‘We need more money and more backing from the police’
A year on from the launch of our Levelling Up series, we report what has happened in the Kingswood and Hazel Leys estates
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.
In the first of five stories we will publish this week we report from the Kingswood and Hazel Leys estates.
The situation in September 2021
Like all of the areas labelled as left behind, the troubles faced in Hazel Leys and Kingswood were not newly created. They had built up over decades and had worsened in the pandemic which followed a decade of austerity imposed by the government in 2010. High crime rates, few community facilities, a lack of activity and opportunity for young people and an absence of youth workers, had all left a community feeling forgotten about and ignored. There was a call for more involvement and investment from public agencies and community leaders.
What has happened in the past year?
“I think there have been some really good victories but I think a lot of these successes have come from the community themselves. These are the people who should be commended.” Cllr Zoe McGhee
A focus was put on the area following a passionate speech at a council meeting by then newly elected Labour Cllr Zoe McGhee, who spoke about the shocking level of youth violence that was impacting the area. She spoke of the murder of 16-year-old Rayon Penycook, who had been killed in the Hazel Leys area after a knife fight with another teenager just three months before. Following her call for a plan for the left behind neighbourhoods, Cllr Matt Binley suggested its scrutiny committee set up a working group to look at the issues and come up with some recommendations.1
Senior officials, such as the council’s leader Jason Smithers, police and crime commissioner Stephen Mold and Corby’s MP Tom Pursglove took a walk about on the estate and heard from residents of the issues with crime and saw for themselves the run down and unsafe play areas and unlit walkways that many residents were too scared to walk through at night.
After a series of community meetings, workshops, online meetings about housing, youth crime and poverty, a number of recommendations were put forward to the unitary council this summer about how to improve the left behind estates. There were immediate, medium term and long term suggestions, but the details were vague and no timelines were given.
This has left Cllr McGhee feeling disappointed, but determined to advocate for the residents she was elected to represent.
She says for any of the work her committee made and the problems they evidenced to have an impact, there needs to be a concerted effort by the Conservative executive that runs the unitary authority.
“It needs more attention. There needs to be things happening that are concrete. There is no time for excuses. The time for excuses has sailed. Part of the work has been done but it now needs the full commitment of all agencies.
“These people (leaders and politicians) can make a difference, but if they come out for a key event and then disappear then it just doesn’t work. You can’t just make a commitment for four weeks.”
A key concern of Cllr McGhee’s is what opportunities will be provided for young people. A medium term recommendation is that the authority acknowledges that youth work came through as a priority from people living in the left behind areas and that it carries out a cost benefit exercise to determine what the ‘return on investment’ would be in investing in local youth work. Following the dismantling of the youth service under the former county council, the unitary authority does not employ youth workers, rather these exist on an ad hoc basis funded by local charities or by the police and crime commissioner’s office.
Cllr McGhee said: “What is our youth strategy? I have been on the council for 18 months and I couldn’t tell you. Even if they don’t decide to bring youth workers back in-house, what is the strategy?”
Youth work on the Kingswood estate is currently provided by the local methodist Cornerstone Church through pastor Caroline Barratt and local resident Susie Cunningham has in recent months set up a youth night in Hazel Leys, joining forces with the church and the Kingswood neighbourhood centre to give a space for young people to meet. (Earlier funding secured by Kingswood Neighbourhood centre manager Lynne Johnston through the police and crime commissioner’s office ran out earlier this year).
Both Caroline and mother-of-four Susie, 39, who has lived on the estate all her life, say improvements have happened in the past year, with a new sense of community cohesion, but there are still huge problems on the two estates. They speak of county lines gangs, young people carrying knives to protect themselves and low aspirations - at a session held by Susie in Hazel Leys, when she asked the teenagers what they wanted to become, she said the boys said ‘gangsters’ and the girls said ‘mums’.
NN Journal met with them both at a coffee morning at which elderly residents are dropping in for a chat and company. Debt advice is also offered. And throughout the summer families came along and enjoyed the food, nutrition and craft activities run by the new club Little Sprouts.
Caroline says it has been a long road to get people to trust her, after many years of failed promises from people who have come in to help and then gone away.
“I have been working on this estate for the last three to four years and it has taken all the time for people to be able to trust me,” she says.
She made it her mission to integrate the church into the community, dropping leaflets through letterboxes and holding events. Many told her that despite the church operating for 50 years on the estate, they did not know it was there.
Susie is one of those who got to know the church this year.
“A year ago I would not have come into this church,” she says. “You think of church and you think they are going to make you pray, but that is not what happens.”
Susie, who has more than fifty kids come along to her youth club in Hazel Leys, said she was driven to set it up after noting the lack of things for the kids to do and the problems this was leading to.
The Kingswood youth club she now runs with Caroline, has a session for young primary students and another one for older secondary school pupils, but they say they are facing challenges with the older group. They say a large part of what they provide is food as the teenagers are usually hungry, often driven by having smoked cannabis.
Asked what is needed to bring about a major shift in the fortunes of the area, Susie says.
‘We need more money and more backing from the police.’
Both are critical of the police and the lack of visible presence in the area. They say there has been little engagement from the police community support officers and a relationship between police and the young people has not been built.
In recent years and months Northamptonshire Police’s chief constable Nick Adderley and crime commissioner Mold have repeatedly pledged to put more bobbies on the beat and make neighbourhood policing a priority.
Currently an inspector, two sergeants, six PCs and eight PCSOs serve the neighbourhood policing teams of Corby. We put what Caroline and Susie had said about the lack of bobbies on the beat and a spokesman said “we are looking at the policing footprint in Corby and how to increase it.
“However, at present the Kingswood estate has a dedicated Police Community Support Officer (Julie Anderson) allocated to the area who is the point of contact for residents and partner agencies.
“PCSO Anderson is supported by a team of police officers who move around the town and respond to any issues which arise, focusing on the local policing priorities which are set in consultation with the communities themselves.”
A question about how much time the PCSO spent on the estate was not answered, however the force said:
“The Kingswood estate is one of the areas in Corby, which officers are prioritising and working with partners. . . . Op Pacify [concerned with motorbike nuisance] has been hugely successful across the town including Kingswood. This has resulted in both a reduction in anti-social behaviour and the prosecution of repeat offenders.
“Also throughout the summer, the force has held 12-weeks of action focusing on the matters of priority set out by the chief constable in May. During this period there have been a number of warrants on the Kingswood – targeting drugs harm, serious violence and organised crime.”
Caroline said the Knife Angel visit this summer and the high profile events and related initiatives that took place had an impact on conversations with young people about knife crime.
“The knife angel was a great thing. There were new links and partnerships between organisations. But we need more of that.”
There has been good news regarding the development of new outdoor leisure facilities for young people.
Linwood Community Cooperative, which runs the neighbourhood centre and local food bank has secured just under £250,000 from the National Lottery’s Big Community Fund to rebuild the skate park in the area as well as put in some outdoor gym equipment. The cooperative worked with partner Kingswood Big Local (a local trust initiative) to consult with local young people about what they wanted. Charity Northamptonshire Sport is also involved in the project and the unitary council will be commissioned by the cooperative to manage the build project.
The physical look of the estate has been also brightened by a series of murals that have seen national street artists work with local people to rejuvenate run down spaces. Kingswood Big Local worked with arts group Made with Many and Corby Community Arts to carry out the work.
Cllr Zoe McGhee thinks they have become an asset.
“I hope they have uplifted community spirit and show residents that there are people out there who care.”
Like all of the left behind areas, Kingswood has high levels of health inequalities. A man living in Kingswood is expected to live to 74, ten years less than a man living two miles down the road in the Oakley Vale part of the town.
Of the 36 indicators used by Public Health England to create a health profile for each part of the country, Kingswood was significantly worse in 25 of those indicators than the national average.
In the past twelve months the county’s two public health teams have created six community development worker posts to concentrate on the left behind areas and other deprived areas of the county under the Well Northants programme.
The first phase of the programme is about engaging with communities and finding out the issues. (A workshop is taking place tomorrow at the Cornerstone Church in Kingsbrook from 10am to 1pm with a hot buffet provided).
Wendy Ryan who is the community development worker for Kingswood says once the evidence has been collected, there will be a dedicated budget following and groups will be able to apply for funding.
Good victories but missed opportunities
Cllr McGhee thinks there has been progress made on the Kingswood and Hazel Leys estates over the past twelve months but much has come from within rather than outside forces.
“I think there have been some really good victories but I think a lot of these successes have come from the community themselves. These are the people who should be commended.”
She now wants to see the areas used as pilot places to show how changes can be made in deprived communities, which can then be then rolled out into other areas in the county. But she doubts there is a political will to do so, shown by the lack of involvement from the senior leaders and politicians since their initial walk with her twelve months ago.
She also thinks the projects that were put forward for the government’s flagship levelling up programme should have included big schemes for the left behind communities. Only infrastructure work for Queensway in Wellingborough was included in the bid.
“One hundred percent, we missed out on a golden opportunity to make a real difference. I really hope another one of these opportunities comes along and it is grabbed by both hands.”
As to whether another pot of government cash will come forward at a time of new economic crisis when rumours are that government funding cuts are coming, remains to be seen.
Tomorrow we revisit Queensway in Wellingborough.
Read again: Look back at some of our stories featuring the left behind communities from our archive here
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An earlier version said Cllr McGhee had made the suggestion.