City park dubbed a focal point for drug taking, sex workers and anti-social behaviour
- Credit: Rosary Road resident
Empty bottles of alcohol, needles and used condoms are not the items you would want to find in what should be a city beauty spot.
But that is what the residents who live in the Rosary Road area of Norwich find when they use Old Library Woods, which they say is the focal point for anti-social behaviour, drug deals and sex work.
Thick undergrowth provides cover for criminals and the five exits and alleyways nearby make for a quick getaway should the police arrive.
Walls and fences are targeted for graffiti, and people say they are scared to walk through the area at night.
Angela Carr has lived nearby for six years, and thinks it is time something is done.
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She was joined by Sgt Mark Shepherd, Norfolk Police's new community sergeant for Norwich East Safer Neighbourhood Team, PCSO Graham Aldridge, part of the local policing team for Norwich East, and Green Party councillor Lesley Grahame to discuss the issues yesterday.
It follows a public meeting on Wednesday night where more than 30 residents aired their views about drug dealing and sex work in the area, which they said was at an 'all time high'.
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One resident said: 'I get so fed up. I've had people come at me with a baseball bat, had two men come at me with iron bars.'
Another added said his 14-year-old son had seen people having sex outside his bedroom window.
And these were just two of the anecdotes told, as everyone had a personal experience to tell.
There were four main issued raised, which seemed to be interlinked - sex workers in the area, drug dealers, the park being unkempt and the number of vulnerable people housed in the area.
'We have more than our fair share,' Mrs Carr said.
And after taking a tour of the area yesterday, Sgt Shepherd said he would now be looking at different ways of tackling the issues.
'We've already arrested three people for kerb crawling in the last three months, we're stepping up patrols in the area and we're getting funding for mobile automatic number plate recognition cameras for problem streets,' he said.
He was also keen to visit other areas, such as Ipswich, to see how known red light districts were managed there.
But he encouraged residents to keep telling police when they saw seedy behaviour, as that would mean he could build up a picture of the problem.
The police response
Speaking at the end of October to mark 10 years since five sex workers were murdered in Ipswich, Temporary Superintendent Lynne Cross, from Norfolk police, said: 'Norfolk's current force strategy in relation to sex workers is entirely underpinned with the focus around the vulnerabilities of those involved and safeguarding them.
'We have developed and created effective partnerships with a local organisation and local charity that both support sex workers.
'This multi-agency approach assists us in protecting the individuals involved and our communities from risk, threat, harm and exploitation.
'While we have seen an increase in the reporting of anti-social behaviour (ASB) linked to the presence of sex working in areas of Norwich, we do actively work with partners including the Matrix and Magdalen Project to support sex workers to leave the industry.
'However, there is also a need to balance this with the needs and experiences of local residents and we would look to enforce when divisionary activities fail to reduce the impact on the local residents and community.
'As a response there has been an increase in operations to tackle sex working and target those in the area which have been involved in ASB.
'Hopefully over the next few weeks, as the operations and increased presence are felt, the issue will decline.
'We will look to take positive action against those identified in order to reduce the impact of individuals on the wider community.'
There is not a clear solution to the issues faced by the residents of the Rosary Road area, but Mrs Carr thought that cutting down some trees and managing the overgrowth in Old Library Woods was a good place to start.
'In an ideal world I would love all the weeds taken out. I would like it to be grassy and kept clean, with play things for small children,' she said.
She also suggested a camera could be installed which could see all exits. And she said some of the trees could even be removed, but it was believed these may be subject to preservation orders.
At Wednesday's meeting the idea of gating the park, which could be locked at night, was rejected as some people walk through there to get home.
But all were in favour of the undergrowth being removed so people did not have anywhere to hide.
The country's first 'legal' red light district
Britain's first 'legal' red light district is in Holbeck, in Leeds.
It was launched in October 2014, and according to rules laid down by Safer Leeds, a partnership between the police and the council, officers will turn a blind eye to sex workers operating in this part of the city, as long as it is between 7pm and 7am.
In January this year, after a trial period, it was decided the scheme would continue indefinitely.
Once the industrial heartland of Leeds, Holbeck had an unwanted association with prostitution for several years, during which the authorities admit they struggled to deal with the issue.
A 2013 study carried out by York University researcher Dr Kate Brown, found that the policy of police enforcement – through which the law was used against women who were working in the sex trade – had failed to reduce levels of prostitution or associated problems.
A three-strikes policy means women found breaking the rules will initially be given a warning, then cautioned and face arrest if they are caught a third time. According to the agencies involved, since it was introduced the scheme has seen complaints from residents fall by a third.
But some business owners in the largely industrial area are not so convinced, and Polish sex worker Daria Pionko, 21, was kicked to death by Lewis Pierre while working in the area in December last year.
Sgt Shepherd said he'd be interested to see how the scheme worked in Leeds,
'I'd like to go and see how it goes because obviously prostitution is a criminal offence,' he said.
The Matrix Project and the Magdalene Group are an organisation and charity respectively, both of which support sex workers in Norwich.
Matrix Project team members go out in a marked NHS van between 9pm and midnight on a Wednesday night in the Rosary Road/Riverside area.
They give out condoms, clean needles, hot drinks and snacks, as well as providing other services from their Westwick Street base.
Among other things the Magdalene Group, through its Doorway project, has a team making contact with women working on the street, but also has a drop-in service where women can share a meal and find the help and support to try to exit the sex industry if they want to
Caroline Hill, specialist support worker at the Matrix Project, said although they work all over the city, Rosary Road was where everyone knew.
'But we do go to other places, not just Rosary Road, we work with a lot of people who work from home.'
She added their main aim was to reduce harm. She said: 'It's very complex, it doesn't just involve working on the streets.'
She said when they went out in the van, they worked alongside a variety of other agencies and professionals to offer everything from help with housing, to support if workers had been sexually assaulted.
In October the Magdalene Group, which was set up more than 20 years ago, said they had had 98 contacts with 34 different women on the streets in the city's red light district since the start of the year.