Property: A modern village in the making: When the planners conceived Thorpe Marriott in Norfolk, they wanted its homes to have a heart. Anne Spackman assesses the result

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A village, according to the dictionary, is a group of houses larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town. A large housing estate, rows of lookalike boxes on the edge of town, fits that dictionary definition. But the word 'village' implies a community with a church, a pub, and perhaps a shop or school, at its heart.

Thorpe Marriott, near Norwich, tries to marry the two: it is a large housing estate, but it aspires to be a village, too.

In 1986, Broadland District Council earmarked a 380-acre site for development. So far, around 1,500 homes have been built. When the project is finished, in a couple of years, there will be some 5,200 people living in Thorpe Marriott.

The consortium of builders, including Bovis, Beazer and Wimpey, have between them built everything from five-bedroom family houses to two-bedroom terraces and bungalows. The mix of styles as well as size has helped ease the architectural monotony of many earlier estates. That is one small step in creating a village feel.

More importantly, the planners have designed Thorpe Marriott to have a heart. At the centre of the development is a swath of green, which makes up part of the 100 acres (about a quarter of the total site) given over to trees and green spaces. Dotted around this common and the belts of trees separating housing areas are playgrounds for small children and ball parks for older ones.

In the same central area are a pub, a church and a small, rather dismal row of shops, including a hairdresser, video shop, estate agent and supermarket. It could do with a post office and chemist. Other facilities most obviously lacking are a school and doctor's surgery. The local playschool is full to bursting (and has a long waiting list), as is the most popular primary school in a neighbouring area. This year 130 babies are due - one for every 10 homes on the estate.

Babies and toddlers have proved to be a strong unifying factor in Thorpe Marriott. However, the person most responsible for bringing the community together is not a young mother but the dynamic woman minister at the church.

Rosemary Wakelin moved to a Wimpey home in Thorpe Marriott from one of the prettiest streets in Norwich. She describes the village as a fairly pagan place - but after four years she has well over 100 regular church-goers, of whom around 60 turn up each Sunday. This does not include all the mothers who come to the 'Chattery' every week, nor the men who do a soup run into Norwich, nor the teenagers who come to youth club or 'open door' nights.

It is these activities that have made the church the social centre of the neighbourhood and brought out the Christian spirit in many residents. A number have started going to church for the first time. This has its advantages: 'They don't know they are supposed to look miserable,' says Mrs Wakelin.

The church's informal mood is helped by its position, next door to The Otter, the local pub. Harvest festivals are held at The Otter, as well as carol singing on Christmas Eve. The landlord, Alan Wright, shares Mrs Wakelin's have-a-go attitude.

Thorpe Marriott was launched into a world of prosperity and rising house prices. Nowhere did values increase more quickly in the Eighties boom than in East Anglia. The development could sell itself as a place for self-sufficient families, offering easy access by car to work and a healthy environment for children.

Plenty of residents would recognise themselves in that description. Lindsey Holman and her husband, Len, moved to a large, four-bedroom Bovis house in Thorpe Marriott five years ago. He is a headmaster, she is a hairdresser, and they have a three-year-old son, Elliott.

Because she drives, Mrs Holman finds few drawbacks in Thorpe Marriott. She does not need a local post office because she tends to go shopping outside the village. She does not depend on local activities because she has plenty of friends within driving distance. The Holmans' house is immaculate and they are very pleased with it. 'We love it here,' Mrs Holman says. 'We wouldn't want to leave.'

Others have found it more of a struggle. Many who bought in 1989-90 have lost money on their houses. Sally Stock lost around pounds 10,000 on the two-bedroom terrace house she and her husband bought as their first home. They had to move because the house had become too small for them and their 21-month-old daughter, Jade. Thanks to a part-exchange deal, they are now living in a large, three-bedroom detached house.

Others have been less fortunate still. 'There are families here who have had their homes repossessed,' says Mrs Wakelin. 'There are real problems here, like anywhere.'

You do not notice the problems as you drive past well-tended gardens and window after window of ruched blinds. People are very house-proud in Thorpe


There is a clear pecking order of builders, with Bovis constructing the most prestigious houses on the best sites. Both Mrs Holman and Mrs Stock own Bovis houses and say they would not buy from a cheaper builder. Even the minister says she wishes she had bought a Bovis home.

Though neither of the two young mothers feels as firmly rooted in Thorpe Marriott as they would expect to be in an established village, they feel the place is beginning to gel.

The local estate agent, The Property Shop, says much of its business came from families on the estate trading up. Company relocations also provide new buyers.

There is clearly a reasonable degree of satisfaction with Thorpe Marriott. But could it really be called a village? Almost, seems to be the answer.

(Photographs omitted)