THIS week an article on Weymouth in the Observer newspaper sparked a debate on the state of the town and seaside towns in general.
While many inner-city communities have benefited from hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, many coastal towns have suffered from rising unemployment and a lack of investment.
Whilst we undoubtedly live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and many industries are thriving and local schools achieving great things there is also a real problem in some areas.
Reporter Emma Walker looks at the issues facing our most deprived communities.
CHILD poverty, income deprivation and high unemployment are just some of the issues in Weymouth and Portland’s four most deprived wards.
Statistics revealed that the borough’s ‘priority’ areas- Little-moor, Melcombe Regis, Portland Underhill and Westham- fall within the top 20 per cent of the most deprived communities nationally.
The borough council recently granted more than £16,000 to community groups in the four wards as part of its Working with You project But as economic woes sweep the UK, community leaders are urging for more to be done.
Jane Nicklen, the council’s head of community planning and development, said: “The four areas continue to be the priority although it should be stressed that the problems do not necessarily apply to every part of them.”
Council officers collated data on each ward based on the 2010 Indices of Multiple Deprivation, 2011 Census, National Health Service datasets, Dorset Police figures, community feedback and the Dorset County Council Child Poverty Strategy.
They found that the borough’s most deprived areas had a ‘number of similar issues’.
Obese children, binge drinking adults and GCSE achievement were issues highlighted in Underhill on Portland.
The island area rates high on the indices of multiple deprivations, particularly in Fortunes-well North. The area lost 4,500 jobs when the naval base and air base closed in the 1990s and 2011 census data worryingly revealed that just 43.2 per cent of adults were in employment.
Increased levels of violent crime, theft from vehicles and drug offences were recorded by Dorset Police in Littlemoor between 2011 and 2013.
Areas of concern also included older people in deprivation.
Littlemoor community leader Jan Hinton said: “More will always need to be done but unfortunately there will never be enough people getting involved to do it.”
Westham East experiences the worst multiple deprivation in the ward, according to census data with health issue being obese and binge drinking adults and emergency hospital admissions for all causes.
While Dorset Police recorded increased levels of drug offences and theft in Melcombe Regis, there are also issues of income deprivation, child poverty and unemployment. Cllr Paul Kimber, who represents Underhill, said: “I'm encouraged when government bodies make grants available as this means they recognise there is an issue that needs to be addressed. My experience has found that local organisations, knowing the problems can make small grants go much further.”
Pleas for community workers
CALLS are being made for full-time community workers to be installed in each of the ‘priority’ wards.
Soulfood outreach worker Angie Barnes, who has been working to help the homeless in the area for many years, is calling for community workers with a remit of ‘debt, benefits and jobsearch’ experience.
She added: “Unfortunately housing associations tend to group the more troubled families together, which in a way I can understand, but it creates a ghetto which then needs lots of money throwing at it to put right.
“The younger population need help – but how to do it?”
She recommended the positive impact of Duke of Edinburgh schemes and urged for more schemes in schools. Margaret Barker, who spent 14 years working in Weymouth and now volunteers as part of Dorchester Poverty Action Group, said: “A really good community worker could be employed in each of the recognised most deprived areas.
“When there was a very good community worker in the Park District several new projects got off the ground and left a legacy of good healthy self-respect in that community.”
Grant to help families
STRUGGLING families in Underhill and Westham are set to benefit from a Working with You grant given to the Friendly Food Club.
Tony Gibbons says the club runs healthy eating and cookery workshops for underprivileged people.
The recent cash boost will now allow them to make a DVD and recipe cards to help Underhill and Westham families make meals for a week on a tight budget.
Mr Gibbons said: “This is a great opportunity to help local struggling families.”
The Friendly Food Club’s main partner is Synergy Housing.
BOROUGH councillor Gill Taylor says pockets of deprivation in other non-supported wards should not be ignored.
The Westham West ward representative said: “The figures ignore the fact that there are pockets of deprivation in most wards, while one is not being supported.
“Labelling these areas as ‘deprived’ can have a detrimental impact on those who live there.
“The statistics say that the percentage of adults employed in Westham West is at 61.5 per cent but my ward has a higher than average elderly population.
“Additionally, there are people who do not work and do not claim anything from the state.
“These groups of people are the people who are a pool of potential volunteers.”
She told the Echo that more support and guidance is needed for the voluntary sector.
She added: “There are often groups of people who would like to do something for the community but do not really get off the ground due to a lack of expertise.”