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Mayor stands firm on skate park

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

The Mayor of Eastbourne has defended her stance on the controversial plans for a skate park in the Manor Gardens.

The proposal has been opposed by many in the Old Town area of Eastbourne as local residents are concerned there will be an increase in noise pollution and anti-social behaviour.

In an unusual twist the ordinarily apolitical mayor came out strongly in favour of the park. But why has she put her reputation on the line for the sake of a skate park?

“At the end of the day I’m just trying to do the best for the young people in our area of town,” she says earnestly.

Carolyn Heaps has been mayor of the East Sussex town since 2010 after serving for several years as a councillor. As a mother of two she says she has always had a particular interest in supporting the young people of Eastbourne.

“That sort of age group doesn’t get a lot of help,” says Heaps. “Young people have special needs of their own.”

Sat at the end of a grand table in the Mayor’s Parlour she explains why she broke with tradition and backed what has been dubbed by some as ‘skate-gate.’

“I noticed there were a lot of young people whizzing down main streets on skateboards. Instead of stopping the car and shouting at them I stopped the car and talked to them and asked them what they wanted,” she says.

As she talks, her passion for young people soon becomes evident. She supports the Tuesday O’Hara Fund which aims to make the treatment of young-adult cancer patients more comfortable and bearable.

She is also an active member of the Eastbourne Street Pastors, who patrol the town centre in the evening looking after those coming out of pubs and clubs.

“I talk to young people all the time, they know me. I know that they’re good kids” says Heaps.

“Most of our young people are fantastic and I wanted to honour them by giving them something that is worthwhile and is going to last for them.”

However, her unashamed support of the skate park plans has made her an unpopular figure amongst some quarters of the Eastbourne community. Critical reader’s letters are regularly published in the Eastbourne Herald claiming she has strayed from her apolitical role as the Queen’s representative in the borough. The photographs and paintings of past mayors which adorn the town hall serve as a stark reminder of her responsibilities but she claims the matter is not a political one.

“They’ve turned it into a massive political football. It wasn’t a political agenda at all, it was just getting facilities for our youngsters,” she says with frustration. “It got blown out of proportion.”

But despite the furore surrounding the issue, Councillor Heaps remains determined that the skate park is what the young people of Old Town need.

“I’ll hold my head up high. I know I’m doing the right thing by our youngsters” she insists.

When asked about the objections to the park she is unsympathetic. She feels those protesting against the proposals do not understand the young residents of the town.

“There’s a fear that young people are going to do them damage and it’s just ignorance by not knowing the young people, not getting to know them” she says. “You only have to have a couple of bad apples and the whole bunch gets tarnished with the same brush.

“Sadly, we don’t think about all those youngsters who are sat at home diligently working. They never make the press.”

But is skateboarding the right hobby to be promoting? Those who oppose the park are anxious it will become a hub for drug taking and violence but Heaps firmly believes skating will act as a positive influence.

“I think it shows a great deal of individuality and I’m all for seeing young people doing stuff that’s positive, outdoorsy, active” she says enthusiastically. “They’re not sitting in front of a screen and it ticks all the boxes as far as I’m concerned.

She pauses and sighs with exasperation. “I don’t know what all the fuss has been about.”

Categories: Uncategorized

EDL sets up fort in Sunshine Coast

A controversial, far-right, anti-Islamic organisation has set up a new division in Eastbourne.

The English Defence League (EDL) has not previously been active in the town but an Eastbourne and Hastings division was set up in early November of last year.

Despite this, Islamic leaders remain calm. Chairman of the Eastbourne Mosque, Taleb Durgahee, said: “The EDL is of no concern to us. We are committed to pray in peace and harmony. In fact the emergence of this kind of organisation is an opportunity for excellence in ensuring that we show what a good Muslim is.”

However, the EDL is being vehemently opposed by another East Sussex group formed from a nationwide organisation. Unite Against Fascism (UAF) is a pressure group that campaigns against far-right organisations such as the British National Party (BNP) and the EDL. An organisation for the Hastings and Eastbourne area was set up in 2005 to counter the BNP at the general election.

Eastbourne and Hastings UAF want to make the local population aware of the perceived dangers of the EDL. The EDL consistently deny the organisation is racist and often claim they are only campaigning against “radical Islam”.

The UAF disagrees: “Our role is to show people that fundamentally, the EDL is racist. Whether they target black people, whether they target Asian people, the bottom line is they’re extremists.”

The Eastbourne and Hastings division of the EDL oppose the renovation of Eastbourne’s mosque on Ashford Road. If the group decided to hold a demonstration against the works Unite Against Fascism would consider a counter demonstration similar to those they have previously held in other parts of the country. One member of the local group, who did not want be named, said: “We will protest not only to protect the mosque but to show the people of Eastbourne they don’t have to be frightened of a bunch of fascists and Nazis, which the EDL are.”

Another added: “If you allow them to grow we’ll be the ones hiding behind our doors, we can’t do that, they’re our streets, we have to be out there to defend them.”

The group also said: “The EDL have filled in a vacuum where the BNP have been vastly weakened by the elections.” The BNP are the only right-wing organisation previously active in the town and performed poorly at the previous election only securing 1.8 per cent of the town’s votes.

The English Defence League Eastbourne & Hastings Division Facebook page currently only has 73 members and many of these are thought to live outside the area. One UAF member commented: “People have set up a Facebook page, that gives no indication of how many people are involved. I don’t think there’s much of an EDL presence myself.”

The EDL’s marches and protests have caused disruption in towns around the country since 2009. Warwickshire Police announced in January that a march in Nuneaton cost the force £250,000.

The EDL refused to comment on their activities in Eastbourne and Hastings.

First year news story, originally published here:

Categories: Uncategorized