Mayor Anita Collier is away on holiday this week, so Deputy Mayor Andy Wrintmore has written this week’s column:
Many of you will know how music has sculpted my life, so it’s with music that I’ll frame this.
In 1978, Bruce Springsteen sang of a “Darkness on the edge of town” a metaphorical black cloud stalking and shrouding the streets of every town in the USA, an ethereal foreboding that all societies young and old have had to wrestle with. As usual with Springsteen’s four and a half minute ballads for the world’s forgotten and discarded, this shroud of despair is relegated to the edges of communities, sometimes geographically but also in the peripheries of many people’s minds.
During this lockdown and the easing period we now find ourselves in, I have seen some of Frome’s darkness. There was no escaping it: once thousands of the local community were at home waiting for the worst to pass, the streets were still being occupied by the people normally ignored or often judged and avoided.
Some of these people that I come into contact with everyday when working at the co-op, seem to be held hostage by alcoholism – and more so drug abuse. We saw a rise in petty crime once lockdown started when people lost work and the supply and movement of these substances was disrupted too. Many seemed to be choosing between eating that day and scoring so they wouldn’t experience agonising and debilitating withdrawals.
Compassion is something that often has to be practiced for it is the cousin of mercy, I’ll admit, it’s something that I have struggled with at times. You might think it easy to see these people as contributing nothing to society, but we must shift our mindset entirely. My work in the town centre was both eye opening and a real challenge to find empathy and understanding at times. It’s also a tough situation when the victim of drug related crime is an independent business owner or a local charity that’s had their donation pots stolen like we’ve had happen in recent memory because there is a very real and visible negative impact on the immediate community compared to that of a branded chain store for example.
So what can we do? What is the answer? The solution….. A golden idea?
Well, I don’t have it, yet.
Everyone of these people have a story to tell, a history of trauma in some shape or form. This could be any one of us, it is any one of us: Human, flawed, imperfect.
I believe we as a town and a community have a responsibility to ask ourselves tough questions around our possible prejudices and at least explore the conversation of how we could collectively help to tackle the disparities we’re seeing. As the effects of COVID-19 increase as time goes on, we could see an even greater change within our community, with more people losing work and finding themselves dependent on drugs and alcohol. Is it education, support groups, grass roots organisations, needle boxes, better social services, more policing and mental health awareness? We should also ask ourselves if these issues are symptoms of a wider cultural and societal illness. Is the central government’s decade-long budget cuts putting lives and humanity after the pound? Is it our economic structures? Is it a lack of mental health facilities? Is it our cultural lean towards finding value in the virtual and material realms instead of connection on deeper levels with each other and nature? And what should the punishment be for these just trying to survive by any means? Prison? Intervention? Restorative Justice? I would argue it’s all of the above.
I would like to explore ideas and avenues we can take as a town and as a councillor by bringing together the health, social care, voluntary sectors and our PCSO’s and Police to discuss where Frome has failed and succeeded throughout the years and get an overview of where we are now and hopefully start striving to bolster our weak spots.
This question is bigger than me. But I know this: we rarely listen to those who need to be heard the most and if we could hear their stories and understand their reality, I bet most of you reading would wish to help them or ease them of their pain.
We all have our crosses to bear, in closing I’ll share a quote I often recount to myself when I’m not feeling particularly patient or tolerant is this from Malcolm S. Forbes “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him”. So, while we enjoy the warm bright glow of the halo glistening above this town, shining down on the Cheese & Grain, town hall, beautiful parks, meadows, pub gardens, library, river, arts centres, independent businesses and our phone screens as we upload our best moments onto Instagram and Facebook or read yet another article in the national newspapers declaring this town the hippest, coolest hole on earth, remember: there is a darkness here, and all of us will experience it, in one way or another.