St Austell has found itself thrust into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons this week after public dissatisfaction spilled over concerns about rising drug issues in the town.
With photographs and videos being posted on social media showing people taking and dealing drugs there was a real sense of “enough is enough”.
A petition launched by one St Austell resident, Jodie Richards, has gathered thousands of signatures in just a few days.
The 27-year-old, who grew up in the town, said she wanted to get Cornwall Council, the police, MP Steve Double and all other agencies to work together to make the town safer and to help those who needed support.
This was not a knee-jerk reaction to try to shift the problem somewhere else or to apportion blame, but a real attempt to urge people who could make a difference to listen.
Since then there has been a concerted effort to increase police support in the town, more patrols and a six-week plan has been drawn up by the Safer Cornwall Partnership to tackle the problems.
There have also been clear statements made by everyone to show that, while the issue has been highlighted in recent days, it is not a new problem and not one that is unique to St Austell.
Rob Nolan, Cornwall Cabinet member for public protection, said: “This is a national problem, it is not a St Austell problem or a Cornwall problem, it is national.
“Several Cornish towns, if they saw what has been written about St Austell, they would say, ‘it is happening here too’.
“We are working hard on it with the police and the police and crime commissioner and agencies, but we are stretched.”
Kim Hager, the council’s joint commissioning manager, has been clear that there has been a lot of work going on in St Austell and that it will continue.
And she said that in terms of the treatment and support given to people in St Austell it has been working better in the town than elsewhere.
“There is a higher rate of engagement and treatment for people in that area. There are also a number of factors that impact the town.
“Dependent drug use is a chronic reactive condition. While I can say that a person has engaged in treatment you can’t say they have been magically cured.
“However the services in the area are in the top quartile in the country. That doesn’t mean there is no improvement needed, we always need to improve.”
Asked whether the council has enough resources she said: “It is never enough but we work really hard to make the best use of our resources.
“And we are working together to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach to help.”
One of the partners in that approach is Harbour Housing which operates a number of facilities in St Austell which provide housing as well as drug and alcohol treatment services for those in need.
It has eight properties in St Austell and the surrounding area housing 80 people who have various levels of complex needs.
Harbour Housing was absolutely clear that it did not want to see the kind of antisocial behaviour which had been reported in the town this week.
In a statement it said: “We absolutely condemn any antisocial behaviour that puts members of the public at risk.
“There is a strong commitment from all of the agencies we work with across Safer St Austell to keep the town safe.
“As a partnership we strongly believe that everybody has a role to play in tackling this issue and this is evident in all the hard work being put in, with the Shop Watch Radio Scheme demonstrating the success of multi-agency working to optimise communications and the reporting of incidents.
“We Are With You, who manage the outreach contract and drug and alcohol services in the town, work tirelessly with the cohort of individuals who are currently rough sleeping to support them into treatment options.
“Harbour Housing is proud to work in partnership with the town council, Cornwall Council, We Are With You, Cornwall Housing, the police, White River, St Austell Business Improvement District (BID) and other agencies to support those affected by homelessness in the town.
“Unfortunately there are some individuals who are not ready for accommodation and do not wish to engage with services at present, and this has become more prevalent in recent months.
“We will continue to support the council, the BID and the police who are working tirelessly to improve our town and ensure that people feel safe in their communities.
“Those within our service are supported to address their issues relating to homelessness in a safe and supportive environment and work proactively towards a move-on to independence.
“A condition of our accommodation is that our residents engage fully with our service, attending regular key work sessions and drop-ins by relevant partner agencies as well as participating in our activities and volunteering programme.”
Devon and Cornwall Police has also made clear that it is working with all the other partners to help keep the town safe.
Superintendent of local policing in east Cornwall, Sharon Donald, said: “Over the past few weeks, St Austell has seen a rise in the number of reports of antisocial behaviour and drink and drug related disorder which has caused concern amongst residents within local communities and business owners.
“This has included reports of groups congregating and fighting, assaults, public drug use, shoplifting and people defecating in public places. Needless to say, this type of behaviour is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
“As a result of this rise in incidents, we have increased our high visibility police presence within the town. Our Prevent and Detect team and local officers are out across the area speaking to people and engaging with the public in order to take proactive action and prevent further disorder. From 1 August we will also be introducing a dedicated neighbourhood officer to the town centre.
“Whilst engaging and encouraging remains our main aim, those who are involved in antisocial behaviour and public disorder will be robustly dealt with, and we will seek out those who have committed offences and take positive action.
“We are also working closely with our partner agencies including the Safer Cornwall Partnership, local councillors and St Austell BID to respond to these issues and develop longer term preventions and solutions.”
The statements which have been made by the council, police and Harbour Housing are all the details that many in St Austell have wanted to hear.
There has been a frustration about the lack of information which has been provided to the public about what is happening.
Pauline Giles, Cornwall councillor for nearby St Blazey, said there was a need for the council to share more information with the public.
She was speaking at a meeting of the council’s neighbourhoods overview and scrutiny committee yesterday when she asked for details about what the council was doing to help St Austell.
After hearing about the six-week plan being drawn up by Safer Cornwall she said that there should be more publicity.
“There is a lot of things going on to help, but they are not being communicated in any shape or form.
“They (local residents) think it is not being addressed and I think that is sad.”
It is something that Jodie Richards, who started the petition, also had strong views on.
She called on all those involved to be more open and also wanted to see people stop passing the buck.
But she also wanted to see more being done to help those people who have fallen prey to drug addiction or find themselves homeless.
“One of the things that prompted me (to start the petition) was people saying ‘go tip a boiling kettle over them’ or ‘I am going to kick them’.
“That isn’t going to help. These people need support and we want to know that they are getting the help they need but also that the general public are safe.”
Ms Hager said that there was another thing to remember about those who work with the agencies which are trying to improve the situation – they live here too.
“Our towns matter to us. We don’t want to see this behaviour and these problems as much as anyone else.
“We want to protect our own children as well and we want to make our towns safer.”