Cheers as nightmare flats are flattened

5th May 1995 at 01:00
Frances Rafferty reports on how the Government's inner-city policies are, or aren't, operating. The children cheered as the demolition ball shattered the concrete of one of Sheffield's most notorious blocks of flats earlier this year. Some were even invited into the cab of the crane to help destroy the 1960s dream which soon turned into a nightmare for its 1,000 inhabitants.

Margaret Hardcastle, headteacher of Daniel Hill primary school which overlooks the estate, can remember the overcrowed back-to-back slum houses without bathrooms that were torn down and replaced by the Kelvin estate: "It started off as a dream - the answer to the housing problem, but in reality people felt cut off and isolated.

"The landings made it easy for burglars to break in and get away quickly. Parents were worried about their children running around at that height from the ground. The community spirit largely died."

The Kelvin estate soon became associated with poverty and crime.

Graffiti was scrawled on the walkways and nobody dared use the lifts even on the rare occasions they were working. The play areas were taken over by teenage youths and rival gangs sprang up.

Mrs Hardcastle said: "Parents kept their children inside because they did not think it was safe for them to go out. When they arrived at school they were bursting with unspent energy. Many were also suffering from emotional upsets as families broke up.

"This isolation also makes it difficult for children to build up relationships with each other. They are not used to interacting with other children without an adult being present. This makes it difficult for them to sort out problems and disputes between themselves. And I think this will have repercussions on the sorts of relationships they have when they get older."

Daniel Hill is one of two primary schools serving the area. In contrast to the homes in which most of its pupils live, the building is almost 100 years old.

The pupils were invited to the demolition process and released celebratory balloons into the Sheffield sky. They have drawn pictures of the estate and will be updating their paintings to reflect the changes as they occur.

The demolition of the Kelvin estate is just one part of the North West Inner City Action Plan (NWICAP) planned for the area.

Ian Wright, project officer, said: "The intention is to maintain what community spirit remains and build on it. Now we are using a multi-disciplinary approach to co-ordinate action."

The seven-year project receives Pounds 25 million from the single regeneration budget and is aiming for maximum input from residents.

"The most popular option is to go back to old-style residential housing with gardens. This means that far fewer people can be accommodated, but it will be higher quality housing."

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