Can the prince of chintz turn a sink estate to a des res - and save it from dynamite?

Residents hope the Changing Rooms star will work his magic - but homeowners' wishes haven't always come true
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Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen's ability to turn a beige sitting room into a zebra-striped, safari-themed salon has never been in doubt; nor his talent for transforming a double bedroom into a velvet and lace-lined boudoir. But will he have the skills to take a crime-riddled, ant-infested sink estate, home to 6,000 people, and convert it into a des res?

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen's ability to turn a beige sitting room into a zebra-striped, safari-themed salon has never been in doubt; nor his talent for transforming a double bedroom into a velvet and lace-lined boudoir. But will he have the skills to take a crime-riddled, ant-infested sink estate, home to 6,000 people, and convert it into a des res?

For TV's Llewelyn-Bowen is turning his creative skills to social housing, which makes the task a tad more complex than the normal fare thrown up by middle class suburbia.

For his latest venture the Changing Rooms star will require more than a sheet or two of medium-density fibreboard, a few yards of purple cheesecloth and a quick trip to B&Q.

The Byron lookalike with a penchant for shirts three times too big for him has been drafted in by the residents on the Ferrier in Greenwich, one of south London's most notorious estates.

They believe a makeover from their "prince of chintz" will save the brutalist, concrete high-rises they have grown to love from council bulldozers and dynamite.

They are currently engaged in talks with the London Borough of Greenwich, which at the end of this month will decide on a number of possibilities for the 30-year-old estate including plans to demolish it, the cheapest option, at £23m, open to it.

In an act of desperation, residents dispatched a letter to Mr Llewelyn-Bowen, who lives about a mile from the estate on the border of Blackheath and Kidbrooke, pleading with him to help their cause.

"People are saying: 'Nuke the Ferrier'," the letter from the residents' association began. "But we say: 'No. Cover it in chintz and purple swag'."

The letter touched a nerve. Mr Llewelyn-Bowen, who was once voted Britain's vainest man - he tied with David Beckham - is putting social awareness before image and has agreed to help the council tenants, by offering his services for free. He will come up with a series of designs to rejuvenate the estate and give it a new lease of life.

To that end, Mr Llewelyn-Bowen has entrusted the initial spade work to his wife Jackie, the chief executive and driving force behind the multi-million-pound industry that is Llewelyn-Bowen Ltd.

She visited the estate on Friday, accompanied by The Independent on Sunday, for a look at the job ahead. Mr Llewelyn-Bowen, who has been filming most of the week for one of his three television shows, was in Dublin, promoting his new range of bed linen called Pure Sex.

Mrs Llewelyn-Bowen refused to be deterred by the graffiti, burnt out cars and sheer ugliness of the 11 tower blocks scattered among the rows of lower rise concrete blocks. She refused to be carried away by the occasional patch of grass or even a tree.

"We do live locally on the same road the estate is on and we are aware of the problems," explained Mrs Llewelyn-Bowen. "We have always had a deep sense of responsibility. If you can help the lives of others then you should. Laurence doesn't need to be more famous; he doesn't need to get involved. But this is all about trying to change the world for the better.

"We haven't explored the possibilities of a charitable endeavour on this scale before. The principle is nobody should have to live in a place that has no soul. You look at these buildings and they look like an internment camp."

Mrs Llewelyn-Bowen has already held one meeting with the tenants. High on the priority list will be a revamp of the lobby areas inside the tower blocks. They are desolate, forbidding areas, most of them vandalised and spray-painted with obscenities.

She could not, she declared, think of a better person to transform the estate than her husband.

The council is understood to be enthusiastic about the initiative. One source said: "We don't know what he'll come up with. He might create casbahs or turn children's bedrooms into a fairyland grotto."

The Ferrier Management Panel, the body that represents residents' views, is delighted he is on board. Clive Seymour, the panel's chairman, said: "There has been a lot of bad press about the Ferrier estate. We wanted to show another side of it. A chintzy tower block would be unique."

Most of the tenants are in agreement, although some are more enthralled than others. Virginia Edwards, for one, is delighted it is Mr Llewelyn-Bowen riding to the rescue rather than Anna Ryder Richardson, one of Changing Rooms' other designers.

"I don't like her but he is not afraid to use colour and he knows how to use it," said Ms Edwards, who looks forward to having her kitchen done. "I'm not too worried about the outside. Unless he intends to paint the entire tower block," added the 39-year-old, who lives in the 11-storey Wixom House.

Her neighbour Kath Gray, 67, is not so keen on Llewelyn-Bowen, however. "I have always loved it here. I am perfectly happy. I certainly wouldn't want to see it knocked down," said Mrs Gray, who has lived in her two-bedroom flat for the past 13 years.

"But I wouldn't want him in here either. He does lovely things but it's not for me. I wouldn't want him in my flat with his fancy ideas."

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