Labour campaigners braved the drizzle this afternoon outside Wincheap Primary School, to raise support for an issue close to locals’ hearts. In July 2017, Wincheap Park received a long-overdue re-vamp, transforming it into a venue that has become very popular with children and parents alike. Walk past it on a sunny day after school closing time and the numbers speak for themselves. Until, that is, a child requires a trip to the toilet. The former toilet block on the site served the main road for a number of years, until recent problems with drug use closed it permanently, resulting in the sale of the site. Currently, children either opt to return home, which is sometimes a considerable walk, or to go behind the bushes. Labour’s campaign, to encourage the Council to “spend a penny” was well-received by parents at the school gates, who recognise the need for the toilets’ return.
Campaign leader Paul Todd understands the difficulties facing parents due to the lack of facilities. “Being a father of four children,” said Mr Todd, “all of whom attended Wincheap Primary and made good use of the park over the years, the closure of the toilets means that this wonderful resource is being under-utilised. I’m passionate about putting it back on the Council’s agenda.”
While the site is currently in private hands, the building stands vacant, unkempt and over-grown. If the existing toilets could not be returned to Council ownership, space exists for an alternative block, or even a single toilet, within the park boundaries, subject to its opening hours. Unmanned toilets have been a success at Toddlers’ Cove and in the Dane John Gardens, where ultraviolet lights have addressed the issue of drug use. While the Council may consider Wincheap’s park to be on a smaller scale, of interest only to locals, the issue is a matter of quite some importance for parents, and the nature of the busy A28 means the park also attracts passers-by. Labour campaigners will be submitting their arguments, and the petition, to the Council in the coming weeks
John Healey, the Labour Party’s Shadow Housing Minister, visited Catching Lives yesterday to find out more about the rising cost of homelessness in Canterbury. Rough sleeping in Canterbury has more than doubled since 2010 and now has the second highest problem in the South East, beaten only by Brighton. Staff and service users from Catching Lives talked with John about how hard it was to live on the streets and indicated that they expect the official figure for people sleeping rough to rise again in January when the new statistics are published.
When asked whether Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to “end homelessness” was practical, John responded “it is, because we know what works!”. Between 1997 and 2007 the Labour government reduced the number of people on the streets by over three quarters and made the pledge to end homelessness in 2011 when in government. Since then the Conservative government has seen rough sleeping rise year-on-year and cut benefits to young people under 21 which is thought by many to be directly responsible for rises in youth homelessness.
John talked with people about Labour’s radical plan for housing which includes building up to “100,000 new council houses a year” and legally ensuring private landlords provide “decent homes” for their tenants. The Labour Party also back the immediate roll out of a scheme pioneered in London which would see 4,000 housing association properties nationwide made available to people with a history of problematic rough sleeping. His message was clear, “this policy could have an immediate impact on the number of rough sleepers in hotspots like Canterbury”.
Rosie Duffield, MP for Canterbury, spoke to a number of clients about the problem of youth homelessness before calling on the government to repeal the cuts to housing benefit for those under the age of 21. With the rain pelting down outside, John cancelled his planned street stall on the High Street and instead spent time answering questions on housing with local activists.
The Labour Party is planning to highlight this issue further with a street stall this weekend. The stall will specifically look at the problem of young families in temporary accommodation. Since 2010 the number of families in temporary accommodation has more than trebled. Figures from Shelter released this week suggest that almost 2,000 children across Kent will find themselves homeless this Christmas.