Capital of the Fens falls prey to drugs and abuse of foreigners

14th July 2006 at 01:00
Fen folk have a reputation for taciturnity and being wary of incomers. But hard-working Europeans are now often the objects of open racial abuse.

With disaffected locals reluctant to wash salads or pick fruit, the area has become a magnet for East Europeans, many willing to work 12 or more hours a day. Lithuanian, Latvian and Polish are heard in the aisles of the local Asda almost as much as the Fen dialect.

Wisbech likes to label itself the capital of the Fens and is known to tourists and film-makers for its striking Georgian river front.

For centuries, it was a major port and market town. But as the coastline retreated its prosperity declined and it is now an area of serious rural deprivation.

The surrounding flatlands were drained and made fertile in the 17th century, and the vast prairies are dotted with isolated hamlets. With no cinema and no evening buses, there is little entertainment for young people - and even less in the surrounding villages. Boredom feeds a thriving drugs trade.

In once handsome Victorian streets, dealers operate openly. Middle-class parents migrate to the more "select" villages and opt, if possible, for the fully-subscribed, fee-paying grammar school.

Its isolation once made Fenland notorious for inbreeding. Only a fortnight ago, a teacher had a class disrupted by two pupils celebrating the discovery that they were close cousins.

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