Investment and police presence cited as the saviour for Armley Town Street
Residents and community leaders are staging a fightback against street-drinking and anti-social behaviour in Armley.
It is one of the most deprived wards in the city of Leeds, if not the country.
It stands in the shadows of HMP Leeds and more often than not will evoke a negative quip in conversation.
For years Armley has seen its fortunes fall from what has been a fairly rich past. With mills and factories, and its proximity to the city's waterways, it flourished during the industrial revolution.
A workforce and a community followed and was literally built around that in the form of back to back terraces.
But when that industry declined, little was there to replace it and it left a trail of unemployment, debt, swathes of social inequality and depression in its wake.
Like the loss of the mining industry across the county, it has taken years to recover from and there is plenty still to do - especially following the coronavirus lockdown which has only served to exacerbate the issues.
In this mini series, the Yorkshire Evening post shines a spotlight on the district which sits little more than a mile away from a booming Leeds city centre.
Coun Alice Smart was elected as a Labour councillor for the Armley ward in 2014 "to make a difference" and has made Town Street one of her priorities.
She said: "Armley is one of the most deprived wards in Leeds - low incomes, universal credit, out of work. It does show, in some cases, that can be linked with alcohol and drug use and those sorts of things.
"In facebook groups it comes up and constituents remember when they were young and have seen it get worse. That is a national trend, people shop online or go to the city centre more but I think there are some serious issues."
There had also been reports of rough sleeping and begging, mainly around Tesco and Wilko's, which is being attributed to the displacement of rough sleepers from the city centre to outlying areas.
While the numbers are not particularly high, it has not gone unnoticed.
Ariar Alil has worked at the family business Fresh Fruit for the last couple of years and says no-one seems to be able to do anything about it and when the police are called it can take an hour for a response.
He said: "It is too much drink. Persons on the street drinking and smoking and nobody can do anything about it. It is a headache for businesses and customers, they are not happy about it and complain. I don't know what has happened. It was before lockdown, now it is more. The street is money, why not look after people?
"It can be around 10-15 people and at 8am/9am. The shop is 24 hours (selling alcohol). It is too much of a head-ache and some are closing down."
The high street does have a high quota of charity shops and the manager of one, says sometimes people can't even afford those.
Kerry Sands runs Personal Bridge charity shop. She said: "I would say Armley is on the poverty line. I don't think it is somewhere that people have a lot of money to spend. When universal credit rolled out our sales dropped quite a lot. We don't sell at high prices but did find that sales dropped quite a lot because of that.
"People are on benefits a lot in Armley and it is an area where people are put that are on benefits and that is quite sad. People know each other and they are friendly. You might get the odd person and a fight but everybody works together to help each other out. It is a community that works together."
And it is that community, says Coun Smart, that will pick Armley up.
Over recent years there has been the development of various sub groups from blooms to business and she says the area is a hub for local people and has "so much potential". They mainly come under the umbrella of the Armley Action Team
She said: "Over the last few years we have been focusing on positive things we can do with residents. The Armley Festival started in 2015 and has been every year apart from this one but we have other events like the Armley lights switch on.
"We have quite a few local groups Armley in Bloom, Action Team, Friends of Armley Park. With lockdown, some of that positive stuff people have forgotten about because things have been cancelled and people are not getting together to meet physically, but there are people with great ideas and enthusiasm to generate positivity.
"Over the last few years there have been a lot more groups active and community interests going on."
Moving forward, she added, it is extra policing and investment in the street scene that are key to changing perceptions, and in turn, the fortunes of Armley.
Coun Smart explained: "It is investment in the area. People want to see more police in the area, a stronger police presence and willingness to tackle these issues. We need to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour first to make sure that everybody feels safe to come to Armley Town Street.
"Businesses are moving out and we want them to be reassured that is being addressed, but having a visible presence, that is a deterrent. It is what we need and whether that is further investment or funding so be it.
"Also, I think anything to improve the general appearance (will help). We have teams that go and clean in that area but the look of shop fronts and street scene - people want to see a bit of investment and so then people might take a bit more pride in it."
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