If there is one area of Torquay which has had a bad reputation over the years it’s Hele Village – and the sign at the end of Hele Road is frequently changed by vandals to read ‘Hell Road’.
People who don’t live there may even find it funny to hear Hele being referred to as a ‘village’.
For most people it’s just a scruffy highway, permanently congested with nose-to-tail cars and HGVs re-routing around the northern suburbs of Torquay.
Beside the constant roar of traffic along unofficial ring road, little remains of the former parade of shops and many of the terraced houses are in a terrible state of disrepair.
Hele Road is officially one of the UK’s most polluted stretches of road.
So we went to find out what the people who live there really think – is Hele heaven or is it hell?
Great grandma Maureen Pearce says ‘we love it!’
Maureen Pearce, 77, who is a mum and great grandmother used to work at Farm Foods in the village when it was the Co-op.
She said: “I’ve lived here all my life. I was born in Salisbury Avenue and now I live in Truro Avenue and I’ve never thought it’s bad. Some might think it’s bad because there’s a lot of litter.
“I love living here because there’s a huge amount of people around here about my age and it’s very friendly. A lot of them I’ve known all my life. People stop you on the street and talk – even strangers. We are all here for each other. People knock on the door if somebody’s not well.
“It’s got a proper village feel. I was about eight years old when these houses were built and they got rid of the old pre-fabs from up the top.
“All my family and great-grandchildren live locally in the Torquay and Watcombe area.
“I know there are problems – like with the buses not stopping any more and the littering – but we’ve got a home and we love it here.”
Maureen’s husband Eddie, 82, added: “We love this spot very much. I sit here and I can see what’s going on.”
The end of the road for Hele’s Angels
Sadly 2018 saw the end of a long-running Hele institution – Hele’s Angels.
For the past six years the Hele’s Angels charity had been supporting the local community and supporting the long-established community centres – Acorn Youth, Community and Sports Centre on Lummaton Cross and the Windmill Centre in Pendennis Road.
Sadly in June 2018 funding cuts led the trustees to close Hele’s Angels.
The regular Hele’s Angels drop-in has now stopped but the charity shop is still being run by volunteers.
Hele’s Angels employed staff for most of its existence but was primarily built on the enthusiasm and passion of local residents who worked together to organise activities like the jubilee street party, the infamous parties in the (Herald Express) car park, and the annual masquerade ball.
Their energy led to the Windmill skate park, the renovation of Riviera Video and various clean-ups throughout the estates.
The remaining volunteers now run the shop as the Hele and Lower Barton Community Partnership.
‘It’s not really Hele Village any more, but it’s home.”
Well-known football stalwart Ron Thomas, 85, has been a part of Hele for more than 50 years.
Ron was so respected that former Manchester United and Aston Villa manager Ron Atkinson was the guest speaker in 2012 when his club Waldon Athletic organised a ‘Thank You’ event for 50 his years voluntary work. The evening was called ‘The Two Ronnies’.
Ron remembers what Hele looked like when he first moved in: “It was all pre-fabs up the hill then. We moved into this house when it was brand new. It’s a nice area but things have changed.
“There’s no shops – it’s not really Hele Village any more but it’s still home. The only thing that’s left is the Con Club. The Royal Standard and the Buff Club have gone. There used to be a community.”
“But people are still very kind. I fell down recently walking back up from the bus stop and people came and helped me
Ron is still a part of the Waldon Athletic Windmill Hill football club.
He said: “I am hoping to make it to 2020 – then I might think about taking it more easy. I still go and watch the boys at the home games.”
Ron played for Waldon but then went off to do his National Service, had a spell working at Torquay United, before reappearing as a volunteer at the club in 1962.
And he added: “Waldon Athletic is still very much part of the community.”
The Road to Hell
Many people only know Hele as the congested narrow road, with a roundabout at each end, which connects Newton Road and Teignmouth Road.
It’s an unofficial ‘ring road’ for cars to the north of the town who want to avoid the nightmare one-way system and busy seafront roads in the summer.
The traffic through Hele Road has long been a blot on the village – council surveys have identified it as the biggest pollution black spot in the Bay – and some of the properties are in danger of falling down as huge lorries thunder past.
Councillor Steve Darling said there had been issues over the years.
One of the worst problems for the village has been air quality with some of the highest levels of concentrated toxic fumes, as thousands of cars and lorries stream along Hele Road day after day. The main road through the village is one of the busiest in Devon.
The Rise and Fall of the Royal Standard
The Royal Standard closed for good in 2011. It was once so rough that the local licensing authority shut it down after a big punch up in the 1990s.
But within days other landlords were begging the licensing officer to reopen it!
The police licensing officer at the time, Pc Neil Stanlake, said: “Many years ago we closed it down for four or five months. There were problems. “Within a couple of weeks we had landlords from other pubs saying ‘let it re-open’ because they were getting its customers. Some of them were difficult people.”
‘When the proverbial sh** hits the fan – everybody helps out’
Youth worker Neil Phillips works as centre assistant at the nearby Acorn Youth and Community Centre also lives on Truro Avenue – although he grew up in Wrights Avenue, moved to Barton and back to Pendennis.
Neil, 40, said: “It’s all very community minded. It’s the same as any place – there’s good and bad. But even the families who don’t always want to get involved, when the proverbial sh** hits the fan – everybody gets involved and helps out.
“During the snow earlier in the years everybody went all out, helping to move cars and checking on the elderly in Lincoln Green.”
He said there are three local community centres which provide all sorts of services and sporting opportunities for all ages ‘from the cradle to the grave’. The three are the Acorn Centre, Watcombe’s nearby Medway Centre and The Windmill Centre in Pendennis Road.
“There’s absolutely everything going on,” Neil said, “badminton, football, walking netball, walking football, family workshops, basketball – everything!”
The village shops which disappeared
Over the years shops and pubs and local services have closed down. The village once had at least two newspaper shops, a butchers, cobblers, two fruit and veg shops, men’s barbers, ladies’ hairdressers, two fish and chip shops, hardware shop, post office, bookies, bakers, two general stores, a garage, chemist, clothes shop, dairy and even a piggery.
Now all that remains of this once bustling little village are Carters, a takeaway kebab shop, the Hele Cross service station and Farm Foods – the old ‘cwop’ or Plymco.
In recent years Cut Rough, the popular hairdressers has disappeared – as has the Fish and Chip Shop on the corner of Salisbury Avenue, the launderette and the pharmacy.
Further down Hele Road the Chinese takeaway and Riviera Video are no more – and ‘Arry’s secondhand furniture shop, which used to be below the Con Club, has long since disappeared.
Hele Baptist Church, which has been there since 1880, is still alive and well – just like the notice outside which often says Jesus is Alive. It has long been known as ‘The Little Church with the Big Welcome’.
The village football club Hele Rovers was formed in 1947. Back then the players changed at Number 71 Hele Road and Cyril Brimmicombe drove the team to Watcombe Playing Fields in his fruit lorry.
When Ernie Clements ran a fruit shop at 109 Hele Road he made deliveries by horse and cart. You can see how – back then – Hele really was a village.
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