Worry over impact of budget cuts and business closures

In the third of her reports in partnership with Locality, Mary O'Hara visits the Thornton estate in Hull, where improved local services are at risk from budget cuts.

The older ladies (and one older gentleman) gathered at the Tuesday Club on the Thornton estate in Hull have just finished their exercises with a volunteer fitness instructor and in a short while they’ll begin their weekly bingo session. Before that, though, they are eager to talk about how life in the area is changing as cuts begin to take hold.

A jovial bunch (on average 12-14 people in their 70s and 80s meet weekly at premises in a parade of shops provided by The Goodwin Development Trust), many come from families that have lived in this inner-city area for generations.

Their chief concern is the possible loss of local 'community wardens'. The wardens are a community outreach service funded by the local council and managed by Goodwin, a social enterprise founded by residents from the Thornton estate, which offers services ranging from back-to-work programmes to childcare facilities in 36 sites across Hull.

According to the Tuesday Club members, the wardens have been pivotal to making sure older people on Thornton are not isolated or lonely and that they feel part of the wider community.

"At the moment we've got the wardens but how long for? That's the main worry," a woman volunteers.

Another interjects: "Previously for anyone who was elderly or disabled there were one or two wardens that were assigned to ring us and see if we were OK. That was a friendly word but it's all being cut back." 

The group talk at length about a range of issues from street cleaning to community policing. They comment that in recent years they have seen many improvements in the facilities and services on offer on the estate but they worry that this is being undone.

"It's just deteriorating now [compared] to what we are used to," one member says. "But we keep hoping."

Stuart Spandler, the 63-year-old chair of the board of trustees at Goodwin and a resident of the Thornton estate his whole life, says the Tuesday Club's anxieties are symptomatic of broader problems on the estate and in other disadvantaged parts of Hull, many of which are being exacerbated by cuts to local council budgets.

We've been fighting like mad to keep the community wardens...We've got an extension of the wardens [for now] but the future is uncertain."

Looking forward, he says it is a real concern that older people will have no choice but to retreat back into their homes should services such as wardens disappear.

"One of the biggest problems on the estate is going to be isolation," he says.

Myton ward, where the Thornton estate is based, is one of the most deprived areas in England and has high levels of child and adult poverty according to JJ Tatten of Goodwin.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics published in October 2012 show that the unemployment rate for Hull as a whole is far higher than the UK national average: 15.8 per cent compared with 7.9 per cent.

Against this backdrop, government cuts planned for next year are going to "hit people very hard indeed," JJ says. 

Assembled in a Goodwin-run community centre, local residents, community workers and others say an assortment of hardships lie ahead.

Tracy Dearing has a visual impairment and believes many disabled people are fearful of changes to benefits, while others are worried about finding work in an area of higher-than-average unemployment.

No matter what work programmes you put in place, what training you do, how harsh you are on benefits, people just aren't going to get the jobs... People are just placed in impossible situations."

For Amber Peachy-Moore, a supervisor at the Hull Citizens Advice Bureau, there are clear signs that more people across the community are seeking help.

We are seeing more and more clients – even clients who are in work – come to us for charitable applications or debt appointments because they can't manage their basic household bills on their income.

The stress and pressure people are being put under by the combined forces of market forces and utility bills and the cuts in benefits – and people's incomes aren't tracking the rise of prices of household goods – I think that pressure is going to get to people. It is going to affect their health."

Colin Lynch, a local community organiser, agrees with Amber that multiple strains are beginning to show across disadvantaged areas of the city but adds that one unfolding and increasingly visible side effect is that, because people have less money to spend, local small businesses are closing. 

Thinking of the Hessle Road area there's a lot of concern over the commercial sector....Retail on Hessle Road is suffering quite badly at the moment from a lot of businesses that are failing, a lot of shop units that are empty, shutters down. It makes for what looks like a very bad area and it's not."

Echoing the Tuesday Club and others, Colin concludes that a large part of the effects of cuts – combined with wider economic decline – is the uncertainty it is generating.

They're seeing their area, their community, slowly going down and down....It's that anxiety over the change that's causing a lot of problems."

Recommend to a friend via email: