There are lies, damn lies and statistics. Add social deprivation statistics to the equation and Blackpool’s on a hiding to nothing. The resort is climbing so high up the social deprivation league it’s in danger of nose bleeding alongside England’s most blighted inner cities.
Indeed, according to the latest statistics out this week, one local area actually exceeds one of Liverpool’s most blighted districts, and two other local areas show Manchester’s most deprived community a clean pair of downtrodden heels.
We are in danger of becoming the inner city on the coast. The only redeeming feature is another coastal town, or rather community, claims top spot in the national Indices of Multiple Deprivation. The only way is Essex...
Jaywick Sands is the only entry south of Watford Gap in the new table of England’s Most Deprived neighbourhoods. Near neighbour to Clacton-on-Sea, barely 60 miles from London. It is ranked first in the daunting indictment of deprivation calculated on the basis of statistics for income, employment, health, disability, crime and standards of living, to determine where 32,482 neighbourhoods stand in the pecking order of poverty.
But here’s the shocker. Revoe, or rather “west” of Revoe, off Central Drive, takes third place, behind Grimsby’s Grant Thorald, and Essex’s Jaywick, but ahead, ergo worse, than “west of Anfield”, Liverpool.
Visit Revoe, in and around Central Drive, and it’s down-at-heel, but busy. It’s still a bastion of proper shops, even if every other one seems to sell carpets.
There are HMOs (houses of multiple occupation), and folk with whom you would avoid eye contact, but there is still a sense of community. Rows of terraced streets run off Central Drive, including the house where the late great councillor Doreen Holt lived – until her death from cancer in January this year.
Bethesda Square Play Area, which grew from a patch of wasteland, is to be renamed in her honour. It’s a pocket park at the heart of a largely concrete jungle.
One of the area’s oldest residents, Ena Richardson, 91, recalls when families lived in what’s become the sheltered accommodation for older folk 34 years ago. She says the area “has changed but hasn’t gone to the dogs yet”.
She thinks the council’s a “waste of space and never does enough for the residents.”
“Doreen did her best but was a lone voice,” she adds. Doreen used to call bingo at Ena’s community centre, her favourite outing once a week. Locals have reclaimed the seating outside the centre for residents.
“A few years ago you couldn’t sit out for alcoholics. We sit out sunny days now.”
Ena’s fended off a couple of attempts to snatch her bag. “Jobs, that’s what people need. And a sense of pride. I’ve worked since I was 14. If you want to know about hard times try living then. Makes you wonder why we had a war. But it’s home and I like living here.”
Grange Park, or rather “east of Grange Park,” the Horsebridge area of the estate, ranks fifth in the deprivation league, under Anfield, and ahead of Speke.
“I pass the remnants of a car boot sale packing up an hour early on a local pub forecourt and pause to chat to a couple of young mums. They moved here to avoid domestic violence, so won’t be identified, but berate the council for “closing a local park.” In fact, 26 new homes are being built as part of a £1.3m scheme, to improve social housing, and curb anti social behaviour. The contrast with the grot spots opposite, properties boarded up, windows broken, vandalised, near derelict, is marked. A site worker tells me the new properties will be open for occupation soon. “It’s going to make a hell of a difference to the area,” he adds.
I drop in at Horsebridge Community Centre and find young mums keen to safeguard their Sure Start scheme. “If you want to stop social deprivation, support Sure Start,” says Amanda Ashton, who’s brought baby Jake and three-year-old Ellie to the group.
“Yes, there’s social deprivation here, but you don’t think it means you. You just think you struggle a bit. It’s got lots of good points, this estate, and I still feel safe here.”
Outside, two locals are checking on bedding plants to prettify the communal area outside their flats. “I think more CCTV would help but I still like living here,” says one.
Last stop: eighth place in the national league, Layton, high rises, narrow terraced streets below.
It trails west Burnley (seventh place) but beats Rochdale’s “east Weir” (ninth) with Manchester’s Collyhurst in bottom (10th) place.
Gwen King, community development worker for Queens Park Residents Association, came here from Southend, saw the decline there, and says the writing’s on the wall here. “We need manufacturing, we need proper housing, or a proper housing co-operative, we need jobs.
“We need people in work, and off drink, drugs, and solvents.
“We need to look away from the seafront and see the deprivation here.
“The statisticians have got it right. They must have.
“We live with the blight.”