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The community that refuses to bow down to prejudice
A small street community has been the focus of national attention for all the wrong reasons after an arson-hit house was put up for sale for just £750. Chris Webber talked to the people who live there
SOMEONE, no-one knows who, often makes night-time pilgrimage to 12, Limetrees Close, Port Clarence and leaves flowers. A splash of brightness on the torched doorstep.
It’s the very house that has been labelled crime-hit by national newspapers as Britain’s cheapest after it was put up for auction for £750.
All the attention worked wonders for the sellers as the house, empty for two years and vandalised, ransacked and burnt out, actually fetched £14,000 at auction in Durham on Tuesday night. Another house on the street, listed for auction for £1,000, sold for £10,200.
In fact other houses that have been listed for sale on online site, Zoopla, show most of these three-bedroom, well-built, 1990 semi-detached homes sell for between £35,000 and £51,000.
However, there’s little point ignoring the obvious troubles of Limetrees Close.
A quick count reveals ten of the 50 or so houses are derelict. All the empty homes have their outdoor meters taken away. “You get 50 quid for them at the scrappie,” one lad explains.
There’s a porch roof falling in on another home, fly-tipping round the back, some graffiti , clear evidence of arson.
But it’s those flowers point to the other story of this street. They’re in memory of Paul Ainsley Scott who died of smoke inhalation in the house in April, 2010.
He is remembered as “a quiet bloke but a good bloke,” by one neighbour. It’s no surprise he is recalled as it doesn’t take long to realise this is a place where everyone knows everyone else.
One of them is Angie, a 49-year-old mother-of-three, who chose to move to Limetrees Close from Essex five years ago.
She declined to give her surname but waxed lyrical about her neighbourhood.
“I can honestly say I’ve never had any problems with neighbours,” she said. “No noise, no crime, nothing, and people here are really friendly. We’re near the countryside, the beach, I wouldn’t move away.”
She suggested the council change the name of the street so when people Google it there’s no negative connotations.
Others echo Angie’s positive view of life on Limetrees Close. One tattooed lad in his 20s said many of the problems could be solved with a simple clean-up.
“Tidy these places up, get people in them, and it’d be fine,” he said. “People here are great, all ages.”
Another young mother says she’s happy for her kids to play on the street knowing friends and neighbours will be keeping an eye out.
However, it is telling that no-one is happy to leave their name. A CCTV camera has been installed at a cost of £7,000 due to serious scale fly-tipping and arson.
In September there were seven recorded crimes on the street, three for burglary. The actual figure was almost certainly higher.
It’s hard to find unemployment statistics, but Middlesbrough, just over the Transporter Bridge, is the highest in the North-East at 14.4 per cent.
And on-line, where people can leave messages without being spotted chatting to a reporter by neighbours, there’s more negative comment.
One message on a local newspaper's website, from someone calling herself Boromummy, says: “That whole street is a mess. The landlords need to be held accountable for the scum they are letting live in them. The rest of us are trying to sort the area out ‘cos we’re sick the death of the stigma, but then we get this.”
Even this woman tells the happier side of the street.
“I’ve lived here all my life and I’d never want to live anywhere else. I’m not on the dole and my kids are never in trouble. I’ve never been mugged or burgled.”
Alex Cunningham, MP for the area, Stockton Council and the police have held meetings to work on ways to improve the area which was very badly hit by the 1980s decline in heavy industry. The great and the good.
I leave, having not been threatened and encountering only politeness, optimistic that the solution will be found by the decent people of Limestrees Close themselves.