‘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...
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,