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From Trickett’s Cross to Heatherlands

Stephen Riley looks at the welcome changes that have happened in Ferndown

The case hardly needs to be made that we could do with some good news at the moment. Indeed, that need could be so intense that one might be tempted to try too hard, to stretch and elevate something beyond its worth, just to have something cheerful to say. That is not the case here. This is a genuine good news story; it is a tale of selfless goodwill and endeavour transforming a community.

John Hanrahan, Community Centre Manager and Jitsu Club Chairman, with the Heatherlands Community Centre mural. The mural is at the back of the building, facing the basket-ball court and Parley Common, beyond.
John Hanrahan, Community Centre Manager and Jitsu Club Chairman, with the Heatherlands Community Centre mural. The mural is at the back of the building, facing the basket-ball court and Parley Common, beyond.

Ferndown is probably an enigma to most; a place seen through glass by the thousands who pass through the town on its network of not-insubstantial A-roads, en route to and from Dorset’s various coastal towns. One can imagine that the impression it gives is of a place which is pleasant, leafy and pretty easy to live in. And this would not be an unfair assessment. However, there is much more to find on closer inspection. Firstly, Ferndown is a far bigger place than it might seem at first glance. It sprawls all the way from Wimborne to St. Leonards in one direction, and from the outskirts of Bournemouth to West Moors in another, making it around four miles across by road, whichever way you travel; and it has a population of around 18,000, making it one of Dorset’s largest non-coastal towns. It has some sizeable industrial areas and it also includes within its borders various protected heathlands, which are home to rare species of snake, lizard and butterfly. But what might surprise a visitor most about Ferndown is the remarkable disparity in quality of life. Whereas most of the town enjoys a reputation for being at least comfortably-off – some of it very comfortably-off – it has one area that is different. That area – a cluster of mostly post-war through to 1990s estates – was known until recently as ‘Tricketts Cross’.
The neighbourhood, particularly in the 1970s and 80s, had a reputation for being a rough and run-down area. Although that reputation was exaggerated – Tricketts Cross is no Toxteth or Tower Hamlets – there were and remain real issues of social exclusion.

Boys and girls of the junior division of Ferndown Jitsu Club learning how to defend themselves against an assailant
Boys and girls of the junior division of Ferndown Jitsu Club learning how to defend themselves against an assailant

    Official 2007 statistics examining deprivation in the county in its various categories – poverty, unemployment, poor education, poor health and so on – include a map in which that little triangular corner at the south-eastern edge of Ferndown is highlighted again and again; in some categories in orange (which means, loosely, ‘pretty bad’), and in others in red (which means, equally loosely, ‘very bad’). The actual statistics are presented in charts. Dorset is broken down into 247 population centres and, reversing the more familiar pop chart or Premier League model, number 1 is the bottom and 247 is the top. Tricketts Cross East scored 6 in the ‘Income’ category and 8 in ‘Education and Skills’. To put this in context, Ferndown Pinewood, under two miles away, scored 243 and 206 in the same categories.
However, change is under way. The council has invested heavily in the area, local people get involved in decision-making, and there is a real sense of pride and community spirit. Freshly-painted pebbledash and lovingly-tended gardens seem to speak of a place that never had any problems. And, to denote this change in outlook and, hopefully, a corresponding change in fortunes, ‘Tricketts Cross’ no longer exists. The area is now called ‘Heatherlands’.

The Centre’s graffiti-style mural includes a character putting out fires on the heathland. He has a fire-fighter’s yellow hat, but a street kid’s trainers, indicating that the local people now see themselves as co-protectors of their environment.

    In common with many estates built in this period, Tricketts Cross/Heatherlands has very few facilities, and that has placed special importance on its community centre, which in turn has become a key focal point in the revitalisation of the area. Heatherlands Community Centre is managed by martial arts expert John Hanrahan, who is also Chairman of Ferndown Jitsu Club, which is based in the centre. The Club, the Community Centre and John and his colleagues are at the heart of the transformation which is now under way.
Ferndown Jitsu Club has eighty members: minis, juniors and adults. Some former minis and juniors have attended since the club opened eleven years ago, gained skills and qualifications, and are now teaching new generations of juniors and minis. John’s son, Robert, is amongst these, and has recently become a ‘Sensei’ – a Lead Instructor. John is rightly proud of both his tutors and tutees: of the nine junior Jitsu blackbelts in the UK, three are members of the Ferndown Club.
Apart from the obvious fact that the Club gives a large number of the estate’s kids something to do when they might otherwise be on the street, there is something about Jitsu itself which is changing this community. Not only are youngsters trained to assert and defend themselves, there is also a rigorous code of conduct, which places emphasis on respect for others. Sessions start and end with groups bowing to their opponents from a kneeling position. All of this is taken very seriously. Rituals are rigidly enforced by trainers, who may well be neighbours or older siblings of some of their charges. Training is a long process of tuition, development and growth, and stages are marked with awards, in the form of cups, coloured belts or other insignia, so trainees get an ongoing and palpable sense of achievement, and reasons to recognise their own self-worth.
‘Jitsu instils self-discipline, confidence, respect and self-belief, as well as fitness’, explained John. ‘These kids had nothing. Now they’re part of something; part of a community. And it’s not just about what the kids do; there’s a knock-on effect: because the kids are here, their parents come along too, and as a consequence they’ve met people they never would have met, and that has produced other groups and activities within the Centre. We have trips, events, talent shows, quizzes. There’s even an art exhibition coming up.’ This is visibly true: on a Wednesday evening, as the minis, juniors and adults take their turns at training in the main hall, the foyer and cafe areas are packed with parents, organisers, committee members and people who seem just to want to be there because everyone else is. The place has a real ‘buzz’ about it.

Parley Common: no longer a place of arson

 Whilst he clearly has enormous energy and passion for what he does, John is also quick to give credit to others, in particular Community Police Officer, Julian Humphries and Police Community Support Officer, Rob Morris. Rob commented that the Centre was ‘the main, if not the only platform for youth activity in the area’, and added that ‘when we do have cause to pick up trouble-makers from the street, they are never Jitsu Club kids’.
John proudly showed off, on the front of the building, a mosaic by artist Jane Burden, commissioned in 2009 to commemorate the facility’s change of name from ‘Tricketts Cross’ to ‘Heatherlands’ Community Centre; and at the side, a new pre-school, which had just been completed, after the Hopscotch Committee had successfully bid for a £250,000 grant.
One particular achievement that John wanted to draw attention to concerned Parley Common, an area of heathland that abuts the back of the Community Centre and spreads over to West Parley. ‘In 2005’, he explained, ‘there were fifteen fires on Parley Common; all were deliberately started. I got together with the Police, Fire Officers and the Urban Heath Project, and we went round all the schools in the area and did a presentation. We showed them the damage that had been done, told them how much it costs to put out the fires – up to £30,000 a time, which all comes out of their parents’ council tax – and, what I think had most impact of all, we showed them what happened to the wildlife. Someone had even made a cast of a snake and painted it in its original colours to show them just what was being destroyed. In the six years since, we’ve only had one fire that wasn’t part of a controlled burning, and I think that was an accident – a garden fire or something. The arson has stopped. The council have even put cattle on there now.’

It’s all about community: Councillor Terri Phillips; Chair of Parents’ Committee, Erica Lea; and Centre Manager, John Hanrahan; next to Jane Burden’s Heatherlands Mosaic.

   These achievements have been recognised. In 2007 the Club was awarded ‘The Queens Golden Jubilee Award for voluntary service by groups in the community’. In 2010 John himself was awarded the rank of ‘Hatamoto’ by the Jitsu Foundation. ‘Hatamoto’ is a senior rank of Samurai. Just how significant this award is is perhaps explained by the following: John is one of only three Westerners to have been given this honour, and he will keep it until death. Only then will it become available to be awarded to another.
As the sun started to dip towards the trees on the far side of Parley Common, a small group of lads in their late teens arrived with a ball for a kick-about on the tarmac square at the back of the Centre; former members of the Jitsu Club, who had drifted away as becoming working men had made it harder to find the time and energy to maintain the necessary commitment. They came over for a chat. They were confident, courteous and interested: Tricketts Cross, no, Heatherlands lads, with the demeanour and assurance of public school boys, but not the accent.

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