Queensway: 'It feels as if the voluntary sector has been left to run things'

Our final report of this week looking at the county's left behind communities comes from Queensway in Wellingborough

By Natalie Bloomer and Sarah Ward

Mary Royamagar has a food bank set up on her drive on Cowper Road on Wellingborough’s Queensway estate. Each day its shelves of green food crates are filled with fresh produce collected from supermarkets and members of the local community are welcome to come and take it if they are in need. And many are. 

Mary and her team of volunteers regularly feed 35 families every four days and her organisation has 300 members who receive food packages when they need them. This weekend they will hold an event at the nearby St Mark’s church where families will be able to pay £5 to fill a bag with more than a dozen items and also take away fresh food.

Mary, who moved to the town in 2016 and is a member of Christian organisation Redeem Funds, says:

“When the pandemic happened I said, we need to do something for Wellingborough. We started by making packed lunches for the children and we advertised, saying ‘if you are struggling, we can help you’.

“We buy the food out of our own pocket but we also have donations and have links to some supermarkets.”

Mary’s initiative is supported by Morrisons - its community champion Sky Summerton comes to Mary’s home to help her make up the food parcels - as well as FareShare, whose app lets Mary and her volunteers know which local supermarket chain has fresh food available to collect.

Mary and a number of friends also make a financial contribution and there is a donation pot on a table next to the food crates for those who are able to pay a small price.

“My husband is a lorry driver and so we are ok financially and I also work as an NHS interpreter, but sometimes we struggle at the end of the month and so if we struggle what about the people here who are not in work? I do see poverty and that is sad - Wellingborough needs help and it gives me a good feeling to be able to do so.”

Mary has witnessed some children get excited to see the fresh produce on offer.

“So many people have come along and said ‘we have not had this food for ages because we could not afford it’. One woman told me it was the first month she had not had to go into her overdraft because they were able to get food here from us.”

Initiatives such as Mary’s are needed in Queensway, which is one of the country’s 225 ‘left behind’ communities. According to Government data one in three children living in left behind areas are in poverty.

Scott Fitzsimmons, 44, has lived on the Queensway most of his life. He has won awards for his voluntary work and says the estate and other areas like it are in desperate need of long-term funding. 

“There is a lack of proper investment, nothing ever seems to be done to improve things. It feels as if the voluntary sector has been left to run things, I dread to think what would have happened here during the pandemic if it wasn’t for volunteers.”

He says there are problems with general maintenance of the estate with fly-tipping, litter and lack of street lights all being issues. But the biggest concern for people here currently is knife-crime and gangs. 

“The problems here haven’t happened overnight, they’ve been going on for years and are getting worse.”

NN Journal has previously reported on the response from the Queensway community to the fatal stabbing of 16 year-old Dylan Holliday this summer. A group formed in the weeks following Dylan’s death, Off The Streets, is now going into schools to talk about knife crime and holding meetings with residents and the local authorities to look at what can be done to tackle the problem.

Reverend Ben Lewis from St Mark’s church is an active member of the community here and has been in close contact with Dylan’s family. He says he is aware of six serious incidents involving a knife or a gun on Queensway within the last six months.

One happened outside his church while a service was taking place inside. 

“The police turned up the next morning asking to see our CCTV, we didn’t even know it had happened. 

He says that although the police were present on the estate in the initial days after Dylan’s death, he hasn’t ‘seen them for weeks’. 

“What annoyed me about the police statement at the time was the description of this as an ‘isolated incident’.”

He says that for people in Queensway it doesn’t feel isolated. 

“It’s like they [the police] are reassuring the middle classes that this doesn’t affect them. It’s like they’re saying ‘don’t worry this is isolated, there’s nothing for you to worry about’. 

“It’s like social apartheid and some live matters matter more than others. It’s appalling. When did we acquiesce to that?”

Rev Lewis says the problems here are beyond party politics and believes it will take everyone working together for at least ten years to resolve them. He says more police, youth workers and social workers are all needed.

“We’ve been getting social policy wrong for years, social services have been cut to the bone - they seem almost non-existent. 

“The problems which I saw when I first got here four years ago are now coming home to roost.”

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