Pride in deprived Torquay district despite tough times

Bev House in Ellacombe Church Road Torquay
-Credit: (Image: DevonLive)

Bev House is burning the weeds in her garden in Torquay with a heated torch. She obliterates the unwanted invaders on her front wall. A neighbour is out on the pavement painting the stone columns on his terrace. Across the road, local legend Peter Sherwood is fixing a car at the garage he's run for 35 years.

Ellacombe has always been a place for workers. Ever since wealthy Victorians moved out to the hills overlooking the sea, the breadwinning men and women of Torquay have come here to live and toil among the solidly built, tightly-packed terraces a short walk from the town centre.

You do still see palm trees in Ellacombe, the exotic symbol of the English Riviera. They just tend to be squeezed into much smaller gardens than you'll see on the seafront of the famous holiday town. But they are planted here for the pleasure of the residents rather than the tourists.

Ellacombe has long been the engine room of Torquay's holiday ship. Visitors don't wander up here looking for attractions. They wouldn't find any. It is tucked away behind the town centre but is teeming with life stories.

It isn't an earthly paradise but there is no shortage of pride in the community. In comparison to some districts it has become a more affordable place to get on the housing ladder. Many of the properties are subdivided into flats, some ideal as starter properties, others for people on benefits. The local park is busy with families.

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Bev thinks she's been living on Ellacombe Church Road longer than anybody else - ever since she married 40 years ago. "It's still a friendly place," she says. She tolerates all things with a relaxed shrug - the social change around her, the rise in drug crime, the regular appearance of police and ambulance crews on her street, just not the weeds.

She could be forgiven for giving up on the area. Ellacombe is among the most deprived neighbourhoods in Torquay, itself Devon's most deprived town. There are signs of abandonment in the closed convenience shop on the corner near the church, shut a couple of years ago with no sign of being revived.

A number of houses have broken windows or are boarded. "There was a fire in that building a couple of years," a local says. "Nothing has been done about it since."

Even the clergy packed their bags in 2017. That was the year of the final service at the imposing Victorian church which is locked and bolted. Its overgrown garden is now in need of a Bev-style assault. The loss of facilities around here has been gradual over time.

Mechanic Peter says it's a shame about the church but he's still busy at his garage.

If you live in Ellacombe you'll know Peter as the man to go to if you want something put back together. His garage opens its double doors onto Ellacombe Church Road every working day, the welding torches, oily rags and wheel jacks are well-used.

Peter Sherwood from Torquay
Peter Sherwood from Torquay -Credit:DevonLive

For years people have been coming to him to mend all sorts of broken machinery. He's the fixer in these parts. It hasn't been easy, overcoming dyslexia and building his business through sheer hard work.

"I didn't know for many years that I was dyslexic," he says. "When I found out it changed my life. I also realised I was naturally good at something, and I've always loved fixing things.

"I'm 66 now and thinking of selling. I get here at 10am and stay until 6:30pm. I've always liked it here. People come here if they need something practical because I'm good with my hands and I think a bit weird."

He says he hasn't seen much change in the area from the 1980s and 90s but admits it was once bustling with similar workshops.

One of his customers today is Chris Channon, 79, who needs an errant pipe in his faltering car put back in its place. He is a retired international banker who came to Torquay from London and settled with his family in neighbouring Plainmoor.

Back in the day Torquay United's Plainmoor ground was formerly the home of Ellacombe United before it merged with Torquay Town. In those days Ellacombe had rows of shops on every street and the area even had its own cinema, bowling hall and brewery. Now, since the Country House closed in 2017, there isn't even a pub.

Chris Channon in Torquay
Chris Channon in Torquay -Credit:DevonLive

"For about a minute after I sold up in London I was rich," says Chris. I had three cars and two houses, then reality struck.

"The kids have gone back to London. I think Torquay is a lovely place, Devon is a garden. It's by the sea and will be on the way up - eventually. To be honest I've seen more life and crime in Plainmoor than I ever saw in London. There's never a dull moment."

Between November 2021 and October 2022, violent crime was the most common type reported in the area with 349 of all crimes out of 870 being violent, according to figures.

There have been a few unwanted headlines this year. The tragic death of Aaron Parrington who was stabbed outside a house in 2023. Drug user Raymond Lynagh was also jailed for life for a house fire murder in Ellacombe Road.

Parents and children in Ellacombe Park
Parents and children in Ellacombe Park -Credit:DevonLive

But there are people fighting hard to make life better for 'forgotten' Ellacombe residents. A number of community projects have been set up to help people with the cost of living.

One man is hauling a fridge into the back of his car. He doesn't want to overdo it as a few years ago he suffered a heart attack in the street.

"When the ambulance came and parked in the street some guy kicked off and started shouting that they had to move because they were blocking him. Unbelievable really. I was dying and he was shouting at the ambulance. Fortunately police were here."

Ellacombe Church Road in Torquay
Ellacombe Church Road in Torquay -Credit:DevonLive

He moved here after falling on hard times and was reduced to living in his van for seven weeks. "This was the only area of Torquay where I could find something affordable," he says.

Despite the loss of facilities, the closed corner shop, the flashes of crime and even the locked up church, the people living here haven't given up on it yet.

Like many here, he is someone trying to overcome a problem, make a new start, build a business, start a family or plant an oversized palm tree.

Bev, for one, has no plans to move. "I like the street," she says, torching another trespasser.