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I live in boarded-up poverty hotspot where even parks are too dangerous to take kids – it’s like going back in time

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THE sound of sirens rings through the air as a man wanders past the deserted shops of West Bromwich’s high street, asking passers-by if they can spare 50p for his bus fare.
Most apologise and continue along the once-bustling street now lined with boarded-up shops and graffiti-ridden walls, with the pungent scent of cannabis lingering in the air.
Clubs and shops are boarded up in West Bromwich9Clubs and shops are boarded up in West BromwichCredit: Nigel IskanderRubbish piles high outside a home in Sandwell9Rubbish piles high outside a home in SandwellCredit: Nigel IskanderThe West Midlands borough of Sandwell – buried in the depths of the Black Country and made up of six towns; Oldbury, Rowley Regis, Smethwick, Tipton, Wednesbury and West Bromwich – was recently revealed to be the fourth poorest region in Britain.
Crippled by the pandemic, it has been hit further by the cost of living crisis tightening its grip on homes and high streets across the nation.
The market town of Wednesbury mirrors the same bleak reality that West Bromwich has to offer.
Rows of abandoned buildings are only interrupted by charity shops, discount stores, and a 72-year-old market trader, who is flogging warm garments for £5 or less to locals.
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Wednesbury high street in Sandwell, which is ranked the fourth poorest region in Britain9Wednesbury high street in Sandwell, which is ranked the fourth poorest region in BritainCredit: Nigel IskanderNicola Pargter curls up in a blanket with her baby at home to avoid using the heating9Nicola Pargter curls up in a blanket with her baby at home to avoid using the heatingCredit: Nigel IskanderNew ONS data shows that the gross disposable household income for Sandwell is just £14,956, making the area the poorest in the West Midlands.
Stay-at-home mum of five, Nicola Pargter, 30, from Tipton, said: “Once I have walked my older kids to school in the morning, I get back into bed with my 11-month-old baby so that we can keep warm without having to put the heating on.
“I used to hear my grandparents telling me how they would do the same years ago, but it’s the 21st century now and I am doing the same.
“It’s like we’re going back in time.

“Everyone is struggling and it is clear to see. Everywhere you go there are people asking for change.
“I’ve lived in Sandwell all my life, but with the way things are going, it makes me feel like I want to move away, especially for the sake of my kids.”
Parks ‘too dangerous’ after dark
As well as worrying about her kids’ future prospects, she also fears for their safety in the local area.
She added: “I never let my kids out to play with their friends either because there is always so much trouble in the area. It makes me nervous because you just never know who’s out on the streets.
“I’d never take them to the local parks after dark either. It’s not worth the risk.
“All you ever hear is about food banks and warm spaces opening up to help people, but in this day at age, we shouldn’t need things like this. We should all be able to afford to live and keep warm.
“There’s constant strikes and no one gets paid fairly. If you work, you can’t afford anything, and if you don’t work, you can’t afford anything. You’re not actually better off from working, so what’s the point?”
Tipton, a deprived West Midlands town, is often thought of as the heart of the Black Country by residents.
It once boasted booming steel and manufacturing industries, but now seems to be a town left behind as police cars patrol the streets.
Tina says businesses are struggling with crippling rates9Tina says businesses are struggling with crippling ratesCredit: Nigel IskanderAccording to a study from 2020, the average gross disposable household income in Sandwell is £14,9569According to a study from 2020, the average gross disposable household income in Sandwell is £14,956Credit: Nigel IskanderAlan, 56, and his wife Tina, 52, have lived in West Bromwich for the past 24 years and visit the high street most days with Alan’s 89-year-old mum, Cathleen.
They fondly recall the days when it was packed full of trendy shops, delicious restaurants and residents enjoying the busy town centre – a far cry from the destitute street of today.
Tina said: “There have been no new businesses here for years. There are far more places closing than opening, and when the doors close, it’s rare that they open again.
“The rent is too high and business owners can’t afford it, so they are then forced to close.
“There’s no prospect for people around here anymore. The high street used to be full, but we only come here now to get out of the house.
“There’s nothing to do and nowhere to go.”
Community spirit
Alan, who has worked part-time at Tesco for 22 years, added: “A lot more shoplifting goes on these days now too.
“People can’t cope and they have to turn to theft to help them get by.
“It’s so easy to see the decline over the past few years.
“Despite the hard times that everyone is going through, there are still lots of good and friendly people about.
“There is a sense of community and we all try and help each other where we can.”
Police stop to talk to pedestrians in West Bromwich9Police stop to talk to pedestrians in West BromwichAmrit Kanith, 19, vows that she'd never walk the length of the high street without a pal by her side9Amrit Kanith, 19, vows that she’d never walk the length of the high street without a pal by her sideCredit: Nigel IskanderLooking for anyone that could spare him a few pence, Laurence, 44, has been on the streets for two years and sleeps on his friends’ sofas when he gets the chance.
Homeless locals crouch in the doorways of neglected shops, surrounded by a few empty cans and with nothing but ragged old blankets or a coat for cover.
Laurence says that West Bromwich is full of people that have nothing.
He added: “I’ve got no money for food, and I can’t get any work.
“It’s so hard for people.
“Being on the streets, I see lots of people turning to crime to get by and you can’t really blame them.
“I go into the Job Centre for vouchers for the food bank, but I get a few grains of rice or pasta and I have nowhere to cook it.
“I see people struggling all the time, and there are more people on the street as time goes by.”
Won’t walk high street alone
Amrit Kanith, a 19-year-old dental nurse student from West Bromwich, vows that she’d never walk the length of the high street without a pal by her side.
She said: “When you see the people around here and how they act, it’s not a surprise that Sandwell is one of the most deprived areas in the country.
“People are drinking in the streets during the day, and there is litter and cigarette ends everywhere.
“As a young person in the area, there’s not much to do. I’d rather stay at home than go out anywhere because I’m nervous that something bad might happen.
“I think people that aren’t from this area would be shocked to see what it is actually like.”
Black bags full of rubbish litter the streets of Wednesbury and its almost vacant town centre.
Iceland, Heron Foods, Poundland, and Casino Slots shops are part of the very few operating businesses.
Jadish Malhi is trying to keep prices down on his market stall9Jadish Malhi is trying to keep prices down on his market stallCredit: Nigel IskanderJagdish Malhi, 72, has rented and run a market stall selling clothes and school uniforms for the past 40 years, and says he has no choice but to work.
However, Jagdish is committed to keeping his prices as affordable as possible because he doesn’t want to rip off locals. There are handwritten neon labels on top of clothing rails that read ‘Under £5’.
He said: “Business has dramatically dropped over the past few years. If it wasn’t for selling school uniforms, I think I would have had to close down just like all of the other places that used to surround me.
“If I looked up this street 30 years ago, it was brilliant. There would be shops and people everywhere.
“We would take lots of money and welcome lots of customers, but people don’t have the money to spend anymore.
“We know our customers are struggling because, despite the already affordable prices, they still ask us if there is any money that I can knock off and I always do because I know they must need it.”
Councillor Kerrie Carmichael, leader of Sandwell Council, said: “We’re determined that Sandwell becomes a place where everyone can fulfil their potential, and these statistics show the extent of the challenge residents and the council face.
 “One of our key priorities is to give every young person the best possible start in life, which is why we have maintained free school meals during all school holidays since the pandemic.
“The cost of living emergency is hitting Sandwell hard but we’re doing all we can to help. In addition to having a network of more than 60 Warm Spaces, we have ensured those just above the threshold for benefits have also received financial support this winter, and we are one of a handful of councils protecting households on lower incomes by keeping our 100 per cent council tax support scheme.
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“There are challenges, but we have much to be proud of in Sandwell. The Sandwell Aquatics Centre will open as a state-of-the-art community leisure facility this summer and is a sign of our ambitious plans to create opportunities and growth in Sandwell. 
“We also have a £2+ billion regeneration programme focusing on 70 key projects to be delivered by 2027. This will create new jobs, affordable homes, primary and secondary schools, further education facilities, a health centre and huge investment in transport and digital connectivity.  It shows that although there are levels of deprivation in Sandwell, it is a great place for businesses to invest in.”

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