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From hostility to hope - how a community responded to teen's murder

PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 March 2019 | UPDATED: 08:34 16 March 2019

Flowers left as tributes following the death of Tavis Spencer Aitkens Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Flowers left as tributes following the death of Tavis Spencer Aitkens Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

Neighbours of the murdered Ipswich teenager Tavis Spencer-Aitkens say his death left the community angry with authorities - and determined to find hope from tragedy.

Maureen Gladwell, who lives in Packard Avenue, just yards from where Tavis, 17, was fatally stabbed on June 2, said there had been a “tangible hostility” in the days that followed.

Hundreds of people packed the Nansen Road Baptist Church on June 4 for a meeting to address community tensions following the teen’s murder.

Many blamed police and councils for neglecting the Nacton Road area, calling for investment in youth facilities, rather than cuts and closures.

“It was overwhelmingly sad,” said Ms Gladwell, 60.

“I’m a mother, and although I didn’t know Tavis well, he’d always say hello.

Maureen Gladwell at the St Augustine's recreation ground where thousands of crocus bulbs have been planted Picture: ANDREW HIRSTMaureen Gladwell at the St Augustine's recreation ground where thousands of crocus bulbs have been planted Picture: ANDREW HIRST

“After he died I remember walking along Queen’s Way and being surrounded by young people carrying flowers and tributes and I felt overcome by the sadness of it all.

“The grief was tangible. The road was a surge of young people coming to pay their respects.”

Rev Peterson Anand, of the Nansen Road Baptist Church said tension had been building over the year before Tavis’s death.

MORE: Teenager cries in dock as jury convicts him of Tavis murder

“There was a feeling something was not right in the community for young people,” he said.

“Right from the beginning, people were saying we need to do more. We seemed to have lost touch with our young people; there was a lack of trust.”

Rev Peterson Anand at the Nansen Road Baptist Church Picture: ANDREW HIRSTRev Peterson Anand at the Nansen Road Baptist Church Picture: ANDREW HIRST

Rev Anand said Tavis’s death brought tensions to a head.

“People were crying and others were very angry, especially about the lack of CCTV cameras,” he added. “But after that the community got together and said we should do something about it.

“Within a week, we had a community day with food stalls and the place was full. It was all contributed by the community and raised funds for the funeral.”

Ms Gladwell, who helped organise planting 70,000 yellow crocus bulbs in Tavis’s memory, praised the community’s resilience.

“People have been quite negative about Nacton, but we all look out for each other. It’s a very tight-knit community.”

She said it was important to stay positive.

“If no good comes from this dreadfully tragic event, then Tavis will have died in vain,” she added. “We’ve got to learn from what’s happened.”

Authorities also sought to respond to the tragedy and criticisms they faced.

Police stepped up patrols, launched a new gangs unit and appointed an engagement officer, while councils invested in activities for young people.

Sarah Barber, who represents the area at Ipswich Borough Council said the meeting showed authorities had work to do. But she claims the response improved relations, highlighting initiatives such as the Race for Change group, iCards offering children free activities and funding for the St Augustine’s recreation ground.

Sarah Barber at St Augustine's recreation ground Picture: ANDREW HIRSTSarah Barber at St Augustine's recreation ground Picture: ANDREW HIRST

“It’s been about us listening to what the residents want,” she said.

“We’re not just responding to a check list of priorities, we’re actually trying to develop our relationship with the community as well. We’ve worked really hard as councillors, and I think people have noticed.”

While Ms Gladwell agreed the authorities’ response had helped, others were less convinced.

Prash Shah, who runs Pick ‘N’ Pay in Queen’s Way, said the police had been pro-active in the immediate aftermath, but it soon tailed off. And while he praised the new play equipment, he also claimed councils could have involved the community more.

“I get that there’s not much money around, but it’s just a shame something like this had to happen for the police and councils to respond,” he added.

Prash Shah, owner of Pick 'n' Pay in Queen's Way Picture: ANDREW HIRSTPrash Shah, owner of Pick 'n' Pay in Queen's Way Picture: ANDREW HIRST

Rev Anand said authorities had “tried their best”, but he felt trust would only be fully restored when the community saw justice done.

MORE: First pictures of pair convicted of murdering Tavis Spencer-Aitkens

He believes problems had arisen through family breakdowns and a lack of role models for young people, which needed to be addressed at an early age to prevent gangs stepping in to offer what society failed to deliver.

“Work needs to begin with trust and respect because that’s the only way we can have a society where young people can thrive, realise their ambitions and do great things that bring pride to their families, their community and everyone,” he added.

Mrs Barber said it was important to continue working with the community.

“We need to build on the community spirt, because there’s a lot to be proud of around here,” she added.

Tavis Spencer-Aitkens   Picture: Supplied by familyTavis Spencer-Aitkens Picture: Supplied by family

Ms Gladwell hopes to start a community garden in Tavis’s memory but needs people to join a committee to apply for funding.

Anyone who is interested is asked to email her.

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