Rough sleeping and syringes in the woods on scenic Norwich riverside walk
PUBLISHED: 06:00 20 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:38 21 October 2018
Three flattened sheets of cardboard, two empty needle boxes and one sleeping bag are all that remain of a homeless encampment on one of Norwich’s prettiest riverside walks.
A blue dome tent and washing line with towels hanging up could be seen among the trees at the start of Marriott’s Way.
It was well hidden from the popular track behind Halfords and would only have been noticed by people walking in Wensum Park on the opposite river bank, or those turning off Marriott’s Way into the woods called Train Wood.
The area is popular with fishermen and visitors are signposted from Marriott’s Way down a narrow footpath called Riverside Walk which takes you through the pretty 12-acre woodland.
But litterpickers report finding lots of syringes in the woods and the only people we saw walking down the muddy path on two visits appeared to be in search of more potent highs than fishing.
Anyone strolling down Riverside Walk and into Train Wood would soon see the remains of where people were living in a tent until a couple of days ago.
A brown sleeping bag is hanging on a tree; the floor is covered with cardboard boxes, a dirty towel and some old clothes.
There is also evidence of drug taking with two empty needle boxes and tin foil on the floor.
This is close to where a woman was found dead by the remains of a tent on January 31 this year.
After the body of Kayla Terry, 31, was discovered, people in the area said it was regularly used by homeless people camping.
Meanwhile a man, who regularly walks in the area, said the blue dome tent had been there for several weeks.
Further down Riverside Walk the woods are in their full autumn glory.
The sun’s rays are bursting through gaps in the branches and three swans glide up stream.
One man is cycling on the footpath, talking on his phone. “I’m down the other end, where are you?” he says.
We carry on walking up the path and see him later in a secluded part of the woods standing next to a man in a dark padded coat.
There is a strong smell of cannabis around them and he does not stay long.
Two days earlier, at the same spot, we saw two different groups of people walk in and out of the woods within five minutes of each other to meet someone.
A man who runs a business on the opposite river bank says he regularly hears people in that part of the woods but they don’t cause any trouble.
Volunteers called Friends of Train Wood and Marriott’s Way have been looking after the area since 2012 and regularly organise litter picks where they find syringes.
Lucy Galvin, a founding member of the group, said: “People do sleep in the woods regularly but it is part of a wider housing problem and they have nowhere else to go.
“Recently there has been a rise in homelessness and people have taken refuge there as it’s a relatively safe space.
“I’ve spoken to people living there and many of them have made a real effort to keep the area clean. I met a man in there recently who lived there with his 18 year old son.
“They lost their home because of a benefit change and fell into rent arrears and had been evicted, so they got a tent and lived cleanly there and now have been housed.”
But Ms Galvin added volunteers did regularly find up to 20 syringes at a time during litter picks.
“This is something we are working with homelessness services on,” she said.
“We want the wood to be an accessible and safe space for all users and are pressing local authorities and the government to take action to end the housing crisis.”
The woods belong to Norfolk County Council. A council spokesman said: “We will work with local partners to look into this specific case.”
Chief Inspector Sonia Humphreys, from Bethel Street police station, meanwhile, said police had not had complaints about drug problems in Train Wood, but would investigate.
Tents have also popped up in other areas of the city in the last year.
There is currently one on the river bank near Cow Tower.
And in May council workers cleared up a tent full of used syringes in Brigg Street in the city centre.
Norwich’s new homeless service, called Pathways has also been checking on people sleeping in tents.
When this newspaper went out with the service in June they visited a man sleeping in a tent in a car park behind Mountergate.