Whatfield celebrates end to years of work to bring affordable homes to village in Sheckie Meadow
- Credit: Su Anderson
It is a problem suffered by towns and villages across Suffolk – just how do you ensure there are enough affordable homes for the community to grow and flourish?
In the village of Whatfield, near Hadleigh, they’ve done it. Edmund Crosthwaite reports.
The end product of a project which has been more than five years in the making is now standing tall in the village of Whatfield. It is both a monument to the parish council’s determination to improve life in its area, and to a man with long-standing local connections.
Sheckie Meadow is a stone’s throw from the primary school in Whatfield and is a group of six new-build houses.
They have been built as part of the parish plan and fulfil two purposes: To provide affordable rented accommodation in the village and housing for people with strong links to Whatfield.
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The village plan published in 2007 said more than 80% of residents surveyed wanted more affordable homes in the area and a further housing needs survey in 2010 by Suffolk Acre (now Community Action Suffolk) showed a need for six homes for local people.
Those units have now been built at Sheckie Meadow and occupied by the very people intended by the council.
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David Cross and Paul Whittle spearheaded Whatfield Parish Council’s involvement in the build and are delighted with what has been achieved – even if it did take a long time to come to fruition.
“There was a village plan done to start with and that was renewed in 2010 and that was really when Dave and I worked with Community Action Suffolk,” Mr Whittle said. “There’s quite a process you have to run through so it takes time. We didn’t realise it was going to take so long.”Mr Cross added: “We learnt a lot of jargon we’ve now forgotten. It’s something else.
“The initial stages were quite interesting because you just got a map of the area and said, ‘Where’s a possible site?’”
The site eventually chosen was owned by Anne Templeton. She said she backed the scheme because of the number of people who wanted it to happen.
“I think that affordable houses have been built on a field belonging to my parents in Surrey and we had the survey and everybody said they wanted affordable houses in Whatfield,” she said.
“We decided it was a very suitable place, to be close to the school, the village hall and the playing fields.”
Mr Cross said part of the reason behind the new homes was to try and get more children into the primary school, making their location just over the road ideal. A danger with any housing development is the buildings standing out like a sore thumb – not a trap fallen into by Bury St Edmunds architects Milburn Leverington Thurlow.
Mr Cross said: “If you walk over the fields here or the allotments you look back and you could easily think they’d been here for 100 years.
When you’ve got a 1970s estate built over there, it’s chalk and cheese.”
Much to the parish councillors’ joy, the success of the scheme has been proved by the demand for the properties.
“I don’t think there was ever doubt we would fill these with people with the absolute number one criteria which was a connection to the village,” Mr Whittle said. “The six units here were oversubscribed considerably.”
All the homes are let by the Suffolk Housing Society through Gateway to Homechoice, which shows on its website there were nearly 170 expressions of interest in the properties.
Talking about the letting process and how the homes went to people with a local connection another parish councillor, Helen Landon, explained: “It was to do something for the community and residents in the village. It’s supposed to be the first question they’re asked.
“This time last year it (the site) was a field. Everyone seems really happy and pleased with it.”
Why Sheckie Meadow?
In keeping with the desire to have the homes occupied by people with local connections to Whatfield the cluster of new-builds has been named in memory of a man who embodied just that.
Derek ‘Sheckie’ Gidney died earlier this year, but was born in the village in 1934.
Helen Landon, of Whatfield Parish Council, explained how he was a keen sportsman: A skilled footballer who had trials for a topnational side (his family believe it was Arsenal), playing in a successful village team in 1965 while also excelling at darts and dabbling in boxing.
Anne Templeton, who owned the land Sheckie Meadow is now built on, thought naming the area after him would be a fitting tribute to a memorable local character.
Last week his widow Miriam and family visited the site.
“It’s amazing having somewhere named after Sheckie,” Mrs Gidney said. “If it had been Derek it could have been anyone.
“It means everything to us. If he were here now he’d have a smirk, he’d be quite chuffed.
“He was a bit shy but he’d have still loved it.”
Other members of the family described Sheckie as “a Beckham in his day”, saying he even flew back to Whatfield while in the army to play a game for the village.