. It was a nice, modern house, nice bathroom, everything. The kitchen was larger and I had an L-shaped lounge, the dining area was small. And I didn’t have to pay enormous rent. Everything was included in the rent then, which was £7 a week. The heating was included.
“The council hadn’t, as yet, made up the roads, but all the pavements were in and I was absolutely delighted with the house. Because we were all new neighbours we all socialised more and spoke to each other, nice and friendly. And we all had young children growing up together. It was a nice, pleasant time.
“In the summer we would sit out, us mothers, and play music and chat until 10pm at night, but not too loud. I really enjoyed that period.”
Anne recalls that she took pride in keeping the green play area in front of her house on Maesyfelin clean, a move which saw her receive a letter of thanks from the council.
“I have always taken pride in the outside because it’s where we live. I have always got a sweeping brush and pick up litter,” she said.
“If the children scribbled on the seat, I would be outside with a scrubbing brush and a bit of bleach looking after it.”
Well-known Bridgend history author Natalie Murphy, 70, was also a resident in the early days of the estate.
With her mum Molly Gibbs, dad Bill and brother Robin, she moved from a small 130-year-old cottage on Elder Street in the town centre, which had no bathroom, to a three-bed house in Glanffornwg, which had an upstairs bathroom with a toilet, a separate downstairs toilet and even fitted wardrobes.
“We moved in in April 1968. It was just after my 21st birthday,” said Natalie. “It was this brand-new, wonderful estate which had been built. The shops hadn’t been built and there were still people living in the odd prefab here and there.”
Natalie, who has a copy of the original tenants’ handbook, said that at the time Wildmill was also home to many Royal Mint workers who had moved down from London to work at the new headquarters in Llantrisant.
When she married husband David she moved into a two-bed house in Tairfelin. She also cleaned in the community centre.
“The community spirit when we first moved in was absolutely stunning,” she said.
“We had festivals, things like that, and everything was easily organised.”
People still want to come together in Wildmill. The Wildmill Community Life Centre runs at 93% capacity, offering everything from a Flying Start nursery to martial arts classes, said centre chairman Roger Marsh, who also lives on the estate.
But he claims the apathy of younger people and the resurgence of hard drugs – crime had fallen on the estate after the police and Valleys to Coast Housing Association (V2C) poured in resources – is leaving residents nts facing an uphill struggle.
He said some children also live very hard lives.
“It’s been reported to me by certain teachers that some older children are turning up to school 40 to 50 minutes late every day andd it’s because they are taking g their younger siblings too school. The parents are in bed d until midday,” said Roger.
“Myself and Peter Foleyy also found out that some of the brighter students were notot doing very well with theirir homework and it was because se they didn’t have computers. So we applied for grant funding to provide them with recondiditioned lap-tops.
“Unemployment is still rife here. The drugs are on the increase. The police will say they are not but they are and we are never going to stop it. We have PCSOs who do their best. est. But heroin and cocaine are back here now.
“About 10 years ago when V2C (which took over the housing from the council) started refurbishing their properties, this apathy that was permeating right through this community started to disappear. People started taking more interest in their homes.
“They had new windows, new bathrooms and the houses were painted up. It seems to roll over to their interactions with the police. They were proud of where they lived. For the first time people were saying ‘there’s nothing wrong with Wildmill’.”
Residents like the late Philip Loveday, an Army veteran battling PTSD and a broken vertebrae, also helped to turn the estate’s fortunes around. Together with wife Sally Ann he helped to start the Wildmill Area Tenants and Residents’ Association (WATRA).
Following his death in April his daughter Angharad Hillman recalled how he “went toe to toe with a couple of the heavies they (the drug dealers) brought down”.
At one time young mums also staged a sit-in in the play park, taking shifts to guard the play equipment from the drug users vandalising it. For a time, Wildmill was on the up. However, renewed investment from V2C aside, Roger fears apathy and neglect are still major threats to the estate’s future.
Both he and the community centre’s caretaker, Gwyn Roberts, are desperate for new blood to join their committee. Aged 73 and 88 respectively, they know they can’t go on for ever.
Roger is also trying for a second time to get £140,000 off the Welsh Government for a MUGA (multi-use games area), which could be used by the estate’s regular and walking football sides and other teams. But he said the process is long and very frustrating.
Empty houses, which are attracting vandals and squatters daily, are also dragging the estate down.
When the central boiler house was decommissioned and demol-demol
I have spent the last six months getting to know the community and I have been really impressed by the community spirit, which is alive and kicking