RAD­I­CAL ES­TATE,

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - BRID­GEND COUNTY BOR­OUGH COUN­CIL­LOR NI­COLE BUR­NETT

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

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