Back in 2004 the Manchester Evening News ran an article about a notorious estate in Sale, titled ‘No-go estate that defied the odds’, going on to say it had been described as ‘an island of deprivation in a sea of affluence.’
The estate they referred to was Sale West, or the ‘Racecourse Estate’ as it was known back then, with many of the roads named after UK racecourses.
Built amid high optimism in the 1960’s, as part of Manchester regeneration, the Racecourse was constructed on agricultural land and used to move people out of areas surrounding the city centre in questionably named ‘slum clearance programmes.’
This solved a couple of problems for the council hierarchy, or ‘Manchester Mafia’ as they were called by a few in the know.
Firstly, it freed up land that could be used to build luxury homes for the high
earners willing to pay extortionate rent or sky-high mortgage rates, turning low income generating neighbourhoods into almost instant cash cows. Backed up with a drive in the 90’s to repopulate the ‘new and improved’ city, and with property prices at an all time high, there was some serious money made from people eager to live near the centre.
Secondary, and perhaps even more controversially, there were some areas where residents were deemed by the council ‘the least involved with their neighbourhood’ or ‘least accessible for social professionals’. Hulme, Gorton and other parts of East Manchester were targeted, resulting in many families being offered, and accepting ‘a new home on a new estate’, relocating to Sale West.
Supposed to be ‘a jewel in the crown’ of Manchester council’s estate programme, the Racecourse faced problems from the beginning and quickly became a hotbed of crime and antisocial behaviour.
Built as a so-called overspill estate, owned by Manchester but situated in Cheshire, Sale West proved to be anything but the gem anticipated by the council. Residents found themselves feeling detached and cut off from services while violent crime was quickly on the rise.
By the mid nineties, many of the properties were run down or empty and the
area had become neglected. The only bus on the estate was cancelled as drivers refused to venture there any longer, sick of smashed windows and abuse from the local youths.
The racecourse had developed a terrible reputation but hit an all time low in March 1997, when local shopkeeper, Ian Marshall confronted two robbers in the off licence he ran on West Parade and was shot dead.
Police were under intense pressure to produce a result following criticism of their lack of response to the previous problems on the estate and very quickly David Ashberry was arrested and charged with the murder, later being sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Measuring a lofty 6 foot 4 inches tall, David has always maintained his innocence, a claim backed up by several witnesses at the scene who, when questioned by the police at the time, stated that there were three robbers, all masked and all definitely under 6 foot. He is currently fighting to clear his name and is supported by a group called Freedom, which works with people who claim they have been wrongly convicted.
Informants on the estate at the time spoke about a dark blue car being involved and refuted claims made by police that Ashberry was ‘obsessed with guns and had a shrine to them in his flat.’ These claims turned out to be totally unsubstantiated, no firearms of any description were ever linked to him and Ashberry was eventually convicted on the only evidence they had against him, a statement written by a woman who lived near the scene of the crime.
The murder of local lad Ian was the final straw for many residents and when the council were approached by Irwell Valley in March 2000, offering to buy the troublesome estate from them it was ‘warmly received’ by all involved.
Following Irwell Valley Housing Association success in securing the estate or ‘stock’ as they refer to it, the transfer of Sale West Estate, formally the Racecourse, from Manchester City Council, a long term redevelopment master plan was drafted, including improvements to existing houses, demolition of so called ‘hard to let’ properties and redevelopment of various vacant land sites dotted around the estate.
When Irwell Valley took over Sale West around 80 per cent of properties were considered long term ‘unlettable’ by Manchester City Council, over 70 per cent of residents were dependent on social benefits and vandalism, youth congregating and empty, abandoned properties were the top three priorities highlighted in a local area consultation.
By this time buses and taxis had totally stopped venturing onto the estate, segregating residents and instilling the ‘no-go’ zone mentality further still.
Manchester City Council had allowed the estate to fall to wreck and ruin, merely displacing the problems and never really solving them – at the expense of the residents they offered a ‘fresh start in a great place to live’.
Irwell Valley pioneered a scheme called Gold Service back in 1998 and it had proved to be a great success when implicated in other ‘troublesome’ estates they managed so it was no surprise when they launched it on Sale West soon after acquisition.
The Gold Scheme is a great example of the housing associations entrepreneurialism – developed to ‘aid regeneration of deprived areas into more pleasant places to live’, it focuses on residents rather than housing stock, defining them as local customers and putting their needs first on the regeneration agenda. So far so good.
The concept is that ‘good’ residents are rewarded with additional services and amenities. By providing these ‘perks’ the association tries to increase the involvement of residents and, in doing so, their attachment to the housing association and neighbourhood.
This explicit distinction between good and bad tenants has forced local governments to rethink some of their equality-based housing policies.
The assumption behind the scheme is learning by moral example: seeing the benefits neighbours receive triggers residents to comply with the behavioural rules set by the housing association in order to become eligible for the same rewards. This will not only improve the behaviour of residents but also the reputation of the area to outsiders, this in turn, they hope, will attract new and especially affluent residents to the area. Best garden competition anyone?
It’s no coincidence that the new, private houses were built around Sale West around eight years after Irwell Valley took over either. The association believes that ‘middle-class groups will only feel at home in deprived neighbourhoods when the behaviour of antisocial residents has changed’.
First they addressed these issues using the Gold Service system and then, when they felt the time was right the new houses went up creating a new revenue source offering ‘housing specifically designed and priced for middle class families’.
Another strategy employed by Irwell Valley to create ‘a pleasant place to live’ is attracting the right kind of people to buy the properties, people who can serve a as good role models to the other residents, interesting fact – employees of the city council and social services were given priority when the new houses were released for sale.
Sale West is definitely more than a ‘pleasant place to live’ today, but how much of that is really down to Irwell Valley and their almost Orwellian strategies to build a better society
That is not to say that they haven’t assisted; the money spent on housing has gone some way to make them more habitable, although many are still plagued with damp and mould that Irwell Valley are slow to respond to, to say the least.
Gardens are generally neat and tidy, the Gold Service embraced by 90 per cent of residents and antisocial behaviour reports are at an all time low.
This is despite the fact that Irwell Valley has slowly but surely reduced the ‘extra’ services they offered at the start of their take over. They opened the Phoenix Centre in Sale, providing training, help with interviews and access to educational funds – open only to those residents who had achieved Gold Service status with the association. This closed in 2005, not long after they withdrew the very successful estate Rangers they had employed to help with both anti social behaviour and general maintenance of properties, gardens and communal areas.
The ones really responsible for all these changes and more are the people who live on Sale West. The ones that have a sense of pride in their community and will go the extra mile to make sure it’s a great place to live, because for them, pleasant just isn’t enough.
The future of Sale West is again in the balance, this time from the threat of budget cuts severing many of the amenities they still have. The library,
community centre and youth club all face closure as Trafford council attempts to make massive savings, seemingly at the expense of those already under increasing pressure.
Fortunately, Sale West is a
community that gains its strength from the people who live there, becoming the desirable place to live Manchester city council first envisaged when it was built; not from schemes and incentives that are dangled carrot-like in order to get them to comply however, but rather from the determination of many to make a change and that’s something that no amount of budget cuts can ever take away.
Photographs taken by Kim K Photography. All are subject to copyright and may not be reproduced or used without permission and correct attribution 🙂
The edited version of this article first appeared in Sale West Voice Magazine –