The man in the tower

“It’s only a small town,” I’d been told, “one road in and one road out.” Depending on your direction of travel The Edge is on the road out but, for the last week or so even that has been closed off at one end while engineers from the water board replace a sewer. Traffic is being diverted on a circuitous route around the harbour and through a residential area. It means that a normally busy thoroughfare is quiet which is not good for the local shops but ideal for the town’s skateboarders.

Just up from the roadworks I pass YES’s charity shop, a relatively recent acquisition and, apparently, one of eight in Brixham. I’m expected here tomorrow to interview the shop manager.

Back at The Edge I’m introduced to Mara who YES pay to run the café four days a week. Her three teenage children are all young volunteers here and, for the whole family, YES and The Edge are a big part of their lives. Mara also runs the scout group on a Wednesday evening and between them the family have been involved in five of the Neighbourhood Challenge projects.

“The Co-operative are doing two Lurpaks for £1,” Mara tells Angela as she unpacks a shopping bag. “So I’ve stocked up.”

Before I sit down and talk to Sammy, one of the Ferrero Rocher pyramid-makers, Angela wants to take me to meet Carl, the only person who actually lives at The Edge. I follow her upstairs and, as she unlocks a door leading to the upper level of the old church, she calls out, “Hello Carl, are you there? It’s me, Angela.”

I’ve already heard about Carl. Before the winter he had been living in a tent in the woods nearby. He used to come into The Edge to use the Wi-Fi for his laptop and, by way of repayment, would do the odd job around the place.  As the temperature dropped and the staff grew increasingly concerned for him, they asked if he wanted to sleep upstairs, a kind of unofficial night watchman-cum-handyman.

Carl’s space is tiny. No more than 12×6 feet, right behind the large rose window, the building’s only architectural feature. There’s a folding bed, an armchair and an industrial bar heater. Heavy material is draped between this space and the rest of the upper floor.

Not expecting us, Carl attempts to tidy up before he agrees I can photograph him. “I’ve arranged for you two to talk tomorrow morning,” Angela is saying.

“It would be good to photograph you in the woods,” I suggest, “where you used to camp. We could talk on the way. Would that be possible?”

“It’s in one of the old quarries, a bit of a trek…” says Carl, eyeing me up, uncertain of my rock-scrambling abilities.

“I’d be up for that, I’ve got my walking boots in the car.”

We make arrangements for the following morning and, before Angela leads me back downstairs, we survey the rest of the upper floor. The silver pipes of the old organ are at the opposite end of the horseshoe balcony, and the four rows of wooden pews overlooking  the central space are now a storage area with dozens of plastic and cardboard boxes, old computers, sewing machines and admin files covering every available space.

“Our long-term aim is to build a number of accommodation pods up here for homeless young people. But the pews are listed,” says Angela with some exasperation. “We can’t remove them without planning permission and even then we’d have to put them in storage. We can’t afford to do that if we wanted to. So, for the time being, it’s a wasted space.”

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