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Thursday, 12 July 2007

Essential Viewing for this Sunday -Barton Hill on the Politics Show!

I have just come from the top of a very windy tower block in Barton Hill. I was recording for a feature going out on BBC1's The Politics Show, this Sunday, 12.30pm. Barton Hill has benefited from £50m investment through the Government's New Deal with Communities (NDC) programme. The programme is looking at how the money has been spent.

You'd have to go pretty badly wrong to spend £50m and not see any differences ( That's the equivalent financially of setting up two brand new city academies in Barton Hill, which, as you know, is not a huge place.) And I would be the first to say that the area certainly looks and feels a lot better.

When I was at school, I used to swim with the City of Bristol Squad in the old Barton Hill Pool. (some of you might remember it - horrendous Victorian redbrick building, filthy, with perennially freezing floor tiles and pool-water temperature which seemed to defy science with its tendency to go from a skin-blueing 17 degrees centigrade to a stifling 38 degrees within a day.) That was in the mid-nineties. I remember that you locked the car doors as you went down into Barton Hill, and I recall the feeling of trespassing onto dangerous territory, and the sheer dereliction of the place. Nearly all that is gone. Things seem genuinely better.

But before the shoot, we bumped into a girl who works with young people in the area. We put it to her that the place had improved. She wasn't convinced. 'You can't change the people' she said. 'They're still dealing (drugs) in there (the tower blocks) and just jump over the fences around the flats'. That bit wasn't filmed.

I'm sure the NDC money has done a lot of good, and I support the idea of resident-leaders deciding, in conjunction with the community, what they need. But we cannot afford to spend £50m in every ward of deprivation in the country. The real test of the NDC will be in ten years time when the first paint has peeled off. I hope it proves sustainable and successful, and I hope the community are able to keep the improvements running. Trying to tackle, on a long-term basis, the challenging behaviour of (a minority) of those who live in these areas is what the Breakdown Britain report begins to address.


percy said...

how would you tackle drug addiction

Charlotte Leslie said...

Good question. One of the keys to social breakdown, and probably one of the hardest questions to answer.

If there was a simple silver bullet, it is likely someone would have found it by now. But one way is by stamping down harder on the dealers. Police sometimes tell me that due to the kind of targets they have to meet, there is more incentive to crack down (no pun intended) on users than those supplying them.

But drug addiction is not an isolated phenomenon. It's part (albeit a very big part) of a cycle of all sorts of things; depression, lack of work, surrounding culture...

One thing that begins to break that cycle is getting young people out of the kind of mind-set that leads to drug addiction in the first place. Young people who drop out of school, don't take (m)any GCSEs, hang out with the wrong friends, are far more at risk of developing addiction. Give them something that inspires them - that they feel they can do, and they will no be so vulnerable. Last weekend, I visited Lawrence Weston Carnival and had a great time. There was a group of young men doing some really impressive rap beatbox stuff. I spoke to the police officer- 'it's amazing' she said. 'Quite a few of those boys are the ones who spend their time running away from us and getting into trouble'. Giving young people something to do, communicating with them on their own terms isn't just pandering to them, it's preventing problems -that impact on all of our lives- from happening in the first place.

No complete solution, I grant you, but it's a start!