After gangs and drugs comes a message of hope in one Ipswich neighbourhood
PUBLISHED: 09:30 05 February 2018 | UPDATED: 09:30 05 February 2018
A neighbourhood suffering gang violence, intimidation and an epidemic of hard drugs, claims to be overcoming its troubles after residents and authorities united to reclaim the streets.
Jubilee Park, a children’s playground in the Westgate Ward of Ipswich has gained notoriety for being rife with crime and antisocial behaviour.
In recent years the surrounding streets have witnessed a near fatal stabbing, the mugging of a 79-year-old woman and hundreds of drug-related crimes.
A University of Suffolk report on gang problems was asked to focus on Jubilee Park by police and Suffolk County Council.
It has faced problems with violence, drugs and exploitation of children. The area is among England’s most deprived and is the reported stamping ground of the J Block gang. Some residents are too frightened to leave their homes while others say they have had rocks hurled at them.
But on Saturday night the focus was on a newly formed reggae choir which played for a packed audience in aid of charity at the Westgate Ward Social Club. It was the group’s first live performance - and a demonstration of the community’s resilience.
The choir, whose members are aged 10-73, was founded in August by Clarkson Street resident Pat Bruce-Browne. It was one of many positive steps the Jubilee Friends Group has achieved. Led by Ms Bruce-Browne and with support from borough councillors Carole Jones and Colin Kreidewolf, the group was set up a year ago in response to the area’s problems.
Ms Bruce-Browne said it gave the community a voice and helped raise issues with police, who had previously seemed hard to reach.
She said improvements had happened “slowly” - because many people had become “disillusioned so they can’t see the change”.
“I don’t want to create negative publicity for the area,” she added. “Because this area is OK – it’s not the people who live here, it’s the people who were coming in broad daylight to do their drug deals outside people’s houses. It didn’t matter how many times you phoned the police no one was coming out. But in the police’s defence, they have listened to us. They are taking residents seriously and they’ve seen there’s a problem and are doing something about it. What they’re doing seems to be working - and long may it continue.”
Ms Bruce-Browne says the drug dealing appears to have died down – for now – and believes it is because the community is saying “we don’t want it”.
While the group has not yet decided on the future for Jubilee Park itself - whether to bulldoze it and start afresh or retain it as a play area – it has achieved improvements for the wider area.
Members petitioned Suffolk County Council to keep street lights on all night, which Ms Bruce-Browne says it has been one of the group’s “main successes”.
Fellow Friends member Ann Clarke, 73, who also sings in the choir, said it had been “really unnerving” walking home in the dark. “When I got in at night, I’d be really scared, because you don’t know what they can do,” she said.
Ms Clarke, who has lived in Ipswich all her life and in Victoria Street for 10 years, says the troubles started around four years ago. “It was the big onset of the drugs problem,” she said. “There were people openly selling, buying and using drugs and over the last few years it got really bad. It’s really disheartening because a lot of them are only teenagers.”
She believes young people get caught up in the drugs because of gangs. “I don’t think they want to live this life, they get drawn into it,” she added. “Sometimes it seems like they’re on a mission of destruction.”
Ms Clarke says she has had rocks and bottles thrown at her on the street and is fearful whenever her grandchildren come to visit. But she is determined not to be driven out by the gangs and violence. “I’m too stubborn to let that happen.”
Councillors Jones and Kreidewolf praised the group’s work. “There’s lots of really good people living in the area and it’s about trying to encourage them to come together to do something positive,” Mr Kreidewolf added.
•Community ‘heartened’ by police’s ‘tireless’ work to drive out criminals
A social club and church, which have been caught up in some of Jubilee Park’s problems, hope they can aid its regeneration.
Wendy Crafton, secretary at the Westgate Ward Social Club, said the area had been through “such a challenging time” but praised police for their recent efforts.
She said the troubles began four years ago with muggings, stabbings and drug dealing.
“It happened almost without us realising,” she said. “People came into the area for all the wrong reasons. There were teenagers making a nuisance, that’s why the [Masons’ Arms] pub is boarded up - they set it alight about three times. People didn’t feel safe and over time it’s deterred people from coming out.”
Crimes include a man stabbed in Prospect Place in September 2016, in what was described in court as an “entirely unprovoked attack”. Last November, a 79-year-old woman was robbed on her way to play bingo. Police described the attack as a “despicable crime”,
Ms Crafton said vandalism and boarded up drugs dens made the place seem like a “war zone”. But recent police work and high profile convictions had left he community “heartened”.“They’re working tirelessly to drive the criminals away,” she added. “I think people are also doing more for themselves. We’ve had to take so much that we were either going to lay down and let it happen of do something about it.”
Rod Stone, leader at the Ipswich community church, is another trying to do his bit.
“Towards the end of summer we were having a lot of problems with youths congregating on the forecourt,” he said. “We were finding needles and condoms. One evening, my wife and I cleared up at least 20 broken bottles.”
The church has since installed CCTV thanks to funding from county councillor Inga Lockington, which is said to have reduced problems. Mr Stone is also trying to reach out to the community - particularly those who don’t speak English.
The church has been offering ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) lessons, which proved so popular it has had to take a break to give its volunteer teachers a rest. It has also appointed a community worker, who works as a chaplain in the local pupil referral unit, which Mr Stone says has strengthened community links. “But we are limited in numbers,” he added, “We have limited resources and feel we have barely started.”
•‘We are not resting on our laurels’ - police
Suffolk police said it had worked pro-actively to tackle Jubilee Park’s problems including with the Urban Street Gang Unit.
Sgt Vicky McParland from Ipswich Central SNT said: “We have been very proactive in the last two years in trying to address the issues around Jubilee Park with proactive arrests, engagement work and contributions from other partners all making a positive impact.
“For instance, the Urban Street Gang Unit, set up to addresses drug related criminal activity, youth violence and associated anti-social behaviour (ASB) connected to groups of individuals known to each other in Ipswich, has been actively targeting known suspects and has made many arrests.
“We have also issued many Community Protection Notices and Criminal Behaviour Orders which prevent unreasonable behaviour that has a hugely negative impact on the quality of life in an area. Plans to put permanent CCTV in the area are also reaching fruition. In addition, our local councillors have also been working extremely hard to bring together the many, varied communities together for which we are very appreciative.
“There are many community groups that have also been contributing to the cause. Amongst others, Suffolk Family Focus has been supporting families with complex issues in the area with each family receiving support based on their collective needs; the Giles Trust is working with offenders and those on the periphery to help them access education, training, volunteering and employment opportunities and offer alternatives to crime and ASB. The YMCA in Wellington Street has introduced ASB workshops for their residents, clubs for young people to attend in the evenings and is really contributing to positive outcomes in the area.
“We know there is much more to do and it is a long term piece of work so we are not resting on our laurels, but we have made positive strides thanks to all the collective hard work and ownership to address the issues by residents, families, community groups, charities and councillors. We are very grateful and take this opportunity to thank everyone involved so far.”