How it all began
At the end of the First World War, the area which is now Kirkholt was occupied by small farms connected by lanes and footpaths. It stretched from the canal in the west to Oldham Road in the east. Oldham Road carried the tramline connecting Rochdale to Oldham, and beside it stood three mills, the Church of St Mary and some terraced cottages.
By 1930, Queensway was open and a small corporation estate of 250 dwellings sprang up on either side of it, known as the Dicken Green Estate.
But the Housing Department of the County Borough of Rochdale had a much grander scheme in mind: an estate ten times the size of Dicken Green was planned across the farmland between the two main roads. It was to be named ‘Kirkholt’, after the farm at the centre of the area earmarked for demolition.
The outbreak of the Second World War brought the implementation of the plan to a halt. However, some work was undertaken in the war years. Some German prisoners-of-war from a camp near Bury were employed to dig the sewers (on trade union rates of pay!). They met a mixed reception from local people – not surprisingly, there was hostility, as some of the prisoners were members of the Luftwaffe, but friendships were also formed. There is a tale that one prisoner was accidentally left behind when the lorry set off under armed guard back to camp, but was given a lift by a sympathetic local farmer who caught up with the lorry before it reached Bury.
When the war was over, building began in earnest: it started in the 1940s at the western end of the site and finished in the early 1950s in the Everest Road area. Some of the first tenants are still living in the same houses today. They remember that their previous homes were visited and inspected by council officials before they were given a tenancy on Kirkholt. Many of them say how marvellous they thought the Kirkholt houses were, brand new with indoor toilets and gardens, although at first it felt very isolated with few amenities. But these soon followed and, as many of the first residents were young parents, a strong sense of neighbourliness rapidly developed.
The early years
Kirkholt was a lively estate with hard-working residents who had aspirations for themselves and for their children: it was a time of high employment in large and small firms producing cotton and wool textiles and large and small engineering companies. The churches were well attended and provided many activities for young people through Scouts and Cubs, Guides and Brownies, Boys Brigade and various dance troupes. The lively community centre was managed by a residents’ association, and hosted operatic and drama groups. An active Working Men’s Club arranged concerts and entertainments at weekends and regular outings for members. The Strand had a good variety of shops which were well supported by residents. There were community transport buses to supplement local bus services. The primary, middle and secondary schools on the estate were good. This was a strong community
Decline and the promise of renewal
The area was badly affected by the decline in local industry, the rise of the supermarket and falling household incomes.
Someone moving in to Kirkholt in the year 2,000 would have been struck by the atmosphere of depression about the place. Shops on the Strand were closing and in desperate need of a face lift. There seemed to be a large number of boarded-up properties. A significant number of the residents were transient, admitting that they had only moved to Kirkholt with the hope of being transferred elsewhere as soon as they could manage it.
The government’s Housing Market Renewal programme seemed to offer some hope. There was extensive local consultation and a plan for the area was drawn up. By this time the management of the estate had passed from the local authority to an arm’s length management organisation, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, which was committed to the transformation of the estate. The main aim of the plan was to provide a greater diversity of housing tenure and to increase local spending power to support local shops and services.
Many existing properties were placed under demolition orders, including most of the blocks of flats, with the intention of replacing them with a mixture of private and social housing. From 2005, £6 million pounds of Housing Market Renewal funding was spent in Kirkholt on buying 40 privately owned homes in the demolition areas, rehousing tenants elsewhere, clearing future sites for new building and involving the community in the decision making process. Then, in March 2011, the Housing Market Renewal programme was terminated.
Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, in conjunction with Bright Horizons, built six new properties for rent in Waterloo Road, off Romney Avenue. Taylor Wimpy have recently completed a small number of houses for sale on a site off Hartley Lane on land previously occupied by a primary school.. All of this re-development, though welcomed, was on a much smaller scale than was envisaged.