'You might as well be on Mars'

An estate seen as a 'last resort' by its residents fears the worst for the future
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The Independent Online
For many of Luton's poor the Marsh Farm Estate, built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is a last resort when they cannot get housing elsewhere, writes Matthew Brace.

But a Luton Town Council spokesman said: "This is no Brixton, no Toxteth. It has its problems like anywhere else, but it's not what you could call a trouble estate."

However, riots are not new to Marsh Farm. Three years ago it saw four days of disturbances. But not as bad as this week, many local people said.

"These have been far worse," a woman shouted from a balcony of one of the tower blocks at the centre of the riots on Wednesday. "And we've only had two nights so far.God knows what we'll get over the weekend."

Others are more optimistic. "Just a bit of bother," said a man walking his alsatian near the plundered Kwik Save supermarket. "But I'm keeping the dog with me just in case. Things happened so quickly the other night, you never know what's going on next. It gives the kids something to do I suppose, not that I was involved. But I'm sure it'll all blow over in the next day or two."

But Daniel, 31, like many on the estate, wants to leave. "There's nothing to do here. That's one of the reasons the riots are going on. Look at it. No clubs, no activities, nothing. You may as well be on Mars."

The council admits that despite its efforts to breathe life into Marsh Farm, morale is still rock-bottom. Roy Davis, the council leader, said more than pounds 3m had been put into the estate in recent years.

"It has gone into community centre work, computer equipment, and there is an Afro-Caribbean drop-in centre," he said.

"We have been working closely with community leaders with a lot of success, but we are prevented from doing much more by the year-on-year cuts from central government. We've really tried here but we can't just keep turning the money taps on."

People clearing up the mess outside their homes yesterday expressed disgust for the riots. One said: "A wicked few have terrorised this estate, where most people are law-abiding."

Father John Belither, a local Anglican clergyman, offered to act as a mediator between rioters and community leaders if the need arose. Having already spent one night monitoring the rioting, he was preparing yesterday evening to brave a second night.