Playground makeover for city’s ‘no go’ streets

SWINGING SUCCESS: The men behind the new playground. From left, PC Jim Lake, Robert Stones and council neighbourhood warden Rob Harriman
SWINGING SUCCESS: The men behind the new playground. From left, PC Jim Lake, Robert Stones and council neighbourhood warden Rob Harriman

The city’s biggest hotspot for drug dealers and prostitutes has been given an unlikely transformation – into a children’s playground.

The makeover of the patch of wasteland between North Ninth and North Tenth Streets is the final chapter in a remarkable story of people power triumph.

The ‘tale of two streets’ started in the 1970s when the rows of small flats were built around the shopping centre to house the young professionals helping the city take shape.

But when these tenants moved on, the flats became a haven for the homeless, the jobless and the vulnerable.

Crime rocketed, brothels flourished and drug dealers exploited the lucrative territory – leaving the 262 residents too scared to venture out after dark.

Six years ago, a new tenant called Robert Stones tentatively moved in, stepping over the unconscious bodies of two crackheads on his stairway.

“It was horrible,” he said. “But luckily I had time on my hands and I vowed to do something about it.”

In January last year Robert, 51, founded the Central Housing Residents’ Association.

The following month, with the help of award-winning police officer Jim Lake, and council warden Rob Harriman a caretaker’s broom cupboard was converted into a mini police station and community office.

Shortly afterwards a massive police raid swept up 27 drug dealers, now serving a total of 70 years in prison.

“Suddenly the crime rate here reduced by 80 per cent. It meant we could have our streets back,” said Robert.

The residents’ association persuaded the council to provide a facelift with new windows and new paving. As the streets changed, so did residents’ attitudes.

“People started going out again; they were talking to each other and taking pride in their homes,” added Robert. “At last we have become a community.”

Just one problem remained: the 160 children – with nowhere to play.

But on Sunday, after a £50,000 grant from the Waste Recycling Environment scheme, the residents proudly opened a brand new, fully-equipped playground.

Said Robert: “It’s sited between the two streets on the very patch of land where the drug dealers used to trade. It’s so apt that such a no go area has become a perfectly safe place for children to play. It shows how far we have come.”