Westbourne Estate at 40: Neighbours recall how they reclaimed a Cally neighbourhood from drugs and gangs
PUBLISHED: 10:38 23 January 2017 | UPDATED: 10:49 23 January 2017
The Cally’s Westbourne Estate celebrated its 40th anniversary on Saturday. the Gazette hears how it was reclaimed from the hands of drug dealers.
By the mid-1990s, the Westbourne Estate was crawling with drug dealers and gang crime. Luckily, tenants had the courage to say: “No.”
Twenty years on, their courage has a legacy. On Saturday, it meant they were able to celebrate the estate’s 40th anniversary as a village.
Roger D’Elia, chair of the Heart of Westbourne Tenants and Residents’ Association, was one of the final people to move in when the development reached completion in January 1977.
The estate contains 400 dwellings. Where today’s housing crisis centres around a lack of affordable homes, Islington in the mid-20th century was blighted by a housing stock that was falling apart.
"The scourge of crime and drugs started to appear in the 1980s. There are crime families in Islington and they saw this as an opportunity to exploit. By the late ’80s and mid-’90s, this estate had become a really unsafe place"
“If you go back to the war,” Roger says, “there was considerable bomb damage in Islington as a borough. Housing was in a state, sanitation was poor and there was consistent poverty.
“By the 1950s, there was also the issue of landlords exploiting people and fracturing community cohesion. If you think of Fagin in Oliver Twist, that gives you an idea.
“During the 1970s, Islington Council made compulsory purchase orders to knock down entire streets of housing and re-build them properly, with good sanitation. It was social engineering, but for good purposes.”
One of those areas was the Westbourne Estate, a perfect rectangle of land inside Westbourne Road, Mackenzie Road, Roman Way and Bride Street.
“There is not one house on this estate that existed before it was built,” says Roger, 67.
“The houses went to needy families who had homes for the first time. They could feel safe, and support their families. We also had shops, a strong medical practice, and a pharmacy. People were thankful. It was a good time.”
But it didn’t last – as with other estates, criminal gangs prayed on the vulnerable.
“The scourge of crime and drugs started to appear in the 1980s. There are crime families in Islington and they saw this as an opportunity to exploit.
“By the late ’80s and mid-’90s, this estate had become a really unsafe place – although it was no different from others in Islington.
“There were Class A drugs and lots of territorial infighting. The place started to run down. It was a frightening time.”
A time when courage was needed: “The majority of people on this estate thought it was totally unacceptable. That’s where the Heart of Westbourne Tenants and Residents’ Association was revived in the late ’90s, after years of inactivity.
“People who wanted to live good, honest lives came together and developed a village-type community and work against this disintegration.
“We took a firm grip. We confronted issues with community projects, better lighting for pathways and green space.”
Over the years, the estate has won £250,000 in grants, as well as £37,000 from the London Marathon Trust to complete a sports pitch, which was opened on Saturday.
And Roger says tenants are leading happier lives all round: “I now see people more engaged with each other. Kids playing outside. Everyone has helped to produce a friendly environment again, and I think Westbourne is the estate of choice in Islington.”