‘If we don’t fix safety, we don’t fix anything’
We look at what has happened on the left behind area of Queensway in the last 12 months
In September last year we decided to put a focus on five areas in the county that have been officially recognised as left behind. Data around deprivation and community infrastructure had identified Kingswood and Hazel Leys in Corby, the Grange estate in Kettering, Wellingborough’s Queensway estate and the Talavera and Kings Heath parts of Northampton as among the 225 areas of the UK where life for residents was the hardest.
We visited each of the areas, speaking with residents about the challenges they were facing in their daily lives and what was needed to put it right. Throughout the past 12 months we have returned to these communities for a number of stories, highlighting issues such as health inequalities, poor quality housing and the closure of community assets.
Now a year on we look at what changes have taken place over that time for these communities and what still needs to be done.
Today we revisit Queensway in Wellingborough.
The situation in September 2021
When NN Journal launched its Levelling Up project last year the Queensway community was reeling from the fatal stabbing of 16 year-old Dylan Holliday. Local residents came together to call for change and the first in a series of local meetings was held and attended by the leader of North Northamptonshire council, senior police officers and residents.
Members of Dylan’s family, local councillors and MP Peter Bone also joined a march through the streets of Wellingborough demanding an end to knife crime.
But this wasn’t the only issue people here were concerned about. We also heard about a lack of social places (the local pub is long gone and there are no cafes on the estate), the need for long-term funding for the area and a feeling among small organisations that the voluntary sector had been left to sort out the problems.
What has happened in the past year?
A year on, youth violence, gang activity and anti-social behaviour are still key concerns for people on the estate.
Off the Streets was formed by local people immediately after Dylan’s death. The group’s Facebook page now has more than 5,000 likes and the organisation has led a string of anti-knife workshops in schools, held community days and installed emergency bleed control kits across Northamptonshire.
But the group would be the first to admit their work is far from over or that they can solve the problems alone.
John Hunt, the new head teacher of the local secondary school Weavers Academy, told a meeting of local organisations last week that safety is one of the major things students say they are concerned about.
“When we ask them, they say they want to feel safe walking home, that they don’t want to see knives or walk past drug dealers. They don’t want to have their trainers stolen or be confronted by aggressive adults.”
Hunt said that he has recently changed the length of the school day so that two afternoons a week they finish at 3.45pm. This created concern from parents who were worried about their children walking home in the winter once it starts to get dark earlier.
“If we don’t fix safety, we don’t fix anything,” he told the meeting.
NN Journal has previously reported on concerns about permanent exclusions from Weavers Academy (under previous head teacher Vivien Swaida)
Local vicar Ben Lewis from St Mark’s church was vocal about his concerns about young people being kicked out of the school.
“The reality is that exclusions exacerbate the social problems. If mum struggles to send the boy to school two minutes down the road, how is she going to get him on a bus to Northampton? They (the excluded students) are there to be picked up by gangs who can offer them cash and role models,” he told NN Journal earlier this year.
He now says one of the most positive changes in the area over the past year is Hunt taking on the head teacher role at Weavers.
“He has a very different approach and really seems to care about what’s happening here,” he said.
In the spring, local MP Peter Bone, leader of the unitary council Jason Smithers and local councillors called for better policing on the estate. In response Northamptonshire Police told the Northants Telegraph they ‘couldn’t arrest ourselves out of this problem’ and pointed to the work that is being done to try to tackle the issues including Operation Revive which is aimed at addressing violence and anti-social behaviour in Wellingborough.
The meeting Hunt was speaking at recently was organised by local community development worker Reece Aberdeen-Roberts who is funded by public health’s Well Northants programme. The scheme has been set up to focus on the issues faced by communities in the county’s most deprived areas and is now nine months in.
A recent report identified the key concerns raised with Reece by local residents. They were the need for community events to bring people together, the lack of a community hub, better support for families and children, the park to be better maintained and more support for parents of children with special education needs. People also spoke about the need for a nearby dirt bike track to be opened to avoid young people riding their bikes on the local fields - an idea which was welcomed by local councillors and others after Dylan’s death but has not yet happened.
A worker from Glamis Hall on the estate which runs a number of services for local people told the meeting that although the report and conversations being had by local groups were positive, long term solutions were needed.
“We saw a report very similar to this ten years ago - it was saying exactly the same thing, we’re having the same conversations. We need a proper commitment not short-term funding that goes away again.”
There are no solid signs of that long-term commitment yet, however of the five left-behind areas in Northamptonshire, Queensway has perhaps seen the most action being taken to tackle the problems it faces. The community response to Dylan Holliday’s death forced local politicians to listen and momentum seems to have continued since.
North Northamptonshire Council recently included a £3m project for environmental improvements in Queensway as part of its bid to the government’s Levelling Up fund and the police and crime commissioner’s office has successfully bid for £1.2m from the Safer Streets fund - £689,000 of which is going to be used on the Queensway estate.
Nobody here is under any illusion that this is enough or that the problems on the estate can be solved overnight but there is hope that it marks the beginning of real change.
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