Rhyl: ‘Society is falling apart’

 

It’s a lovely sunny day, and the holidaymakers of Rhyl, north Wales, bustle around looking for something to spend their money on.

At St Mary’s church though, people have slightly different priorities, as they hurry inside for Sunday mass.

The pews fill quickly, and Father Charles Ramsay greets parishioners. In his sermon, he preaches the importance of understanding that, within a diverse society, we are all unique – and that our political views matter.

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“We shouldn’t become separate,” he says. “We can become strong amidst our diversity.”

Emily Steel, 18, strikes up the singing from the front row, sat alongside her family.

Later, she tells me, her concerns as a first-time voter are very much with those in society with learning disabilities, those who have never had the chance to complete their education – the ones, she says, who are “on the borderline”.

“For the people who may struggle with integrating properly and with getting a job, there is not enough help and provision,” she explains.

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Just days before the interview, Theresa May was confronted by a voter with learning disabilities, deeply concerned about the end of her disability living allowance, a policy change she said only left her £100 a month.

The issue is clearly resonating with people across the UK.

“We need to look at how we can help these people so they sustain themselves in the community,” Emily adds.

“It seems like a lot of people are left to fend for themselves.”

Father Ramsay settles down to chat; he admits, with a smile, he has “left-wing views”. His parish is beset by some of the classic problems affecting the UK’s seaside towns. In West Rhyl, almost 70% of residents claim benefits – with the highest rate of unemployment in Wales.

And as we start the interview, Father Ramsay’s gentle demeanour becomes angry.

“I would say to any candidate – how would they address the division between rich and poor that’s crippling our society?”

He adds that “rampant individualism” is “destroying society” – leaving many behind.

“It separates individuals and makes them compete.

“What we have is a society that is a falling apart.”

Father Ramsay says the “skewed economics” of politics has created a huge housing issue in Rhyl. Former multi-storey Victorian bed and breakfasts have been split up into bedsits, with 70% of the town’s housing poor quality private rental accommodation.

It’s estimated many of these homes need in excess of £20,000 spent on them to make them ‘fit for modern living’.

A lack of affordable, decent homes – coupled with low wages – means families and individuals are locked into a cycle of poor housing.

IMG_6249Nurse Sarah Rush thinks getting on the property ladder is not about economic aspiration, but “social justice and equality”.

 

“Everyone should have the chance to save up for a deposit or a mortgage – no matter what job they do.

“Everyone should have the chance to have something of their own.”

St Asaph teacher Julie Murray agrees that the growing gap between the haves and have nots needs to be urgently addressed. She is worried about an emerging underclass who no longer have a voice.

“We need to look after the people in society who have very little.”

Enabling everyone to have a stake in society is “very difficult” she adds.

Yet despite these difficulties, her church defiantly fights to create a strong community in Rhyl. The church is a member of Wrexham-based Together Creating Communities (TCC), a group that trains people to become community organisers and tackle the issues that matter to them.

Its hugely respected Men’s Shed project provides a free, communal space for men to escape the pressures of life, share skills and make friends.

IMG_6251The church hosts the Rhyl People’s Assembly – a group dedicated to fighting against the impact of cuts. Rhyl4TC (Rhyl for the Community), also based at the church, work tirelessly to reduce social poverty and social exclusion. They run a craft group, a homelessness project and a community kitchen.

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For Father Ramsay, like many of his parishioners, this election is all about protecting the common good of society, so that wealth is shared and opportunities are equal.

Otherwise, they all warn, towns like Rhyl will become home to an underclass even the determined congregation of St Mary’s church will be unable to help.

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