Welcome to the Ferrier Kidbrooke estate, this is was the view as you leave left the station.

Bottom centre, a row of shops, much diminished now owing to lack of custom because the estate is mostly empty. Bottom right the corner of a poster put up by the developers, Berkeley Homes for the new Kidbrooke Village.

Architects: GLC Architects Department, 1967-72. The photograph taken by GLC Phtographic Unit shows the model for the first phase of this huge scheme, currently awaiting demolition. For more information see my GLC Architects Department set.

When you add them all up, Heygate, Aylesbury, Ferrier you begin to get a picture of the amount of social housing lost in the last three decades as a result of the decisions made, for different reasons, to reduce the amount of social housing for rent, perhaps in the hope that if the housing is demolished, the poor will go away?

Looking back along the line of mostly closed shops to the station

It is difficult to walk around the Ferrier Estate without a sense of despair, if you like me have any feeling for the great Post War housing boom and the good it did in improving housing for the majority.  Those people had inside toilets and bathrooms, running hot and cold water, central heating, large rooms, green space, some for the first time in their lives.

This was a bold step forward, albeit in concrete, and the number of homes [for social rent] being offered among the new build Kidbrooke Village will not match the loss of homes from demolition.

See the quote from Dickon Robinson in Utopia London

“Large numbers of poor people in our society – and I do think to some extent part of the desire to tear them down is a kind of ‘I don’t want to be reminded of either, maybe if we get rid of the buildings, we get rid of the problem or we can pretend the problem doesn’t actually exist.’”

There clearly are people, and I include Greenwich Council among them, who think that to demolish an estate is to be rid of the residents.

It comes as a shock to see that most of Ferrier is still standing.  You can walk past tower after tower, past square after square.  All derelict but for the occasional break in the hoardings, or unshuttered doors and windows that hint at an occupant.

Photos on Flickr:- http://www.flickr.com/photos/singleaspect/sets/72157627547170996/

Still, now, forlornly there are scattered leaseholders living in a desert and desperately seeking to move away.  What life must be like in such a place with the sound of pile drivers and JCBs moving earth in the middle distance hardly bears thinking about.

At Moorhead Way one area has been completely cleared.  There are the JCBs pushing concrete blocks around complete with reinforcing rods sticking out that was only put up 40 years ago.

Surely housing ought to have a longer life than that?  Or was it the 1977 Labour Housing Act which caused allocations based on need to fill the estate with the worst social cases instead of the best?

If so what Greenwich Council are reacting to is not the architecture and the concrete as such but rather the social mix which has levelled out at the bottom although I don’t imagine some of the recent residents would wish to be so described.

Read this for a quick update – Brief history of housing in C20th

My impression is therefore that the council is blaming the architecture for the social problems which I written about elsewhere, by demolition and rebuilding while offering far fewer replacement tenancies for “social rent” as it’s now known than existed on the estate, which is almost empty but for a few leaseholders.

I have been asked “What is my impression of Ferrier as an outsider?

Having visited the majority of the large London Modernist council housing estates in the last two years (not Heygate and Aylesbury) I am forced to acknowledge that it is one of the less attractive, and repetitive in its design, but no more so in fairness then Alton East and West, just in a different way being towers and squares rather than towers and slab blocks.

Click for my GPS tracks on the day

However that’s not to say that it didn’t work when it had a wide range of families living there with the majority in employment and not dependent on social security for their income.

What worries me more is that the former residents of Ferrier are victims of a policy first used in America within the last decade that has crossed the Atlantic.  Do a bit of Googling for Hope VI and you will begin to see what I mean.  Here’s just one short quote from somebody involved in Hope VI.

“People I knew there experienced what many public housing residents have faced when they’ve experienced HOPE VI: lack of information about their housing choices, no one-for-one replacement of subsidized housing, removal from their communities and unstable housing options.”

htmoses062107.pdf  and here

The National Low Income Housing Coalition and here

US-inspired plan to break up sink estates gets green light

Having looked at estate regeneration in general terms across London and specifically with regard to Hammersmith & Fulham I am forced to conclude that the authors of this process became aware of Hope VI at some point in the past and decided to implement it here.  I can see no other reason for the similarity in process and outcomes.

Go away you’re poor

Hope VI – or go away you’re poor II

I have recently been doing some research on the Comprehensive Estates Initiative carried out by Hackney Council in the 1990s but this would appear at first sight to have been done with far greater sensitivity and with the needs of the residents in mind rather than local land values, unlike Ferrier at Kidbrooke.  One of the projects was Holly Street which has gained quite a reputation for being a successful regeneration of a troubled estate.

By way of a contrast I went to see Phase One of Kidbrooke Village, the Berkeley Homes new building which will eventually replace all that Ferrier was.  But without most of the occupants.

See Kidbrooke Village – Phase One

Nick Ross of the Ferrier Residents Action Group or FRAG, and Adam Bienkov made a podcast of which I have transcribed the first couple of minutes.

Podcast first couple of minutes, transcribed:-

Kidbrooke 1967, an underused former industrial site is earmarked for a new housing scheme by Greenwich Council. A group of architects whose plans approved construction begins on the Ferrier Estate. Site A built first consists of 12 storey towers. Site B, is approved two years later and residents arrive in 1974.
The whole site consists of nearly 2000 homes. The estate is typical of the system built social housing of the time. Huge low rise blocks provide large quantities of much needed homes. A system of concrete panels are used to assemble the buildings. These are manufactured on site to enable the estate to be erected at speed. Large rooms within are testament to the new Parker Morris standards on living space. The Ferrier is a classic piece of Modernist architecture. It verges into Brutalism with its rough and “blocky” appearance and striking, repetitive, angular geometries. Rather than rows of terraced blocks the Ferrier estate is set in landscaped grounds. Communal spaces are numerous, even above ground level courtesy of several walkways.
Schools were built on site as well as a vast boiler room which provides heat and hot water for all.

Leo McKern [John Betjeman – Ed.]

“Sometime they call them towers,and these replaced the liveliness of streets. Now new high densities in open space high rise and low rise towers and terraces, The planners did their best. Oh yes, they gave it all a lot of thought, putting in trees and keeping grassy rinds and landscaped streets, and abstract sculpture, it was all so well laid out. Just so much space from one block to the next, perhaps this is the way we ought to live.”

“But where can be the heart that sends a family to the twentieth floor in such a slab as this?”

“It can’t be right however fine the view over to Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs, it can’t be right, caged halfway up the sky not knowing your neighbour, frightened of the lift and who’ll be in it and who’s down below, and are the children safe?”

“What is housing if it’s not a home?”

“New towns, new housing estates, new homes, new streets, new neighbours, new standards of living, new financial commitments, new jobs, new schools, new shops, new loneliness, new restlessness, new pressures, new tension, and people. People, people who have to cope with all this newness, people who cannot afford old irrelevancies. People who have to find a God who fits in.”

The last voice you heard there was a rather paranoid sounding Leo McKern [John Betjeman – Ed.] Speaking in 1969 on the BBC’s Bird’s Eye view programme. If you remember Leo McKern he was Rumpole of the Bailey, remember that Owen?

“Well I’ve heard of it although I don’t remember it myself”.

He [John Betjeman – Ed.] was actually talking about Thamesmead but it sort of applies to this weeks topic which is the Kidbrooke

Ferrier estate and its regeneration into the Kidbrooke Village. This weeks show as you probably already aware is slightly different, we’ve got no headlines, we’ve got no sports news, … it’s basically a single issue show, a documentary style show this week because it’s such a massive topic, the Ferrier estate and its regeneration, we’ve decided to devote a whole hour to its regeneration.

Footnote from Inside Housing.

The layout of the flats was very good and the size of rooms exceeded the Parker Morris standards by miles. The new “social housing” is appalling and all sorts of tricks are used to make the rooms seem large.

I went round the show house with Nick Russell and laid down on the double bed – my legs stuck off the end by 6″. The wardrobes and drawer units were all children size. If the double bedroom were a garage I do not think you could park a decent size family car in it.




UPDATE: In Monday’s Great Property Scandal with George Clark he slept in a flat on the Ferrier Estate to find out what squatting was like.  I could be wrong but having walked around it I’m pretty sure that’s where he was.

DOCUMENTARY: The Great British Property Scandal
On: Channel 4
Date: Monday 5th December 2011 (Already shown)
Time: 21:00 to 22:00 (1 hour long)

The Great British Property Scandal season continues. Two million families are on the UK housing list, and yet there are one million empty homes in Britain. So what’s gone wrong? The UK is gripped by the worst housing crisis since World War II, but why, when there is so much empty property around? George Clarke is shocked by this senseless waste of housing stock. He wants to discover just how much public money is being spent to secure these empty homes. He aims to prove that refurbishing is a quicker and a more efficient way of getting people a roof over their heads than building anew. He’s also setting himself the challenge of getting some families who have never had a permanent home housed by the festive season.

4 Responses to “Ferrier Kidbrooke – death of a housing ideal”

  1. chris Says:

    I lived there with my aunt and 4 children in the late 70’s she lived in Romero square, she worked at night so I looked after her children, I still hear the noise of the trains go by at night when it was so quiet, didn’t stay there that long but the time I spent I will always remember with fondness.
    Back then it was a community, people were friendly, I remember cycling around the square, hot summer and people taking to friends from their windows, whatever they say now, back then it was great, but I guess people change what a shame, have been looking at pictures of it on line, loved to have visited it before it was knocked down,

  2. Maureen Says:

    Part of my happy childhood memories is living at 22, Pinto Way
    Ferrier Estate
    Between the ages of six to eight, back in the early eighties (circa 1983)
    My childhood memories there are bright, I loved going to school at Wingfield Primary school and remember the walk! A hop, skip and a jump away!
    Loved attending Sunday School situated not far from the row of shops. ( remember skinheads hanging round there whom I did not feel threatening.)
    Where I lived was Clean, we had good decent neighbours. We use to as fast as we can on our roller skates round and round the landings of the flats, no-one minded really!
    And it is true what Chris above says ‘back then it was great’

  3. Karen Says:

    I moved onto the ferrier in 1972 when i was 10 and I had a great childhood growing up there, loads of friends, safe places to play and always something to do. There wasn’t one unhappy person on there, it was home to decent working families, large families that paid their own way. It is heartbreaking to think, that families with children, like we were at the time, will never have that situation again. We were privileged kids.

  4. conchurbhar Says:

    @conchurofiannai: #Ferrier
    I moved there 1970. A three bedroom town house everybody paid. no rent rebates. a Fabulous place to bring up family. 12 of the best years. Now i wouldn’t be able to afford a one bed rabbit hutch! greedy council and developer’s.👺

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