Community figure retires after more than 30 years

Christine Watts has stood down as the Pembroke Estate Management Board’s (PEMB) manager following three decades dedicated to improving her neighbourhood.

Members of the Board threw a party for her yesterday to mark the occasion with dozens of residents turning up to wish her well.

The Pembroke Estate has seen huge changes since the late 1980s, when it was a ‘no go’ area due to high levels of crime and poor quality homes.

Residents got together to call for change – with Christine being a leading figure among them.

She said: “I was a single mum with three young kids at the time. I got involved because I wanted to see things improved. It was horrendous round here.

“I did a lot of the early fundraising and raising awareness to the city council’s housing department, councillors and local MPs.

“I helped to set up the community flat which was a community space used for youth clubs, adult literacy, coffee mornings and a meeting space.”

The residents formed an association to get things improved and eventually put in a bid for government money.

They received £6.25m on the condition they set up a tenant management board to oversee its spending.

Christine moved from being secretary of the residents’ association to project manager of the board.

They worked with the city council and architects to improve the layout of the estate and refurbish the homes, with work finishing in 1995.

Christine’s input earned her an MBE in 1996 and she and her colleagues were asked to share their experiences of regeneration with other estates around the country.

She was also involved with the stock transfer board when PCH was set up and the Devonport Regeneration Company board.e own the homes in Pembroke Street but the management board oversees the day-to-day running of the estate.

Christine added: “The highlight was getting the regeneration programme approved. That was a huge milestone.

“We also put a lot of emphasis on employment and improving opportunities for people. Lots of people have come on placements here and gone on to get jobs.”

Christine’s colleagues paid tribute to her hard work.

Resident Karen Brown said: “She’s been there since the beginning. I’m going to miss her; everybody will. She helps everybody. She’s been so committed all these years.”

Kay Launder added: “She’s always been there for me, whether it’s for work or personal reasons. She makes everyone feel important.”

Steve Ford, PCH Head of Neighbourhoods, worked closely with Christine when he was housing officer at the city council from the late 1980s onwards.

He said: “I supported Chris with the initial residents’ group and for the first six years of the Estate Management Board being in existence. She had a big impact on the community and will be missed. She has been a great support to residents and it was lovely to catch up with and see so many familiar faces at her retirement party.”

Christine plans to spend more time with her partner and grandkids as well as travel more. She won’t be going too far though – she will remain a member of the PEMB and will be back as soon as next week for their next meeting!