‘It's a psychological scar that one of our children lost their lives in a horrific way on a patch of land we walk past daily’
Two years on from the death of Wellingborough teenager Dylan Holliday, the vicar at the heart of the community shares its impact and his views on where he lives and works
Father Ben Lewis, the vicar at St Mark’s Church on the Queensway estate in Wellingborough recently took a bus load of parishioners for a day trip to Oxford. They walked round the historic city, the place where Ben studied and a place whose lofty spires stand in stark contrast to the fading 1960s infrastructure of Queensway.
Among the party was one of the church’s altar boys.
Father Ben recalls:
“He looked around and he was awed by it all. But I said ‘don’t think this is not achievable for you’.”
Queensway is one of the country’s 225 recognised left behind areas, one of five in Northamptonshire, which find themselves much more deprived than other areas, lacking in social infrastructure. Father Ben feels the term keenly.
“The term ‘left behind’ area is a damning indictment of everybody who has been in power for the last 40 years. There was almost some kind of acquiescence, the acknowledgement that some people will be left on the scrapheap.
“I think poor, or working class people, however you want to phrase it, have a rough deal in life. Their life chances are lower; their educational outcomes are less, their job chances are less.
“They don’t get justice in the same way.
“Things can be done but you have to have ambition and you have to care.
“I have been here for seven years and I think it is quite important as vicars that we invest ourselves into the area. We are here to build the kingdom of God, or some say a better society.
“We all want that better society where outcomes are not determined by postcode.”
Saturday (August 5) will mark two years since 16-year-old Queensway teenager Dylan Holliday was killed. Dylan was brutally stabbed in an underpass by another teenager, who last year was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years.
Dylan’s death sparked a protest against knife crime, with many from the community marching and calling for change and more support from the authorities.
Father Ben says:
“During that time the community came together and we do feel it is a psychological scar that one of our children lost their lives in a horrific way on a patch of land that we walk past daily. I don’t ever want to take that lightly.
“To this day you still see floral tributes. People still gather at his anniversary. He is very much not forgotten.”
Dylan’s death put a keener focus on the area’s problems and since then there have been moves by a number of agencies to improve the area. A report by North Northamptonshire Council last October detailing some new planned initiatives described the estate:
“The Queensway area has seen higher levels of violent and knife crime including the murder of a then 16-year-old male in August 2021. There are a high number of young people involved in gang culture and this is seen as a generational issue within the Queensway area.”
One pressing issue had been the amount of students the local school Weaver’s Academy had been excluding. Dylan was one of those boys who had been excluded by the school.
It was an issue that Father Ben had long been concerned about, becoming personally involved with the case of a student who he believed had been treated unfairly. He says that one day the head teacher Jon Hunt knocked on his vicarage door and asked for his views.
The result was that Father Ben became a school governor and says he now sees how the children are often given multiple chances and support before exclusion and has a better insight into what is going on.
“The improvements we are seeing at Weavers Academy will be significant one day,” he says.
The local authority and the office of the police, fire and crime commissioner have also sought out investment for the area - a chunk from the £689,000 funding from the Home Office’s safer streets pot will go towards a series of new CCTV cameras in the area and several hundred heavy duty front doors have been fitted in homes on the estate.
Father Ben, a former police officer, thinks the new CCTV cameras will be significant in helping to reduce the crime in the area and help those involved be brought to justice.
He says on a Saturday last year while they were having a coffee morning someone was shot just outside the church, although he does not know whether it was ever reported to the police.
There have been a number of attacks involving knives in the church’s car park which sits just off the busy Queensway road.
Another scheme will involve some graffiti artwork on the underpasses in the area.
“We have done a survey with Weavers School kids and they said they are scared to use it. The lights don’t work. They are unpleasant.”
The local authority, school, church and arts group Made with Many will be involved in the project.
And the area’s bike park will come back into public ownership. Father Ben and Paul Cunningham from Five Wells prison have set up a community interest company to manage it.
Father Ben can see that change is happening but says it is coming too slowly and it is not enough.
He says a local public health project which provided grants to local groups, was a let down for many, who were rejected because they may not have had the correct paperwork.
He gets annoyed that the ‘council’s bureaucracy stifles improvement’.
Meanwhile the local voluntary sector - such as early intervention charity Service Six, day centre Glamis Hall and anti-knife crime group Off the Streets, work together - sharing information and facilities - Ben lets Off the Streets use his hall whenever they need it.
“However you have got to be realistic and say families and kids (particularly some) have not got a significant amount of support. The cost of living is a concern - we do not have to put our heating on at the moment, but when we do I think that will be huge.
“Queensway is not a bad place. But it has problems that need long term investment.”
Read our report published in the days following Dylan’s death here
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