Step back in time to the first half of the 20th century and had you have visited Woodchurch, you would have seen a small hamlet of a dozen or so buildings set in rolling open fields centred on Holy Cross Church.
In 1926, the Birkenhead Corporation purchased the land, but it wasn’t until 1944 that Sir Charles Herbert Reilly laid out his plans for the new housing estate with ‘arts and crafts’ style housing. Whilst much of Reilly’s influence can be seen in the final plan, it was his student H. J. Rowse who saw his plans come to fruition. Construction of the estate commenced in 1946, with the first house being officially opened on 6 May 1949.
Now, fast-forward to 2021 and should Reilly and Rowse see the estate today, it would be instantly recognisable to them. The broad avenues with plenty of green space were a great advancement on living cheek-by-jowl in cramped Victorian terraces and these green spaces and cottage-style properties are still as they would have appeared in the 1950s.
The estate has had its ups and downs, of that, there is no doubt. During the 1980s, unemployment and hard drugs were ubiquitous. The Woodchurch Estate had some of the highest unemployment rates in the country and heroin use seemed to affect every single person on the estate to some degree or another.
Gangs of youths, under the banner of ‘Woodchurch Estate Boot Boys” (WEBB) would regularly fight with other gangs from the Noctorum and Ford estates.
Shaking off the decades-old stigma of living on ‘The Woody’ has proved to be a near-impossible task.
WEBB has now been reappropriated by a local community group called WEBB1Fusion – WEBB no longer stands for Woodchurch Estate Boot Boys, it positively stands for Woodchurch Estate Bounces Back.
The office for WEBB1Fusion is at the end of the block of shops on Hoole Road, above the community shop that they operate. birkenhead.news spent a day on the estate in the company of Matthew Gibbs who is responsible for running the day-to-day operations of WEBB1Fusion. We met at their office for a cup of tea and a chat about the Woodchurch community.
Matt, who is a trained youth worker, had a simple first target when he first got involved with the Woodchurch community three years ago. “I noticed that this whole, nice, round community should function properly as an estate, where we all work together. I wanted to take what was good, in the form of identity, belonging, a sense of self-pride and help the local community to spread that positivity throughout the estate.”
“We created the WEBB1Fusion name from the name of the gangs and we took it back and removed the negativity and then called it ‘Woodchurch Estate Bouncing Back’ and everything positive that we did would be stamped with ‘WEBB1Fusion'”
Matt explained why the word ‘Fusion’ was included in the name, “We noticed that the estate was very disparate, in terms of the schools and the groups dotted around the estate.” Matt wanted to bring all of these organisations under the banner of WEBB1Fusion to create a cohesive brand for the positive work already being done on the estate.
This is no ‘top down’ organisation that tells the local community what it should do; it is decidedly from the ground up. Matt continues, “An ethic of ours is that everything is community-led. We would never try to impose anything on people – it has to come from the people who live here.”
The latest project that Matt is heading up is to create a new community cafe in the same building as the community shop, so people can pop in for a cuppa and a natter.
Matt showed us around a few of the projects happening on the estate, including the ‘Pemberton Road Planters’, ‘Flourish Bees at Ford Way’, and the ‘Forest School.’
Pemberton Road Planters
Sue Rimmer is a volunteer at Pemberton Road Planters. A long time resident and before retiring, a nurse at Arrowe Park Hospital, Sue has always had a close connection with the estate. She said, “I’ve been with the Pemberton Road Planters for two years now and it was a community allotment before I joined, but unfortunately, it had gone to wrack and ruin. Matt said that there was a lady here at the allotment who wanted help. So, I came up to have a look and just got stuck in straight away!”
The allotment is now full of bountiful fruit and vegetable borders, where the produce is coming along nicely. The allotment was being well-tended on the day birkenhead.news visited by Sue and a group of a dozen or so school kids. But, not long ago it was overgrown with head-high weeds.
“We managed to inspire a quite few people from the community to get involved and we managed to clear the whole area.”, Sue explained. “This is for anybody, of any age who is interested in gardening or even if they just want to meet people!”
A ‘Wellness Hour’ is held each Monday from 12-1pm when people can just come and sit and have a cup of tea and a chat. So, even if residents aren’t green-fingered or don’t have any spare time to get involved in looking after the allotment, they can still benefit from it.
“Overall, we just want the community on the Woodchurch to know that we’re here.”, Sue continued. “When people see the allotment for the first time, they go ‘WOW!’ because they didn’t know it was here.”
Duane Chong is the founder of ‘Grow Wellbeing’, a Community Interest Company based in Birkenhead. Duane started the company three years ago, running public sessions at Tam O’Shanter Farm and Forest School sessions at various locations, including at Woodchurch.
In a small clearing in some woodland on the boundary of the estate, we saw a group of kids sitting on logs arranged in a circle around a campfire intently listening to Duane host one of his Forest Lessons.
“We run Forest School sessions in schools around Wirral, but also we run sessions for community groups, such as here in Woodchurch.”, he explained. “We also provide well-being groups for women and families. It’s a combination of art and nature therapy.”, he continued.
On the day birkenhead.news visited, there was a fair-sized group of kids enjoying learning about the natural environment and the benefits of healthy eating and there was not a mobile device in sight. “It’s a screen-free environment,” Duane said of the lessons. “It’s really important right now, that children get this opportunity to spend time outside – it’s a safe space and it really is good for you! Spending time connecting with nature helps with everyone’s wellbeing.”
“Not only that, but it is also important to become aware of the environment and play their part in what we, as a society need to do to address the climate crisis. These kids are going to be the future guardians of the planet.”
Flourish Bees at Ford Way
Volunteer Damian McGregor is a local man who looks after the estate’s eleven beehives. On a plot of land previously used as garages and tucked behind some houses, there are a few of the beehives and also greenhouses he uses to grow plants that go on the estate’s roundabouts and to produce hanging baskets to sell to raise funds for the project.
Damian has little goody bags that he gives out to the kids on the estate when they visit the beehives. The packs include some information on bees and honey and also a ‘bee bomb’ which is a ball of wildflower seeds that the kids can then sow to attract bees and make the estate look colourful with fields of wildflowers. Of course, also included is a little jar of Woodchurch honey. “Honey is good for you!”, said Damien
“We’re doing some sessions down at the Carrbridge Centre – it’s all about healthy eating, nature, and what’s good for the environment.”, he said. “It’s basically to make the kids aware of what’s around them.”
There are eleven beehives throughout the estate, including one ‘observation hive’ which has a clear perspex front, so that when the kids visit, they can see the bees actually working away inside.
He continued, “We sell the Woodchurch honey to bring more money back in to help with the upkeep of the bees and to pay volunteers’ bus fares.” Damian told us that their main source of funding was from the Magenta Living housing association who have helped with supporting many of the projects on the estate.
Damian has also provided community sessions teaching people how to grow and look after hanging baskets that residents proudly display outside their houses throughout the estate.
So, is the Woodchurch Estate Bouncing Back? You Better Believe it is!
All WEBB1Fusion projects are underpinned by the Carrbridge Centre charity and if you want to help out with any of the projects or if you just want to keep up to date with news and events, you can do so on their Facebook and Twitter .
Main image: Two of the volunteers on the estate and kids with produce from the allotment. © www.fotopiaimages.com