Cornwall: ‘You can’t eat the view’

Penzance is, quite literally, the end of the line. The great south western route ends here at the beautiful Cornish town, made rich in the 18th century by the pilchard and tin trade.

Now its main business is tourism, with pretty pubs catering for wealthy second homeowners, and galleries springing up to showcase the work of the growing local art scene.

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But many come to here to escape urban life because they have no other choice.

Homelessness is growing rapidly – Cornwall has the fifth highest number of homeless people in the UK behind major cities like Bristol, Manchester and London.

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Newquay is now the epicentre of a county-wide issue, with around 20 people sleeping rough on a daily basis. In 2012, six rough sleepers died. Second home ownership means prices are sky high. Landlords hold out for lucrative summer rentals so decent properties are scarce.

Elaine Poole and Heather Papworth of DISC (drop-in and share centre) Newquay offer a soup kitchen and support for rough sleepers. They say they are seeing young women fleeing domestic violence in London and ending up in Newquay, “where they feel safe.”

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Not enough specialised services are being offered, they say, to those severely affected by such trauma. A nearby MIND mental heath charity has closed down, due to cuts.

“This is a town for holiday makers. They are seeing people begging on the streets,” Heather explains.

“It’s not good for homeless people and it’s not good for the town.”

Their plan is to buy the for sale Claremont Methodist Hall, and create a hub for the town’s homelessness services.

Their impressive energy and commitment means they are now on the brink of bringing the project to life. But, the pair admit, they need political will.

“We want the council to take responsibility,” Heather says.

Cornwall Independent Poverty Forum project worker Colin Robinson adds he is seeing how a lack of mental health provision more generally is “tearing families apart”.

A new centre of the under-18s is being built in Bodmin. But other people are forced to travel as far as Edinburgh for treatment.

His forum, set up to try to understand the root causes of poverty, sees how mental health and poverty go hand in hand. And that exclusion leads to further deprivation.

Yet a more immediate need is hunger. The county’s foodbanks are very busy, says project manager Paul Green. The fact many of their clients are working is an issue of “big concern.”

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As a large rural county, one of the challenges Cornwall faces is that the government’s poverty measurements don’t apply to its unique geography, explains Truro diocese social responsibility officer Andrew Yates.

And when you have very wealthy and very poor people living side by side, it skews official statistics.

“We have significant pockets of poverty – and by that I mean serious poverty,” Paul sighs.

“You can’t eat the view.”

Further down the coast, the Centre Newlyn is busy with cooking classes; the thriving community hub offers a huge range of classes and activities.

 

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The driving force behind the centre is local minister Julyan Drew. He smiles when I compliment the town, but says its pretty exterior hides deep-rooted problems.

“This is the worst we’ve ever seen it,” he adds.

 

Cuts to youth provision and Sure Start, he says, have caused huge damage. The centre is struggling to fundraise for youth and sessional workers to tackle the fallout.

“We are working with hundreds of young people who are experiencing deprivation,” says Julyan.

“We are finding ourselves dealing with child abuse and neglect.”

New policies, he adds, have to be designed with children at their heart. St Mary’s primary headteacher Hilary Tyreman agrees. 77% of children at her school in the heart of Penzance live in the third most deprived areas of the UK.

Despite the need, St Mary’s is having to cut £40,000 from its budget, and is facing a “bleak future.”

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“We quite often have families escaping difficult situations getting on the train and going as far away as they can,” Hilary explains.

“This can means that when families arrive they lack networks and have to build trust.”

Yet there have been some creative solutions. Just down the road, Molly Blewett’s work alongside the Penlee cluster of churches has led to the creation of a thriving soft play centre inside St John’s church.

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The 22-year-old mum lights up when talking about it. Not only has the centre provided a focal point for young children, it has also provided Molly with a job.

Without it, she says, she would have left. And, she adds, politicians need to try and help the real Cornwall, where people live and have families and work.

“Some of my friends have said there’s nothing here to come back for.

“This is the end of the line.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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