Wakefield’s “Revolutionary” First Council Estate: An area of ‘significant deprivation’ which is showcasing its riches in many other ways 


You may have heard of the Battle of Wakefield which took place 30 December 1460 but you may not have heard of Portobello… an area that continues to make history.

It’s easy to stumble over the fields of furrows embedded into Manygates’ Park, literally tripping over history as you enter Portobello, Wakefield’s first Council estate built in 1921. These furrows from the time of the Battle of Wakefield represent the many facets and rollercoasters of a community who have faced their own battle to ‘rebrand’ their often “shunned” and misheard area which is built on a rich tapestry of history. Even down to the fact the area was created as a garden estate model 100 years ago with sought-after social housing, complete with long gardens to accommodate this allotment style of living. It was revolutionary of its time and there is a revamped revolution happening today. 

The tapestry of the history of Portobello is not just sewn into the soil of Manygates Park, but in the nearby Sandal Castle ruins (1130), Duke of York Monument (1897 commemorating the Battle of Wakefield 1460), and Manygates Maternity Hospital. To recognise this often forgotten heritage, Portobello Community Forum, and Edgelands Arts joined forces to co-create a centenary celebration with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to research, document, and share some of Portobello’s rich history. An integral part of this was to include the community who live and breathe the area today, to come together to share memories past and present in free flag-making workshops. The idea of acquiring such powerful memories is to create an archive and train local ambassadors to be able to share more about the history of this often misjudged area. It also gave the community accessible opportunities to discover the history on their doorstep.  The project culminated in a centenary celebration at a community ‘Garden Party’ on the grassy furrows of Manygates Park. The centenary party followed the tradition of a summer British garden party, but like everything in this area, it was done in its own unique style. From unconventional Circus, performers to free clay modeling and a homemade tuck shop of cake, pop and an array of tempting treats people had donated. 

Painting positive affirmation pebbles, African Drumming, and an interactive social housing support tent with community ambassadors inviting you to play a game of ‘taste the chocolate,’ also featured in this diverse affair. Nothing is assumed or expected at this party, but the whole community is catered for thanks to the spectrum of people, charities, and community groups leading the way. Organiser Sarah Cutts said: “After the challenges and heartache of Covid we wanted to celebrate 100 years of Portobello.  â€œAll our community groups came out in force showing the amazing skills they have and offering free activities throughout the day.  â€œWe were able to pay local artists and performers too to entertain us throughout the day, which was fabulous, after such a tough year for this industry. We were thrilled to be supported by the National Lottery, Heritage Funding, Wakefield District Housing, Wakefield Council, and local businesses.” 

More often than not people usually cross this park absentmindedly, rather than realising the breadth of history beneath their feet, as they cut through the modest housing, to access the soul of this local council estate which is Portobello Community Centre. Even the name ‘Your Space,’ which is literally the writing spray-painted on the walls of this newly revamped centre, sums up the area to its core. In a time when community centres are closing, this hubbub of activity refused to follow suit thanks to the tireless efforts of many local campaigners and supporters who managed to not just keep it open but to give it a makeover too.It is this same vibrant team comprised of nearby St Helen’s Church members and the team from The Rainbow Hub, yet another much-loved community space, who founded the area’s most popular festival Soul Portobello, providing free events, fun for all ages, and an abundance of colourful creative activities. 

The festival started when an “inspired” youngster Hannah Martin, daughter of Sally and Rupert who ran St Helen’s Church, attended a London-wide initiative “Soul in the City” where churches and communities worked together to bring life, creativity, litter picks, and transforming buildings to many areas in and around London. All the young people who took part were encouraged to go home and set up “Soul” events in their neighbourhoods. Co-Founder Sally Martin said: â€œHannah came home and wrote a proposal for Soul Portobello and that is how the festival began in 2006.
“Over the years Portobello taught us a lot about having open homes and close neighbours and living in a supportive community. â€œThe uniqueness is that at its best it really works as a community who look out for each other. The groups, celebrations, and work of the Community Centre and Rainbow Hub all help people know they belong.”

The land of Portobello may be utilised in many different ways today but one thing that has remained is the embedding thread pulling together this community throughout time. For this reason, the community-driven Hub and Centre are run by Inspiring Community CIC (Rainbow Hub)  and Portobello Community Forum (Portobello Community Centre).

A community of elderly adults has evolved from being youngsters attending Manygates School to their later years attending that same venue but now as an Adult Education Centre. Here they rub shoulders with attendees of ESOL classes, beautician courses, and foreign languages to name but a few. Whilst many people who reside in Portobello today aren’t ‘born and bred’ here, there is a pride and sense of belonging. ESOL course participants are invited for informal community gatherings at the nearby Rainbow Cafe which offers its ‘gold’ welcome to everyone in Portobello. Mum of five Pippa Lockhart who volunteers tirelessly for the community and works at the Rainbow Cafe running the ESOL group and many others, explains: “We’re all just the same here, you move here or you’ve been brought up here but once you’re here, we all just crack on as best we can, trying to help one another. Like any estate, we have our issues, but deep down we are all just rooted in this place, and like with any large family we’re not going to all get on all of the time. But I genuinely wouldn’t be anywhere else but in Bella.” (Portobello is fondly called ‘Bella’ by the locals). 
For this reason, the catchment school, Sandal Castle, is now home to an inclusive community of 49-second languages and is positioned in between several diverse areas. The school consists of families from the working class to the upper-middle class acting as a synergy between people from all walks of life. 

Wakefield’s first council estate is founded on such inclusive communal living which has evolved over time, with the odd battle along the way. But this community continues to thrive with a different look, as it evolves throughout time, but its strong spirit remains unfaltering.  
The heart of any community is beautifully unique, but there is no soul quite like that of the complex, collaborative and communal lives of many of the social housing tenants here in Portobello. 

This abundant thread of history, overcoming adversity and evolving from a garden estate, creating a diverse harmonious community is demonstrated in the flags that interweave the rich heritage of this area.  The flags were held at full mast at the centenary party which marked the start of the flags continuing to fly high, not just showcasing the history of the area but highlighting the many green spaces, community venues and most of all celebrating the strong community spirit striving to keep one another well by relaxing, playing and supporting one another. Portobello may be an area of significant deprivation but it is rich in so many other ways. 

A ‘Bella’ of heritage in Portobello: Wakefield’s First Council Estate 

The building of Portobello estate began in 1921, as part of the slum clearances and was mentioned as a model of good practice in a Housing Bill debate in the House of Commons in 1930. Because each house came with a  private garden, it became known as the “Garden Estate”. Portobello estate borders Sandal Castle to the South and Castle Grove Park to the North. Sandal Castle is a ruined medieval castle built in the 12th century. Later home to the Duke of York (referenced in the nursery rhyme the Grand old Duke of York) it features in William  Shakespeare’s Henry VI. It was contested during the War of the Roses (1460) and besieged during the English  Civil War (1864). Castle Grove Park is a well-preserved field of medieval ridge and furrow agricultural land which may have formed the battlefields of the battle of Wakefield as the Yorkists were driven away from the castle to  Chantry Bridge (built 1342). A Victorian monument to the Duke stands among the school railings of the now Manygates Adult Education Centre. Portobello street names link the estate back to its medieval heritage, with avenues called Duke of York, Warren (Earl of Warenne), Clifford (Lord Clifford of Craven), and Rutland (Earl of). 

For more information, contact:  E: [email protected] T: 07799 534702  
By Sophie Mei Lan https://sparklecommunications.co.uk / https://www.yorkshirefamilies.co.uk 

As a grassroots young reporter, I would fill the crime pages with “yet another” news report of a criminal living on an impoverished road that winds through Wakefield’s first council estate.Yet when I needed to find a home to start afresh with my two young daughters, it was here in Portobello ‘an area of significant deprivation’ that I craved to live. It was my Location. Location. Location. Unfortunately, the council houses built on concentric circles and a complex network of interweaving roads went like gold dust and it was virtually impossible to secure something at that time. I wasn’t on a mission as a journalist to live here, I was on a mission as an isolated home working single mum who craved the community spirit and family atmosphere that this estate brings. Plus the expansive gardens built on allotment style living appealed to me despite the aged look of some of the house’s exteriors. Alas to say I didn’t make it as a contestant on Location, Location, Location nor could I leapfrog the long waiting list to live here. Yes, like any ‘deprived’ area there are issues with health, wellbeing, and crime. But that was the same situation in the area I grew up in in the suburbs of Sheffield, South Yorkshire. It was often neglected by the rest of the city who we felt cut off from with the road networks and the significant inequalities. Yet ‘crises doesn’t create community, it reveals it.’ My childhood memories may not be that of spending spare time at an organised sports club, horse-riding, or heading to the local cricket club, but we would create our own games in the cemetery’s green areas, we would chalk hopscotch on the floor, and climb trees. We too had a seldom surviving community centre in the local park where my mum worked and volunteered. We would create artwork, practice self-defense, and attend the multi-cultural festivals my mum had organised to include the whole area. Or we’d cross the cemetery to play at the longstanding Pitsmoor Adventure Playground or attend a bonfire at a local housing co-operative. Just like Portobello, on the surface, our area’s exterior and crime rate may have looked glum, but beneath the superficial, there was a fabulous array of communities emerging on the interior. Most of all the shared spirit shone brightly despite being shunned and seldom heard by other communities. I never craved to live in gated housing nor to have perfectly preened trees there was just a lot of travel involved to access a lot of opportunities. Since moving over to Wakefield, I have enjoyed living on cul-de-sacs again but I missed such shared living which I now enjoy living in part social housing. While I am an introvert, I am now in a community close to Portobello where there is still a hubbub of community spirit. But it’s got to be said there is something truly patient, open, and fiery about the Portobello spirit that should be the envy of many other communities. There certainly is no other garden party like a Portobello garden party. Give me pop and community over Pimms and etiquette any day. 
By Sophie Mei Lan https://sparklecommunications.co.uk / https://www.yorkshirefamilies.co.uk 
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