Inside one of UK’s most deprived towns ‘taken over by drug dealers’

News

Locals in this Welsh town say they witness drug deals and anti-social behaviour on a daily basis after it became one of the most deprived areas in the country.

Tyisha in Llanelli was once a close-knit hub with many family-run businesses and a place where it residents often lived for most of their lives.

But not many now remember this image of Tyisha which began its downward spiral over 20 years ago, reports Wales Online.

The area – which was once a familiar old friend – has become a stranger to the former members of its community.

Many locals say it is currently in the worst state it has ever been in as it became plagued by drug use, anti-social behaviour, rubbish and alcohol abuse.

In 2019, Tyisha 2 – the area surrounding Murray Street’s Asda, was listed as the most deprived area in Carmarthenshire by the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation and the 17th most deprived area in Wales out of 1,909 wards.

The area was ranked as the most deprived Carmarthenshire ward in terms of income, employment, health, education and community safety.

But these statistics come as no surprise to residents who said the area’s steady decline was widely acknowledged but far from accepted.

The community has been fighting for improvements for the area for decades and with a multi-million-pound regeneration project, announced in 2019, set to be delivered, there is some hope for residents who are itching for change, but some also believe much more is needed.

Vanessa Marsh has lived in Tyisha her whole life and remembers the community as it once was.

“It’s totally different now, we’ve seen huge changes here – not all good. We’ve lost our community and what made it special, everyone used to know everyone but most of our old friends have sold up and moved because of the trouble here,” said 73-year-old Vanessa.

She said the area hosted a number of different problems that stemmed from one common denominator – drugs.

“We’ve seen it all – used needles, drug dealing outside the house in broad daylight, men urinating and using the cemetery as a toilet. We had to stop children playing in the cemetery the other day because there were used needles all over the floor,” she added.

So blatant is the drug dealing in the area that Vanessa went on to list around seven exact properties where drug dealing was believed to take place.

Her husband Allan Marsh, 78, who has also lived in Tyisha for his entire life, added: “It’s got to the point now that schoolchildren are walking to school completely numb to seeing people off their faces on drugs or urinating on the streets, they are used to it which is terrifying.”

The married couple, who met in Tyisha, said they had been tempted to follow suit and, like their old friends, move from the area.

“We have discussed moving but I think why should we? This is our home and I am so passionate about making it better, some people have lost heart but I want it to be better for our youngsters,” added Vanessa who chairs the Safer Communities Action Group in the area.

The group is community-led and deals with the main issues in the area and holds discussions on how to combat them.

“The main issue that residents always want to talk about is community safety – they don’t feel safe in their homes,” added Vanessa.

In only June, 2020, 102 crimes were committed in Tyisha and the area had the highest crime rate in the Llanelli Town area.

The majority of crimes were categorised under violence, anti-social behaviour, theft and drug-related offences.

It has not been confirmed what exact plans are set for the area but a boulevard from Llanelli train station to the town centre has been discussed with the community.

Links between the area and the £200m Delta Lakes development near Llanelli beach front have also been discussed.

But Vanessa is not convinced.

“You can put all the plants, trees and all the boulevards you like but until you fix the drug problem – it’ll just be like putting a plaster over a gaping wound.

“Until they deal with the drugs and the root of the issue, any sort of other investment is going to be a waste of money, they will be throwing money away,” agreed Allan.

Another common factor residents say has blighted the community is that the around half of the housing in the area is owned by the local authority, social landlords and private landlords.

Many residents refer to the area as a ‘dumping ground’ for people with substance abuse issues and say housing in the area as well as drug availability has been attracting ex-criminals and drugs users there.

Sharon Wheeler, 43, who has been living in the area for 10 years, and also works there said: “I think the area’s used as a place to put undesirables because they know that the residents will put up with it.”

“Not all, but a lot of landlords in the area don’t know what their residents get up to and don’t care – they just care about the money in their pockets.

“People are fighting a losing battle so don’t always kick up a fuss but speaking to so many of the drug abusers they’re not even from the area – loads of them are coming here from England, why are they all being dumped here? They are never going to better their lives in the drug capital of Wales.”

“The investment needs to go towards vetting the people who are coming here in the first place and having more police officers around.”

It’s a sentiment that is shared by resident of 50 years and former councillor Jeff Owen who campaigned for the investment coming to the area.

“You only have to have a conversation with some of these people to know that they are not from the area, they have been living in Llanelli for a couple of years but they are not Llanelli people, so they don’t care about making the community better,” said Jeff.

“Private landlords are buying the houses cheap and doing them out to be HMOs and attracting the wrong type of demographic, no families want to live here because of the problems in the area so it becomes a vicious cycle,” added the former Llanelli councillor.

Over a quarter of housing in the area is socially rented, in low demand and difficult to let and in 2011, 22.4% of the properties were owned by private landlords.

In the centre of Tyisha ward stands the buildings known as the ‘Five Ty’s’ made up of flats that now mostly remain empty. The council has been in talks with those tenants who are at ‘Clos Sant Paul’ and the ‘Five Ty’s’ about their housing needs and residents have said there are hopes they will be demolished as part of the plans.

In their stead, Jeff said that good quality homes that would attract families, rather than transient residents, were necessary to improve the area, and would in turn combat anti-social behaviour and drug use.

Llanelli town councillor and deputy town mayor Terry Davies agreed with a more selective process about who was coming into the area.

Councillor Davies has lived in Tyisha for 55 years and said people from all around Wales and England had been dumped there.

“There are some good landlords but many don’t look after their properties and don’t know the people who are living in them – they (the tenants) are disruptive and intimidate the elderly and there is no robust tenancy agreement for them.

“There is a lot of good work being done but there needs to be a more selective housing policy given all the problems the area already has – it is not fair to dump them on the residents here if they have been evicted from other places.”

After having lived in the area for over 50 years, the town councillor said he had seen a complete overhaul of the ward and said most people who he once knew had moved from the area, including his own daughter.

“She was sick of seeing needles dropped everywhere and then after there was a murder near her in Graig Avenue she thought enough is enough and moved away because she didn’t feel safe with her children living there.”

Many others have been unable to leave their homes due a drop in their house prices because of high crime rates and expensive house insurance. Residents would be left out of pocket and are essentially trapped in the area.

Mr Davies added: “With the money I would like to see a new method of thinking and a rethink on who we put in houses in the area, there is a big mountain to climb but this money is a start.”

But for some residents it’s not only who they are putting into the housing but who the houses are managed by.

“I want to see a diverse community and somewhere that housing associations and landlords aren’t just out to fill their pockets – it starts with who is managing these houses then what kind of people are being brought into the area – everything comes from that,” said resident Vanessa Marsh.

Perhaps the most notorious hub of drug use and violence in the area comes from Tyisha’s epicentre – Station Road.

Residents on the road and business owners all welcome more investment to the area but are sceptical about plans for the road to be turned into a boulevard until the drug misuse is uprooted.

One of Station Road’s most prominent fixtures is 58-year-old Mustafa Hakman who has run the Willow Cafe for nearly 14 years.

“There is no point for all the investment and nice things until you get rid of the druggies because they will just wreck it anyway and it is a waste of taxpayers money.”

“No matter how nice they do it up, who is going to want to come here when you look outside and someone is on the floor and has needles in their arms,” added the business owner.

“It is constant – they are dumped here, there’s always talk about more investment and nice things but it is pointless until all the money is spent on getting rid of drug addicts,” said Mustafa who also lives in the area.

Dyfed-Powys Police has secured more funding for the area from the Home Office’s Safer Streets Fund in order make the community safer.

Just under £200,000 is earmarked for Tyisha and neighbouring ward Glanymor in a bid to cut crime in the area.

Police Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys, Dafydd Llywelyn, said: “Ensuring the security and safety of residents is a priority of mine – everyone deserves to live safely, and free from harm. Acquisitive offences are the crimes that the public are most likely to encounter, and they are estimated to cost society billions of pounds every year.

“I have invested significantly in the area over recent years with community grants in addition to the new CCTV system that is in place across the town. This new additional funding will further build upon my work over recent years and I hope the residents will feel a positive difference in their communities,” added the commissioner of the grant.

With more funding and investment targeted for the Tyisha area it is evident that the problems there are common knowledge. But after a stream of failed attempts and its steady decline over the years, the sense of scepticism is palpable.

But there is still heart in the community and whether the new cash injection will be able to bring back its glory days or not, residents agree that at least its a start.