The beautiful UK seaside town ‘being ruined’ by drugs, knife crime and holiday homes | UK | News

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Hastings: Huge fire breaks out beside the seafront

From the outside the properties along Hastings’ beachfront look in good order. Painted in classic pastel colours, the pointed Victorian roofs are as neat and tidy as any other seaside town.

However, according to a former resident of one such house, Lee Montague, it is often the case that on the other side of a pretty wall is a scene far less picturesque.

“Step behind the door and you get mould and water coming from the ceilings, it is a joke,” he said. “You’re not allowed gas on the seafront so they’d come round and fit an electric heater, but there are gaps in the windows, and no one could afford to run those anyway.” 

Speaking to residents of the town, famous as the spot William the Conqueror won a decisive battle in 1066, it is clear there is more than just mould lurking beneath the surface.

From an alarming increase in homelessness to youngsters carrying knives, Hastings is a place with many layers.

READ MORE: Once-booming UK seaside resort now a ghost town with homes on sale for just £5,000


There is more to Hastings than meets the eye (Image: Zak Garner-Purkis)

DFL: Down From London

Originally from Tottenham in North London, Mr Montague is one of many lured to the Sussex coast from the city. Happily settled in the town for many years he has noticed how many of the recent arrivals from the capital have different intentions than his.

“Londoners are coming down here, buying the houses up and using them as holiday homes. It’s pushing up the prices, they’ve gone up 15%,” he explained.

Not everyone is seeking a second property, post-pandemic there are those swapping the smog for sea air permanently too. The town’s relative affordability also draws in residents of Brighton driven down the coast in search of a bargain.

The problem is, in both cases, they are removing another property from a market where there is already a shortage. Rents are continuing to increase and the allure of using Airbnb, which grants homeowners greater flexibility, continues to remove properties which a landlord might otherwise be willing to rent.

“All the Airbnbs are pushing up the rents which are causing homelessness problems,” Mr Montague claims.

Some are driven out of the town altogether.

Mr Montague

Lee Montague enjoys a pint in his local pub (Image: Zak Garner-Purkis)

‘It was a safe place’

Mike Photiou grew up in the south coast town in the 1980s and 90s. He describes it as a “pretty safe place” that was “perfect for adventures”. It was, however, lacking in employment opportunities and when he came of age, like many young men in the town, he joined the Army. 

“My mum actually died an alcoholic aged 48 in 1996 when I was 17. I had been in the Cadets from 13 and my mum dying was the catalyst to go sign up and become something,” he explained.

When he’d return from a tour of duty he’d notice the town was changing. 

“They started investing in commerce, changing the layout of town centre making it all look a bit pretty, all this sort of stuff. There was a lot more immigration and much higher crime. It didn’t feel as safe as it used to be,” he told

The changes to the town started to drive up house prices, which made home ownership an impossibility to many of those who’d grown up there. 

“The average wages have always been pretty shocking,” he added. “The jobs tended to be a lot of factory work and that sort of stuff. People haven’t got the money to pay big mortgages so a lot more people were knocked into the rental market.

“The icing on the cake has been the Covid. More people lost their jobs, got divorces and were kicked out into the rental market. It has been a landlord’s wet dream.”

Mr Photiou has been searching to find somewhere affordable to rent in his home town for some time but the availability and price range is often an issue.


The Old England is a favourite amongst locals in the St Leonards area (Image: Zak Garner-Purkis)

‘Rough sleepers have tripled since pandemic’

Inside a red brick building overlooking a train station is a refuge for those who find themselves homeless in the Hastings area. Whether they need a hot meal, a bed for the night or help to get back on their feet the Seaview Project will try to support them however complex their needs. 

Chief officer Dave Perry explained the area has always attracted higher numbers of homeless people because of a more generous approach.

“From what I can gather I think other areas may have pushed back harder against people landing from London or other cities,” he said. “I’ve worked along the coast quite a lot in Brighton, for example, where there is a huge amount of homelessness but much more robust mechanisms in place to turn people around and send them back to the authority or the area from which they came.”

Every morning around 6am, Mr Perry and his team go around the whole town to do an audit of all those sleeping rough. It doesn’t offer a complete picture of homelessness, as the group is unable to enter derelict buildings or account for those sleeping on friends’ sofas. But since the pandemic numbers have almost doubled. What is concerning to Perry is that it’s not just the rough sleepers who are increasing, the range of people seeking support from Seaview has expanded significantly.

“The rates of homelessness seem to be getting worse,” he added. “Traditionally those we’ve worked with have complex needs such as mental health difficulties, a history of homelessness, disabilities or addictions.

“But we’re meeting people now who don’t really fit into that ‘complex needs’ category any longer. They are people with certain vulnerabilities, but they’ve often got jobs or some kind of income. They’re able to kind of manage, but perhaps they’ve had something like a relationship break down.”


Youth violence is an issue in the seaside town of Hastings (Image: Zak Garner-Purkis)

Tackling the heroin epidemic

Pre-pandemic, Hastings’ problems were out of control. Mr Montague said he and his friends would regularly find needles lying in their front doors and see users shooting up in doorways. 

Kids on bikes, often from London or other major cities, could be seen throughout the town centre dropping off drugs to users. Dialing one of the town’s many phone lines would see heroin delivered in minutes.

Historically the town has had a disproportionately high number of drug related deaths. At one stage ranking third highest in the country for heroin overdose behind only Blackpool and Burnley. 

However, since Covid-19 hit the visible signs of the town’s addiction problems have decreased. According to Mr Perry, this is a result of Project ADDER – a groundbreaking multi-agency initiative which combines police efforts to crack down on the dealers with an investment in addiction services.

Perry continued: “Hastings was quite under-resourced in terms of health and social care services that support vulnerable people. It still is, but Project ADDER was able to focus on opiate and crack users and commision something that was effective in reducing drug-related deaths, offending and organised crime, in line with the national drug strategy.

“We feel that that’s gone really well. There’s still more work to be done, but I think, with the police getting convictions, the message has got out with the organised crime groups. I think they now think ‘let’s not go to a town like Hastings, let’s go somewhere else’. Although I don’t think the problem has gone away.”

‘A lot of kids carry knives’

For Hastings native Carl Scott, the problems with drugs are just less visible to the average resident. A former gang member who has faced issues with substance abuse himself, the methods of the gangs supplying has simply changed.

As sat with him in a Costa Coffee in Hastings town centre he pointed out the youths with hoods he suspected were runners and users scurrying through the crowd seeking their next fix.

“There are still the same, if not more people that are struggling with addiction,” he added. “I mean, [the area of] St Leonard’s alone probably has about six or seven county lines. From London, Birmingham and Liverpool.

“They’re not doing it blatantly in an alleyway, it is mainly done by cars. they make a phone call, tell them a spot where to go, they drop it off and drive away. The old school ways of doing these things with people on foot or on a bike aren’t there.”

Although Mr Scott acknowledges a greater police presence in the town centre comprised of officers with a detailed knowledge of the users has meant drug usage is not the spectacle of drug taking it once was, the town is still blighted by addiction.

But another concern he is keen to raise is the situation facing young people of the town and what they are getting into. He is seeing increasing levels of violence and fears for the safety of these youths to the extent he is spearheading a campaign to have stab kits – which can save the life of someone who has been injured by a knife – installed around the area.

“So many kids carry knives and I think you’ve got to at look at why they do. I’ve worked really closely with these kids and a lot of them have trauma. They fill themselves up by trying to be the big man about town who all the other kids are scared of.”

Mr Scott argues there is a lack of services for these young people, who too often end up bored and roaming the streets.

The story remains the same

The issues blighting the next generation of Hastings youth are similar to those faced by Mr Photiou when he was a teen. Individual traumas combined with a lack of opportunities, beyond factory work or the seasonal tourism trade, has unfortunately continued to lead people to turn to drink and drugs.

Mr Photiou added: “People end up with a lack of self compassion, self worth, they suffer anxiety and fear. Substance and alcohol abuse is a good way to alter your reality. I believe a lot of people in Hastings have gone down that route. It’s easy to get drugs and it’s always been a massive drinking town.” 

The good news for Hastings is that it has organisations like Seaview powered by passionate and effective people such as Mr Scott and Mr Perry. If decision makers listen and invest in their ideas issues like homelessness and youth violence stand a far better chance of being tackled.  

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