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THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY - LIFE ON A DEPRIVED ESTATE; Burning cars, 10-year-old drug mules and a loyal sense of community - life and hope on one of Wales' deprived housing estates. Estel Farell-Roig reports.

SITTING in the shadow of the M4, minutes away from the fume-filled Brynglas tunnels and its slowly slithering snake of traffic is Bettws.

This is one of Newport's most deprived estates, just off the city's busy Malpas Road.

It is a place on the periphery of bustling urban life, yet finds itself tucked away. Its own little world.

At its centre is the square. It is grey.

Tired. A step 20 years back in time.

Some call it the "concrete jungle".

On a Wednesday morning there is plenty of life on the square.

Bodies pop in and out of the Spar, popping to the fish and chip shop for a quick lunch or the Coffee Pot for a hot drink and a natter.

Above the shops are maisonettes where residents live, some of them for generations.

David Taylor grew up here. With an alcoholic father and with drug use taking place around him from a young age, childhood was difficult and sadly typical.

Bettws is one of Wales' poorest areas. The estate divides into six wards, and three of them rank in the top 9% of most deprived areas in the country.

According to the Bettws Community Wellbeing Profile from 2017, the area has significantly higher working-age benefits claimant rates than the Newport average (16.4%), with one of the areas approaching twice the city's average.

Some 40% of residents in the estate have no qualifications.

Some of David's earliest memories are of shoplifting. He also vividly remembers being in crack dens as a child.

Prison has been a constant in his life and David himself has been to jail four times - he was only 16 the first time he was sent to prison after being convicted of GBH with intent.

Then, in 2008, he was sentenced to five years in jail for an armed robbery with possession of an imitation firearm. In total, the 28-year-old has spent five years inside prison.

"By the time I was 13 I had started taking pills and amphetamines," the Ribble Square resident says.

"I would take any drugs I could get hold of and be up for days.

"We were robbing cars, robbing people, robbing drug dealers.

"I am lucky to be here.

"The main thing in my teenage years was shoplifting and theft. To other people it is crazy but to me it was what I knew. It was normal."

The dad of three was released from prison in 2014. To him, Bettws wasn't a bad place to grow up.

Anti-social behaviour was a problem, especially around the shopping centre, he said.

But despite its problems, like many similarly troubled areas, there is a loyal sense of community.

Everyone you speak to - residents and business owners - say they wouldn't want to be elsewhere.

When you walk around, most people know each other by name.

A few months ago an old lady was robbed of her handbag and PS100 was taken from her.

Within a week the community had pooled together - she was handed a few hundred pounds and a bouquet of flowers by her neighbours.

"I would not want to live anywhere else," says David, who has lived on the estate since he was five.

"Bettws has got its problems and it is a s**thole, but it is my s**thole.

"There were more opportunities when I was younger.

"Bettws is a very mixed area. There are lots of people struggling with their benefits though. There needs to be more in the estate. They should be investing in the young people as they are our futures."

Young people are at the heart of most conversations about the estate, in good and bad ways.

In January, Newport City Council revealed it was spending more than PS6,000 a year repairing smashed windows at Bettws library.

In one notorious incident a police car was set on fire on the estate.

The number of offences per 1,000 population in Bettws has remained relatively constant, with the rate of 66.6 recorded in 2015-16.

That's lower than Newport as a whole, which has seen an increase in its crime rate from 77.34 to 86.37 for the same period.

Ray Moyse and his wife Kate, 75, have lived in Bettws for more than 50 years, and have recently been affected by crime.

Ray, of Monnow Way, said they had never had any trouble until a month ago, when their car was set on fire while parked in the garden.

A few days before it was burnt to a crisp, they found the same vehicle covered in petrol.

"We do not know why it has happened - it is quite scary," he said. "It has really affected my life as I need the car to get to places.

"I was the family chauffeur and now I cannot get another car until I know why this has happened.

"We do not know if the person was satisfied with this or whether there is going to be another step."

Since the arson, they have put cameras up and have fitted an outside light. Fire services installed a safety letter box as well.

Ray said Bettws had always been a lovely environment with a strong community. He particularly enjoys barbecues with neighbours.

"This meant we were very surprised when that happened," he continued. "It came as a shock."

Someone very invested in the estate is Councillor Janet Cleverly, who moved to moved to Bettws as a young mum in 1973, becoming involved in youth clubs in the area soon after that.

Speaking from the Civil Service Sports Club in Shannon Close, on the fringes of the estate, the councillor says drugs are a big problem, particularly in the sports club car park.

A few young people have recently been arrested on the estate for selling heroin and crack.

"Drugs around here are astronomical," she continued. "'County Lines' [drug gangs infiltrating areas from major cities elsewhere] is a big problem in the estate, with them [drug dealers] targeting youngsters to sell drugs for them. They are targeting youngsters as young as 10.

"I think the biggest problem is there is nothing for young people to do here."

A volunteer at the local food bank, the councillor said Universal Credit was having a big impact because of the five-week wait until the first payment comes through.

Bettws has seen a decrease in population since 2001, from 8,278 to 7,631, but the estate is attracting new residents.

After all, the area has excellent access to the M4 and an average house price lower than the Welsh average (around PS130,000 according to Zoopla).

Sarah Hewer, 42, moved from Bristol to Bettws a year ago as they wanted to get on the property ladder.

"We looked at a few houses across Newport, but liked this house and how big it was. We have not had any problems and my boy has settled well into the school."

Opposite to Sarah, Betty Pritchard has been working at the Watkin-Davies pharmacy in the shopping centre for 53 years.

Originally a prefabricated shop at the top of the estate, the business then moved down to the shopping centre in 1972.

"I live in Bassaleg but I feel part of the Bettws community," Betty added. "I have met five generations of some families.

"We get to know people here - it is a very family orientated pharmacy. I love working in Bettws. "We try to look after our customers as much as we can and do not have any problems."

She said there used to be an issue with teenagers hanging around and playing football in the shopping centre late in the evening, but that stopped when they closed the gates at 6pm.

"Years ago, Bettws had a bad name because people were running wild, but you see changes and I think it has got better," she said.

Other estates in the city such as Pill or Ringland have had a significant amount of money invested in them as part of regeneration projects.

Councillor Kevin Whitehead is hoping Bettws will be the next area to receive investment. He has represented the ward since 2012 and has lived in Bettws for more than 30 years. While he doesn't believe Bettws is worse than other areas, he thinks the ageing infrastructure is an issue.

"We have never had any regeneration or investment," he said. "The shopping centre is a concrete jungle. I am hoping we will be the next ones on regeneration."

Cllr Whitehead says residents have taken responsibility for the area. Monthly litter picks are among the community driven initiatives.

"I love the estate with all my heart," he said.

Margaret and Ken Hendy were among the first residents to move to Bettws. This August will mark 58 years since they moved here.

Margaret, 82, said: "We moved here when my eldest was two in 1961. It has been a good place to live. Our three children loved growing up here.

"There are bad patches, but you get that everywhere."

Life in Bettws isn't always plain sailing but the people here do have ambition.

David would love to open a gym and a studio, a place for the young people to go.

David - who busks three times a week and relies on Universal Credit to cover his rent - aims to be an example for young people.

His artistic name is "Misfit" and he raps about all sorts, from life experiences to issues our society faces. A running theme throughout his songs is positivity and he avoids swear words.

"My criminal history is there, in black and white," he continued. "I have had to make all those mistakes but I want to show that people can change."


The Bettws estate in Newport and residents, below from left, David Taylor, Margaret and Ken Hendy, Ray and Kate Moyse, and Betty Pritchard PICTURES: JONATHAN MYERS
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 30, 2019
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