Housing: Fairy tale estate aimed at keeping young people local

By Will Fyfe
Wales Live

Published
Media caption,
Fairy tale estate helps keep young people local

Nestled in the mountains of north Wales and surrounded by rivers and waterfalls are a series of striking and unique properties, which some describe as "the stuff of fairy tales".

But, perhaps more unusual than the vivid blue doors that unite them is the fact that those living there aren't wealthy individuals or holiday makers, but millennials paying cheap rents.

The Brondanw estate community, which boasts views of Snowdon, has been made possible by a radical housing scheme.

Its foundations were laid by the architect behind the nearby enchanting Italianate-style village Portmeirion.

Sir Clough Williams-Ellis wanted something different than to leave his estate of about 50 historical properties to descendants. So he set up a charitable trust in the 1970s which now helps families in the area to find affordable homes to rent.

Image source, Getty Images
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Sir Clough Williams-Ellis hoped Portmeirion would inspire others

"We try to set the rent somewhere between market rate and social housing," explained Sir Clough's great-granddaughter, Seran Dolma, who is trustee of the estate.

"It means we have a really thriving community - lots of young people, lots of children. People know each other and care about each other."

It is perhaps unsurprising that the estate has a long waiting list of applicants, but priority is always given to those with a connection to the area, who speak Welsh and have the ability to contribute to the community.

Although it is not exclusively for Welsh speakers, Ms Dolma believes "it's important people are able to live in the communities that they were born".

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Seran Dolma says the community is tight-knit and full of young people

Jasper Atkinson grew up a few miles away from the estate in Gwynedd, but never realised it existed until a friend encouraged him to apply for a house.

"I had definitely noticed the strange, coloured doors and windows before, but I'd never really questioned it," he laughed.

Last year he and his partner were offered a cottage to rent in the woods nearby.

"We're in the middle of a mossy forest, we have a river running through the garden, snowdrops everywhere," he said.

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"It's absolutely beautiful and our closest neighbours are a ten-minute walk away," says Jasper Atkinson

But the most important factor for the 28-year-old is what the low rent has meant for them both.

"I have lived absolutely on the edge of only just making it every month and getting into more and more debt.

"It drives down your mental health and you end up just working to exist."

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"Portmeirion blue" is used on all the estate's properties

Jasper said the rent he and his partner pay is about half what he would expect to pay for a terraced house where he grew up, and that's enabled him to start his eco-building company.

"When you have those really high rent rates and inflated rent rates you lose all the young people," he said.

"We do have a very young community here, the highest concentration I've seen in rural Wales."

As opposed to new arrivals like Jasper, many other tenants grew up on the estate before returning in their 20s.

'I didn't realise how special this place was'

Silvia Rose, 29, moved into one of the former gardener's cottages two years ago and loves the "very old woodland, fields and beautiful rivers you can swim in all year round".

Despite spending her childhood at a different house on the estate, Silvia said it wasn't until she was faced with living costs herself that she appreciated how different her community was.

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For Silvia Rose, renting a three-bedroom house anywhere else would be out of the question

"What's unique is that me and my partner Jack are able to rent a three-bedroom house together in such a beautiful place. I think it would otherwise certainly be an Airbnb by now.

"I suppose I always was aware that there was something special about this place, but maybe I didn't quite understand it."

Silvia said the area has always had a reputation for attracting "slightly alternative" people, and that the current community, which features several artists and creatives, would have stayed true to Sir Clough's original vision.

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Stunning views surround properties on the estate

About a mile down the road, Steffan Smith and his young family have potentially one of the estate's most unique properties.

"I don't think I'd always planned to come back - but there was always something about this particular valley that drew you back in," explained the 31-year-old.

He said 50 years ago a young family like his may have been able to afford such a property, but today the housing market makes that "impossible".

"We benefitted from the estate as children and are benefitting from it doubly so as adults."

He said the mountains to climb are freely available to the community, which means "you don't need to flash your bank card at everything".

Image caption,
Steffan Smith grew up on the estate and now, with his partner Lowri, rent the former woollen mill

Housing in Wales' most scenic and rural areas is a subject of heated debate. Many communities say they feel under threat from second homes and holiday lets pushing up market prices.

But many second homeowners say they feel scapegoated for wider housing issues.

Seran said the estate would like to do more to help and does actively bid on new properties nearby, but resources are limited.

"It's difficult for us to create a role outside of the limited area that we have influence over - we only own these properties."

However, she said the Clough Williams-Ellis Foundation is perhaps an "example" that could be followed by others with means.

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