Home is where the heart is: Dollis Valley

September 7, 2023

Dollis Valley Estate, Barnet. Photograph by Nico Hogg from Flickr, licensed under creative commons

Kirsty Boyen reflects on the regeneration of her life-long home in Barnet

Dollis Valley Estate means something different to everyone in my area. For some it’s a dump, for developers it’s an opportunity to make money and for others, like me, it’s home.

It’s perfection to me; the green spaces, the Rainbow Community Centre, the vibrant high rises, as well as the community support and resilience it’s provided me and my family. I’m very happy and grateful to have grown-up in this environment.

My parents moved here in 2005 as a result of a series of difficult events and were held afloat by the safety net the community offered.

Living on the Dollis Valley Estate meant being part of a close-knit community. My parents had easy access to childcare from the Valley Centre, Make Lunch Club and Circus Skills, keeping me and my siblings fed and entertained in the holidays. Strong bonds with our neighbours and a sense of belonging was so beneficial for our security, happiness and social development.

But 18 years on, these amenities are barely there anymore. Most of the places have disappeared as a consequence of the regeneration project, set up to transform the area from the supposed ‘dump’ it was before.

The home I was born in and the surrounding estate were demolished when I was about 15 and we had to move. I was lucky enough to be rehoused on the same estate for which I am very grateful. I didn’t move very far away but my friends and neighbours weren’t so lucky. People who knew me before I could walk and talk were moving far and wide.

Dollis Valley, has been changed to Brook Valley Gardens. Admittedly I wasn’t proud of the name, due to the stigma, but it’s sad that it’s just been lost.

Sure, there are certainly things about my old home that I don’t miss; the long haul up the steep stairs and remembering to keep my voice down to be sure certain neighbours stayed happy.

However, it’s still so painful, even today, to have left behind my familiar surroundings, best friends, and old community. It felt like midnight robbery, waking up one day and everything’s gone: your valuables, even the things you don’t care so much about are probably sitting in a pawn shop somewhere, being sold off to the highest bidder.

Even the name of the estate, Dollis Valley has been changed to Brook Valley Gardens. Admittedly, I wasn’t proud of the name, due to the stigma it carried, but the fact that it’s just been discarded and lost is still sad and disorienting.

I remember walking home from the bus stop every day, seeing high rises being battered until they eventually collapsed. You’d see the wrecking ball hit, Miley Cyrus style, and the buildings would get smaller and thinner each day until they were reduced to a pile of rubble.

I used to think to myself, wow that’s someone’s home, just crumbling. They could have raised their kids there or they could have been born there. Someone they loved could have died there.

Our community were excluded from the decision-making process surrounding the regeneration, leaving many of us feeling powerless

Many families felt uncertain and insecure about their future and didn’t know where they were going to be relocated. I felt angry. How is this right or fair? How is it legal to do this – to take away someone’s home, a part of their identity and sense of belonging?

I’m a bit less angry now and I guess I must accept this as a part of life with the changes it brings. But what I find hard is the way that those in social housing are seen as disposable. Our community were excluded from the decision-making process surrounding the regeneration, leaving many of us feeling powerless, anxious, and frustrated. Emotional support was lacking, to say the least.

We were expected to take it all in our stride, reap the benefits and move on with our supposed improved life, to be grateful to get new accommodation, even if it was miles away from everything we knew and loved.

For me, school was the worst part of it. So many people throughout my primary and secondary years lived on the same estate and we never discussed it. We were young and didn’t have the words, as well as being hindered by the stigma of living in social housing.

My local schools knew what was going on at Dollis Valley but there was no support in place. There’s no way they didn’t notice the number of pupils moving to other areas of Barnet, London and beyond, but we never talked about it.

It’s essential for policymakers and developers to consider the social and emotional impacts of estate regeneration on its residents

I wasn’t moving so far away but seeing my childhood home being demolished was pretty devastating.

I wonder sometimes, if I have children, what I will show them? When they ask “Mummy, where did you grow up?” I can’t take them to see places that I have no connection to or talk to people I’ve never met before, can I?

But I, and so many other young people in my area, have had to learn how to cope with these challenges alone, without specific support for dealing with this kind of trauma. Schools should make sure they offer group discussions as well as one-to-one support.

There will always be a need for rebuilding and redevelopment so housing can be updated, improved and meet safety regulations. However I think that the current regeneration procedure needs to be changed. We, the community affected, need information and consultation at every step of the process, especially for those who will be most impacted.

To address these challenges, it’s essential for policymakers and developers to consider the social and emotional impacts of estate regeneration on its residents.

The Dollis Valley Estate, although now gone, was my heart and home for my formative years, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Kirsty is studying A-Level Geography, Sociology and Government and Politics. She has an interest in reading, current affairs, music and creative writing, which she loves to express through producing articles for Exposure.

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