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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 15:01 GMT
The Ocean Estate: Sink or swim?
The Ocean Estate: One of Europe's biggest and poorest
The Ocean Estate: One of Europe's biggest and poorest

By BBC News Online's Dan Coles

Tony Blair could not have chosen a starker example of urban decay as the place to launch his latest attack on inner city poverty.

The Ocean Estate in Stepney, east London, is one of the most deprived in Britain, ravaged by poverty, crime and drug use.


I work at night and it's scary

Sonia Hussain, resident
Once known as the cheapest place in Europe to buy heroin, it has few facilities and shoddy, leaking buildings.

It is just two miles from the gleaming skyscrapers of the City and Canary Wharf, but here more than a third of the men are unemployed.

Its graffiti-strewn walls and boarded-up shops feel a world away from the riches of London's financial centre.

Investment

But the 6,500 residents of the Ocean Estate, some of whom are crammed 12 to a flat, are at the forefront of government initiatives to tackle deprivation.

Some 56m is to be spent over the next 10 years. Blocks are being torn down and replaced, dog patrols have already begun to target street crime.

Four in every five homes need repair, a third are overcrowded
Four in every five homes need repair, a third are overcrowded
Cora Murphy is from the Stratford Development partnership, one of the biggest regeneration agencies in London.

She has been drafted in after the partnership's success in other areas, but she believes the government's new initiatives are some of the most exciting she has heard.

"The New Deal for Communities is different from other regeneration projects because it is community-led," she said.

"The biggest complaint was that people were being left behind."

She said there had already been encouraging developments for the estate residents.

The riches of the City loom just two miles down the road
The riches of the City loom just two miles down the road
A high turn-out at a local election had produced a popular panel of community representatives.

A partnership board would now have the power to employ one of the government's new "neighbourhood managers", and apply for more of the new money.

Another scheme involved a local City firm that had agreed to give placements to graduates from the estate.

Abidah Kamali, a community worker on the estate, was also positive about the more inclusive approach of recent years.

"There are forums and meetings. That really helps because local people have a say.

"There's no point having money without knowing what needs spending on."

A plaque on the estate marks the location of the first Barnardo's home
A plaque on the estate marks the location of the first Barnardo's home
Many of the local residents share this feeling of fresh hope.

Mohammed Harum Miah, from the area's large Bangladeshi community, was encouraged by the government's attention to inner city areas.

"It's good that the local people are leading," he said.

He identified drugs, poor education and vandalism by young people as the area's biggest priorities.

For Sonia Hussain, 17, crime after dark was the biggest worry.

Walking back to her block, one of the few rebuilt during a previous initiative, she was not as impressed by the government's efforts.

"I can't trust Tony Blair anymore," she said.

Her advice was simple: "He should take care of the elderly and make the streets safer. I work at night and it's scary."

Flagship

The Ocean Estate has much to look forward to - it is a flagship scheme and the success of the government's efforts will be measured against its progress.

But it remains to be seen whether the remarkable positivity of community leaders and many of the residents can be matched in "sink" estates further from Westminster's gaze.

At least the long-suffering residents of the Ocean Estate feel at last that the future is in their hands.

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See also:

15 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Labour turns its sights on poverty
15 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Stepney flooded with ministers
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