Introduction and Background

History of the Estate

The Bentley House estate was purpose-built in the late 1940s in an art deco style. There are 254 walk-up flats, three storeys high, set out over three parallel streets. The flats have tiny bathrooms, and kitchens which were not designed to accommodate any mod cons. All flats have a decent sized balcony or a garden, and we also have an awful lot of communal green space. It used to be council-owned, but in 2008 the housing stock was transferred to a Registered Social Landlord – City South Manchester Housing Trust.

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The demographic of our estate is quite unusual for inner city council estates. In the 90s during the redevelopment of Hulme, many families moved out into new houses, and the flats became difficult to let. Many ex-squatters who had previously lived in the ‘old Hulme’ before it was demolished were offered flats on our estate. This coincided with an influx of other alternative young people who were interested in environmental, social and community action. A community of active people emerged from this mixture, involving long-term and new residents and ideas about sustainability flourished. At this time, the population was very young, and there were few families or children. A few years on, the population remains relatively young, but many people have settled down and now have young children. A high proportion of residents have drug, alcohol and mental health issues, and a high percentage of residents are unemployed.

Many estate residents have been involved in Environmental Direct Action (campaigning against the destruction of the environment) locally in Hulme and Manchester and beyond, including actions to save some of Hulme’s remaining green spaces. Residents have also been involved in various campaigns: to save a local school; for local allotments; for local workspaces; and against the forced relocation of community organisations.

During a particularly bad spate of muggings, residents took to the streets, organising ‘Reclaim the Night’ marches, and holding all-night vigils to make the streets safe and unappealing for muggers.

Around 10 years ago, residents appropriated a cellar space in one of the blocks, and created a thriving social space. It was primarily used as a cinema, showing free films for children on a Saturday afternoon, and adults in the evening. It was a great way to meet up with neighbours in the most unusual cinema in Manchester. It even had red velvet curtains and vegan ice-cream in the interval! After a year, the council discovered the cinema, and it was closed down due to ‘health and safety’ concerns.

Residents on our estate have long been conscious of the desire to provide low-cost, organic healthy food available locally. Around 12 years ago, we had a Saturday morning ‘Bentley barrow’ vegetable barrow, run voluntarily by local people, providing cheap organic vegetables. We’ve also trialled a couple of bulk-buy schemes; there is still an informal food co-op which buys collectively from a whole-food distributor.

The estate has seen many communal street parties, pantomimes, and parades over the years, including an Anti-Jubilee party, our 60th anniversary celebrations two years ago, and the most recent 10th birthday party for Leaf St community garden. In previous years, residents have organised and performed pantomimes or Christmas plays. We still hold the increasingly popular Halloween parade for children every year.

Greenzone Background

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About two years ago (2009), a group of residents concerned with the estate’s sustainability came together to form a group known as ‘Greening the Redbricks’. Their vision was “to make the Redbricks a more sustainable and all-round nicer place to live, and attempting to connect our day-to-day lives with the big global challenges and impacts out there these days”. Their hopes for the estate married well with the idea of the Groundwork Great Estates fund. Some members of the group worked together with Sam Barber from City South and Jason Brindle from Groundwork North West to write a bid for the funds.

The idea for the Green Zone Project was to transform the estate into an exemplar, holistic, sustainable inner-city Green Zone. The aim was to create a resident-led green infrastructure that served the diverse range of environmental, social and economic needs of its residents and to develop an attractive, safe and healthy environment for all residents.

The bid was successful, and won £40,000 from Groundwork, which was match-funded with £40,000 from City South. Part of the funding was allocated to pay for a full time ‘Community Development Co-ordinator’ role for one year, which would oversee the project and bring together the different project elements and groups existing on the estate. In the event, two people were employed and job shared this role.

The main aims of the Green Zone project were:

  1.  Consultation on, and then delivery of, physical improvements including play equipment, green screen and wildflower areas
  2.  Work with Hulme Community Garden centre and others to deliver horticulture courses – both generalist and specialist.
  3.  Work on Leaf Street community garden, and help create a permaculture re-design
  4.  Create a plan for the other green spaces on the estate, co-ordinating with residents, neighbourhood services and grounds maintenance staff at City South
  5.  Group development work for resident groups, including consultation and planning, following guidelines for best practice from the Federation of Community Development and Learning; , and help increase resident groups’ capacity
  6.  Encourage community participation and involvement
  7.  Improve and increase recycling, composting and energy saving measures
  8.  Encourage cycling and help coordinate courses around bike maintenance and cycle confidence, and help coordinate bike storage
  9.  Explore the option of changing the use of Hulme Street
  10.  Work with residents and groups to identify further sources of funding for future projects
  11.  Increase skills and learning among residents, with formal and informal learning opportunities and skill-sharing.