I’m staying at our home at The Staiths for a few days and am having a ball. Newcastle Gateshead has got so much to offer, its come on so much as a place in the past decade and I am so proud to have been involved in one aspect, The Staiths that has brought a great place to live to a much maligned district, Dunston.
I can’t stop walking and cycling around The Staiths, 4 years on from when the first phase was built the housing is ageing well, the landscape is magnificently verdant and most importantly the residents keep telling how much they are loving it here, its pretty satisfying but I’ll try and keep my ego in check. Ok there are the niggles, it’s the school holidays and the local naughty kids from the estates that don’t have all the play facilities that we have built at The Staiths are upsetting residents with a bit of antisocial stuff and there is a call from some quarters to make the communal courtyards a bit more private. I can’t help but spot little “attention to detail” things that wind me up a bit, meter boxes, overflow pipes, boiler fan extraction in the daft places (all of us in the design team have to be more vigilant) but overall its as uplifting as anything that inspired Gerardine and I on our reccy trips to Sweden, Holland and Germany 7 years ago when we started to research contemporary precedents for The Staiths.
I remember 6 years ago having our first experience of a CABE review and at this review The Staiths masterplan getting slammed. I remember feeling hurt, and confused by the unintelligible architectural language by the CABE commissioners and their stinging criticism of our proposed communal elements and our parking strategy. But both of these elements work for the residents who have chosen to make their homes at The Staiths, residents who are starting to play a role in the developments future success. We are on our third and fourth phases, the house and landscape design are evolving nicely and CABE (they even ended up giving The Staiths a major award) are one of the regular visitor groups who tour the site and use it as an exemplar.
Importantly the development makes good money for George Wimpey (now Taylor Wimpey) its actually achieving very high sales values and we believe it to be making more margin than most standard developments and this is allowing the team to keep standards high.
What we have learnt though is that you cant spend long feeling a little bit smug. You cant just sit back and admire the houses and the landscape, what the design team have done so far is just lay a great foundation for a communities development, there is so much more we can do. We can add to the recent Wi Fi and cycle club initiatives. We need to persuade George Wimpey to vacate their successful sales centre and turn it over to its intended use as a deli or café. We can help the residents take more control of the management of the The Staiths and we can learn more from their experience of living there. We can put more thought into the environment and the relationship with the flora and fauna of the adjacent salt marsh. We can help to bring the restoration of the historic timber staiths structure (from where the development takes its name) to reality. We can build on the close relationship with Gateshead Council and ensure that the Staiths continues to be rooted in the boroughs aims and aspirations.
We have taken a forgotten, 12 years vacant, unloved tract of former industrial land and created an upwardly mobile oasis and we can do more to give something back to the neighbouring less fortunate community. There are initiatives to be undertaken with local schools, local community groups.
The Staiths can and must be a place that thrives and prospers long after the NHBC guarantees run out (and far too many housing developments are clearly short term). I hate the word “regeneration” and if the Staiths needs regenerating this century then we have failed.