‘I’m from the worst place in the UK – I asked locals if they think it’s rubbish’

The cathedral city of Peterborough is once again on track to scoop up the title of the worst place to live in the UK and a quick chat with the locals tells you why.

At the time of writing (January 26), Peterborough sits at the top – or bottom, depending on how you want to look at it – of 2023’sI Live Herepolling with 7.28% of the vote, closely followed by Luton with 6.98%.

Should the Cambridgeshire city scoop the unfortunate accolade, it would gain the unique right to say that it had been voted the worst place to live in the county for four of the last five years.

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I grew up just outside Peterborough, admittedly in the quieter towns and villages surrounding it, but Peterborough has always been on the address and it has always been the local “big town” – the destination for shopping, eating and nights out.

Full disclosure: I moved away in 2015, but still return often to see family – one of whom describes the city as the boil on the backside of Britain.

High praise indeed, but what is life really like in Peterborough? And what do the people who call it home think of the title?

“It’s rubbish, innit,” said Melanie, a supermarket manager.

The 58-year-old has lived around the city for 53 of those years and felt little affinity for the place she called home.

Asked whether she thought Peterborough deserved the title she said: “I agree with that. It’s rubbish.

“There’s just nothing to do for anybody anymore I don’t think. All you’ve got is restaurants and jewellers shops and that’s about it, isn’t it?”

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Melanie, like many of the people I spoke with, rued the recent loss of John Lewis from the city’s shopping centre, Queensgate.

It had been the jewel in the crown of Peterborough's retail experience, and its removal has left the place feeling admittedly bare.

“We’ve just walked around town and all we’ve seen is people on the streets begging, it’s dirty and it just looks really grim.”

Inside Queensgate, by the boarded cavity where John Lewis used to be, Chris, 59, explains how he used to run weekly gigs at a venue nearby.

“I’ve noticed a decline in the social [scene]… I had bands on every week, sometimes three times a week and some of those nights were absolutely packed.

“Now if I go out to a gig, even in a local pub, there’s only a handful of people.

He added: “I’m a bit disappointed [to see Peterborough get the accolade] but I don’t intend to go into the centre that much anyway.”

The artist and photographer, who has lived in the city all his life, also pointed to the loss of John Lewis but felt there were a number of factors in play for the city’s decline.

He said: “It’s pretty much gone downhill recently [but] I’m sure there are worse places.

“The city centre has gone particularly downhill but I’m sure that’s got more to do with online shopping so it’s happening everywhere. I don’t know why it’s got the title.

“I’ve seen it better. When this place [Queensgate] opened it was booming, it was a real injection into the area."

Deeper into the shopping centre, Akurur, 40, was selling perfumes at a kiosk. He moved to Peterborough three months ago and explained that the kiosk had often been robbed.

“I see lots of fights from the young guys,” he said. "Our store has been stolen [from] two or three times as well.”

He added: “I have family, I want to come here with family so if the place is not safe no one will [be] willing to come here.”

Outside Queensgate, in the town square, 18-year-old Evie Mccandless, a supervisor at Claire’s was having a vape on her break.

“If you’ve been sent to improve things you’ve got a hell of a job,” she joked.

But despite this, she felt that it wasn’t really as bad as people said.

She added: “I know it’s not very clean… and there’s a lot of homeless people but they don’t do anything, they just sit and ask for change. It’s a reasonably polite place.

“There are some right horrible people in the evening when you get your c***s and your t***s. Apart from that it is really nice – you've got your little cute food stands like the churro one, home businesses and the market that comes out.”

Down the high street, James, 25 and who has lived In the city all his life, was standing with a group of young people when he said he felt that claims Peterborough was the worst place were “not true at all.”

He felt there were places that are much worse. Although not perfect, he thought that projects and work being done in the city were improving it and that accolade made him a “bit upset,” adding that it was “a bit insulting”.

“Sometimes it’s hard to change perceptions,” he added.

Leon Lenton was less positive. He’s 23 now but left when he was 13 and – like many of the people I spoke to – only came into town when he had an appointment.

“You get some good people but the problem is you get more bad people and they make the good ones turn bad.”

“People try and blend in… it makes the area worse,” he said, wafting a Krispy Kreme.

He continued: “When I come back I’m a bit like hmmm, bit s***, I don’t want to be here anymore.

“When I come back I realise I really was bad when I was in Peterborough. It can impact your mental state as well as your behaviour.”

He explained how when he lived in Peterborough he often got in trouble with the police, but since leaving his encounters had stopped.

If you type Peterborough in online, everyone says you have to see the cathedral, a 12th-century medieval masterpiece with a gothic façade.

Standing in its shadow I spoke to Zena, who lives in nearby Stilton but works in the city. News of the poll made her “really sad.”

Zena explained how businesses and offices were being pulled out of the area and turned into housing.

“There’s no investment here,” she said. “Location is fantastic… It’s sad, it’s got some really nice areas [like] where we’re standing now. The cathedral is amazing.”

As she spoke, a sad look on her face, it started to rain.

Down the high street a busker started playing Elvis's Can't Help Falling In Love, but although it was home, nothing felt further from the truth.

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