'We are like family round here' - What is it like living on Thetford's Abbey Estate?
PUBLISHED: 13:36 05 December 2019 | UPDATED: 13:36 05 December 2019
For Alison Jueno, it was when a fire destroyed the home of a local woman that she realised the strength of community on Thetford's Abbey Estate.
Ms Jueno, who has lived on the estate for nearly 19 years, and grew up in the area as a child, couldn't help but be proud when neighbours rallied together to help rebuild the victim's life.
She said: "If anything happens the community pulls together.
"There was once a fire up our street and the following weekend the woman had her whole home refurbished because everyone came together to help.
"What I love most is the community spirit and the open spaces and greenery."
Despite the estate's troubled past, and problems with anti-social behaviour, quality of housing, closure of shops and recent problems with county lines, the 52-year-old says it is home to thousands of good people.
Built in 1967, the Abbey Estate was a part of one of the single biggest expansion projects in Norfolk's history.
Once considered state-of-the-art for its architecture and layout, residents have said they think it's time for a "face lift".
Today, Flagship Housing owns 670 of the 1,178 homes in the area, and as talks continue into the future of the Abbey Estate they have been on the ground asking residents what they want.
Ms Jueno spoke about the changes she would like to see. She said: "When I lived on the estate as a kid we had the fort play area and there used to be a building with pool tables, table tennis, darts, TV and sofas, but there is nothing like that for the kids now.
"I would like to see funding in this area, for children's play areas and to get all of the shops open and make this the heart of the community again."
When we walked round the estate on Monday morning, all but the Abbey Neighbourhood centre and Londis corner shop were open for business, surrounded by locked shutters once home to buzzing businesses.
Beryl Ball has lived on the estate for 43 years and she says she would love to see the shops all open again.
"There used to be a Chinese takeaway and fish and chip shop, a laundrette and hairdressers, fruit and veg, butchers, grocers and a news agent," she said. "I remember when the community centre used to be a club with a bar, and they put on Caribbean nights and darts. It was wonderful.
"I have been here 43 years and I wouldn't move anywhere else. This is my home."
Caroline Powell, an old neighbour of Ms Ball, agreed as they reminisced about their time on the estate.
The 60-year-old, who has lived in the area at different times of her life since 1974, said: "We are all like family around here, we help each other out."
Many people have grown up on the estate surrounded by life-long friends and family which is clear to see as residents regularly stop to say hello to one another.
But despite this community spirit, they admit the estate has had its issues in the past, including anti-social behaviour.
Reshma Jadhav has owned the Londis corner shop with her husband, opposite the community centre, for more than 35 years and says something needs to be done about kids hanging around outside.
She said: "People are too scared to come to the shop and they scare old ladies and young children on their way home.
"We need more activities, sports, education opportunities or work to stop young people hanging around. But things are getting better than what it was before."
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Outside two teenagers sat on benches with their hoods up smoking, the distinct smell of marijuana in the air. People who stop to talk say this has always been an problem but there is nothing for young people to do in the area.
Thetford taxi driver, Steve Wright, 50, who has lived in the town for 35 years, said: "I had kids pelt my car with eggs around here the other week at about 9pm.
"I also nearly hit a lad on a motorbike driving down the road, he looked about 13 and he was doing wheelies and overtaking.
"Something needs to be done about all of the bikes. I have had to slam on the breaks many times. It is an accident waiting to happen."
With county lines on the rise and the recent murder in Thetford many are concerned with where these young people could end up.
Kayleigh White, 32, who lives on Canterbury Way, was walking with her three-year-old daughter, who goes to the Bishops Church of England Primary School and said county lines has been an issue in the area.
"After the murder everyone looked out for each other," said Ms White.
"You can name a street and I guarantee there will be county lines going on somewhere.
"Everyone around here knows what's going on, it's just the police need to catch them."
In a bid to make the estate a better place for all to live, the Mayor of Thetford, Brenda Canham, who lives on Salisbury Way, has been working with Flagship and residents to find out what they want.
She said: "I love this community. I always hear about people who move away and then want to come back.
"What happens here happens on every estate and the antisocial behaviour is not as bad as it was, things are improving.
"People have discussed trying to get rid the alley ways, because that's what causes people to be fearful and bikes go through there.
"A lot of people also want lots of greenery. If you have never been to Thetford and you drive through the estate, it's lovely."
Have your say on the Abbey Estate
Anti-social behaviour, garages and the condition of the properties are some of the priorities that matter most to residents of the Abbey estate in Thetford.
A community drop-in session was held on November 19, hosted by Flagship Group, as an opportunity for local people to share their thoughts about living on the estate, to raise any concerns, and feedback ideas.
The sessions have been running since the summer with the aim of understanding the needs and aspirations of the community.
This comes after Flagship Group, Norfolk County Council and Breckland Council agreed to work together to deliver meaningful change for the future direction of the estate.
James Payne, project director with Flagship Group said: "We know that whilst there is a strong sense of community on the estate, there are a number of concerns and challenges.
"What is key is that any improvements that we make will be shaped with local people which is why we are committed to having these conversations with residents."
The next drop in centre will take place on December 10, at the Abbey Neighbourhood Centre.