Sunday, 23 Jun 2024

Misunderstood seaside town dubbed one of UK’s worst — locals say its fake news

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“Most people think the Isle of Sheppy is a prison colony — but it’s far worse than that,” social media users heard from Phil Carr, a man walking around a town on the island.

Sheerness, the place he had found himself in, isn’t tiny but is small enough to explore in a day.

Statistically, it is the second most dangerous small town in Kent, and among the top 10 most dangerous out of all of the country’s 331 towns, villages, and cities. 

Last year alone, Sheerness recorded an overall rate of 181 crimes per 1,000 people — an average total of 2,353 crimes for the town’s 13,000 people. And so it is often voted as one of the UK’s worst such seaside towns. 

Despite this, and despite Carr’s protestations, has heard from the people of Sheerness that the town isn’t dangerous or a prison colony — but more a snapshot of a long-lost Britain where community spirit reigns supreme.

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“I’m Sheerness born and bred, and I’ve never seen anything untoward in this town,” said Alice, who works at the local funeral directors.

“I would never move off the island because it’s still massively centred on community. You can always open your door and see someone you know, someone you can talk to, familiar faces.”

While Alice admitted there were “pockets of places that may not be as nice as others” she insisted that it’s the same everywhere in Britain. “We don’t have any trouble here or on the island at all,” she added.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Sheerness is one of England’s most deprived areas.

On the scale of indices of multiple deprivation (IMD — which measures income, employment, education and health alongside 33 other metrics — the centre of Sheerness scores 77.9 out of 100.

Sheerness still has charm, its residents say. Its seafront is accessible and close to the centre and is accompanied by a pebble beach that runs as far as the eye can see along the coastline.

“We get lots of people who come down from London to visit,” said Helen, who works at the popular Island Fish Bar on Sheerness High Street.

“The town itself isn’t bad, it used to be busier, but it’s nice. People get along, you’ll never go out without saying hello to someone or bumping into someone you know.”

But what about the crime? Surely the stats talk for themselves? “I mean, sometimes you see something happening,” she said.

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“You see people arguing, or something’s happened, or someone’s running after someone. But I’ve never come across anything bad happening to someone.”

Ifuru, a worker at the Royal Hotel Sheerness, had much the same to say. Originally from Sri Lanka, he moved to the town just eight months ago but said he hadn’t seen anything to suggest it was like a “prison colony”.

He said: “We get a lot of people coming into the pub: plumbers, builders, doctors, shop workers, roofers. All different social classes walk through those doors, and I speak to all kinds of people, but none of them are bad.

“It’s a very calm and quiet place, a nice countryside town. In the eight months I’ve been here I’ve noticed that everyone knows everyone, everyone gets along.”

Sheerness is just one and a half hours from London by train, meaning many retirees have flocked to the town to see out their years next to the sea.

Its residents consistently described it as a quiet, sleepy place, where not a lot happens.

Martin, who works in the local plumbing shop, and has lived in the town for 30 years, was succinct in his assessment of his long-time home.

“It’s basically a large village like anywhere else: this man who said it’s a prison colony, he’s obviously not from here.”

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