Two years ago Seren Group sponsored the Wales Arts Review’s Newport Edition, wishing to get behind a publication that explored the city’s cultural past, present and future. At the launch event held in Newport’s Riverfront Centre, there was optimism for the future of the city and a healthy dose of self-deprecative analysis of Newport’s shortcomings and external reputation. Cardiff loomed large, as a reference point for economic success but equally, as a poor relation in cultural terms.
Newport is in the process of re-finding its stride: catching-up without settling for the same, regenerating on its own terms, Newport style. Anything else would betray Newport’s distinct heritage, the societal substance behind mosaic tiles, the type of cultural capital Wales’ Capital city wasn’t built on.
Loftus Garden Village is a development that deliberately doesn’t settle for something. Amidst the ongoing housing crisis, the crude yet rational temptation for developers is to build anything, confident that soaring demand will gobble up the supply of new homes. Happily, Seren Group is a social developer, our purpose is to make a positive difference to people’s lives not to generate profits. This liberates us to step beyond building something; we are trying to build somewhere – a really nice place to live, not just some houses.
Visit the site today and you may struggle to see beyond the scaffolding and heavy machinery to the Garden Village that is emerging from the post-industrial earth; you will see architectural details combining to homage the arts and crafts aesthetic; you will see the outlines of the sizeable parks, kitchen gardens and landscaped areas we will maintain for the benefit of both Garden Village and neighbouring residents.
What really matters may never be visible; the fact that the Garden Village is a mixed-tenure development, with a fair split of social, intermediate rent, purchase and shared ownership homes spread out across the Village. So that is no ghettos, no lower-spec for social homes, less of them and more of us.
You may never see, at first glance, the Garden Village cooperative that is being formed by a group of twenty or so local people who want to live alongside each other, share resources and manage their street and properties together. You certainly won’t see cars, and we hope it stays that way, with the vast majority of parking spaces placed behind homes, leaving green streets quiet for walking, cycling, playing and all things social.
Purists may scoff at our fusing of modern construction techniques with Arts and Crafts architecture. We will take that on the chin, knowing we went the extra mile to, for example, specify bricks made of brick (not concrete), false chimneys (because residents tell us they help make a home) and to vary designs and aspects across the 230 houses on the Garden Village.
Critics will say that a home that costs more than a hundred thousand pounds to buy is not affordable to somebody on low income. That is often true but shared ownership is enabling buyers on low incomes to buy and live on the Garden Village, without all of their income disappearing in monthly rent.
Finally, some may view our naming of the site after famously portraited wartime factory worker Ruby Loftus as cynical; What claim do we have to that name, that history? None, but the name celebrates the history of the site, city and its people, just as Newport’s Gallery, where the painting has often been displayed, is threatened by austerity. Loftus has already helped us connect local schoolchildren with Newport’s wartime history and the role of Newport’s women in the wartime effort; our hope is that the name will prompt future generations to ask and explore.
Newport Council has warmly embraced both our vision for the Garden Village and its naming. Without this support we simply could not deliver Newport’s first Garden Village; it is only by working in partnership that Newport can re-realise its huge potential.
Loftus Garden Village is already proving popular, with some 15 homes already reserved and show homes still to open in June. In marketing the development we are trying to sow some seeds of positivity, all our leaflets are printed on wildflower seedpaper (a huge hit with schools and, we hope, bees) and we are sponsoring both Newport Record Store Day and Shop Local Saturday, two events that celebrate and enhance the fabric of economic and cultural life in the City.
Our hope is that Loftus Garden Village proves to be a fantastic place for a diverse range of people to live and grow together. We hope that in subtle but important ways we are creating an environment that will foster community spirit, encourage healthy, sustainable living and critically help regenerate Newport beyond the bricks and mortar.