Once the centre of a thriving manufacturing and pottery industry, as factories shut down in the 1980s and 90s residents were left without jobs, surrounded by derelict land and feeling hopeless.
Middleport had the unenviable ranking of being in the top one percent of the UK’s most deprived areas, drug problems were rife and the local high street had the highest percentage of empty shops in the country.
But Amelia Bilson is determined to change Middleport’s outlook and provide a brighter future for those who live there.
She set up the Middleport Matters community project to turn around the area’s fortunes, and is determined to make the town a safe, thriving and welcoming place.
Amelia said: “We know that the statistics already put our area in the one percent most deprived across England, but we believe that local people have the potential to drastically alter the outcomes that these statistics predict.
“We don’t want to wait for our children to live up to the statistical predictions for their future, we want to disrupt the cycle of deprivation and no longer be considered a problem area, but a place of possibility.
“We want to turn hopelessness into hope by enabling the right conditions for local people to flourish.”
One of their first goals was transforming the local park. The group got together to sand down and repaint the railings and play equipment, they cleared overgrown footpaths, installed toddler swings and a table tennis table, replaced benches and a zip wire and put up a new community noticeboard and park sign.
And their next ambition is to create a new community centre where people can attend groups and meetings, get help with looking for work and training, get to know their neighbours and hire space for birthday parties and celebrations.
Amelia said: “We also want to host drop-in activities for young people after school and at weekends. This will give young people somewhere safe and dry to go, as they currently roam the streets, which is causing issues with grooming and gangs.
“And we want to set up a community café as we would love to have a space that is open to everyone where they can come to meet people in their community in a relaxed environment and for it to be a space where people feel comfortable to share their stories and help to shape the future of our organisation.”
If you feel you can help Amelia’s vision then the project needs volunteers, training providers and local organisations to get involved.
See middleportmatters.co.uk for more information.
By Jenna Sloan