A colourful, 1970s social housing estate in Newcastle has been declared as the best neighbourhood in the UK and Ireland. 

The grade-II-listed Byker Wall Estate beat off challenges from fellow finalists Smithfield in Dublin and the Golden Lane Estate in London to finish first in the Best Neighbourhood category of the Academy of Urbanism Awards.

The Academy of Urbanism’s judges took a range of environmental, social and economic factors into account when making their decision. 

The Byker Community Trust (BCT), which manages the Byker Wall Estate, won the judges’ praise for securing a £26-million loan which will be invested in improving the estate’s infrastructure over the next decade.  

This investment follows on from a two-year £9.7-million refurbishment programme that was successfully completed in April 2016. This refurbishment saw the installation of new roofs, fitted with solar panels, as well as new windows and doors being put on every home. 

The £9.7 million refurbishment included the repainting of the whole estate, in line with the original colour scheme of architect Ralph Erskine. In addition, a digital aerial system has been installed and improvements made to the estate’s door-entry and CCTV systems.

An environmentally friendly biomass boiler and a CHP plant – which can generate heat and electricity at the same time – have been built on the estate. Work is also underway to replace major parts of Byker Wall’s heating and hot water system. 

The BCT has spent £1.12 million on transforming Chirton House into “a stunning new apartment complex” while Avondale House has been refurbished to provide accommodation for veterans.

photo courtesy of George Rex, from Flickr Creative Commons
Byker Wall has drawn praise for its colourful low-rise buildings (photo courtesy of George Rex, from Flickr Creative Commons)

Upon collecting the award, Jill Haley, the Chief Executive of the BCT, said, “On behalf of Byker, the City of Newcastle and the north-east community, I am delighted to accept this award.”  

“This is a credit to everybody involved, especially the BCT staff, board and residents in helping to transform Byker over the last five years into a place where people aspire to live and work.”

“To date, we have invested £20.5 million in improvements with a further £21 million committed by 2025. However, this is not just about investments in bricks and mortar.” 

“Byker is a great neighbourhood where vibrant mixed communities exist and it is steeped in history, something which we are keen to preserve and celebrate.”

Newcastle City Council’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods and regulatory services, Cllr Nick Kemp, said, “I’m absolutely delighted that Byker has won this award, especially in a year when the Academy of Urbanism is focusing on places that have been rebuilt since 1945 to transform themselves into sustainable communities.” 

“As a councillor in Byker, it is not surprising that the area has been recognised as a great place to live and this award is a tribute to the fantastic hard work and commitment of all those involved in the regeneration of the area.”

David Rudlin, the chair of the Academy of Urbanism, said, “Regeneration has become a dirty word, but here we have proof that when done well with the right approach and by the right people, it can transform a neighbourhood.” 

“Built on strong relationships between tenants and the Byker Community Trust, this neighbourhood has been transformed into a great place to live for a very socially, culturally and demographically diverse community.” 

Other winners in the Academy of Urbanism Awards include Corby, in Northamptonshire, that scooped The Great Town Award and Humber Street Fruit Market in Hull, which picked up The Great Street Award.

The Brunswick Centre in London won The Great Place Award while Bilbao in Spain clinched the prize for European City of the Year. 

To learn more about the Academy of Urbanism, please visit www.academyofurbanism.org,uk.

A Little History of Byker Wall 

The Byker Wall Estate was designed by Quaker and Socialist Ralph Erskine and built between 1969 and 1982. The estate includes the ‘Byker Wall’ – an unbroken block of 620 maisonettes – designed to shield the estate from a motorway that was never built as well as from savage winds off the North Sea.

Though the estate was praised for its colourful, low-rise design – seen as a move away from the Brutalist concrete tower blocks typical of the period – it also drew criticism as it rehoused less than 20% of the residents of the condemned slums it was built to replace. 

There were also accusations that the estate had destroyed the tight-knit community spirit of the old Byker.

Today the Byker Wall Estate consists of nearly 1,800 homes that house around 9,500 people. The estate received grade II listed status from English Heritage in 2007, helping to preserve it from demolition – a fate faced by many urban estates of the same age.  

(Featured image courtesy of Lawsonrob, at Wikipedia Commons) 

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