I wrote a feature article on the Bournemouth suburb of Boscombe; what it has to offer residents and locals despite its high crime statistics and housing problems. Yet in a good old fashioned lesson-in-journalism I had to cut my article from 1300 words to 500. It was pretty tough, but the 500 word article has been recieving positive responses on our website. See the cut version here.
Anyway, proud as I am of the original version, I decided I would post it here:
Tarnished with a bad reputation for its crime and housing problems, the Bournemouth suburb of Boscombe is lightyears from the mansions and yachts of Sandbanks, but it’s an area oozing in cool and perhaps deserves a rethink.
From the murals of Pokesdown station to the terraced streets of Christchurch Road, and from the quiet pier standing in the Channel to the cafe windows of Boscanova, Boscombe is a suburb unlike many others. Slick-dressed students listening to the latest house mix are coupled with rough sleepers; and while flurries of fashionistas flock to the The Royal Arcade’s Vintage Market, sunken-eyed folk stumble the street from the night before last. “There’s been high incidents of addiction”, said Councillor Jane Kelly, representative for Boscombe West. Because of this the “bad reputation has been warranted”, she admitted, casting the blame primarily on Boscombe’s housing problems. There is a “lack of a mix of accommodation”, she continued, as “people came here for the proliferation of single person bedsits.”
It hasn’t always been like this though. During the mid-19th century, as a 2006 report from Bournemouth Council and Dorset Police shows, Boscombe was going through its glory years, and it was one of the wealthiest areas in Bournemouth, being located close to the sea with a pleasant climate and environment. But today, Boscombe mansions have been turned into small bedsits, and just six miles up the coast from the luxurious Sandbanks; Boscombe is to Bournemouth what Salford is to Manchester, what Hyde Park is to Leeds; a vibrant area home to both young professionals and vulnerable locals, not without its problems and no-go areas. But it’s also an area undergoing social and economic transformation under the Boscombe Regeneration Project. This partnership, consisting of 11 members including Bournemouth Council, Dorset Police and The Drug & Alcohol Team, is currently working on key problems in Boscombe such as housing, crime and environment, and is the most well known initiative attempting to bridge the gap between deprivation and affluence in Bournemouth. “I believe Boscombe is haunted by the idea of its bad reputation”, said Antoine Saadé, a local resident, “but with a little community awareness I think this can be changed.”
Yet sitting in Chaplin’s Wine Bar on Christchurch Road, and with a mannequin of Charlie himself posing outside, the stigmas associated with Boscombe couldn’t feel further from the truth. The bar defines the word edgy, shaking off those stereotypical English drinking characteristics you might find at the local Yates’s or Walkabout. There are no red-faced burly men looking for a fight here, no large groups of lads, and no scantily clad girls; it’s the swinging sixties in here, and the who’s who of Bournemouth gather around tables with glasses of Mai-Tai and Margarita. The clientele are an Urban Outfitted bunch, and they show off their latest barber coats and Ray-Ban glasses. This isn’t the Boscombe you hear about; this could be Camden Town, Islington, Shoreditch, or any other up and coming area in the nation’s capital. “It’s such a cool place” said Georgie Trill, a Chaplin’s regular, “the bar is so individual and quirky”, she added. It’s no wonder, then, why Chaplin’s won the Best Bar None award for 2012, a scheme that aims to promote responsible management and operation of alcohol licenced premises, as the bar is frequented by many.
Further down Christchurch Road there are more positive signs, as a new local business has been opened thanks to the Bournemouth Council Talent Programme. The vintage shop, named Cotton Candy, is colourful and pretty inside, as it sells handmade treasures and vintage designs, ultimately illuminating Boscombe’s new obsession with all things vintage. Officially opening in November last year, it’s part of the Boscombe Regeneration Partnership’s Backing Boscombe campaign, which seeks to improve Boscombe as a place to live, work and visit. With this, new businesses can be helped with a £2,000 grant and move into an empty shop in the Pokesdown area of Boscombe. One of the owners, Cara Lloyd Hopkins, said that “without the Talent programme we would never have been able to realise our aspirations of running our own shop.”
But despite these successful ventures; the shattered glass, boarded up houses and broken bottles of Boscombe don’t tell lies. Recent statistics show that crime is certainly a problem in the area, with figures higher than the nearby suburbs of Bournemouth and Poole, in fact higher than Poole town as a whole. In November 2012 there were at least 580 reported crimes in Boscombe; anti-social behaviour being the highest with 301, and damage and arson coming second with 52. Violent crime stood at 41 reports. The suburb is also recognised as Bournemouth’s most socially deprived, with a drug market described as “thriving and well-developed” by the the 2006 Safer Neighbourhoods Profile. “I avoid a few roads”, admitted Antoine Saadé, “after reading a few police statistics it occurred to me that, on paper, Boscombe is a bit of a jungle of drunks and thieves.”
“It’s all about housing”, explained Lisa Northover, local campaigner and editor of the website Boscalicious, “and things happen because of that.” Due to its cheap accommodation, Boscombe has attracted people such as drug users and those who have recently left prison, which has blighted the area. As a former Council representative for Boscombe West, Lisa knows the suburb through-and-through, and she’s candid when discussing its problems. “Legislation has been poor or not enforced”, she said, and this needs to be “directly dealt with.” Dampness is an issue in many houses, for example, and in a rental property, at 12 St.Clements Road, Lisa said the occupier, who was moving out, was told to paint over mould on their walls to get their deposit back. “Someone else will move in there”, she said, concluding that Bournemouth Council should “crackdown on landlords.”
But the council claim this is something that’s improving. Jane Kelly said that, after many years of work, the regeneration project is beginning to show signs of success. “We’ve gained authorisation to build eleven houses that young people can afford to buy”, she said, adding that there will be less houses in multiple occupancy and more self-contained flats for families. But Lisa Northover argued that new houses won’t make any difference, reminding the Council that “nothing will change” unless the root problem of poor quality housing is resolved.
The Boscombe Regeneration Project sees Boscombe as soon offering positive opportunities for all, having neighbourhoods to be proud of, and inspiring through an artistic buzz. But a progress report also shows that locals have asked for “less scary people hanging around” and “less drug and alcohol abuse”. While the continued efforts of Bournemouth Council and various other organisations show a will to change this, perhaps more is needed to achieve these goals.
Despite concerns though, Boscombe is beginning to offer more to local residents, and Lisa Northover described the area as having a “good sense of community”. The award winning Honeycombe Beach complex that overlooks the sea now sells flats for roughly £1million, in 2010 Boscombe pier was named Pier of the Year by the National Piers Society, and the area welcomed the Stereophonics to an intimate show at the O2 Academy in December 2011. Perhaps this is demonstrating a shift back to its mid-19th century glory days, but more likely the locals are just looking for an improvement to housing and crime problems. “It’s never going to be Mayfair”, laughed Jane Kelly, “but I see a thriving economy, a different mix of residents, arts and culture, and lots of small businesses.” And this sounds about right, because Boscombe wouldn’t feel the same as a flashy Sandbanks, and it’s instead finding its feet as Bournemouth’s cooler suburb, and one that the town may soon be proud of.