The battle to restore pride in Plungington amid a crime wave

Posted on - 27th June, 2020 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Crime, Housing, Lancashire Police, Plungington, Politics, Preston News
Daffodils in Plungington Pic: Tony Worrall

A grid pattern of streets, ginnels and a proud history for this most Preston of areas defines it.

But Plungington has been in the spotlight in recent weeks with residents complaining their quality of life is at risk from crime, drug users, fly tipping and antisocial behaviour.

Neighbours say a recent influx of drug addicts has brought a wave of social problems, which were problematic already, but made worse during lockdown.

Now the community is fighting back in a bid to return the area to a place people feel safe.

One resident said: “It’s time we were listened to.”

Sitting on the outskirts of the city centre, Plungington has always had a diverse community with students and single parents from all ethnicities living side by side in the terraced streets.

The signs of decay have always been there – the discrete ‘needle exchange’ sign on the chemist’s door, the £10 notes passed through car windows at dusk.

But a decade ago, these problems largely remained under the surface, unsavoury, but out of sight.

A spike in crime made worse by lockdown

In the last 12 months, the area has seen 830 crimes recorded within a one-mile radius of the Spar shop at the heart of Plungington.

It’s more than a six-fold increase, compared to Fulwood – just a few stops away on the 23 bus route – which had 128 crimes recorded within a mile of Booths, according to Neighbourhood Watch figures.

Now, since the outbreak of coronavirus, problems have come to a head, with residents complaining about open drug use, discarded needles, fly-tipping and prostitution.

A community crimewatch page on Facebook, set up at the beginning of June, has around  500 members, sharing photos and experiences of their lives in Plungington.

It makes grim reading, with images of discarded drugs paraphernalia posted daily, and residents sharing fears about being targeted by aggressive neighbours.

But this isn’t a place where people go to moan. It is a call to action.

Using Facebook to connect a community and fight back

Michelle Kirkby is one of the group’s founders.

She says: “Plungington used to be a really nice place. I have lived here for 20 odd years.

“But there are a select few who ruin it. People in the community are telling me the houses where the students used to be are where the addicts are moving in. The landlords are happy enough to take the money but they are bringing problems to our area.

“It makes you wary, walking down the street. One woman is always spitting at people. It’s disgusting and it’s classed as an assault. Elderly people have been followed to the cash machine. We just want to feel safe.

“It was getting bad anyway, but since Covid-19 it has got worse. We just want a nice place to live.”

Since the community group was established, residents are doing daily walkabouts, taking note of problems and reporting them to the police, council or housing associations.

What the local politicians have to say

Local councillor Pav Akhtar is supporting the community in its fight to clean up the area.

“The community is taking control”, he says.

“Beyond the syringes and the crack pipes is a real community that I am really proud of.

“People who might not even vote are engaging in local democracy, by speaking up for their area.”

Residents have arranged community clean up events to clear litter and create a sense of pride in the area, and have put questions to Preston City Council remotely during online council meetings.

And their voices are being heard.

Officers raided a cannabis farm in Plungington on Saturday June 20

A rapid response to criticism and being in the spotlight

In recent days, Lancashire Police have stepped up patrols in the area and a number of arrests have been made as a result of intelligence passed on to them by the community.

Saturday June 20 saw officers raid a cannabis farm in Plungington and remove a quantity of drugs.

On Tuesday June 23, burglar Nicholas Powis was jailed after breaking into commercial premises in Plungington.

The police, housing associations and council are working together to identify problem landlords after residents claim to have seen an influx of newly released prisoners and chronic drug users in the area.

Preston City Council’s street cleaners have visited the area twice this week to help tidy up the area.

A feeling of being ignored

Michelle says: “They say they have our backs but it feels like a fight. There is still broken glass on the pavements and people have to pick their dogs up so their paws don’t get cut.

“The council says we shouldn’t be picking up sharps but we don’t want them lying around either.

“We just want Plungington to be a nice place, clean and tidy and without people kicking off and spitting in the street.” 

A faded Plungington Road sign Pic: Liam/Doktorb
A faded Plungington Road sign Pic: Liam/Doktorb

Key to improving the area is the use of digital tools such as Facebook groups, Twitter and Zoom meetings to connect neighbours, businesses, police and councillors.

Pav says: “In covid times we are using digital tools to stay connected. There is a sense of optimism and hope. The connections we are building are precisely what will hold us together. We have a real opportunity here.”

On Wednesday, residents of a notorious drug den in Emmanuel Street were evicted, with their property thrown out onto the pavement.

Michelle says: “We’re glad they have gone but the mess was disgusting. We know there would have been needles in there and it was left out on the front.”

And at Thursday’s full council meeting, Preston city councillors discussed an action plan for the area which includes monthly meetings with the police, community clean up and growing projects and assessments of crime trends and HMO (house of multiple occupancy)  properties.

A robust police response to try and tackle Plungington’s issues

Insp Chris Barton, of Preston Police’s Neighbourhood Policing Team, says CCTV systems in the area are under review with a view to upgrading the coverage.

He also says there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to proactively target offenders and uncover the root causes of recent difficulties.

“We don’t know for sure if the city centre effectively closing down has displaced people to nearby residential areas. Residents say they are seeing more people of a certain type than there were before. We need to work out with our partners who they are and why this is.

“There is a lot of police activity going on, and there is more coming.”

Insp Barton agrees more digital engagement is needed to provide the reassurance Plungington needs.

He says: “Some reports on social media suggest the police don’t care about Plungington and that is not the case. 

“However it does concern me that people feel that way. We need to address that and keep people informed about what police activity we are undertaking to keep them safe.”

What running a local business is like

Shahid Umar runs the DDL Pharmacy in Plungington Road. The chemist provides services for drug users, including a needle exchange and methadone prescriptions.

Shahid says many of the area’s regular drug users are missing out on face-to-face consultations with their key workers during lockdown.

“We try to provide a safe space and treat everyone with dignity when they come in. There is no need to be discarding needles in the streets.”

The Tribal Project, a drugs and alcohol service based at Plungington Community Centre is also stepping up it’s involvement in the community as a result of resident’s concerns.

Hope for the future?

Michelle says: “Everyone, the police, the council, the housing associations, they all needed a kick up the backsides, but that is what we are doing.

“People are sitting up and listening.”

What do you think about the issues in Plungington? Do you live in the area? Let us know in the comments below

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