Over the past 50 years West Kentish Town estate has put down roots. Built in 1963 using the Reema pre-cast concrete walling system, it originally comprised 388 homes, including two blocks of 10 and 15 storeys (Hawkridge).
The Reema system was a basic form of pre-cast concrete construction, one of the earlier types of ‘industrialised building system’ that was to become widespread later in the 60s. A reviewer of the built project in 1964 wrote “West Kentish Town as a result is one of the first, if not the first, fully considered “industrialised” environments in this country”.
Construction of Cannington, Bassett Street
View of the new WKT estate from Queen’s Crescent
Unfortunately the Reema system had minimal insulation, resulting in condensation problems, and it became clear that major works were required to rectify this. Residents campaigned for the refurbishment of the blocks, including the installation of central heating, and in February 1982 considered taking legal action. A spokesperson for Camden Council said that restrictions forced by Government cut-backs had caused a reduction in the level of maintenance of council homes.
In November 1982 the Housing Development Committee heard from consultants that “the whole of the estate is well below any standard as far as heat loss is concerned. The heating system is extremely sub-standard, the wiring is approaching the point when it will become dangerous, and the roofs leak.” The Committee heard that the repairing the estate would cost at least £8,150,000, but a plan to go ahead with the repairs was rejected on the basis that it might not be worthwhile to repair the an estate simply to extend its life by a few years. “Is it sensible and cost effective and fair on the tenants to put them through this amount of work, which they would have to endure, just to get a few more years’ life from the block?” asked councillor Cathleen Mainds. The vice-chair of the Housing Development Committee, John Wakeham, added: “To make this kind of decision without getting a report on the possibilities of demolition and rebuilding would be wrong.”
As a result a feasibility study was undertaken to look at the rebuilding option, which was costed at between £10 and 18million. The residents were consulted about the future of their homes, and as a result the Housing Development Committee agreed to proceed with the refurbishment option. John Wakeham expressed surprise at the outcome: “Curiously enough, the people of Camden want to live in this place.” What he failed to appreciate was residents had established a community in the area and did not want their homes to be demolished.
Construction details showing over-cladding to insulate the original concrete panels 1983
Refurbishment works in the 1980s
Following the Ronan Point tower block disaster in Canning Town in 1968, strengthening works were carried out at Hawkridge. However in 1986 concerns were raised about the safety of the blocks, and tenants were evacuated. Rather than carry out further repair works, the blocks were sold to a developer who subsequently did this work themselves and refurbished the building (see post).
Further works at West Kentish Town estate included replacement of the original Crittal windows with double glazing in 1996. 20 years later in 2018, the next round of refurbishment is now due.
Creation of growing spaces in West Kentish Town estate (the original design did not provide any private gardens).
When asked in 2016 what people liked about living in West Kentish Town estate they replied as follows: