What life is like on UK’s most deprived estate where ‘kids, 10, work as drug mules

An ex-prisoner who wants to turn his life around has revealed what life is really like living on one of Wales’ most notorious, drug-ridden estates.

David Taylor says he vividly remembers being inside crack dens as a child and he started taking pills at the age of 13.

He’s spent a total of five years behind bars and is back living in Bettws in Newport, south-east Wales.

“Bettws has got its problems and it is a sthole, but it is my sthole,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

The 28-year-old grew up in the “concrete jungle” – as some call it – with an alcoholic father and drug use taking place around him from a young age.

Childhood was difficult and sadly typical, Wales Online reports.

It seems little has changed since David’s childhood, with drugs gangs reportedly targeting children as young as 10 to act as their mules.

The grey, tired area is like stepping back 20 years in time – at its centre is the square which on a Wednesday morning is bustling with life

Bodies pop in and out of the Spar, popping to the fish and chips shop for a quick lunch or the Coffee Pot for a hot drink and a natter.

Above the shops are maisonettes where residents live, some of them for generations.

Bettws is one of Wales’ poorest areas. The estate divides into six wards, and three of them rank in the top 9% of most deprived areas in the country.

According to the Bettws Community Wellbeing Profile from 2017, the area has significantly higher working-age benefits claimant rates than the Newport average (16.4%), with one of the areas approaching twice the city’s average.

Some 40% of residents in the estate have no qualifications.

David’s earliest memories are of shoplifting. He vividly remembers being in crack dens as a child.

Prison has been a constant in his life and David himself has been to jail four times – he was only 16 the first time he was sent to prison after being convicted of GBH with intent

Then, in 2008, he was sentenced to five years in jail for an armed robbery with possession of an imitation firearm.

In total the 28-year-old has spent five years inside a prison.

“By the time I was 13 I had started taking pills and amphetamines,” he says.

“I would take any drugs I could get hold of and be up for days. We were robbing cars, robbing people, robbing drug dealers.

“I am lucky to be here. The main thing in my teenage years was shoplifting and theft.

“To other people it is crazy but to me it was what I knew. It was normal.”

The dad-of-three was released from prison in 2014. To him Bettws wasn’t a bad place to grow up.

Anti-social behaviour was a problem, especially around the shopping centre, he said.

Despite its problems, like many similarly troubled areas, there is a loyal sense of community.

Everyone you speak to – residents and business owners – say they wouldn’t want to be elsewhere.

When you walk around most people know each other by name.

A few months ago an old lady was robbed of her handbag and £100 was taken from her.

Within a week the community had pooled together – she was handed a few hundred pounds and a bouquet of flowers by her neighbours.

David has lived in the estate since he was five.

“There were more opportunities when I was younger,” he said. “Bettws is a very mixed area. There are lots of people struggling with their benefits though.

“There needs to be more in the estate. They should be investing in the young people as they are our futures.”

Young people are at the heart of most conversations about the estate, in good and bad ways.

In January, Newport City Council revealed it was spending more than £6,000 a year repairing smashed windows at Bettws Library.

In one particularly notorious incident a police car was set on fire on the estate.

The number of offences per 1,000 population in Bettws has remained relatively constant, with the rate of 66.6 recorded in 2015-16.

That’s lower than Newport on whole, which has seen an increase on its crime rate from 77.34 to 86.37 for the same period.

Someone very invested in the estate is councillor Janet Cleverly, who moved to moved to Bettws as a young mother in 1973, becoming involved in youth clubs in the area soon after that.

There hadn’t been a youth club in the estate since last year and the only thing for young people to do is football.

Speaking from the Civil Service Sports Club in Shannon Close, on the fringes of the estate, the councillor says drugs is a big problem, particularly in the sports club car park.

A few young people have recently been arrested in the estate for selling heroin and crack.

“Drugs around here are astronomical,” she continued.

“County Lines is a big problem in the estate, with them [drug dealers] targeting youngsters to sell drugs for them.

“They are targeting youngsters as young as 10. I think the biggest problem is there is nothing for young people to do here.”

A volunteer at the local food bank, the councillor said Universal Credit was having a big impact because of the five week wait until the first payment comes through.

“There are quite a lot of people struggling here and they have got big families, some of them have five or six children,” she said.

“We have got a bad name, but Bettws has got some excellent people living here. “

Life in Bettws isn’t always plain sailing but the people here do have ambition.

David would love to open a gym and a studio, a place for the young people to go.

Mr Taylor – who goes busking three times a week and relies on Universal Credit to cover his rent – aims to be an example for young people.

His artistic name is “Misfit” and he raps about all sorts, from life experiences to issues our society faces.

A running theme throughout his songs is positivity and he avoids swear words.

“My criminal history is there, in black and white,” he continued. “I have had to make all those mistakes but I want to show that people can change.

“From five years ago, it is a big difference and I am just happy with the improvement.

“I still have got my own challenges, but I want to lead by example.”