‘I take pride in where I live

Drugs and rub­bish – Estel Farell-Roig re­ports on the con­cerns of a South Wales hous­ing es­tate where the peo­ple re­ally do care about where they live...

South Wales Echo - - News -

TWO is­sues keep com­ing up when you speak to peo­ple in Wild­mill: drug use and rub­bish.

It’s been like that for a while.

Ten years ago, po­lice broke up what was then one of the big­gest heroin rings ever seen in south Wales. It was be­ing run by a 30-year-old man from his Wild­mill home.

A lot has been done since then to ad­dress the drug is­sue and things im­proved. The po­lice say drug prob­lems are no more preva­lent here than any­where else but some peo­ple on the es­tate are con­cerned the tide is turn­ing and the drugs are back.

And over Christ­mas huge piles of house­hold rub­bish ac­cu­mu­lated in the es­tate, which left res­i­dents com­par­ing it to “liv­ing on a land­fill site”.

Waste col­lec­tion has long been a prob­lem, though a coun­cil­lor for the area says it has im­proved in the past six months. Wild­mill’s de­sign means res­i­dents can­not have in­di­vid­ual re­cy­cling con­tain­ers and the com­mu­nal waste points es­tab­lished in­stead have bins that are too small.

Speak­ing of de­sign, Wild­mill was con­sid­ered rev­o­lu­tion­ary when it opened 50 years ago, of­fer­ing work­ing­class fam­i­lies good-sized, mod­ern and rea­son­ably-priced homes.

It used the Rad­burn de­sign, with road ac­cess di­verted away from front doors to cul-de-sacs at the rear of prop­er­ties, leav­ing houses ac­cessed by foot­paths, al­ley­ways and green com­mu­nal ar­eas.

Sus­tain­abil­ity prin­ci­ples were at its core. The houses had large win­dows in the liv­ing, din­ing and be­d­rooms, which are south-fac­ing, to max­imise ben­e­fit from the sun and small win­dows in non-liv­ing spa­ces like the halls, bath­rooms and land­ings, which are north-fac­ing, to min­imise heat loss.

But the build qual­ity meant homes quickly de­te­ri­o­rated. Flat roofs leaked, the boiler sys­tem proved un­re­li­able, and the high-den­sity hous­ing and nar­row al­ley­ways al­lowed crime, par­tic­u­larly anti-so­cial be­hav­iour and drug use, to thrive.

To­day Wild­mill can come across as a lit­tle bleak. Some of the houses are run down. An en­tire row of five bright­ly­painted houses is boarded up and was re­cently oc­cu­pied by squat­ters.

The main shop­ping area, The Precinct, is dom­i­nated by a big elec­tric­ity py­lon in the mid­dle of the car park, no more than 15ft from the bal­conies of a block of flats. Nearly two weeks after Christ­mas and there is still rub­bish ev­ery­where – over­flow­ing bins, lit­ter on the streets, and piled-up bin bags.

But this is not to say that peo­ple don’t care deeply about their es­tate and they are work­ing hard to im­prove it.

Multi-mil­lion-pound work on re­fur­bish­ing house ex­te­ri­ors be­gan in 2017 and res­i­dents and coun­cil­lors have spo­ken of their hopes to reignite the pas­sion and pride which the es­tate was de­signed to nur­ture.

“I can see a lot of pos­i­tives,” Coun­cil­lor Nicole Bur­nett told the Echo not long after be­ing elected to serve the ward in the 2017 lo­cal elec­tion. Along with an­other coun­cil­lor, she started ses­sions to clean the es­tate’s play park, trim shrubs on com­mu­nal bor­ders, and re­place dec­o­ra­tive stone chip­pings which had been scat­tered around the area.

“I have been re­ally im­pressed by the com­mu­nity spirit, which is alive and kick­ing. And a lot of peo­ple that re­ally look after their houses and care about their com­mu­nity and the way it’s go­ing.”

To­day she says the rub­bish sit­u­a­tion has im­proved in the past six months since ex­tra re­cy­cling col­lec­tion points were in­stalled and that they are try­ing to in­crease ca­pac­ity. She also says she hasn’t had any re­cent com­plaints about drug use, say­ing a huge re­cent crack­down in Brid­gend has had a knock-on ef­fect.

Gaynor Hayes wouldn’t live else­where.

“I would never move from here – I like it here,” said the the for­mer chair­woman of Wild­mill’s ten­ants and res­i­dents as­so­ci­a­tion. It has got a bad rep­u­ta­tion but it doesn’t mat­ter where you live, you don’t know what your neigh­bours are do­ing.

“I like the es­tate but there is a mi­nor­ity giv­ing us a bad rep­u­ta­tion. You can­not say the whole es­tate is bad but there are lit­tle pock­ets.”

Kevin Stevens is an­other long-time res­i­dent of Wild­mill, where he’s been since 1983. Hav­ing just come back from work, the HGV driver said Wild­mill “some­times times it isn’t”.

Again, the rub­bish is­sue comes up. “They have brought in this new sys­tem with the re­cy­cling but a lot of peo­ple can­not be both­ered with it,” he said.

“If it is mixed up they won’t take it so there are piles of rub­bish. If I look out of my win­dow all I can see is rub­bish. It does get de­press­ing.”

He said a cer­tain sec­tion of ac­com­mo­da­tion has been a prob­lem for a while and re­cently forced a neigh­bour to leave be­cause she’d had enough.

“It brings the whole area down,” the 49 year old said.

“The area has al­ways had a bad rep­u­ta­tion but over the years it has got worse. No­body seems to care. Some­times it is dis­heart­en­ing.”

But, de­spite ev­ery­thing, he likes liv­ing in Wild­mill and has lived in four dif­fer­ent houses on the es­tate. He likes the peo­ple and gets on well with neigh­bours.

Wild­mill’s lo­ca­tion con­trib­utes to its prob­lems. It is sit­u­ated on a for­mer flood plain and marsh­land next to the River Og­more (which also means damp in the prop­er­ties is a big prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to res­i­dents).

It’s bounded by the river and rail­way is all right, other lines so it can only be reached by go­ing un­der­neath one of three low rail­way bridges which date back to Brunel.

So 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.

Like other Rad­burn es­tates, Wild­mill’s lay­out and house num­ber­ing is also con­fus­ing, mak­ing it easy to be­come hope­lessly lost among its 1,000 or so homes. Streets are not named – in­stead there are four named sec­tions.

Wild­mill has had its fair share of head­lines. A year be­fore the afore­men­tioned heroin ring was bro­ken up by po­lice in 2007, a 22-year-old man was beaten to death for no rea­son while walk­ing through the es­tate. Three men aged be­tween 17 and 20 were jailed for life. In 1999, in a very high-pro­file crime, an 18-year-old wom­an­was lured to her death by a killer she met on the es­tate.

In 2018 a school­boy ended up in hos­pi­tal after al­legedly be­ing spiked with the pow­er­ful drug spice. The same year aerosols dumped on a fire caused ex­plo­sions.

How­ever not ev­ery­thing is de­press­ing and 54-year-old Janet Grant seems happy as she walks her dog, Lexi, on the out­skirts of the es­tate where her par­ents lived for 25 years.

“Wild­mill has al­ways a bad rep­u­ta­tion but it is not as bad as it was,” Mrs Grant said.

“I think they are try­ing to do some­thing about it now.

“There are ar­eas where there are prob­lems but a lot of the houses are bought and have been done up and are looked after.”

Jenny Hugget runs Jenny the Bar­ber in The Precinct.

The 42 year old has had the shop for two years and says Wild­mill is a lovely place with friendly peo­ple. Aware of its rep­u­ta­tion, she wasn’t wor­ried about open­ing a busi­ness in the heart of the es­tate be­cause she had friends liv­ing there. She knew it was go­ing to be fine.

She sees the good com­mu­nity spirit but not the drugs or any sort of trou­ble, per­haps be­cause she closes early.

Ms Huggett, who lives out­side the es­tate in nearby Brackla, said: “It is quite peace­ful in the day time – I have never had any prob­lems. Ev­ery­one has wel­comed me in.”

In 2017, Roger Marsh, chair­man of the Wild­mill Com­mu­nity Life Cen­tre,

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