A Royal Visit
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The Royal Visit
During the late 1970's a campaign to renovate an entire estate began. Lea View House, a large Hackney Council estate of about 300 dwellings, had become very run down. The estate is bordered by Jessam Avenue to the south and Springfield to the north. The main gate to the estate faces Springfield Park which has excellent views across the River Lea and Walthamstow marshes. When the work to 'RENEW LEA VIEW' as it was called, was more or less halfway to completion in 1986, HRH Prince Charles paid a Royal visit to the estate. Here are some pictures of that visit.

Pictures Mike Hazelwood

1986 -BBC World Service
"If one had to choose one symbol of the very worst kind of modern architectural crime it would surely be the crumbling housing estate. Its walls covered in graffiti, its windows smashed, its windy courtyards covered in litter, and its residents living in perpetual fear of muggers and thieves." Meridian-BBC World Service-1986

Click here to listen to a 1986 BBC broadcast

Click images to enlarge.

The builders offices can be seen in the background on what was the old tennis court.
Completed part of the estate
HRH Prince Charles viewing the completed half of the estate. Notice the inclusion of solar panels, innovative for it's time!

Visit over!
A large crowd had gathered to see HRH Prince Charles leaving the estate.This picture was taken at the rear of the estate in Jessam Avenue.
Mr Richard Head
Mr Richard Head who managed the estate during the renovation process.
Heaven in Hackney

The community architecture movement is at its most
developed in the UK. Charles Knevitt visits a model
housing redevelopment in the East End of London.

When it was completed in 1939, Lea View housing estate was dubbed "Heaven in Hackney". Its tenants came from the slums of the East End of London, The accommodation was spacious, modern and clean and there were unprecedented communal facilities: hall, laundry, tennis courts and bowling green, not to mention its own porters and resident caretaker.

By the 1970s, it was a very different story: the tennis courts had gone; the streets of the internal courtyard had become clogged with parked cars; the fabric of the building was in serious need of repair; community spirit had broken down; and the estate management had all but disappeared. The 300 flats, in two fivestorey U-shaped blocks, had become oppressive to their residents - 90 per cent of whom wanted to move.

It had become a "sink" estate typical of the UK's decaying inner-city housing stock. The common areas were vandalized, the central heating didn't work, staircases were insecure, ground-floor flats were "tinned-up" (windows and doors blocked off with corrugated metal sheeting), and break-ins and muggings were rife.

In the autumn of 1980 the architects moved into an unlet flat which they were to use as their project office. It had four staff. The tenants were suspicious. Their newsletter said: "The architects are using Flat No 3 beware!" But the commitment to genuine citizen participation of these particular architects (from Hunt Thompson Associates) quickly turned the project office into the social focus of the whole estate. Through a combination of day-to-day contacts, a survey and meetings with the tenants association, one major problem came into focus - the social friction generated by single elderly tenants sharing the same staircase with large families.

A radical restructuring was proposed and accepted. All large families were accommodated at ground level in their own private houses with only nine small flats on the upper floor reserved for the elderly, frail and disabled. All front doors would henceforth be on the street and the central courtyard was landscaped and surrounded by private back gardens.

When the projects funding was threatened the tenants marched on Hackney Town Hall - and won the day. Over the two years of construction the tenants worked closely with architects and builders, even organising joint Christmas parties and raising money for local charities.The project humanised the desolate appearance of the blocks by the addition of brick lift shafts serving the flats on the upper floors, new pitched roofs and front gardens for all the family homes. Colour and visual interest had transformed the estate. After tenants moved in, they carried out their own planting of communal areas - few had any experience of gardening. Heaven had returned to Hackney and now other outside the estate were wanting to move in.

It may sound like a fairy story, but the transformation of Lea View House is not unique. The community architecture approach pays dividends whenever it is used. Pride, dignity and self-respect have been restored at Lea View. Community architecture was the process by which it came about.

Charles Knevitt is architecture correspondent of the London Times