Wednesday, 10 September 2008

This town...

I want to start with the positive and the wonderful. This town is great, its fun, welcoming and wonderfully quirky. All the students we've had staying with us have had a lovely time in Hastings. They've explored the beach, the town, the Smugglers Caves and the shopping. I've struggled to explain request stops on buses so have suggested the students ask the drivers who are always helpful, or any older ladies they see. Both the bus drivers and older ladies have been great and have helped them no end. One of our longer staying Italian students said she adored how friendly people were, and how much she wished her home town was so nice. One couple of girls even got a lift home from a 'Mrs' who helped them when they were lost. Of course not advisable to get in strangers cars but thank you so much to the lady who helped them!

It has been a tough couple of weeks for Hastings, Mohammed, who was a student staying here for the summer has died following a racist attack. The police are still investigating exactly how he died, whether he fell on the pavement or was punched. The three young men originally arrested have now been released on bail, and his family have visited the town.

Hastings hit the headlines across the country, and particularly the tabloids for being, well a racist and bad town. Locals are sad about both the incident and the news reporting, and we're all talking about it.

I've been quite overwhelmed by my own feelings about the death of Mohammed, both sickened at the attack and desperately saddened by a town which could allow it at the same time. We've been hosting foreign students all summer, from across the world and from varying countries and ages. We've heard about a number of low level incidents of harassment against students this year; local teenagers shouting at them on the beach; being continually asked for cigarettes, and a German couple being punched in the park at five in the afternoon. All really worrying, and more worrying that although the police were notified of at least the latter as far as I know there hasn't been a strategy to manage these incidents, or even a way to report them.

I'm reminded by the student and gay bashings that took place in Plymouth whilst I was a student there, lots of low level incidents such as bus drivers speeding up to pretend to run over the students whilst they crossed the road outside the Uni, to verbal harassment outside the gay club. Finally there was a more serious assault, which shocked the town. The police and local voluntary sector organisations/clubs then worked together to have a zero harassment policy.

This meant arrests for some of the (local) teenagers involved, and also education for the communities. For us students, it meant being careful, which of course you could argue we should not have to be, but on a pragmatic note better walking home in a group than in hospital, or spending the £2.50 on a cab. The gay community also made some changes, such as keeping watch outside the club, and calling police to disperse/arrest any problematic people. Again, should not have to happen, but thank goodness they did.

So what can we do in Hastings to make our town a better and safer place? There has got to be a strategy; dramatic improvements in education for younger people (all in hand so I understand if that is possible), improvements for career opportunities for our younger people, a zero tolerance policy to harassment, more for foreign students and local young people to do in the evenings, as host families we need to make sure our students are safe, home at reasonable hours and not wandering the streets. Of course Mohammed was safe inside the kebab shop/disco until this incident occured, not wandering about, but he was 16 years old and out at midnight. I'm not sure how many of us are comfortable with that.

Finally, there is poverty, which takes us back to life chances and career opportunities. This town is on the up, and we need to make sure we all take it there. We need to support local enterprise, and better rail links so people can travel to work easily. We need to work together, with support and money for all the neighbourhoods to they are happy and safe places.

And finally, the vast vast majority of Hastings residents need to stand up and say we're alright, we don't support violence and we will not tolerate it. We welcome visitors with open arms from all parts of the world and will continue to do so.


depesando said...

I have lived all over the UK - Liverpool, London ( central and suburban ) Brighton and Toulouse in France, and Hastings is by far the best - compared to Liverpool (and I lived in a nice area) it's a paradise.

There is a house half way up Old London Road with a 'Lets Talk Up Hastings' sticker in the window - it's pretty old and faded, but it's what I always do - everyone I know is sick of me telling them how great Hastings is, I love it here! (and so do the dogs)

Anonymous said...

Most people I know in hastings do stand up and fight for the town, sadly though the politicians are only interested in their own advantages, the local and national media on selling papers so overdo things and the language schools in money. when you combine these things you get over the top reactions and not a lot sorted out long term.

This town has its quirks, I've been all over the world but always end up back here. What we really need now is a council who care for the town, a MP who supports his town and isn't frightened to shout loud and a newspper editor to repot on the good things of hastings, not just the wrong and petty.

helen said...

Ive had friends visit me since i lived in St Leonards and all have suspected it to be awful... before they get here. But on arrival and after a couple of days, all without exception have been seduced by this lovely town and are soon asking about the price of property etc. Especially comared to Brighton (wher most of my firends live).