By day Bridgwater’s 19th century bridge is a bustling crossing between the east and west parts of the town centre but as night falls it can become a focal point for noisy drinkers sometimes until the early hours of the morning. Not only this but residents tell of boy racers skidding across it and hurtling around the chicanes created by the medieval one way system that is 21st century Bridgwater.
Sleepless nights plagued by unsilenced motors and unsilenceable drunks was one reason that town centre resident Steve Coram joined last nights ‘Night Time Safety’ Audit – set up by Kristy Blackwell Sedgemoor’s Community Safety officer. Steve said “I’ve never known it as bad as this and I’d like to see exactly what the Police are going to do about it.”
So the plan was for residents, councillors and the people there to deal with this kind of thing, to take a walk about during a Friday evening to assess the scale of the problem.
Victims of the Night Time economy
Kristy was joined from Sedgemoor by hard working Community Development officer Rob Semple, Police Inspector Andy Pritchard and town centre beat manager Chris Walls, a group of Firefighters, Westover councillors Kath Pearce and Brian Smedley, several other concerned residents including Rafal and Gosha from the Polish community, and night time frontline operative ‘Terry’ who, as a ‘street pastor’ is sometimes up all night dealing with the victims of the night-time economy.
The purpose of the audit was to identify areas of the town where people didn’t feel safe, where there was a lack of adequate lighting, where intimidating groups might accumulate and to highlight other potentially contributing factors. The work will of course be ongoing – and we welcome suggestions.
Enforcing the Bye-Laws
So we headed off to the Town Bridge. Salmon Parade was already alive with a group content on drinking itself daft with cans purchased singly from the towns off licences. Into the river went the alcohol as the Police approached them pointing out that bye-laws prevented drinking on specified streets. An hour later members of the same group were nevertheless in a nearby off-licence replenishing lost stocks. Well, beer IS very moorish….
Into Blake Gardens we went. Scene of considerable attention by the Police in recent weeks following complaints by other park users, the problem was pretty similar. Groups of people drinking alcohol purchased legally but drunk in contravention of bye-laws. Alcohol could be removed. However, intimidating groups of drunks aren’t the most welcoming company when you’re out for a stroll in the park. But they can’t be removed unless they’re doing something wrong. The group move through the underpass to the part of the park behind old Taunton Road, but the Police follow them and point out that it’s still the same park and the same bye-laws apply.
The underpass , as night falls, ceases to be a sensible shortcut into the town centre. The graffiti reads “Hell is empty and all the demons are here”. Profound and possibly true.
Eastover and Out
The route from the town bridge to the railway station is being targeted for a wash and brush up as part of the ‘Celebration mile’. Well, it needs it. For sure. The new hotel planned for the Eastover/Monmouth street junction will be a welcome boost for the area, but until then it remains dilapidated and uninviting. Empty shops, hardly any litter bins and once you’re across into St John street, the shops become largely a line of late night takeaways. By the time you reach the station you feel you’re at the back end of the universe – until you remember that this is in fact the area that people arriving by train first see of Bridgwater. Desolated, overgrown wastegrounds greet arriving travellers and then it’s undertakers, pubs and takeaways almost until you’re back to the virtual safety of the town bridge. And of course a reception committee of an obligatory gang of shouty youngsters. Presumably train spotters.
Across the river from the newly tarted up West Quay pedestrian zone with it’s atmospheric lighting and al fresco dining , the town is again let down by the derelict monstrosity of the former doctors surgery, now a land grab by Asda as part of a sweetener deal with SDC, simply left to rot. Another focus for disgruntled youth in a town that doesn’t give them many other choices.
Back across the town bridge and the gang of early drinkers have topped their cheap booze energy levels back up again and have resumed whatever they were doing before that required ‘being a bit shouty’ and merited the risk of having their amber nectar poured into the amber(ish) Parrett. A risk worth taking? Maybe not if shops stopped selling booze bottle by bottle.
Top of the Town
Through the Fore street…still relatively empty, but, well, there was a World Cup on and presumably a lot of Columbian fans around having a quiet curacao at home. So we wandered up to the High street. Newcomer to the town , Moira , had joined the nightwalk because she’d witnessed a savage fight outside the ‘Three Lions’ (former White Lion) “with blood and everything” and couldn’t believe this was normal for the town she’d just moved to. To top it off it’d been 3 o clock in the afternoon. By now it was mid evening and the pubs were still filling up. But quiet.
Street Pastor Terry confirmed that 99% of late night trouble was concentrated in the High street/ Penel Orlieu area. The ‘top of the town’ included late bars and a Night club plus a couple of takeaways. Bridgwater isn’t a big town and so it’s no surprise that drinkers follow well trodden paths to their weekend fun centres. However, it was at this point of the evening that the safety audit suddenly came to a halt. I couldn’t help thinking it was a bit like having a walk around somewhere, saying ‘well everything seems fine to me’ going home and then ten minutes later the Daleks invade.
So the plan is to do it again sometime…………