Is Lowestoft rising to its challenges?
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Ask people the question: 'Is Lowestoft rising?' and you will hear a range of answers.
With a 70,000 population, there are a variety of people born and bred in the town and others who have moved here, attracted by a life on the picturesque Suffolk coast.
Few of those people would argue the seaside town –largely built around the fishing industry – faces some huge challenges.
Although the fishing industry still has a future, it is not as strong as it once was.
Growth in renewable energy represents a fantastic chance to bring jobs to the town – but many firms are reportedly put off by its traffic woes, with the lack of a third crossing.
That leaves what is perceived to be a lack of career opportunities in the area, forcing young people to move away – although leading firms like Harrod UK and Hoseasons are creating jobs.
Education is also a key concern, with more than 40 per cent of children failing to get the benchmark five A* to C grades with English and maths at GCSE at three out of four high schools.
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The overall situation led to the creation of an organisation called Lowestoft Rising, with the simple aim to 'significantly improve the quality of life' in the town.
Its focus came after an external group visiting the town concluded that public and voluntary sector organisations were providing many of the necessary services needed to help turn the corner – just that they were not always working together on solving the problems.
Phil Aves – the former Lowestoft policing commander, who is leading the organisation – said that lack of co-ordination meant problems like street drinking were continuing, despite the efforts of a range of organisations to resolve them.
As a result Lowestoft Rising has set four target areas – improving young people's aspirations, tackling alcohol and mental health issues, integrating voluntary and public sector services and encouraging people to take pride in Lowestoft.
It has led to a range of activities – for example older children mentor youngsters as they progress to secondary school and the Beat the Street walking challenge.
Bringing organisations together to work on problems has had huge benefits – not least with drug and alcohol abuse, where police working together with health and housing teams has meant the problems are tackled at their roots, rather than street drinkers simply being locked up.
This month's conference at Waveney District Council's Riverside was about showing people some of those activities, as well as giving them blank tables to write their own suggestions for improvements they would like to see in each area.
Mr Aves' view is that this work shows: 'We're beginning to turn the corner.'
In particular, he cites how negative comments about the town on social media are now frequently challenged with positive ones in a way they were perhaps not before. Yet the key now, he said, is having an 'open dialogue' with the public about the changes they would like to see in Lowestoft.
'We would much rather people make comments,' he said. 'The public needs to be vocal. If people don't think Lowestoft is rising, it will often be something like the litter or the toilets, rather than something more fundamental.
'If people have a criticism, let's hear that criticism and if it's justified, let's fix it.'