A NATIONAL newspaper article in which West Dorset was labelled a ‘feudal hinterland, rife with heroin and very few public services’, has created an ‘unhelpful’ defensive backlash.
So says Bridport author Sean Geraghty, who who made many of the quotes in the controversial Observer article.
Mr Geraghty says he thought the reporter wanted to talk to him about his book The Borassic Coast – a fictional dark comedy highlighting the unseen and darker side of a seaside town.
Since the article, reporter Tracy McVeigh has received hate mail and Mr Geraghty has come under attack.
She said the purpose of the article was not to pick on particular towns but to prompt action for young people in coastal resorts.
She said: “The whole point... was to start a debate – and it’s exactly the sort of debate people should be having.”
Mr Geraghty said: “90 per cent of the time I spoke to the reporter it was about second homes, the difference in wages and house prices and the social problems that causes, plus the effects of cuts to the social services and youth support and how we really do need to look at that.
“I said there were drug problems including heroin for young people in small towns. I stand by that, but I didn’t say heroin was rife, that’s not accurate.
“But if everyone just keeps saying it is wonderful, look at how beautiful the scenery is, what’s the future going to hold? I was trying to raise awareness that it is not all paradise down here.”
Mr Geraghty said he had become such a target since the article his friends were calling him the Salman Rushdie of West Dorset.
He said: “I think it is regrettable that the tone of the article has made people very defensive of the area.”
Bridport Town Council leader Sarah Williams said: “Bridport has been held up in a number of recent national polls as an example of a thriving and successful market town, with low crime rates, good businesses, a thriving cultural scene, gateway to the glorious Jurassic Coast as well as being surrounded by some of the finest countryside and superb local food producers.
“We who live here are rightly proud of our town.
“It would be a great shame if people were to get the wrong picture of Bridport from an article that is seeking, I think, to raise more general issues regarding rural deprivation.”
Cllr Williams said the town council recognised there are challenges.
She said: “We continue to raise the need for better public transport links, more affordable housing, as well as more employment and training opportunities for young people locally.”
Bridport police inspector Mike Darby added: “Bridport is a town like many others which has a minority involved in drug use and a small element of crime. But apart from that it is in fact one of the safest places to be.”
The Observer story was written on the back of figures released by the Office for National Statistics which appear to show school children in coastal towns falling dramatically behind their counterparts in the inner cities.
The figures come after the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said aspiration and achievement amongst youngsters was now a major issue in seaside towns.
Supporters have been rallying to Bridport’s defence on social media. Aleks Monaghan said: “The view, the wonderful people, the coast line, the places to eat, the local produce and independent shops. The list is endless. Best place in the world.”
Shaun Fox said: “It might be a wake-up call but why is it that we have film crews filming here and all the campsites are booked up every season. It’s a tourist hotspot. As for drugs, what town or city doesn’t have a black area?”
Helen Moody said: “The sense of community, the cliffs at West Bay, the hat festival and the way everyone embraces it, the sea in all its guises, the thriving art community, the Electric Palace, the arts centre and Lyric, the Red Brick Cafe, the vintage market and vintage shops, sunsets at The Anchor Inn at Seatown, picnics on the beach after school, the Transition Town movement and commitment to buying local, Washingpool Farm Shop, Bridport Market, the Beach and Barnicott and other great places to eat and drink.
“There’s Colmers Hill, Rachel’s cafe at West Bay – just a few of the things I love about Bridport. Need I say more?”
Lizzie Blott said: “What is not to love, stunning area by the sea and stars in a top notch drama series watched by millions.
“We have a few local stars who reside in the area – PJ Harvey grew up and still lives local – come on! “Lots of lovely places to walk and things to do!”