Billy Dasein is a true Grimbarian. Born on the East Marsh, Billy once again lives in the house in which he was born and is making not only positive changes to his home ward, but with the support and hard work of his neighbours, friends, and volunteers, Billy and East Marsh United are making real, long-lasting changes that will continue for years to come.
After leaving Grimsby, Billy returned to the town to care for his father who was facing dementia. He witnessed acts of violence, drug dealing, and anti-social disruptions escalate. A neighbour told Billy about a local council meeting that was happening and was told “Our mam’s would have gone!” – so they went.
Throughout the meeting, residents were becoming more and more frustrated trying to find help and answers from councillors, so Billy stood up and said his piece. He decided to hold a workshop for people to come along and discuss taking local pride back into their own hands. 15 people came along and East Marsh United was born.
“It’s been organic, we started cleaning the streets on a Saturday and would meet and sit together on a Thursday evening to talk about what problems we had, but also what solutions we had,” Billy said. “Some individuals have been amazing, helping us to grow and now we have three houses, are about to launch a community share offering, and are looking at securing £500,000 for 10 houses.”
East Marsh United are the proud owners of community-led homes in an effort to challenge landlords and solve housing challenges. The houses are fully refurbished ready to welcome new tenants, creating affordable housing while East Marsh United act as ethical community landlords.
“What we really want is 100 houses for long-term sustainability. The income from those houses is guaranteed money for our core operations. We want 100 houses for 100 years, way beyond 2,3,4,5- year short-term goals. This has to be for future generations, for the kids playing in the streets, and it has to involve education, health care, jobs, all of it.”
Housing is just one aspect of East Marsh United’s mission. Through a podcast, online magazine, YouTube series, and arts programme, people of the East Marsh can express their creativity and tell their stories. A community loyalty scheme means that time spent volunteering can be banked and you can receive a favour in return, such as learning a new skill or sharing expertise. To create jobs and further training, East Marsh United work with organisations to make educational courses accessible to local people, and importantly, they are encouraging residents to use their voice and take action by getting involved in grassroots democracy.
“Only 17% of the people on the East Marsh who can vote, do. It’s the same old faces we see over and over again, so we need to shift the focus and put the emphasis back onto the community.” Billy continued.
“There’s momentum behind the community group. We have a Board of Directors who are so supportive and so wise, and we have a democratic structure so they are voted in every year by our members – and we want as many members as possible. We’ve recently launched a form so you can join online. We’re about to launch a community share offer so together, we can initiate change on an enormous scale.”
In 2021, the East Marsh Awards were launched to recognise and celebrate residents and neighbours who go the extra mile, and in 2022 the ambition continues.
“This year, our focus is on the East Marsh Village Hall, which is going to be a community centre. We want to try and help people to think of the East Marsh differently. People want to live in villages because of the sense of community, so we want to redefine the East Marsh in the same way.
“It’s important to acknowledge that people are not in their condition of their own making. It’s structured education, healthcare, employment. A lot of people mistakenly think poverty is a lack of character but it’s not, it’s a lack of cash and opportunities.
“There’s meaning in the world. If we all stand together, strength can achieve these things. We need to look to the sky and make things happen.”
To find out more about the ambitious and important work of East Marsh United, visit eastmarshunited.org.