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What life is really like on the 'UK's roughest estate'

Tom Wood

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What life is really like on the 'UK's roughest estate'

An area was recently dubbed 'Britain's roughest estate', compared with 'war-torn Ukraine' and there have been reports of feral children tearing pigeons apart and residents afraid to leave their homes.

So I decided to spend the afternoon there.

Along the way, I spoke to residents, business owners, and local politicians.

It's the local politician that we'll start with.

Councillor Pete Smith has been one of those who has been outspoken about the growing crime in the area, and he got right into it.

"A female van driver was egged and floured, she had eggs and flour thrown at her van, she had parcels stolen from the back," he recounted.

Blakenall has been compared to 'war-torn Ukraine'. Credit: SWNS
Blakenall has been compared to 'war-torn Ukraine'. Credit: SWNS

“Later in the day she was in the area again and her husband was in the passenger seat.

“One youth hurled a bottle at full force through the window and hit him in the eye, leading him to need surgery and he could lose the full vision in his eye.

“We’ve had some really serious things that could have got a lot worse, like kids threatening people with BB guns."

That's absolutely awful, but these incidents are not isolated to the Blakenall area of Walsall, so what about the pigeon being torn to shreds by a gang of youths?

“That’s correct, that actually happened," Smith admitted.

“I was speaking to some of the staff in that particular shop and that’s what they told me, so I have reason to believe that it is true."

Shops in the area are amongst those who have been targeted by the aggressive element of Blakenall's community, with one resident - who refused to say anything further - telling me to consult them for the real truth.

Cllr Smith - a man with experience on that front - continued: "I know because I’ve spoken to all the shopkeepers that there has certainly been racial abuse, there have been some physical attacks.

“Some of the shopkeepers, including some of our Asian background shopkeepers have had property damaged and they’ve had vehicles damaged."

More seriously, he told me of an incident that has caused one family to flee the area completely.

“There was an arson attack that caused a mother and her children to not only flee the property for good, but also flee the borough to temporary accommodation," he explained.

“It didn’t do an awful lot of damage to the property, but they set fire to a fence outside the house and the smoke was going into a house with children in it.

“It’s traumatised the kids.

“This was a last resort for this family because she’d already reported and suffered at the hands of some of these yobs.

“She just said she couldn’t stay here anymore for the safety of her kids, and she’s left.

“We’re trying to give her a bit of assistance to get rehoused.”

Blakenell has developed a national reputation for anti-social crime. Credit: LADbible
Blakenell has developed a national reputation for anti-social crime. Credit: LADbible

After hearing reports such as this, when I arrived at Walsall's train station, I did so with a feeling of trepidation in my stomach, wondering whether bringing my laptop was a smart idea.

The first thing to note is that the whole of Walsall could definitely use some help.

In 2019, the town was ranked as the 25th poorest out of 317 local authorities, with the Index of Multiple Deprivation stating that as many as one out of three children live in poverty.

As I walked up towards Blakenall Heath, it was noticeable that the street signs have signage on them advertising a 'New Deal for Communities' in the area.

That appears to have been an initiative started by the local government around 2010, and from the looks of things it might be time to renegotiate that deal.

Upon arrival, Blakenall looked typical of any down-on-its-luck area in Britain.

The buildings need some TLC, there is rubbish on the streets, but no gangs of youths roaming the streets looking for birds to victimise.

Much of Blakenall looks like anywhere else in the UK. Credit: LADbible
Much of Blakenall looks like anywhere else in the UK. Credit: LADbible

The houses are typical-looking council houses, some with front gardens that are full of rubbish and overgrown, but others that someone has clearly tried to take great care of.

A row of shops boasts a welcoming sign to the area with more letters missing than remaining, and there's a general air of downbeat resignation around the place, although that could be the cold afternoon coming fast after the end of summer.

There's plenty of graffiti - some of it with discriminatory language included in the price - but nothing to trigger a fight or flight response.

After being politely declined comment in both of the area’s community centres – one a product of that 'New Deal' – I decided to follow advice and consult the local business owners.

“I’ve never had any trouble around here," one shopkeeper told me.

“Of course, I’ve heard about all the trouble, but never at this shop, no.”

The main street of shops in Blakenall Heath. Credit: LADbible
The main street of shops in Blakenall Heath. Credit: LADbible

Despite several windows and doors of shops notably boarded up, including the doors on the massive Heron Foods, so far nobody could explain what all the fuss is about.

The infamous Dawson Street, which has been described as resembling 'war torn Ukraine' was the next stop on the tour.

It's in a much more serious state than the rest of the area, and the houses look more dilapidated and dishevelled than everywhere else, but it's only a small part of the picture.

It was in that area that the aforementioned arson attack took place, driving a poor family from their home.

After a short walk around, I tried to capture the attention of locals to offer their insight.

One told me that they wouldn't talk because they 'like [their] windows the way they are' and another simply made no excuse before walking off.

A third told me that if I really wanted to see the truth I'd have to wait until nightfall, but I had a train back that evening, so we'd have to get to the bottom of it before then.

So, as any hard-hitting journalist would, I made a beeline for the local pub.

The Kings Head. Credit: LADbible
The Kings Head. Credit: LADbible

The Kings Head is - as with much of Blakenall - a totally normal pub.

Sure, it's not exactly a gastropub, nor is there any farm-reared, corn-fed fayre on the menu, in truth there's no menu beyond a bag of crisps.

That's not what I'm here for, anyway.

The landlord Gaz and his bartender laughed at the suggestions made about the area. “It’s a load of rubbish,” he told me.

Gaz used to work as a shop-fitter travelling the length and breadth of the UK, meaning he’s seen a fair bit of it.

He thinks the speculation about Blakenall is ‘ridiculous’.

“There are hundreds of places worse than here," he said.

“It's been blown totally out of proportion, I don't know who they were talking to, but I grew up here and we've never had any trouble in this pub like that. It’s no rougher than anywhere else.”

It's a common refrain.

Many locals believe that Blakenall’s national reputation is ill-deserved, arguing that the area is ‘no worse than anywhere else’.

Another local passed comment on the criticism of people in the area, quite rightly pointing out: “Where are they supposed to live?

“It's not perfect, and some families are just a bit rougher around the edges than others, but where do they want them to go?”

Even though he knows first-hand that many of the stories about Blakenall are true, Cllr Smith also thinks that the explosion of negative press about the area is too much.

Councillor Pete Smith. Credit: Pete Smith
Councillor Pete Smith. Credit: Pete Smith

“Once the story got into the national papers, that’s where it got blown out of proportion,

“Some of the national media described it is the worst estate in the country – number one it isn’t an estate, number two it certainly isn’t the worst."

He continued: “We’ve got some anti-social behaviour and crime being perpetrated in the area by a small number of youths and hooligans, and it’s the tail wagging the dog.

“I live in Blakenall and I’m proud to live in Blakenall. It’s a good place, the vast majority of people are good, decent folk.

"We’re not an affluent area, but we’re good people.

“At the moment there’s a small number running amok. This particular area had £10 million of investment years ago [New Deal for Communities] but now there’s very little to show for it. It hasn’t really left a legacy.

“In terms of the anti-social behaviour, it’s certainly got worse in the last six months. There’s been problems before, but it reached a peak about two weeks ago when it hit the press.”

Smith, who was a Labour councillor before being re-elected as an independent, attributes the problems of the area to lack of investment in youth, systematic decline, and pressures on budgets and policing.

He continued: “I’ve seen no improvements made – the police can’t cope and now we’re dealing with the whirlwind.

“That being said, there’s still no excuse for some of the behaviour – the vast majority of kids aren’t like this, but it only needs a small hardcore to upset the community.

“My only hope now is that the police and the council will be moved to get a grip and sort it.

“We’ve been stripped back to the bone. But things are afoot, and for the first time in a long time I’m confident that people are getting their heads together to solve the problems.”

Images such as this have helped garner Blakenall's reputation. Credit: SWNS
Images such as this have helped garner Blakenall's reputation. Credit: SWNS

Despite the issues in the area, Smith is still proud to say he's from Blakenall, much like just almost everyone else that I encountered during my brief visit.

Smith was very generous with his time talking about the area, which is more than can be said for the local MP, Conservative Eddie Hughes.

Despite multiple phone calls to his office and an email hopefully headlined 'URGENT', no correspondence was achieved.

As I made my way back through Walsall and on to Birmingham New Street, it was hard not to think about how many places up and down the country are in the same rut as Blakenall, trapped in a cycle of deprivation, leading to anti-social behaviour, crime, and – ultimately – poor reputation.

This all comes at the expense of the residents of these areas, who in my experience were overwhelmingly welcoming, friendly, and showing admirable humour in the face of growing inequality and adversity.

Blakenall is by no means the roughest estate in Britain, and that is a problem that goes far beyond Walsall.

The real problem is the contest - a race to the bottom to decide which community in one of the world's richest countries is the most dangerous, or most deprived, or most shocking.

The problems of Blakenall and places similar to it should be of real concern to us all.

LADbible contacted Walsall Council for a comment, they responded: “We are aware of concerns that have been raised about anti-social behaviour and crime in the Blakenall area of the Borough.

"The Council is actively working in partnership with West Midlands Police colleagues, partners and the local community to tackle these issues.”

Featured Image Credit: LADbible/SWNS

Topics: UK News, Politics

Tom Wood
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