It was a bleak day for our local community. One I’ll never forget. Despite a national paper once dismissing it as a “rundown area” of town I’m proud of it. It’s a personal thing. The crisscross of Victorian terraced streets is shot through with a multicultural vibrancy that makes me feel alive. There’s a terrible irony about that now.
One day last month shook up my small world and left a young lad close to death. My partner came home after almost being mugged on the towpath. Since saying goodbye to the car-owning fraternity a few years ago there’s nothing easier, nicer or more vital than a cycle ride into town along the towpath. Laura challenged the would-be mugger and kicked out at his bike as he lunged for her shoulder bag. Man and bike toppled over. Laura made her escape.
But she was pretty shaken. After a cup of tea we decided to take Dylan, our Labrador, for a walk. Opening the front door I stood horror-struck while a few metres away a fight was taking place between a group of youngsters. One small guy was getting beaten over the head with a baseball bat.
As we arrived at the scene they ran off. Laura was first at the victim’s side: a young lad of 16, now slumped against a parked car and bleeding profusely from a head wound. She held his hand, monitored his pulse and tried to get the boy to stay focused on her, to reassure him and prevent him slipping into unconsciousness. Another bystander had a towel that I gently pressed against his head wound. But it was all pretty useless. Most of the bleeding was going on inside.
He murmured that he didn’t know who his attackers were and they’d called him by a name that wasn’t his. The emergency service arrived and took over. We stood in the drizzle of the late afternoon, watching him being taken off to hospital where he remains fighting for his life.
People say it can happen anywhere. I don’t know anymore. I can’t judge or make a clever analysis. And stuff statistics. It’s too close, like I said, too personal. But I’ll still cycle down the towpath and I’ll still use our streets, day or night. A community is too precious to lose. I guess, like people, communities have souls made of light and shadow. On that day we stepped into the bitter cold of its shadow.
Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service