Can the Happy Club help save Jaywick Sands?

By Laurence Cawley
BBC News

  • Published
Lynn and Ted Purton
Image caption,
Lynn and Ted Purton were given bags of food by Jaywick Sands Happy Club for about nine months when they had "nothing"

Jaywick Sands is one of England's most deprived areas. A picture of it even featured in a US elections attack ad last year, warning voters about urban decay. But one man hopes the fortunes of this seaside village in Essex can still be turned around.

Danny Slogget immediately clocks the dishevelled, homeless man - possibly worse for wear through alcohol - coming through the doors of Jaywick's church hall. He politely excuses himself to chat with the new visitor, before shouting out to the 20 or so people inside the church hall: "Can anybody spare a bed for the night?"

At least five hands instantly shoot up.

"There you go," Danny says to the man. "You've got options."

No council housing assessment, no red tape, no hesitation. At least for the night, the man will have a roof over his head.

Image caption,
Danny Sloggett founded the club to give the village a "youth club for adults"

Father-of-two Danny describes the Jaywick Sands Happy Club he founded as a "youth club for adults". It meets on the first Thursday of each month and is more than just a place to catch up. Rickety tables look set to buckle beneath piles of crockery, children's toys, a plastic Christmas tree, cutlery, a desk lamp and a suitcase. Next to that stands a clothes rail. All of it is free to take away.

"People bring what they don't need, people take what they need," says Danny, who moved to Jaywick from neighbouring Clacton when he was 11 years old. "It's like chemistry - there's a chain reaction.

"People start giving things to the meeting after they've taken things from the meeting. This is some people's rubbish, but to other people it is treasure."

Besides the bric-a-brac, there is table tennis table for games and rows of chairs for people to sit and talk - something Danny, 44, feels happens less and less these days.

"Everywhere else I look seems so isolated. They're not even talking to their neighbours. Here, we are one."

Image caption,
Jaywick began as a holiday resort, with homes becoming permanent residences after World War Two
Image source, Facebook
Image caption,
A Republican candidate in the US used an image of Jaywick in a political poster

There is a formal side to the meetings, where issues are raised. Danny writes down whatever is concerning people - litter, difficulties getting GP appointments, speeding cars, problems with landlords, issues with rats - and then the group decides what action will be taken.

This might mean an email to the council or health services, or a short video demanding action, which Danny will post online. For its part, Tendring District Council says the work of the club "in bringing community issues to our attention is helpful and important".

"We will continue to build relationships with community groups in Jaywick Sands and try to answer their questions or point them in the right direction if it is not something we can help with," a spokesman said.

  • Jaywick was deemed the most deprived area of England in 2015 by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
  • The village is home to 4,665 residents and represented in Parliament by Conservative MP Giles Watling
  • It was a popular holiday destination in the 1930s for people living in Essex and east London
  • After World War Two, housing shortages meant what were once holiday homes became permanent residences
  • In 1953, 35 people died in Jaywick during the North Sea flood. The village remains at risk of flooding
  • An image of a run-down Jaywick was used in a campaign advert for US congressional candidate Dr Nick Stella. It featured on the Republican's Facebook page and warned voters against going back to "foreclosures, unemployment and economic recession"

Danny is happy to act as a middleman between residents and the authorities.

"Every day I get messages about what people need doing, whether they need a fridge, or this or that. I make a video about these problems and usually these problems get solved - people get re-homed, people get fed.

"We can make so much happen. I believe I am making peace between the people and the council. We are working in unity - I am working with the council but not for it. We are now buddies. [Happy Club] gives a lifeline and a voice to so many people who did not have a voice or a means to meet other people. I make sure I am getting answers for them and I won't stop until I get it."

Image caption,
Lynn, 56, and Ted, 57, hope the club will be able to help them secure a larger home

Though Danny does not use the word "lifeline" lightly, Ted and Lynn Purton would agree with his assessment.

Their 21-year-old son Chris died in a kayaking accident in 2016 and to pay for his funeral, the couple took out a £5,000 loan. The tragedy also coincided with a change in their benefits payments - from disability living allowance to the personal independent payment - which they say left them without any income for about nine months.

"My husband and I had no money," said Lynn. "So we had no food, we had no electric, we had nothing. So Dan, bless his heart, brought us groceries to eat until it all got sorted out. That's the sort of thing they do here. If you're in need, they will help the very best they can."

Image caption,
The club meets monthly and gives people a chance to mingle and raise problems

Ted and Lynn's health is currently very poor. Both face significant mobility issues which Lynn says "is only going to get worse". Their privately-rented, single-storey home, reached by steps, is a narrow corridor of cramped rooms, one after the other.

"My home is not fit for people with mobility problems," explains Lynn. "Hopefully, maybe, we could get another one, a bigger property."

The couple have tried finding a new home privately but have not yet approached the council. Danny is confident the club can help re-home them.

"Lynn and Ted will get their new house. I tell you, the club will not sleep until Lynn and Ted are re-homed."

Image caption,
Musician Alex Clowes hopes to set up a free music festival for the people of Jaywick

According to its members, the club provides something different for everyone. For life-long biker David Barclay it is very much "about meeting people".

"I don't normally get out and I get very shy and I go into myself," he says. "This brings me out of it."

Security expert Jimmy Burns has offered a one-on-one boxing lesson to a young lad who is being bullied at school.

"I just want to help them build a bit of confidence," he says. "Boxing is an excellent way of doing that."

Musician Alex Clowes hopes to set up a free music festival for the people of Jaywick, while his partner Nicola Overton decided to move there after seeing one of Danny's videos online. She is now a councillor said she stood for election because she was "fed up" of how little was being done for the village.

"I could see and appreciate the community spirit which is something that has been long lost around many parts of the country.

"[Moving] is the best decision I ever made - the people are amazing, funny and always willing to help their neighbours even when are struggling themselves."

The club's secretary Donna Mimms, an old friend of Danny's, has also been inspired by his efforts and travels up each month from London to help out.

"If you do good, good will follow you," reasons Danny.

Image caption,
Jimmy Burns has provided boxing lessons to younger members, while David Barclay says he attends to overcome his shyness

Quick fixes are helpful, but what is being done to help residents in Jaywick long term?

Paul Honeywood, the council's cabinet member responsible for the village, says a "huge amount of work is being done in the area", which has historically struggled to attract investment because it is at significant risk of flooding.

He explains the council is looking at a "wider vision" for the area to improve quality of life, a key element of which is working with the "strong community".

"What people tend to forget is the fantastic potential of the area, particularly as it has one of the best beaches in the east of England - which is of course why thousands of holiday visitors chose to live here in the first place.

"A particular focus for us is tackling poor quality housing, which can have a knock-on effect on health and well-being. We are doing this by purchasing land and derelict buildings and we have started to build new homes in the area, both for rent and for residents to purchase.

"Deprivation is dependent on a number of different factors, including access to health services and education as well as financial measures. It is not something we can tackle alone, which is why we are working with numerous agencies and organisations with the aim of releasing the full potential of Jaywick Sands as a great place to live and work."

Image caption,
Dan Casey and Andy White help Danny pursue the issues raised at meetings

Danny says he will not rest until he has helped the people most in need in Jaywick. Given he is not affiliated with the council, or hold any position in local politics or other authority in the area, it begs the question: why is he so driven to help improve the community?

"I've been to prison eight times," he says. "It doesn't get darker than that for anybody. At the age of 21 I decided there was more to achieve in life. There's no success in crime. There's no glory in being a criminal. It is all rubbish. So I said, 'right, I'm going to use all my experience from being naughty, to being good'.

"We must all do something to help people because we are all just one pay packet away from being homeless ourselves.

"So if we don't start helping others, it could be us. And how can we expect help when we need it, if we don't help while we're able to?

"I think all of the world could learn from Jaywick. If we can do this here, then what could they do [out] there?"

  • The Jaywick Sands Happy Club will be featured on Inside Out East on Monday at 19.30 BST.

Photography by Laurence Cawley

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