HELENSBURGH’S strengths, weaknesses and opportunities “appear universal to all sections of the community”, despite the stark contrast between prosperity and poverty in the town being laid bare by new statistics.

That’s the view of Norman McNally, a member of Helensburgh Community Council (HCC), based on the early results of a recent HCC survey aimed at defining the area’s identity and promoting the needs of its people.

According to feedback collected for the Vision for Helensburgh (VfH) project, there is a common realisation that the town is “neglected”, and better communication and cooperation between the local authority and the community is required urgently.

Mr McNally presented his initial findings at HCC’s first meeting of 2020 on Thursday, January 30, shortly after the latest Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) report was released.

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The updated SIMD - published every four years by the Scottish Government - highlights the striking split between wealth and hardship in streets just yards apart.

By dividing the country into almost 7,000 data zones, 36 of which are in Helensburgh and Lomond, the study rates each area according to seven criteria: income, employment, education, health, crime, housing, and access to services.

Since 2012, parts of Helensburgh east - including Old Luss Road, Williamson Drive and Drumfork Court - have been named among the most deprived five per cent of areas in the whole of Scotland. The latest SIMD statistics rank the Helensburgh east data zone as the 280th most deprived area in the country.

Meanwhile, areas in the north of the town - mostly covering the Clyde Arran estate - are consistently ranked among the country’s least deprived zones. Parts of Helensburgh upper, including West Dhuhill Drive and Kennedy Drive, are this year ranked 6,655 out of 6,976 data zones, while the Clyde Arran estate is included in the area ranked 6,820.

Helensburgh had been home to both the most and least deprived zones in Argyll and Bute in the last SIMD figures, published in 2016, but this time the most-deprived area is located in Dunoon.

The Clyde Arran estate area is ranked in the 10th, or best ‘decile’ for low levels of deprivation in terms of income, employment, health, education/skills, and housing, and in the ninth ‘decile’ for crime, ranking poorly only for geographic access.

In contrast, the part of Helensburgh with the highest level of deprivation is ranked at the worst possible ‘decile’ for income, employment, health and education/skills; the second-lowest for crime; third-lowest for housing and fifth-lowest for geographic access.

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Mr McNally said that common goals can be achieved in spite of the obvious inequalities amongst the town’s population.

He told the Advertiser: “In our formative discussions with council officers, VfH agreed to pay particular attention to Helensburgh’s less advantaged communities and groups; we have been collecting feedback from clients at the Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank and from the Meet and Eat Club at the County Hotel.

“In fact, more than half of our feedback originated from G84 7 and G84 9 postcodes - both areas highlighted in the SIMD report.

“Beyond received comments that leisure provision best matches older and better off residents, nothing in the feedback indicates ‘additional challenges’ posed by striking disparity in economic clout.

“Helensburgh’s identified strengths, weaknesses and opportunities appear universal to all sections of the community; a realisation that Helensburgh is neglected, maintenance and repair work is needed, upgrading and improvement to amenities, and with a need for concerted effort to be far better at both internal and external communication at all levels.

“Communication may well become one of the first challenges to be taken up; there is a demand for better sharing of information and cooperation: between the council and the community, across the various clubs, associations and postal areas, and a perceived wish for a Helensburgh social/community hub.”

The VfH findings will be exhibited to the public in April.

In comparison with the 2016 SIMD figures, the latest report shows that deprivation levels have fallen in the area of central Helensburgh to the west of Sinclair Street, while upper Helensburgh, again west of Sinclair Street, is even less deprived than it was four years ago.

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The Colgrain area of the town is slightly less deprived than it was four years ago, while the same is true of Rosneath, but deprivation was found to have risen slightly in parts of Rhu and Cove.

Of the 20 least deprived zones in Argyll and Bute, 17 are located in Helensburgh and Lomond – and the top four are in ‘Helensburgh North’.

Commenting on the findings, Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara said: “While these figures sadden me, they don’t surprise me.

“I recognise that Helensburgh is a hugely unequal town, where some of the most affluent areas of Scotland sit cheek-by-jowl with some of the poorest.

“But, sadly, that gap appears to be widening as, increasingly, food banks are being relied upon to feed our local children.

“While I commend the work of the Scottish Government in trying to mitigate the worst effects of it, we should never lose sight of the fact that the existence of such poverty in a country as rich as the UK isn’t an accident.

“Increased poverty is a direct result of those political choices made by the Tories at Westminster over the past decade.

“They chose to slash the social security budget. They chose to massively under-fund the introduction of Universal Credit. And they chose to make the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable in our society bear the cost of a financial crisis that had nothing to do with them.

“It is an inescapable fact that Tory policies over the last decade have plunged families and children into unimaginable levels of poverty here in Helensburgh, across Scotland and the UK.”

The interactive SIMD map – with comparisons between this year’s rankings and those of 2016 and 2012 – can be viewed online at simd.scot.

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