The East Marsh estate in Grimsby is one of the UK’s most deprived communities. But a charity is trying to change that – one house purchase at a time
East Marsh United may sound like a football team, but it’s actually a community group on an estate called – unsurprisingly – the East Marsh.
It was built back in the 1850s in the town of Grimsby, on the south bank of the Humber estuary. Back then the fishing industry was Grimsby’s main source of income and by the mid 20th Century it was the busiest fishing port in the world. The East Marsh was built to provide accommodation for the people who worked at the port.
But that all changed in the 1980s, when fishing quotas were introduced by the European Economic Community.
“It was ‘boomtown’ for a very, very long time. Then the fishing industry ended, and then austerity, and things just kind of crumbled around us.”ThaBilly Dasein, the founder of East Marsh United, on a Tortoise ThinkIn in June 2020
That’s Billy Dasein. He’s the founder of East Marsh United.
Today the estate is one of the most deprived areas of the UK, and, according to data on Police.uk, it’s the most dangerous place to live in North-East Lincolnshire
“Four people have been arrested and a large amount of suspected heroin and cocaine have been found in a police raid on Grimsby’s East Marsh estate this morning. It comes as Humberside Police crack down on drugs and anti-social behaviour in the area.”BBC News clip
For years Grimsby has been neglected by politicians – unless there’s an election on, of course.
Just three days before the last general election in 2019, Boris Johnson made sure to get a picture in the historic fishing town, holding a cod.
It was around the time of the 2019 general election that Tortoise also visited Grimsby. Our reporters were touring the UK’s less-visited towns, cities and villages to get a better sense of what was happening around the country.
Whilst there, we were told “Nothing happens, and all the time people’s lives are deteriorating.”
“There’s a lot of frustration, there’s a lot of anger, and, you know, we’ve got all these things about, a lack of healthcare, lack of education – I mean we’ve got a literacy age of eight here… so there’s a lot of work needing to be done…”Billy Dasein
The idea that visiting politicians would do anything for the town was laughable. “Help isn’t coming,” one resident told Tortoise in 2019: “We have to do it ourselves.”
And that’s where East Marsh United comes in.
It began to clear up the community by sweeping streets, but soon realised that empty, boarded-up houses were becoming hotbeds for criminal activity, and contributing to the area’s problems.
“Even the kind of smallest broken window in a house will lead to other broken windows, and if you apply that to a neighbourhood then you get things like litter and graffiti and wheelie bins spilling rubbish all over, and boarded-up houses, etc…”Billy Dasein
So Billy Dasein’s community group also began buying and renovating houses for local people to live in.
“We’ve already bought three houses, and what we focus on is the boarded-up and frankly knackered empty homes, which are a blight on the local neighbourhood really, so we take them, refurbish them to a really high standard…”Billy Dasein
But East Marsh United doesn’t want to stop there. It’s raised over £200,000 so far, and for every £100,000 that’s invested in the charity, Grimsby Town football club chairman Jason Stockwood, has pledged to invest a further £10,000. It also gets some funding from the local council and 60 investors.
As well as housing, the charity also provides education, employment, arts projects, plants trees and does community engagement; it employs apprentices to learn how to renovate the houses; and it’s launched its own newspaper, the Proud East Marshian.
“We aim to become an ethical community landlord, to provide high-quality homes for proud East Marshians; we’ve got a thriving arts project and it’s focusing on community art so there’s grassroots theatre, there’s arts and crafts, there’s a really good close-knit writers’ group.”Billy Dasein
East Marsh United’s ultimate goal is to buy 100 houses. It’s the story of a community taking its destiny into its own hands, an example of community activism that hasn’t just provided residents with a better quality of life, but with a sense of pride.
“If we can actually change the way the street looks; if we can buy 100 houses to show some love to our people in their homes to make them feel secure; if we can build this village hall for people to gather and meet and do whatever they want in there… that’s gonna make all the difference, and starting to get past this feeling of helplessness that I think is definitely out there, you know…”Billy Dasein
Today’s episode was written by James Wilson and mixed by Imy Harper.