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History of Southsea Self Help Housing Co-operative


After The North South Road

Holbrook Road, being the new ‘North South Road’, effectively divided the area bounded by the railway line, Victoria Road North, Winston Churchill Avenue, and Somers Road into two. In 1983, construction of the Cumberland Business Centre began on the east side of the new road, while the west side saw a small number of houses built at Froddington Road, and a retirement home, Ian Gibson Court at Carlise Road. All that remained of the original buildings were a tarpaulin factory located immediately south of Fratton railway bridge, the Jubilee Pentecostal Church at the end of Carlise Road, the fire station at Somers Rd, and some council flats on Somers Rd by the fire station. Over the years, a number of units for business use were constructed where the former Bridge Tavern was, at a small stretch of what was Cumberland Road but now addressed as Somers Road, just south of Somers Rd railway bridge. The Co-Operative Dairy also had a new warehouse at Cumberland Road, east of Holbrook Road. So the area generally is of mixed use for both residential and business.

By the late 1990s the tarpaulin factory was under closure, and eventually became derelict. This acted as a focal point for vandalism, and small fires. It was also a suicide spot for a while. This was due to people being able to gain access to the building, as there were no security arrangements as such. I remember one time when a couple were walking past the empty building, only to get showered with broken glass where kids had got in and were smashing the windows. So by January 2000, demolition started, and the site was eventually cleared. All that remained were a set of gates, with an emblem of a man wearing a top hat on them. There were plans to build retirement homes on the site, but these never came to fruition, so the area became wild and overgrown, and was frequented by foxes that live on the roundabout just south of Fratton railway bridge.

Garnier St Garnier St Garden
Garnier Street Garnier Street Garden

By late 2007, a block of flats were built on the Co-Op Dairy site. This is now Mulvany Court, built by Drum Housing Association. These flats also include office space on the ground floor. Soon after, flats were built on the area immediately south of Fratton railway bridge. These are Priory View, built by Downland Housing Association; and Collins Place, built by  Portsmouth Housing Association (now part of Wessex Housing Group) which overlooks Priory School. Interestingly, these flats were built using a modular style construction, with the individual apartments being built in Ireland, and assembled together on site. Southsea Medical Centre has recently been built at Carlise Road.

Other developments in Fratton Road include the Wesley Centre, and flats on the opposite corner on Penhale Rd; as well as smaller blocks of flats along the eastern end of Arundel Street. The former Victory Brushes factory at Claremont Rd is now housing, as is the site of the Railway Inn on the corner of Walmer Road. The former Dog and Duck pub on the corner of Garnier Street is now flats, although it was used as an office at some time, and before that was the Nat West Bank. The Guardsman next door is also flats, as is the former Magpie pub. Numerous planning applications for flats have been made where the Labour Club is, but each application has been rejected on the grounds of being unsuitable.

Along the south side of Lucknow Street, but more towards the western end, James Butcher Housing Association built Sainsbury Lodge, and the larger development of Sydenham Court. At the eastern end of Lucknow St, four houses were built by the former RAH Housing Co-Operative. Sadly, this housing co-operative is no longer in existence, having formed out of Spithead Housing Co-Operative, which dissolved in the late 1990s. Other RAH developments were at Playfair Road, Cottage Grove, Sedgely Close, and Brougham Road. All these were acquired by Portsmouth Housing Association some years ago, but the Sedgley Close flats are boarded up. This is due to the larger Somers Town Regeneration scheme which will see considerable redevelopment of that area. Portsmouth City Council’s website has more information about this.

Lucknow Street Lucknow Street
Lucknow Street Lucknow Street

There were discussions about SSHH managing the 4 Lucknow St houses; but in the end they went over to PHA. Just south of these houses, St Monicas House was built and opened in August 1993. It is run by the Free Church Women’s Housing Association, mainly for young mothers. Because there were so many housing association properties in this area, it was dubbed ‘housing association row’.

There was also a possibility of acquiring a house at No 6 Garnier St, but it remains to be seen what happens, especially as the house was refurbished a couple of years ago and is likely to remain with Wessex Housing Group. A number of other houses in Garnier St are also housing association properties. And finally, two houses at Vivash Rd had been derelict ever since I can remember. We did enquire into the possibility of taking these on for rehab. They are owned by a social club, and were eventually refurbished and brought back into use. As far as I know the social club still owns them, but at least these houses are finally back in use.

Southsea Self Help saw the sad loss of a former member, Sue Edgar, who was Treasurer, and Secretary. Sue was also very active with disability organisations in the area. After some illness, Sue passed away in 2002.

Another active member, Roly Woods, was Maintenance Officer for many years, and it was Roly who managed to get the security gates fitted at Lucknow St, Somers Rd Nth; and the entry door at Garnier St. These areas were affected by anti social problems and burglaries which led to these new security gates and doors being fitted. Roly also organised the regular boiler service and safety checks, which is a legal requirement. Roly passed away in April 2007, but I do remember him from the mid 1980s and earlier, when he used to organise a beach party at Eastney. Roly was also involved with the rock bands Dr Brown, and Heliotrope, and organised some of their gigs, as well as the Music In The Square event. Roly also coordinated the National Poetry Day wrap up in October 1995, when the flats at Lucknow St were wrapped in sheets of poetry. Roly often socialised at the Railway Club opposite Fratton Station.

A further loss to the co-op was Peter Spencer. Peter used to be a local councillor, and was also on the planning committee at Portsmouth City Council. He served as SSHH Chairperson for a while. Peter passed away in 2007.

Somers Rd North Somers Rd North
Somers Rd North Somers Rd North

So what of the future? Fratton has become quite a densely populated area, in contradiction to the idea that it had a declining population many years ago. We should be able to continue for many years yet, providing that we maintain effective management of the co-operative. As its members are now largely middle aged, with a small number in retirement, the younger energy has gone. But the climate has also changed, in that we no longer have a council who can simply knock down houses to make way for a road or tower blocks. However, there will come a time, in the future, when much of the older housing stock in the city will need replacing. But this is likely to be done with the consultation of residents, as is happening in Somers Town, where much of the 1930s to 1970s stock will be replaced, apart from the tower blocks ironically.

On the plus side, the communal gardens in all three streets have seen considerable improvement over the years. At Somers Rd Nth, one member has managed to attract gold finches to his garden, which is certainly an achievement given the urban area. Also, a kestrel has visited both this garden, and the communal garden at Garnier St. It is like a small wildlife haven now, with a pond, blue tits, four cats, a dog, and no doubt lots of soon to be frogs.

But when I first moved to 36 Garnier St in 1991, the communal garden was pretty awful to say the least – old mattresses, furniture dumped there etc. Nos 26, 30B, 34 and 36 were all shared by three people, and 32, and 57A Lucknow St, by two people. In those days, when we were all a bit younger, sharing was not such a bad thing. In fact, at No 36 I was usually the only one there because another resident spent a lot of time in either India or America, and the other resident spent most of his time at Somers Rd Nth seeing his partner and two children. There used to be a lot of parties and barbeques as well, reminiscent of the old short life days, even though I did not live in the co op at that time, but do remember going to the all night parties in Lucknow St in the 1980s. The south side of the street was vacant land at that time (1980s) so there were no neighbours to worry about, apart form ‘Doorway Dave’ who slept in a small van on the land.

Lucknow Garden Lucknow Garden
Lucknow Street Garden Lucknow Street Garden

The main shopping centre was ‘Buy Lo’, at the Bridge Centre. This opened in May 1989, but over the years, ‘Buy Lo’, a Co-Operative store, seemed to have their ups and downs. By March 2001 ‘Buy Lo’ closed their doors for the last time, and demolition began for the new ASDA store which opened in November 2001. This also included realigning part of Holbrook Road, and re-landscaping the surrounding area. Perhaps the Co-Op supermarket was better at running small and medium sized stores, not large hypermarkets, especially as ASDA also took over a Co-Op hypermarket at Bedhampton.

There was many a complaint of early morning noise, as the piles were being driven in, and dust getting everywhere during ASDA’s construction. But in a way, Fratton Rd has gradually improved over the years, although empty shops do seem to be a feature in the area. Whether that is due to ASDA, Gunwarf, the recession, or all three is open to question. But a number of ethnic shops have opened up in the street, and a mosque in Somers Rd Nth.

Over time, from around 2003 onwards, the shared Garnier St properties were refurbished, and were reduced to two person housing. 30A, 30B, and 32 are now one person flats, insofar that that one person lives in each of them. I lived at Lucknow St from 1997 to 2003, then moved back to Garnier St in 2003. There was originally a disabled flat, but this was converted to able bodied use because the flat was no longer considered suitable for a disabled person, especially if they needed a carer to stay overnight. The former tenant moved over to one of the disability flats in Lucknow St which are larger. But these matters, with one person in a flat, may also be due to people needed more space and privacy as they get older. However, that is not to say that in the far flung future this cannot change.

Asda Gateway Froddington
Gateway leading to Garnier St Somers Rd North

At present, Garnier Street has been experiencing a number of anti social problems. This is caused mainly by people coming through the street in the early hours, from the city centre or elsewhere, on their way to Fratton Rd. There are proposals to have the archway at the ASDA end of Garnier St locked at night, but as yet nothing has come to fruition. A serious assault took place in late 2009 which was witnessed by some co-op members. This has had an adverse effect on the street, and part of the problem, I believe, is also down to the more 24 hour society we live in, and the availability of cheap alcohol which fuels these problems.

But on a lighter note, the communal garden in Garnier St has a pond, and there are loads of tiny frogs. So it is nice to see something like this happen in your own back yard.

T. Barrow

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