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'People look down their noses - what is it like to live in a council house today?

PUBLISHED: 12:13 30 October 2019 | UPDATED: 15:36 30 October 2019

It has been 100 years since the first council homes were built in the UK. Photo: Archive, Ella Wilkinson and Norwich City Council

It has been 100 years since the first council homes were built in the UK. Photo: Archive, Ella Wilkinson and Norwich City Council

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As the country recovered from the First World War, demand for housing in working class towns soared.

Stuart McPherson, who runs the 'Mile Cross Man' blog, has lived in Mile Cross since he was a child. Picture: Ella WilkinsonStuart McPherson, who runs the 'Mile Cross Man' blog, has lived in Mile Cross since he was a child. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

In 1919, the government passed law to address the need, pledging to build 500,000 homes within just three years.

In Norwich, the first council home was built in October 1920 on Angel Road, closely followed by what would become one of the city's largest housing estates, in Mile Cross.

Built in the 1920s and on land which cost £36,000, it was Norwich City Council's first major council housing project.

Mousehold Avenue, pictured in 1987. Photo: Norwich City CouncilMousehold Avenue, pictured in 1987. Photo: Norwich City Council

It is a part of the city that fills Stuart McPherson with an immense sense of pride, having grown up on Drayton Road with his parents John and Sue.

Such is Mr McPherson's pride in the estate he runs his own blog - The Mile Cross Man - where he shares stories, memories and the history of the area.

Mr McPherson, 43, now lives in a former council house on Pinder Road with his wife Sarah - also a child of the estate - and his two children, Ethan, 14 and Caleb, 10.

He said: "When you grow up on an estate you don't really know much different. It is only once you integrate with people from outside that you realise perhaps it was harder than you might think.

"Sometimes life can be rough and it can be dangerous, but you do also learn a real sense of community."

Mr McPherson added that even as an adult he has encountered some stigma attached to being from a council estate.

Construction began on Normandie Tower in 1966. Photo: Norwich City CouncilConstruction began on Normandie Tower in 1966. Photo: Norwich City Council

He said: "I do sometimes feel that people look down their noses at council estates - even in the workplace one person once asked if I had my windows boarded up.

"However, we are a very proud estate, a community that is rich in history."

Norwich is celebrating 100 years of council homes. Picture: Ella WilkinsonNorwich is celebrating 100 years of council homes. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

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'Times were hard, but happy'

June Gidney, who has shared memories of living in a council houses in Norwich in the 1930s and 40s. Picture: Norwich City CouncilJune Gidney, who has shared memories of living in a council houses in Norwich in the 1930s and 40s. Picture: Norwich City Council

Another estate built in the early years of council housing was Catton Grove, where June Gidney grew up. Her parents and older brother moved into a three bedroom house in the estate before she was born in 1939.

After her, more children followed and they ended up a family-of-10 living in the three bedroom house together.

She said: "Moving to a council house from a cramped house share was an important step for my parents, and I have vivid memories of growing up in Catton Grove in the 1930s and 1940s.

"Times were hard but happy and I fondly remember the strong sense of community and, in many ways, a simpler way of life.

"It was a friendly time, we knew all of our neighbours by name. We used to knock on the joining wall to invite our next door neighbour round for a cup of tea.

"We had a good sized garden and grew cabbages in it. During the second world war we also had an air raid shelter which we shared with our neighbours. I remember running down to it at night, but never understanding why."

Michael McCluskey bought one of the oldest council houses in Norwich, in Angel Road. Picture: Ella WilkinsonMichael McCluskey bought one of the oldest council houses in Norwich, in Angel Road. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

'I didn't get treated any differently because I was from a council estate'

Over the past century, Norwich City Council has added tens of thousands of properties to its housing stock, through a combination of building and acquisition, a figure which now stands at 14,656.

Mile Cross, pictured in the 1920s. Mile Cross was the first major housing estate built by Norwich City Council. Photo: Norwich City CouncilMile Cross, pictured in the 1920s. Mile Cross was the first major housing estate built by Norwich City Council. Photo: Norwich City Council

Alongside Mile Cross, the council also has estates in the Larkman, West Earlham and Heartsease, among others.

A landmark point in the history came in 1981, with the introduction of the government's right to buy scheme. This created the opportunity for tenants to purchase their own property at a vastly reduced price.

It was an option taken up around 1,000 times in the city area in the first two years of the scheme alone.

Norwich's newest council house development wont the Stirling architecture prize. Picture: Ella WilkinsonNorwich's newest council house development wont the Stirling architecture prize. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Among the first buyers was father-of-two Michael McCluskey, 63, who lives on Angel Road, where the first council homes in Norwich were built.

He has lived in the same property for more than 35 years, having lived in council houses across the city his entire life.

However, in 1982 he took up the option to buy it, initially with the idea of selling it after three years. However, he became so ingrained in the community that he decided to stay.

He said: "When I was growing up, my father was blind and my mother suffered from heart problems, so we had quite complex needs for houses. As a result we had to move around a lot - I lived on Gertrude Road, Rye Avenue, Sleaford Green and half Mile Road, so have quite a varied experience of council houses.

"When I first moved in to the home I'm in now it was fairly basic and I had a few problems with damp, but this was sorted before I bought it.

"Growing up, I didn't really get treated any differently because I was from a council estate. For many years you would be able to look at a house and safely say 'that's a council house' but I'm not sure that is the case any more.

Union Street flats, pictured in the 1930s. Photo: Norwich City CouncilUnion Street flats, pictured in the 1930s. Photo: Norwich City Council

"I don't really feel like there are enough now though - there aren't many left on Angel Road any more, most of them have been bought."

Mr McCluskey echoed Mr McPherson's statements about the neighbourly feel council estates can create.

He said: "I love living where I am, I've got to know my neighbours really well and look after them - I often go round and help them do jobs. There's a lovely community feel.

What does the future hold?

City Hall has recently enjoyed what is arguably its crowning achievement since its first property was built on Angel Road.

Earlier this month, a council housing scheme in the Goldsmith Street area was named the country's best new building, winning the prestigious Stirling Prize for architecture.

The development, which consists of 105 homes, was built to standard, specifically designed to have the greatest possible level of energy efficiency.

One tenant previously said the homes felt different to other council homes, and the interest in their design has led to tours being organised around the development.

However, city council chief executive Laura McGillivray admitted that homes of this specification came at a premium and that it may be difficult to replicate them.

The council has remained tight-lipped over specific details of what its future holds.

Gail Harris, Norwich City Council's cabinet member for housing, said: "We are committed to continuing the city's proud 100-year history of building council homes, raising environmental standards and tackling fuel poverty.

"The specific details of future builds depend on individual requirements of each site, but will continue to follow social and environmental principles."

To mark the centenary, the city council is set to plant 100 trees in a variety of locations across the city area.

The planting will be carried out between November 2019 and March 2020 and will see a wave of specifically selected trees planted across 27 separate locations.

The council is also encouraging others to share their memories of living in council houses over the past century.

Ms Harris said: "We should never take for granted our legacy of building council homes which have produced communities and estates that make up the fabric of Norwich.

"They're such an asset to the city so it's important to remember the story behind how it all began and has subsequently developed."

MORE: What is it like to live in the Norwich homes named the UK's best building?

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