RESIDENTS living in a row of picturesque thatched cottages have had their gardens revamped.

Manor Cottages, in Freefolk, near Whitchurch, have turned the heads of passers-by since they were built by the Portal Estate in 1939, as almshouses.

But the 18 homes, which make up a curved terrace more than 600 feet long – the longest span of residential thatch in Britain – had back gardens that were little more than concrete yards.

Now, after 18 months of careful consultation and planning, landlord Sovereign Housing Assoc-iation has invested £130,000 to provide each cottage with a landscaped garden, in keeping with their attractive frontage.

Rod Tungate, who has lived in his cottage with his wife Pat for 40 years, said residents had been asking for something to be done about the back yards for years. The retired 76-year-old mill worker added: “It’s a great relief that somebody has finally done something about it.”

Sovereign used its Estate Improvement Fund to carry out the renovations, but was faced with a number of challenges.

The cottages have Grade 2 listed status, and are also within a landscape conservation area, which meant tight restrictions were placed on changes that could be carried out and materials used.

Paula Dawson, Sovereign’s regional housing manager, said: “It was really important to us to involve the residents fully throughout the project. We talked to them about the landscaping options for the area as well as the planning issues and budget constraints.”

She added: “The old back yards were a real safety issue. It was vital that we put things right.”

The gardens were designed by landscape architect Huw Crompton, who had to come up with unique designs for each cottage because of preferences and varying sizes and shapes.

Kieron Beattie carried out the work ahead of schedule, including removing 1,000 square metres of concrete.

Karen Blundy, who has lived with her husband Mike at Manor Cottages for 17 years, said: “It has always been a disappointment to open the back door on to such an ugly back yard.

“We opted for paving and shingle as we’ve only got a small plot. We are going to put pots outside for colour and put in some solar lights.”