Who's in the house?: Hulme, sweet Hulme

In a Manchester suburb, an oasis of friendly communal living has taken the place of a run-down and dangerous housing estate. And the residents have no one to thank but themselves

The Crescents, Sixties-built blocks of flats linked by walkways, was a notoriously crime-ridden housing estate in Hulme, Manchester. In 1989, residents got together to build their own alternative housing. "We decided that if we wanted to get our bit of Hulme sorted out, we would need to put our own team together," says Charlie Baker, founder of the Homes for Change Housing Co-operative.

By 1995, the co-operative had raised funds to build 75 maisonettes, townhouses and flats on the site of the by-now demolished estate. Architects designed a complex that varies from four to six storeys arranged around a central courtyard. The aim was to incorporate features from the Crescents, such as the deck-level walkways, but to ensure all such communal areas were well used, to prevent them becoming crime black spots. In 1996, the first tenants moved into phase one, which features a theatre, cafe and workshops. Phase two, now underway, will complete the fourth side of the square.

The Association had a hand in most architectural decisions, for instance leaving bare the concrete partition walls in each flat for residents to decorate as they wished. Each unit has wooden floors and an outside space: a garden, balcony, or roof terrace.

Community spirit is strong: often front doors are left open in the daytime. "We haven't had a break-in in three years," says Baker. The Royal Institute of British Architecture gave the project a RIBA Housing Award in 1997, saying: "It sails like a flagship for the future above the wastelands of Hulme."

Captions: Ian Lashford and Gary Penrice

Moved in: October 1996

Ian has a flat which looks like a cabin perched on top of the building, with its own roof terrace. Each wall in the living room is painted a different bright colour. Ian said that he wanted the flat to be "as vulgar as possible - I really have no taste whatsoever". On the wall is a picture of his mother as a ballerina. The table and cocktail cabinets belonged to his "dear dead grandmother". The books on the shelves are Gary's - Ian claims that he "just looks at the pictures".

Nickie Witham

Moved in: September 1996

Nickie, a part-time student, wanted the flat to have an inside/outside feel. The large living room window looks out over the courtyard and the plants on the terrace outside. Inside the living room are lots more plants, wood and furniture in blues and greens; the table and chairs are painted to match. Nickie enjoys living in a deck-access flat for the social life: lots of spontaneous parties and barbecues. As it's a co-op, friends of friends tend to move in, contributing to the sociable atmosphere.

Charlie Baker and Sarah Hughes with children Rachel and Ellie Baker

Moved in: September 1996

"We didn't want any curtains - we thought plants by the windows would do instead," says Charlie. "The shelves are made from the metal the council used to board the flats up with. We left the flat's concrete walls bare; for the other walls, we chose bright blue and red. Other pieces of furniture include a shelf out of Hulme Library, a chemistry bench from the old Burghley High School and granny's sofa."

Chris Nelson and Paula Taras with children Isaac and Maya Taras- Nelson, and Katie Tolkien (friend and neighbour)

Moved in: September 1996

Both Paula and Chris describe the co-op as a "little utopia" in a fairly rough area. Paula painted the walls while seven months pregnant, and they sanded the floor together. Both walls are lined with records, as Chris is a DJ. In the summer they have meals out on the lawn, while the kids play. "Everyone knows the kids and looks out for them," says Paula.

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