Kitchen lighters, chopping boards, garlic puree - searching for Hyndburn's hidden homeless

Over the past few years, locals on the outskirts of Oswaldtwistle say they’ve sighted multiple people who  have resorted to a tent
-Credit: (Image: The Hyndburn Lead)


According to the official count, there were just eight people sleeping rough last autumn. But what about those that no one notices?

The Hyndburn Lead visited a woodland in Oswaldtwistle where people have been increasingly living in tents after failing to get the help they desperately need.

Encountering kitchen lighters, chopping boards, and garlic puree while on a woodland walk, would probably leave you asking a few questions.

They could go mistaken as the remnants of a few careless campers, or be dismissed as general waste, but when residents of one Hyndburn town stumbled upon these incongruent items, a more alarming reason was revealed as the cause – rural homelessness.

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Over the past few years, locals on the outskirts of Oswaldtwistle say they’ve sighted multiple people who – because of rising rents and the latest cost-of-living crisis – have resorted to a tent with little protection from the elements as their home.

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One recent case saw a man and woman live in a woodland near the Stanhill area for months after being evicted from their private rental, a dog walker who often spoke to them reported.

“They said they’d been evicted because the house apparently wasn’t safe to be living in, but they couldn’t find any more accommodation They said they were trying to get help, but they were just told they were on a waiting list.”

The Ossy Litter Pickers -Credit:The Hyndburn Lead
The Ossy Litter Pickers -Credit:The Hyndburn Lead

The dog walker – who wished to remain anonymous – would often see the couple heading into Oswaldtwistle town centre early in the morning, to use the benefits they were reportedly still receiving, to buy amenities.

“They must have lived here for three to four months, so they encountered all weathers, all extremes,” she recounted. She added: “I was a bit disturbed really. Where’s the help for everybody? It’s obvious they weren’t getting the help that they need.

“It’s quite frightening when you just suddenly come across a tent if there are people in it, but they were very friendly and it’s a sad state of affairs that they had to resort to that.”

How often have cases like these occurred in the area? One group who’ve become all too used to encountering people resorting to inhabiting woodlands, are the Ossy Litter Pickers. Since 2021, they’ve been patrolling the town’s ‘rubbish hotspots’ in an effort to keep them tidy.

Founder Kath Everett and her team attended to the debris left by the aforementioned couple. She said: “We’ve encountered four or five sites – it’s probably more prevalent here than in other parts of the country.

Litter collected from the outskirts of Oswaldtwistle -Credit:The Hyndburn Lead
Litter collected from the outskirts of Oswaldtwistle -Credit:The Hyndburn Lead

“The council should be tackling the problems at route source, so that people aren’t put into the position where they are living in the woods.”

Fellow litter-picker, Karen Petitt, added: “There’s another wood behind where I live in Oswaldtwistle and there was a man sleeping there, so we reported it to the police.

“He wasn’t doing us any harm, but it was obvious he had nowhere to live, nowhere to go. It turned out he had mental health problems, and he’d been living rough for quite some time.

“They wanted to help him but nobody could because they couldn’t find him. More than anything else, it’s sad that we can’t help people, and that they’re reduced to this.”

The volunteer group recalled how, at first, it didn’t cross their minds that the discarded items they were collecting were remnants of homelessness.

Karen said: “I’ve found an empty suitcase, mounds of clothes, rubbish in bin bags. I thought it was people chucking stuff out. Today alone, we’ve found two sleeping bags and two tents, so it’s not just one person.”

Nationwide, statistics present a similar picture. Some 91% of people living in rural areas have reported an increase in homelessness sightings from 2018 to 2023, according to a study conducted by The University of Kent and The University of Southampton.

The report, commissioned by Rural England, also highlights 86% of housing and homelessness providers consider rural homelessness to be a ‘significant or acute problem.’ Additionally, cases of people sleeping rough in the countryside increased 24% from 2022 to 2023 alone.

Falling victim to arson attacks, violent muggings (which in some cases have resulted in brain injury), several days of starvation, and being spat on, are just some of the horrors that people residing without shelter in the countryside have recalled, according to Rural England.

Rough sleeping is the most visible form, but people in pastoral areas sofa surfing and living in temporary accommodation also fall into the bracket of rural homelessness.

“From the work we’ve done, we’ve found that rural homelessness is unfortunately too prevalent,” chair of the Rural Homelessness Counts Coalition, Rory Weal, told The Hyndburn Lead.

“It’s often hidden, it’s often ignored. We’ve seen people living in tents, in barns, in woods, so all places where services are unlikely to pick them up.”

The volunteer group recalled how, at first, it didn’t cross their minds that the discarded items they were collecting were remnants of homelessness -Credit:The Hyndburn Lead
The volunteer group recalled how, at first, it didn’t cross their minds that the discarded items they were collecting were remnants of homelessness -Credit:The Hyndburn Lead

The coalition was established to increase awareness and ‘develop solutions’ aimed at getting people into safe housing. It starts with better identifying the problem, too often people are out of sight, out of mind and that’s not the right place to start from,” Rory added.

“We need to develop better identification to find people when they are at risk.

“That involves working with local communities to be the eyes and ears on the ground. It’s also about councils ensuring that there are options, and that those options include long-term permanent housing.”

Rory called on central government to ‘wake up’ and increase funding and resources so that local authorities are better equipped to provide shelter.

Government data from 2023 estimates that eight people were sleeping rough in the whole of Hyndburn on a single night in autumn of that year. In reality, since they are based on what can be visibly counted, these figures fail to paint an accurate picture.

Due to the nature of rough sleeping, the Government admits finding a true figure is ‘inherently difficult’ and that where people choose to sleep is a factor in whether or not they are counted in the snapshot.

In other words, people in remote woodlands are not included in the data.

Rory added: “We need wraparound support for anybody who’s experiencing homelessness, no matter whether it’s rural or not.”

Hyndburn Borough Council responded to claims that people were living in woodlands for months before being housed.

A spokesperson said: “We are committed to preventing, wherever possible, homelessness occurring.

“But in those cases where it does, we provide a comprehensive assessment, support and resettlement service which is responsive to the needs of clients and is aimed at preventing a recurrence of homelessness.”

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You can read this article ‘Often hidden, often ignored: The woodland homeless of Hyndburn’ on The Hyndburn Lead’s website: https://thelead.uk/