"It does feel like there is some momentum"
We revisit the left-behind areas of Kings Heath and Talavera to see what has happened in the past 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 Kings Heath and Talavera in Northampton
The situation in September 2021
Fear was one of the key issues spoken about during our time reporting on Kings Heath. Adults told us they were scared to leave their homes after dark and children said they were afraid to walk home from school alone. During a podcast project we ran on knife crime the head teacher of the local primary school told us she had requested a greater police presence around the school because of knife incidents and other gang activity. Year six pupils told us of being attacked by local teenagers and how they’ve been taught to run away if they see known gang members approaching them.
For the elderly there was a sense of isolation, they told us there was no community meeting space on the estate and some could no longer use the bus to get further afield. The shopping precinct was almost empty with lots of units closed and broken glass on the ground.
Talavera is a large area on the Eastern side of Northampton and is made up of parts of several estates. According to research by an All Party Parliamentary Group it has the lowest amount of sports and leisure facilities in the whole country.
In 2021 local residents told us of their fight to protect a popular local green space from being developed for housing and many spoke of problems with fly tipping and general neglect of the area.
What has happened in the past year?
On first sight, not a lot has changed in Kings Heath. There is still broken glass on the local park, there are even more boarded up shops on the precinct - in the past year the fish and chip shop, the bookies and the hairdressers have all closed, and many people still complain of youth violence and anti-social behaviour.
But there has been some progress. The local primary school has been instrumental in bringing about conversations about how to change things. They talk to the children about the issues faced on the estate and hold community days where local professionals come into the school to talk about the role they play in the area - on NN Journal’s most recent visit to Kings Heath the police were in the playground talking to the young people. The school is also vocal with authorities about the problems the area faces.
As in some of Northamptonshire’s other ‘left-behind’ areas a community development officer, Hayley Cannon, has been appointed to the neighbourhood by public health to look at the issues local residents face and come up with a plan to improve things.
Hayley organised a meeting last month at the school which residents could go along to and have their say while also getting a free hot meal.
Rebecca Hope, a member of the school’s pastoral team says there are signs of some improvement but still a lot to do.
“I think it has improved with regards to gang culture but I have discussed this with other professionals and believe this has been down to the nice weather and I have concerns that the darker nights will increase anti-social behaviour again. I have put forward the need for more street lighting as it is still poor in certain parts,” she says.
On the shopping precinct one of the units opens several times a week offering a toy library. The project is well used by local people and also provides children’s books (which were free over the summer) and second hand school uniforms priced at just 20p an item. Heather Brakes from the organisation says there is talk among local groups of trying to re-open the old Sure Start centre - which has sat empty for several years - as a community cafe.
“What is really missing is just somewhere for people to meet and have a chat. When Sure Start was open, people would go there but there’s nothing really now. So many people have spoken about the need for a cafe,” Heather says.
“The whole area needs a shake up. I’ve worked around here for 30 years and many of the schemes that are designed to improve things come and go. But it does feel like there is some momentum at the moment.”
Kings Heath was not one of the areas to be included in West Northamptonshire Council’s bid to the government’s Levelling Up fund however cabinet member for community safety and engagement, David Smith, has told NN Journal that he is speaking with local ward members to “establish a pipeline of proposals that can be put forward when future rounds are announced”.
On the other side of town in Talavera, there is some good news about the local green space which local residents and councillors were fighting to protect. The development no longer looks as if it will go ahead after the councillor in charge of housing told a recent meeting the plans would be unlikely to get planning permission.
However, fly tipping and general poor maintenance are still evident when walking around the estates. Local councillor Dennis Meredith says the condition of the area is a sign that it is not properly looked after. He has been calling for a big investment in the area to help tackle the problems.
“Fly tipping is still a major issue and trees and bushes are not maintained. The condition of the roads are terrible too. I’m also very worried about the cost of living crisis and the impact it will have on the poorest residents,” he says.
One of the local authority’s key projects to be put forward in its bid to the Levelling Up fund is a £45m regeneration project of the Weston Favell centre which sits just inside the Talavera ward. The project would see a new swimming pool, cinema, library, and a new home for health and social services - all of which already exist but are dated.
The plans have been welcomed by many, including some residents in the ward, particularly those living close to the site but there has been criticism from some.
“This hub will have minimal impact for some of the most vulnerable people in my ward,” Cllr Meredith says.
“It would be a really long walk for some of them to get to and some people can’t afford the bus. If they had consulted with me whatsoever I could have told them that. I’m a hands-on councillor and understand the local needs, this won’t do anything to tackle deprivation in this area.”
At the other end of the ward around the Goldings estate there is very little in the way of facilities. The courts on the north side of Goldings Road have no shop, no school and not much for people to do.
At a recent visit to the area NN Journal spoke to Aidan, a 10 year-old boy walking home from school with his mum Janine and dog Prince.
“I get scared around here because of all the teenagers on motorbikes. If I’m out playing and I hear the bikes I run home,” he says.
Just down the road Chloe, 21, had just picked up her three year-old child from nursery. She also spoke about the issue of motorbikes.
“They’re everywhere, groups of kids ride round on them. There’s not a lot to do around here, if I just want to sit and have a cup of tea somewhere I need to get a bus to Weston Favell.”
In a statement to NN Journal Cllr David Smith said:
“Improving the life chances and to improve the quality of life for people of all ages and all backgrounds in the area is a core priority for the council. We have varied challenges and we’re looking at everything from health to education and from the built environment to life skills.
“Resources are limited, so we have to focus our efforts where they are needed most and for a number of years plans have been developed to support these areas of need. The government has recently approved £575,000 funding to help up to 3,000 people with numeracy skills to improve household budgeting and make sure the self-employed have the skills they need to run their business.
“In both Talavera and Kings Heath we have dedicated community development workers embedded in their communities and have the funding in place to support co-produced action plans. Neighbourhood Working Groups in both areas, led by the WNC community safety and engagement team, are also mapping out local needs and have the funding in place to support the action plans they produce which includes more CCTV.”
Cllr Smith also points to wider projects which he believes will also benefit the left-behind areas such as regeneration of the town centre and the council’s anti-poverty strategy.
“Along with partner agencies, charities, volunteer and community groups, there is support out there and I would urge anyone who is in need of any help to reach out to someone. And the earlier they reach out the better placed we will be to help them.
“The Cost of Living page on our website collates a range of contacts and I would urge anyone who is fearful about the future to visit the page and seek the help they need as soon as possible.”
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