Just a ten minute walk from the centre of Derby, lies a foreboding building, a remnant of a bygone age.
Towering over its surroundings, what remains of Friar Gate Goods Yard is an ominous site to behold, to say the least. What was once a centre for commerce and prosperity, a symbol of Derby’s industrial heart, now lies empty and decrepit, a mere shell of its former self. Through empty windows, glimpses of what remains within. Rotting timbers creak above collapsed floors, as rusted girders lay forgotten.
For over 50 years the site has been left. Plans have been made for the building but never followed through. It’s current owner, Clowes, received planning permission to renovate the Grade-II listed building into a supermarket in 2011. However, a down turn in the market led to the plan failing. So it sits derelict, lower doors and windows boarded up, devoid of life, save the occasional crow. But if you take a wander around the surrounding heath, though the grassland strewn with garbage, you find a different side to this abandoned site.
Whilst not immediately visible, they become to be more visible. Syringes, drug packets and the remains of ‘joints’ spread across, scattered between rubble and rubbish. The amount found is simply shocking. Needles, still sharp, evidently fresh from use, are merely tossed to one side, all within 10 minutes of the city centre, across the road from houses, from families and children. But this may be about to get worse.
Anyone who has been near Derby city centre in the last six months knows of ‘Black Mamba’, the synthetic cannabinoid, a previously ‘legal high’ that has swept through this city. Striking users into an almost zombie like state, its frequent and open use in the city centre, in particular St Peters Quarter, was unprecedented, sporting headlines of men ‘possessed by Black Mamba’ in national news papers. Following this coverage, Derbyshire constabulary cracked down on users within the centre, arresting over 71 people in two months.
However, its now believed that many people hooked on ‘Black Mamba’ have now moved onto abandoned building sites, to fuel their addiction, away from the eyes of the law. Sites such as Friar Gate Goods Yard.
Jon Rabbette, 21, is an independent photographer, who has photographed abandoned buildings around Derby. Talking to StoryHub, he said that he had seen more and more people hiding around sites.
“Through the last few months, you see more people hiding up here. I think that they think if they do it here, no one will notice.”
Gesturing around at the ground, he points at three syringes, half trodden into the dirt “Places like this, they just use as their own dump. It’s dangerous, especially those (needles), all if you have to do is trip, or be wearing thin shoes and god knows what you’ll contract.”
When asked if he thought the increase may be due to clamp down of Black Mamba in the city centre, Jon said “I wouldn’t put the two together directly. Police have got to do their job and all. But if you have a look around, you can see packets saying Black Mamba and Spice. I definitely think more people are using it up here.”
But what may be even more worrying is that may not be just limited to Friar Gate. Reports of people of Black Mamba being used at other abandoned sites have begun to surface. Engineering student Jamie Parris says that he has seen people climbing over the back of the dilapidated Hippodrome theatre on Green Lane and believes people are using it as a drug den.
“Every so often when I’m walking to university, you see someone try to vault the fence, trying to get in”
“The place is a ruin, a wreck. The only reason people would want to go in there is if they are trying to do something away from everyone else.”
He raises a valid point. Why would anyone want to go into a rotting theatre, over run with knot-weed? The Hippodrome has been the site of multiple counts of vandalism, the last being an arson attack of March last year. Much like Friar Gate, multiple plans were drawn up for the site but never followed through.
In an interview earlier this week with Derby North MP Chris Williamson, talking about Black Mamba and its effect on Derby, Mr Williamson said that the effect of a strong force by the police in the city centre was going to push drug users to sites such as Friar Gate and the Hippodrome.
“It’s an inevitable consequence of displacement, when you have enforcement in one particular area, it doesn’t stop the problem, it just moves it somewhere else.”
“Simply arresting people and clamping down in that particular area is not the problem. it might move it from the city centre, so people can’t see it there, but it’s not going to stop it.”
For now, it seems these buildings will remain in their current state, an eye sore on the landscape but routinely ignored, as drug users take up residency. But should such venerable symbols of Derby’s history be left merely to be dens for Black Mamba, useful only to vandals and miscreants? Or should action be taken?