Special report by Alan Evans & Iwan Lewis
The Director of Chooselife in Llanelli Alan Andrews has said that a group desperately trying to have his centre relocated is running what he calls ‘Project Fear’. Mr Andrews was hoping to attend a public meeting organised to discuss concerns regarding the centre’s close proximity to a newly built school but he claims that the goal posts were moved and he was banned from the meeting when it was changed to residents of Tyisha and Glanymor only.
Mr Andrews said that a number of people had commented on how unfair it was that he was not allowed to attend given that he was the only person qualified to respond to questions regarding the centre.
Speaking to Llanelli Online he said: ”What we have here are people running a project of fear. Saying that there are people jacking up on the streets of Llanelli and some of the local press only too willing to run headlines without any evidence to support the claims. Whilst I acknowledge that more needs to be done in the area of discarding needles I have never seen anyone injecting on the streets. It is scaremongering.
“High ranking police officers have no problem with Chooselife. Historically the County Executive Board have had no problem with Chooselife. This is nothing less than a vendetta led by a couple of councillors and a group of people who have no idea what it is like to suffer or need help to get your life back on the right path.”
Mr Andrews claims that hardly any parents of children who might attend the new school were present at the meeting. He also claims that the petition to relocate Chooselife is being taken around old age complexes to be signed in a desperate attempt to get more signatures than what he claims is barely 1.8 percent of the local population.
Following the meeting at the Antioch Centre on Friday (Jan 20) a post appeared on the Facebook page of the Safer Communities Action Group, which said: “Positive outcome from the public meeting last night, after an hour or so of contributions from the floor a motion was passed for SCAG to write to Carmarthenshire County Council to request the relocation of Chooselife to be signed by the County and Town Councillors present at the meeting.”
Llanelli Online contacted a representative of the group to ask why Alan Andrews was not allowed to attend the meeting. We have not received a response.
Our reporter Iwan Lewis attended the meeting. This is a transcription of part of that meeting.
The meeting opened with a slightly confusing announcement regarding the agenda. It was first said that the meeting was about the proximity of Chooselife to the new school to the drop in centre but it was quickly followed by a statement to say that it was about the safety of children who will be attending the new school.
Councillor Winston Lemon a long time opposer of the Chooselife centre said: “This has been an ongoing thing for 10 years. I was on the planning when next door was converted. Nineteen of us voted against the expansion of the centre. What I would like to ask is what is going on there now?”
Chooselife Spokesperson: “It is a UPVC production factory.”
Winston Lemon: “Have they bought that building, who have they bought it off and who is the benefactor of the money? Was he (Alan Andrews) allowed to sell that property on?”
Audience Member: “You should address that question to the Chooselife trustee. This is taking us off the subject tonight.”
Chair: “It is difficult because there are strong feelings supporting or against but it is only fair that people have their say. We have spoken to people in the two communities and they have come to us with their concerns and that is why the petition came about. There is a very strong sense of concern within the community and the fear that maybe if children witness things that residents have witnessed then children will think that that is normal.”
Audience Member: “Was anyone seen taking drugs or injecting?”
Chair: “Yes in the car park.”
Audience Member: “Do you have photographs?”
Chair: “It is illegal to take photographs.”
Councillor John Prosser: “I am a County Councillor and governor for the school. The biggest concern was the proximity to the school that was the concern hundreds and hundreds of times as we knocked the 3,000 doors in the area. I wasn’t a councillor when this decision was made. As governor of the school and a county councillor it worries me that it doesn’t mix with the children. We have to have drop in centres and we have to help people it is just not in the right place. They cant pick up the school and move it. We need to find a compromise that works for everybody The problem wont go away for the people who need the services of Chooselife.”
Audience Member: “I had a petition two years ago with 2,000 signatures. It went before the council and nothing was done. There are more needles round here than there used to be.”
Winston Lemon: “She was told It’s your own fault for buying a house in a drug area. That is what she was told. That petition was placed in New Dock Rd Post Office and I have a DVD of it being stolen from the post office. I was on planning for Chooselife. We were told we could not object on the grounds of a school as it had not gone before planning.”
Audience Member: “It’s not Chooselife’s fault the county council decided to build a school across the road. If you are going to move Chooselife are you going to move the dealers as well?”
Chair: “It is not our job to deal with the dealers it is for the police.”
Audience member: “You can move Chooselife out of the local area but you are removing the support from the people who are choosing to use the service to try and change their lives around. I am not sure where you can move it to in Llanelli where it wouldn’t be near a school, a nursery or playgroup or child care centre. I am sure a lot of children are walking past houses where drug addicts and alcoholics live. You can’t protect children from this problem because it is everywhere. I have lived in this area for 18 months and never had any issues and never seen needles. I moved here from London where there is a big problem and drop in centres were in schools and children learned about drug and alcohol abuse.”
Chair: “What services do you provide within Chooselife?”
Chooselife Spokesperson: “We offer all sorts of support when they come out of rehab, we give them emotional support, anyway we can support them we support them.”
Audience Member: “It is not just here. Here in Llanelli we have a big drugs problem. They have moved drug dealers away but as one leaves another one comes. We could all go out tomorrow and find something. We need somewhere for these people, they are humans.”
Chair: “I hope that Carmarthenshire County Council will see sense and resolve the situation where you are not closing a premises down you are relocating it but you are insuring those 500 children in the school are safeguarded. I don’t care about anything else.”
At the end of the meeting a show of hands was called for for those in favour or against sending a letter to the county council requesting that the centre is relocated. The majority voted in favour of sending a letter to the council.
Cllr Louvain Roberts said: “It was a very promising meeting with the negative and positives, pros and cons being expressed by the community. Views were expressed by service users. The outcome was to send a letter to the county council asking for Chooselife to be relocated. It has been sanctioned by the town and county councillors for the Tyisha and Glanymor wards.”
It remains to be seen if and when the Chooselife centre is relocated and to where it may be relocated. It is by the admission of many in the ward an area, which has a drug problem. One would expect that a centre such as this would be welcomed, given that the evidence suggests that it is dealing with drug and alcohol related issues but welcome only in an area with such problems.
Mr Andrews maintains that the centre is not the problem but rather it seeks to offer support and solutions to a real and local drug problem. The metamorphosis of a new school and its chosen location opposite the centre is surely one for the local councillors and planners to ponder upon. The solution being put forward is to move the centre and it is assumed signpost or bus the people with the drug and alcohol addictions to another centre located far enough away from Tyisha and Glanymor as to not impact on the lives of children attending the new school. The same children who already live in the wards with the drug and alcohol problems and who may be on the same trajectory of travel by foot or by bus as the people with the problems. Those who are in favour of moving the centre may now have to come up with a proposition as to where they believe it should be located unless of course they leave that once more to the councillors who were powerless to oppose its siting in the first instance and the councillors who approved the school in its location.