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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 12:45 GMT
Locals lead change in struggling estate
By William Brierley
BBC News

Sisters Donna and Nicole Heaney have lived in Coventry's Wood End estate all their lives, as three generations of their family have before them.

Nicole and Donna Heaney
Nicole and Donna's family have lived in the area for generations

When their family of seven lived in their old three-bed family home - now boarded up and covered in a thicket of brambles - the estate had a reputation as a no-go area.

"At school, teachers and pupils used to say that they wouldn't come to Wood End because they'd get robbed. There was a really negative attitude towards the place" says Donna, 23 and a parent of two children.

Swathes of once cutting-edge quick-build houses for workers during Coventry's post-World War II industrial boom had spiralled into neglect during the 80s and 90s, leaving estates with derelict houses, high crime and social problems.

In 2001, New Deal for Communities (NDC) funding of £54m was awarded for a 10-year project to regenerate the Wood End, Henley Green and Manor Farm area containing nearly 3,000 homes.

The majority of these will be demolished or refurbished and more will be built to provide 5,000 homes by 2020. The NDC exists to ensure that residents are involved at the heart of every decision made about the future of where they live.

Mixed community

The area will be redeveloped with a mixture of social housing and owner-occupied homes - the latter providing the financial engine behind redevelopment - in a test of the government-backed mixed communities initiative.

Regenerating the estates

Some 55% of the population in the area are under 25 and the sisters are heavily involved in making sure that young people have a say in the changes being made.

"The main reason for crime is that people don't have anything to do. So we've tried to combat that by setting up youth groups and activities and made sure that young people are represented at planning meetings. Young people need to be involved in the future of the community."

So far, residents have improved the area's litter problem by successfully campaigning for more bins to be installed and added a crèche and fitness centre to plans for a new leisure centre.

Representatives like Donna and Nicole have toured new housing projects in order to compare their current homes - suffering from problems like decrepit plumbing systems - with new models so they can decide how their new homes should look with the help of planners.

Community spirit

But perhaps surprisingly, given the apparent problems in the area, the majority of residents are reportedly happy with where they live.

Manor Farm estate
About 7,000 people live in the area to be redeveloped

The area has developed a strong community spirit, with many streets being populated by members of the same family and bonds being formed between long-standing neighbours.

Initially, residents feared that this community spirit would be diluted by the pepper-potting of new people into the area, destroying years of community development.

But Donna says that worries soon evaporated when they saw the new plans.

"Most people liked the area and didn't want to accept change at first. But once they were reassured that all homes would look the same and that communities would be relocated to homes as near to each other as possible, they were OK."

Changing people

NDC director Afzal Hussain says while there's no guarantee that the new development will be the harmonious vision that is hoped for, it's expected the strong existing community will be the foundation to the success of the new development.

Artist's vision of regenerated area
New homes offer hope to residents in homes needing constant repair

"Two-thirds of people want to stay. We've consulted residents every step of the way. They've been involved in selecting the developer, making decisions every step along the way. Where they've had concerns we've addressed them."

The new development will even literally be built by the community, with labouring jobs being offered to locals when building commences.

For Donna, her future rests on the hope that promised plans will live up to expectations when they're finally completed in 14 years' time.

"By the looks of plans, the change in the area is going to be great, but it's changing people that'll be the problem. You can't change everyone, but hopefully we'll have a better lifestyle and outsiders' opinion of the area we live in will improve," she added.

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