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Mentioned Part 23

By: Rob Sedgwick
Date: 04/07/2001

Home > Features > Mentioned > Mentioned #23

& nbsp;

"No disrespect to the likes of Grimsby..."

BBC Election Special!

thursday 4th july

Hello politicians, this is Grimsby

From the BBC

Looking up: Donna Benefer with daughters Becky and Courtney

With days to go before polling, Dominic Casciani spent a day talking to people in two council housing areas in Grimsby to find out if the general election was addressing their concerns.

Three small children come careering around the corner on bikes big enough for their dads.

They rattle straight across a road and scatter the cycles outside a terraced house before tumbling through the front door.

Someone yells. The children are off again, giggling and oblivious to the nearby sign imploring everyone to "Please Drive carefully" through the estate".

Community: But anti-social behaviour persists Later in the evening, if the residents are unlucky, a few teenagers may be going a little bit faster in something a little bit more dangerous - joyriding along Sutcliffe Avenue.

Welcome to Grimsby's Nunsthorpe estate.

Nunsthorpe may have a local reputation for being a hard place but you can't escape the fact that there is a community determined to be cleared of all charges laid against it.

While some houses are boarded up with rubbish strewn in the gardens, broken glass in the streets, there are many others that could justifiably take on any property for the prize of best garden in town.

Knock on any door and you are instantly offered a mug of tea as strong as creosote. People really do scrub their front step.

But it's the kind of place the marketing people aren't interested in: Incomes are low, unemployment, low expectations, crime and drugs persist.

For a medium sized northern town, Grimsby has a massive and successful food industry - something that developed out of the decline of the fishing industry.

It also has the highest proportion of part-time partly-skilled workers in the UK, perpetuating a great deal of uncertainty. It's been Labour territory (of the old variety) for more than 60 years but electoral turnouts are low.

This is not a stereotypical "middle Britain" constituency which dominates general election campaign tactics - but are the concerns any different?

Drugs and crime

In February 1999, Nunsthorpe came to national prominence when 13-year-old Leah Lawson died after taking a cocktail of drugs, including methadone, which she had bought from a woman on the estate.

Leah had started smoking heroin when she was 12 years old. She was already sexually active. Her mother told the inquest that her daughter was "demanding, selfish and nasty"; the coroner said that girl had been "absolutely and utterly out of control".

For Donna Benefer, a mother of two who has lived on the estate all her life, Leah Lawson's death threatened to undo a great deal of community work aimed at getting people at the bottom of the heap to pick themselves up.

Donna is one of many mothers actively encouraging parents on Nunsthorpe to join a parenting scheme aimed at providing the skills to prevent a generation becoming a lost cause.

Work like this, says Donna, has helped focus minds on what people want from the politicians locally and nationally.

"The major problem is what have the kids got to do when they come out of school?" she said.

"There is a minority of parents who don't care. So their kids hang around, they get bored and they go off joyriding like mad and get into drugs.

"We're running this scheme here for the parents and babies aged up to four - but what happens when they turn five?

"How do you make sure that you can keep the eight-year-olds away from the older trouble makers?"

Youth offending

Bernadette Moore, Donna's lifelong friend, said that the absolute priority had to be tackling crime - and crime committed by youngsters.

One locally run scheme provides victims of multiple break-ins with burglar alarms and other home security.

"But it doesn't tackle the problem behind the burglaries in the first place, does it?" said Bernadette.

"If some kid is out of his head, he's going to commit a crime. Problem is, a lot of us have come to the conclusion that they are arrested one minute and out the next."

Polling day

So are they going to vote next Thursday? Yes - but with reservations.

"I want them [the politicians] to be saying to us: 'Tell us what you want'," said Donna.

"That's what we have had with here [with the parenting scheme] and we've now we're doing some good work.

"It does you no end of good to know that you are being listened to."

Bernadette: "I would love to see my daughter come home one day a lawyer.

"There are plenty of other mothers like me who want the same. I just want to see something done about the minority who do all the damage."

Resource centre

Across the other side of town, the bright and cheerful Freeman Street Resource Centre is trying to answer some of those concerns.

The centre, which had the backing of local politicians of all persuasions, sits in the middle of the East Marsh area of the town, blighted by high unemployment, crime, drug use and single parenthood.

High rise blocks tower over grey tightly packed terraces. The local shopping precinct, close to Grimsby's docks, has never really got over the loss of the decline of the fishing industry 20 years ago.

Motivation: Centre helps people into work

Since opening its doors a year ago, approximately 12,000 people -approximately 8% of the total population - have used its services which include everything from benefits advice through jobs training to hiring community rooms to run the continuing the national campaign for compensation for former fishermen.

The centre's staff are relentlessly upbeat about what they have achieved to date - and predict that in five years time the complex will have touched the lives of all sections of the community.

It's already made its national mark - a shimmering patchwork mural themed on the path from ignorance to knowledge, created by local volunteers to mark the centre's opening, was selected for display in the Millennium Dome.

Help for mums

Sarah Higgins is a mother who not only uses the centre but also works in the creche that she established with others.

It's aimed directly at people like her - single mothers who want to work but have found it near impossible to get training or even a job because of a lack of quality childcare.

While she says that she will be voting on June 7, Sarah said that she and many like her felt that the parties did not appear to be addressing the concerns of a community trying to combat unemployment and low educational expectations.

Sarah Higgins and her daughter Carrie-Ann

"One of the single most important issues in an area like this is help for single parents," said Sarah.

"I didn't start working full time until my daughter was six years old - I want to bring her up knowing that working is the right thing to do."

"For too long, things have been left to get like this," she says.

"I don't know what the politicians are going to do for us. But a lot of people round here feel that they make promises to us and then nothing happens.

"You end up realising that you have to do things yourself - that's what this centre is about.

"I would like to think that things are looking up. But I don't know whether it's all happened a little too late."

Spotted by Jonathan Parkes.

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