Orchard Village

It is hard to imagine it now, but in the late nineteenth century this corner of Rainham in Essex was home to market gardens, including orchards and strawberry fields.

Now the area's fruit-growing heritage is remembered in the landscaping of a regenerated community of some 550 mixed tenure medium rise homes. The new green centrepiece of this neighbourhood, now appropriately named Orchard Village, includes an avenue of cherry trees and a series of giant metal fruit-shaped sculptures.

The completion of the community’s central hub space marks the latest stage in the ongoing transformation of the once-notorious Mardyke Estate. This was formerly the location of one of the capital’s most disadvantaged housing estates, whose bleak tower blocks and low-rise housing provided the backdrop to the 2009 film Fish Tank. Since 2009, the area has been undergoing a large-scale regeneration with new homes, and the £80m project is set to reach its conclusion next year.

Today’s Orchard Village with its new homes and setting is quite a different place and landscaping is playing a key part in changing the physical appearance and public perceptions of the area. Alongside the community regeneration, local authority the London Borough of Havering has transformed contaminated land close to the community to create a nature area to bring some coherence to the open space and has also upgraded an existing park close to the estate.


The Mardyke Estate was built to house the workers of carmaker Ford’s nearby Dagenham plant in the 1960s but eventually became dilapidated and a focus for crime. The transfer of the housing estate to Old Ford Housing Association in 2008 paved the way for the large-scale regeneration, with PRP being appointed as masterplanner and designer.

The Mardyke wasn’t short of public open space, recalls Manisha Patel, director of PRP but it was the wrong sort of open space, she says: "It was unusable open space, a wasteland. There was no real sense of space or place".

Resident consultation was key to all aspects of the regeneration and the estate’s residents knew what they wanted when it came to the green space, says Patel: "They wanted to make sure the hub wasn’t a place for anti-social behaviour so we relocated a bus stop, put shops nearby and ensured there was overlooking on all sides to ensure the open space became a neighbourhood space rather than an estate space. It’s an approach we’re adopting elsewhere and it is becoming successful."

The hub space has both a play area and a public square, with the orchard theme being referenced in a 5m grid of trees and sculptural fruit.

Key features of the design are:

•    Semi-mature double flowering wild cherry trees (Prunus avium Plena)
•    Shrubs including Osmanthus and Sarcococcas. "A lot of thought has gone into the planting for the hub," says Angeli Ganoo-Fletcher, director of PRP Landscape
•    Fruit sculptures, created by sculptor Andrew Mckeown. The sculptures include a 1.8m high apple, as well as half apples, cherries and strawberries. "They act as seating areas and features for incidental play", says Ganoo-Fletcher
•    Flowing surfaces, to relate to the nearby watercourses.

Key outcomes to date

•    Public perception of the estate has been transformed. Prior to regeneration, the local newspaper reported that council tenants did not want to live there. By 2013, it reported that applications for social housing there far exceeded availability, with 225 applications for a one-bedroom home. The spaces between the buildings have played an important part in that change, says Patel: "The public realm has really made people feel that they’re in a nice area". Resident Hayley Hart, who lived on the Mardyke for a decade, has been quoted as saying: "I used to feel ashamed of where I lived. Now, it’s like I’ve won the lottery."
•    The scheme has been cited as a model regeneration scheme, and planning secretary Nick Boles named it as one of his favourite regeneration schemes, describing it as "uplifting, fine, bold and human" to Building design magazine.

Lessons to date

•    The scheme has demonstrated the need to look outside site boundaries, especially when linking the public realm. Often, there is a focus on new landscaping and little consideration is given to the existing landscape. "In hindsight, I wish the project had the ability to influence even more outside of the site boundaries," says Patel.
•    Both Patel and Ganoo-Fletcher would like to have been able to reduce the level of car parking in the scheme, substituting it with more mature trees in the landscaping.
•    Residents from the old Mardyke Estate have had a significant stake in the regeneration. They have bought into the transformation and are taking great care of their new surroundings, but residents new to the area are not always showing the same buy-in and some courtyard areas have shown some signs of neglect.

     Project team            
Client Circle Housing Old Ford
Architect, masterplanner and
landscape designer
Planning consultant
Barton Willmore
Contractor Willmott Dixon
Civil and structural engineer CTP
Building services Eng Design
Employer’s agent, building surveyor,
sustainability and energy adviser
 Calford Seaden

This case study is from Horticulture Week's Landscape4Places campaign hub. Landscape4Places is a new campaign which seeks to highlight the contribution of quality landscaping to great placemaking. For more on the campaign, go towww.horticultureweek.co.uk/landscape-for-places

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