Residents in my hometown keen to change perceptions of Rhyl as it begins to write its next chapter
My hometown has hit the headlines in the last week - and hit back.
TV reports portraying Rhyl as a violent crime-ridden hot spot have fuelled anger amongst the people who know it best.
If you grew up in Rhyl and still have strong family ties as I do, or you've made it your home, these negative narratives are all too familiar.
We've lived with them all our lives and heard it all before: the crime, the poverty, the lack of quality work, the underperforming schools.
The list goes on and it's an attractive story if you're passing by or passing judgement. But it's not the whole picture.
On the surface, it's a simple story of a once-thriving seaside town struggling to find a new purpose.
The holiday trade has long moved on. The hundreds of thousands of visitors from the old industrial areas of the Potteries, Lancashire and Yorkshire who for decades came to sunny Rhyl and stayed a week, have made the most of cheap flights. The small hotels and BnBs like many of the town's visitors were made redundant.
As a junior reporter on the 'Rhyl Visitor' in the late 80s, I sat through council planning meetings every week which gave the nod to hundreds of HMOs or houses in multiple occupancy. These converted flats far outnumbered any local housing need and Rhyl became a day out at best - often for old times sake.
The attractions disappeared one by one, too expensive to maintain and upgrade. The Lido, the skating rink, the funfair are all distant memories now shared on Facebook nostalgia groups.So what's Rhyl like now and where is it going? We don't deny there are challenges.
Taken on their own, the crime figures are stark, rooted in a lack of work, addiction and deprivation but that isn't everyone's experience of Rhyl. Investment both public and private has come in. New attractions have been built for visitors and the housing mix is changing for locals. Fewer flats, more family homes, less density giving way to more green space.
The beach will always be the star attraction. Even when the town was at its lowest ebb, you could literally turn your back on it and lose yourself in 4 miles of sand and the best sunsets anywhere in Wales.Community spirit can be a cliche all too often clutched at by journos but Rhyl has it in bucket loads. It's a generous town and its fortunes are changing.
There was a time when even quality properties sat on the market for years, prices depressed. Not any more as increasing numbers of people rediscover the value of open space and the choices working from home can bring in a well-connected town by the sea.Like many seaside resorts, Rhyl has seen lots of schemes and initiatives to try to turn it around. The latest is 'Levelling Up' but this week there were signs the town has woken up.
People here are engaged and are no longer prepared to accept the tired, outdated or simplistic portrayals of their home: the easy-to-grab shots of grotty alleyways. Every town has them if that's what you're looking for.
The people who live in Rhyl ARE the experts on their own lives and on what needs to change here and they wanted their say.
It's been a pleasure this week to help Rhyl tell its own story as the town begins to write its next chapter.