Kings Heath: ‘I won’t go out at night’
Residents say more needs to be done to tackle the problems in Kings Heath
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As part of our Levelling Up series we’ve been out speaking to residents in the five areas of Northamptonshire identified as being ‘left behind’. This is the first in a series of pieces we’ll be bringing you this week looking at how these communities feel about where they live.
By Natalie Bloomer
It’s just before 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon when NN Journal visits Kings Heath in Northampton. The shopping precinct, a large square surrounded by mostly closed shops with flats above, is very quiet. One or two people come and go, either popping into the Londis store or the pharmacy opposite. A few teenage boys ride bikes round in circles and two men stand outside a bookmakers.
It’s not hard to understand how this is one five areas in Northamptonshire identified as being ‘left behind’.
“All this shopping area is dirty, some of the equipment in the park has been broken for a long time and it just all feels horrible,” Alina, who has lived here for ten years, says.
“So much needs to change, there needs to be money put in to sort it out or it will never get better.”
The square gets much busier as parents start to arrive to pick up children from the local primary school.
Several mums tell us of their fears about letting their Year 5 or 6 children walk home from school alone.
Anna has just picked up her nine year-old daughter Maya. She says that although they live close to the school, Maya is too scared to walk home without her.
“When they get to Year 5, the school says they can come and leave on their own but she doesn’t want to. She says she doesn’t want to walk through the shops by herself.
“Look at all the broken glass everywhere, it’s always like this and it’s the same at the park. Older kids rule things around here and the younger ones are scared.”
Maja tells us about the visits her school has from the police and says she doesn’t feel safe walking around the area.
“I’m very worried even when I’m with my parents, they tell us at school we have to be careful because there has been trouble around here.”
Anti-social behaviour is mentioned by many of the people we speak to. Catherine has lived and worked in the area for 16 years. She says a lack of facilities is a big issue.
“Anti-social behaviour is a massive problem here, there needs to be a much bigger police presence. There are always big groups of kids hanging around because they haven’t got anything else to do.
“The Sure Start centre (which was located on the shopping precinct) is closed, most of the shops are shut up and other than the skate park there’s not a lot for young people to do around here.”
But it’s not just the young in need of something to keep them busy. 75 year-old Jim has lived in Kings Heath for 35 years. He says he used to enjoy going to the pub in the evening but now spends most of his time on his balcony overlooking the shops.
“There used to be two pubs here but they’ve both gone. The nearest one now is too far for me to get to so I’m a bit of a loner. Even looking out here [from the balcony] has changed, there used to be some big trees around the shopping area that were nice to look at but they’ve been cut down.”
An all-party parliamentary group (APPG) set up to look into ‘left behind neighbourhoods’ says a lack of social focal points is “likely to contribute towards relatively poor levels of community engagement” compared with the national average.
Of all 225 areas identified as ‘left behind’ Kings Heath is among ten with the lowest scores for strength of local social relationships - this is calculated by asking people if they agree with a number of statements such as ‘I regularly stop and talk with people in my neighbourhood.’
Despite the challenges faced by ‘left behind’ areas they tend to have a lower density of registered charities than other places. Kings Heath is no different with just 0.57 per 100,000 population compared to an average of 2.8 in the rest of England and 2.0 in other deprived areas.
Voter turnout here (27.4 per cent) is also lower than the national average (33 per cent) and than in any of the other ‘left behind’ areas in Northamptonshire.
Jane, 63, is carrying some shopping home when she stops to speak to us. She has lived here for 41 years and says things have gotten a lot worse in the last 12 months.
“I won’t come up to the shops in the evening, even if I run out of something. I used to walk my dog at night but I won’t do that either now. Even my 22 year-old grandson won’t go out. I think the police need to be more active around here.”
Not long after Jane leaves, a police car pulls up in front of the precinct and three officers get out. They walk past the shops and up towards the park. They are not gone long before they get back in the car and drive off.
Almost everyone we speak to says they won’t go out at night here. They talk about gangs of teenagers hanging around outside the shops, they say there aren’t enough street lights so it can feel unsafe and they mention the rise in knife crime.
In the days leading up to our visit there are three knife attacks in Northampton, including one in broad daylight in Kings Heath. The escalation in violence led the police to obtain a Section 60 order to allow them to stop and search people in both Kings Heath and the town centre without reasonable grounds over a set period of time.
The area currently has two dedicated police constables, two police community support officers (PCSO) and one sergeant who also oversees two other areas.
“I won’t go out at night, we don’t leave the house unless we have to,” Susan, a local parent says.
“There’s a good PCSO up here who we know and like but it’s going to take more than that.
“We’re forgotten. It’s out of sight out of mind, nobody seems to care. All the authorities should be up here asking questions, it’s not good enough.”
NN Journal will be holding an open newsroom in Kings Heath to discuss some of these issues in more detail. If you would like to be involved please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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