‘Misery maisonettes’ no more: has Hull’s Bransholme estate turned a corner?

In the 1980s and 90s, Bransholme earned a reputation for damp, vandalism and crime – but as it turns 50, Hull’s largest estate is fighting the stereotypes

'misery maisonettes' no more: has hull's bransholme estate turned a corner?
Bransholme, like the estates and new towns springing up all over Britain, seemed the best solution to the dereliction and destitution of inner city slums.

Where does Bransholme start? There’s no “Welcome to … ” sign on any of the approach roads. Sutton Park, the neighbouring private development, kind of blends into it. Then suddenly you’re there, in a land of houses without chimneys, grass verges the size of fields and looping ring-roads that don’t always end where you expect them to.

Follow one of these arteries round, and you’ll end up at the heart: the North Point shopping centre. In May, Bransholme, the huge postwar housing development on Hull’s north-eastern edge, turns 50 – and North Point is marking the anniversary with a photo exhibition recounting the journey from boggy building site to town-sized estate that’s now home to 30,000 people.

The display, in a disused shop unit, is a whistle-stop tour, beginning with Bransholme’s prehistory – it was once home to an RAF barrage balloon base – and ending with images of refurbished schools and the first new houses to be built here for 40 years. It doesn’t ignore the problems of a sometimes troubled estate, widely (though wrongly) believed to be the largest in Europe. But overall the tone is positive – a celebration of a place that has “transformed into a stable, mature community”.

But this is more than mere nostalgia. Bransholme’s 50th anniversary happens to coincide with Hull’s year as UK city of culture and, like the city-wide event, is a subtle exercise in place branding.

“It’s simple,” says Chris Smith of Bransholme Community Arts Enterprise (BCAE), which is coordinating many of the celebrations, including pop-up poetry, reminiscence sessions and a heritage sculpture trail. “Fifty years ago, they began putting bricks down, creating this colossal housing estate. [Since then] it’s become synonymous with many of the negative things about public housing. […]