The paraphernalia and assorted litter that surrounds the Gatehouse, still standing tall since its creation in the 1300s, serves as an apt metaphor for Worksop as a whole- it’s a town brimming with history, charm, and potential but is continuously let down by its ever-present drug problem.
Gio DiCabria, who returned to Nottinghamshire in 2020 after spending the last 25 years living in New Zealand and Japan, said he was shocked to see the state of the Gatehouse while out walking with his wife recently.
The pair were enjoying the ‘beautiful, forgotten buildings’ around the Memorial Gardens but as they walked up to the Priory Church things took a turn for the worse.
"It looked like someone had tried to start a fire around the back of the church and there seemed to be a discarded cigarette lighter in every doorway,” said Gio.
"We walked up to the Gatehouse which my wife found fascinating but we soon saw syringes, spoons and beer cans everywhere along with urine and vomit when we tried to go up the stone steps.
"It’s very sad. When I was younger the churchyard was somewhere you’d go for peace and quiet, and there was usually a police officer walking around on patrol.
"That day, we also saw what appeared to be a drug deal in the churchyard. Being Japanese, my wife had never experienced anything like that before.
“Worksop has always been a big part of my life and I want to see it do well, but I feel like for the past 40 or so years it’s just gone down and down and down.”
Walking along the canal towards Manton with his family a few days later, Gio further reported discovering a ‘kit’ containing a disposable spoon, syringe, cubed filter and phial of water.
And the issue doesn’t end at the Priory or the canal. On April 12, which should have been a joyous day as Worksop’s non-essential shops threw open their doors for the first time in months due to the pandemic, some revealed they felt too frightened and intimidated to venture into town with its ‘drunks and drugs addicts roaming freely’.
Life-long residents joined the damning chorus, claiming they now ‘avoid the town centre altogether’, particularly the Trader Clock area between Bridge Street and Bridge Place.
Few understand the situation better than 9Line, an independent team of individuals across Worksop who respond to incidents in the town centre.
A responder told us that the Gatehouse and Trader Clock are heavily linked in Worksop’s criminal underworld.
They added: “On a rough count, we've responded to 15 drug and alcohol related incidents in the last year, and I have to say that at least three of these would have resulted in death had we not been on the scene in those first vital minutes.
“One of these incidents occurred on a shop floor. It doesn’t look good for businesses and of course brings the town down. The merry little picture of Worksop that many people try to paint only exists in textbooks and it’s been that way for years. I’ve worked in the town centre for the past decade and am out there in it every day.
"It's an endless cycle and there’s no one solution. It’s not my place to say the police should be doing more, or that the Government should legalise drugs as we’ve seen in some parts of the US.
"But I do think there are far too many ‘closed door’ tactics and a more personal approach is needed. Agencies are often faceless and need to start building trust with people who need support.”
Gerald Connor, community safety and safeguarding manager at Bassetlaw District Council said the authority were ‘very sorry’ to hear that people feel uncomfortable about visiting the town centre, and offered reassurances that the area is a ‘safe place’ to visitors.
He added: “Over the past three years, the Council has worked with its partners at Hope Services, YMCA, Framework and CGL to support more than 100 people to get off the streets and into accommodation, address personal issues with addiction and lifestyle choices and help them to turn their lives around.
“Around 85 individuals continue to engage with these services. However, there are a small number of hard to reach individuals who, despite persistent offers of support, do not wish to engage with us or are not able to sustain the support programmes available to them.
“We continue to work with Nottinghamshire Police to address anti-social behaviour in the town centre, including on Bridge Street and the Priory Gatehouse.
"Both of these areas are covered by a Public Spaces Protection Order and I would urge anyone who believes that individuals have breached any of the conditions covered by this, or are involved in any form of illegal activity, to contact the police and report it.
“In order to further improve safety in our town centres we have applied to the Home Office’s Safer Street Funding, through the Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner.”
Neighbourhood policing inspector for Bassetlaw at Nottingamshire Police, Neil Bellamy, said: "As the local policing team, we are committed to listening to the concerns of our community and acting on information that we receive.
"Local officers conduct regular patrols and take part in proactive operations, and in particular, our dedicated Reacher team proactively work to tackle drug dealing and drug-related crime, alongside working with partners to consider the health aspect of drug use.
"Whenever we come across this, we engage with individuals involved and take appropriate action, which includes seizing items, moving people out of certain areas and, when appropriate, making arrests.
"We would encourage anyone with any information or concerns to get in touch with us via 101."