The projector has been lined up and the screen erected. As the room begins to fill I am getting characteristically apprehensive ahead of my talk. I get into conversation with a small group and ask about the ‘darker side’ of Brixham, a drug problem that is apparently constantly bubbling under and, from time to time, boils over.
As a port it’s not just the tonnes of sole, turbot, cuttle fish, cod, mackerel, red mullet and squid that are brought ashore each year. “The fishermen work hard and play hard,” someone is saying. “Drugs are easy to bring in, maybe meeting their French or Dutch counterparts mid-ocean. There were three heroin-related deaths amongst the fishing community a few years ago and that shocked the town so the problem has tailed off a little now.”
A woman I hadn’t been introduced to chipped in saying that amongst young people drug and alcohol use continues to be a serious issue because there is so little to do in Brixham. “Boredom plays a big part. The town is geared to entertaining and making a profit from tourists but for a teenager with no money the temptations of the so-called softer drugs are too great.”
As Laura and Ntembe dish out the Kadhai chicken, red lentils and aubergine slices, I am introduced to more people whose names I instantly forget. My quip about needing a roll of adhesive name labels wears thin after a while. I sit at a table with Andrew, the chair of Brixham YES, whose blogs I have been reading in preparation for my trip and so feel I know already. After he explained how he got drawn into The Edge I ask him the question that had been on my mind all day. “What,” I ask, between mouthfuls of nan bread, “is unique about YES?” His response stays with me for the rest of the week.
“It’s an understanding that we are all beneficiaries,” he says. “Yes, there are staff and yes, there are volunteers and, technically there are what the terminology would call service users. But actually we’re all in it together.”
Before I arrived in Devon Angela had talked about the ‘YES family’, a term I had thought a little too grand for a community centre, but, some minutes later, as I stand in front of those 20 or so people and reflect on this first day, I find myself reconsidering the description. There’s a homeless man on the front row who lives in a tiny space upstairs; teenage girls for whom this place is a second home, giggling on the sofa; a young man soon to be a Cambridge undergraduate and another who has been pulled back from a world of Black Ops. There’s an engineer who has been sucked into becoming chair and a young mum who is passionate about sharing her love of photography. But this is no clique. I’ve heard introductions being made and so there are new people here too, interviewees for another day.
And there is Ben, still in his Asda uniform, straight off the bus, dropping in before he heads home.