Building a ’21st century estate for 21st century people’
Social housing came into place to provide decent homes for people who were on a low income and could not afford to buy their own house. Using North Prospect as an example, we can see how uses and needs changed over time and how this affected both people and planning. North Prospect started in 1919 to provide not only houses for heroes from World War One, but also to rehouse people living in the slums of Stonehouse and Devonport.
The estate was built as one of the first garden suburbs in the country. There were three-bed family homes with outside loos, and coal-fired grates for cooking and heating water. They all had their own gardens, large enough to provide space for the growing of vegetables. The streets were tree lined with large pavements. There is plenty of evidence to show the gardens were well-used, and some people even had chickens. A brand new school was built in the centre of the estate.
The first change came with World War Two. North Prospect suffered badly with bombing, and all residents were issued with Andersen Shelters to put in their gardens. ‘Do-it-yourself’ was the plan and tenants got flat packs and a list of instructions. On the whole, these worked well and many were kept later and turned into garden sheds. Post-war, more changes came. After a period of unrest, low wages and adjustment, life started to improve, Now people could afford their own cars. They were no longer satisfied with outdoor toilets and coal-fired ranges on which to cook.
In the 1950s the houses were modernised. However, gardens were different. The age of the supermarket had started and cheap vegetables were available and easier to come by than growing your own. Although some residents still enjoyed their gardens, and gardening clubs still existed, most were left to go their own way and became overgrown with weeds.
Likewise, the trees lining the streets also grew too large for their surroundings. Their roots cracked the pavements and leaves choked the gutters and sap damaged the new cars. By the 1970s and ’80s, the whole estate looked untidy and unloved. Many front gardens were now concreted over to provide room to park cars, thus leading to more disruption of the original plan.
In 2009, the stock was transferred to PCH and the regeneration started. Two thirds of it is now finished and the whole landscape completely transformed. New modern houses line wide streets, with broad pavements and space for two cars per house. Blocks of flats have also been built and some specifically for the elderly or disabled. The only open space, Cookworthy Green, has been redesigned as a children’s playground.
There is WiFi or broadband in all the houses, which now have their own washing machines so no washing lines are needed. The gardens are small but as gardening in a big way is out of fashion, new residents are delighted. There is also a community centre and library where people can meet as opposed to chatting to each other from their front door steps. A 21st century estate for 21st century people.
Tina Tuohy is a Board Member at Plymouth Community Homes. A Councillor for Ham Ward, Tina has lived in Plymouth since 1970 and Vice Chair of the Planning Committee. She is also Governor of Weston Mill Community School and sits on the North Yard Community Trust.