By Cliff Joanna
“…look, we can dance around the issues all we like but there are uncomfortable truths to deal with. If you’re a teenager in Puddletown you’re either a Scout, a Girl Guide, a Choir singer or, more than likely, a Duke Of Edinburgh award participant but if you’re a teenager in Dorchester you’re 99% likely to be a chav. The parents of teenagers in Dorchester need to take a good hard look at themselves and what they’ve allowed to happen to their children…”
When an esteemed community figure like Dr. Robin Drysome tells an audience of over 300 parents that they are doing a terrible job of raising their children, there’s going to be controversy and there was. Dorchester has endured the worst of chav culture in recent times and while he once felt the chavs were simply working class children who were being unfairly vilified by the press and the police, he now believes they are a sub-culture of thoroughbred menace and unlawfulness. “I’m sorry, but they are feral. They have no manners, no consideration for others and they simply do not care who they upset. They are anti-Christian and anti-human and I’m pretty sure even Liberals would agree they’re not nice people.” Dr. Drysome hit a nerve, hard, and while the initial reaction to his now-infamous “chavs” speech was one of anger and upset, a quick look around the town centre on a Saturday afternoon is enough to quickly extinguish any flames of doubt – the town is rife with cap and tracksuit-wearing, lager drinking, foul-mouthed chavs who occupy large portions of the town and make them inaccessible to people; nobody wants to try walking through a group of chavs to get where they need to go, they’ll always walk around them. Chavs are intimidating and they completely ruin town centres, according to Dr. Drysome, and something needed to be done about them.
A few miles away in Puddletown the situation was very different. Located right in the heart of the Piddle Valley it’s a place of outstanding natural beauty that has inspired poets and authors for hundreds of years. During the week it’s a sleepy village much like any other but at weekends it bursts into life with visitors from all around the area who come to enjoy the village fetes, the morris-dancing, the live music festivals, the craft fayres and the tea parties. For the youngsters, it’s a wonderful location for those involved in the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. Some of the DoE’s most famous alumni achieved their gold awards here, such as Barry Hostings who was a violinist with folk band “Country Sound” who performed live on Blue Peter several times during the 1980’s, Mary Coddler who has been an extra on Emmerdale for some 14 years and has written a book about her experiences and actor Anthony DeFord who has appeared in a number of films with Danny Dyer in both speaking and non-speaking roles. Dr. Drysome and his wife, Millicent, regularly visit to support Church activities in the area and it was during one of their social calls that the local Duke of Edinburgh award scheme organiser, Gary Orfall, approached them about an idea he’d come up with after hearing about the problems in Dorchester Dr. Drysome had spoken of..
Gary’s idea was simple enough in theory but the project, which had the slightly controversial working title of “Chav Swap”, obviously needed some refining. Gary proposed that every weekend for six months Puddletown offered 50 of its Duke of Edinburgh scheme students to Dorchester to participate in social activities there while 50 chavs came to Puddletown to undertake a DofE crash course that would help them engage with people, learn new skills, motivate them to want to better themselves and, hopefully, change their ways. “With just a little bit of funding required we had a chance to fix Dorchester and elevate Puddletown’s status as fine learning ground for young people” Gary told me in an interview I conducted with him earlier this week. “I needed Dr. Robin’s help to secure funding and get the parents of Dorchester on-side but ultimately I saw it as a win-win situation. I guess I didn’t really understand how bad things were in Dorchester at that point, with the chavs.”
Dr. Drysome approached Dorchester Council to discuss the project and they were more than enthusiastic, with leader of the council Richard Stiltbourne quoted as saying “anything that gets them off our streets at weekends is a cost-saver” after revealing that street-cleaning costs had risen 75% over the last two years and both the Police and Bus providers were also spending additional money to cope with the chav problem. While the council began to devise projects and initiatives that the Puddletown volunteers could work on, Dr Drysome began the difficult task of rounding up 50 chavs to participate in Gary’s fast-track Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. A series of appeals for participants were made via post, the radio and local TV but after 3 months not a single teenager had expressed an interest. It was at this point that the local Police Chief and a group of youth workers proposed a controversial “forced enlistment” initiative whereby the worst (chav) public offenders or those facing criminal charges would be temporarily pardoned if they agreed to commit to the Puddletown DofE programme. While some parents complained loudly, if incoherently, about the plan it did strike a chord with a number of the most exasperated and/or indifferent single parents in the area and soon enough the quota was achieved after it was agreed that the chavs would receive “pocket money” for each day they attended. Meanwhile Gary had secured additional government funding and a small amount from the National Lottery. With a full programme of events worked out for both the chavs of Dorchester and the DofE volunteers from Puddletown, and a group of 16 adult volunteers to help train and supervise both groups, Dr. Drysome and Gary Orfall hosted a launch event at the Thomas Hardye Leisure centre on Saturday April 4th 2015 where the programme of events was presented to an audience of parents and local community leaders from both towns. At the end of the event the two groups of teenagers were introduced on-stage to rapturous applause, Gary informed me.
The launch event had attracted the attention of not only local but national journalists too and there were a number of film crews present. Both the chavs and the DofE participants revelled in the attention and most people probably left the launch event feeling very positive about the project, for both towns. “It felt like a big deal, all of a sudden” Gary told me, “but despite 20 or so years running the DofE Award even I could not have imagined things would turn out the way they did.”
You’ve doubtless heard much about what happened to Puddletown and its residents in the first few weeks they had to tolerate the influx of unruly chav teens. Rather than at least make an attempt to engage with the DofE award they chose to run riot instead, leaving a terrified community too scared to leave the relative safety of their homes. While a final figure has never been made public it’s rumoured that in the four weeks the scheme ran, Puddletown was left with some £300,000 worth of damage to buildings (including the Church), roads, cars, trees and nearly two acres of flowers were destroyed. Furthermore there were over 250 calls to the Police in that time, with locals reporting that they had been harassed, physically and verbally abused, robbed, sexually assaulted and in one of several terrible instances an elderly couple were tied to a metal fence and urinated on while their dog was kicked repeatedly in front of them. A number of Snapchat accounts posted very similar images of a young teenager being forced to perform a disgusting act on a dog and over a dozen Instagram accounts were shut down after a series of photos of chavs defecating in public places were uploaded; geo-tags confirmed they were all taken in Puddletown. No Twitter or Facebook accounts were closed down, however..
Gary and his group of volunteer helpers had obviously struggled to keep the chavs in check from day one but after their minibus was sabotaged they found themselves stranded several miles from the village where the majority of the Dorchester chavs were running riot. The local Police had to call for reinforcements four weekends in a row. While the public were urged to remain calm (and indoors if at all possible) during the weekends eventually the locals could tolerate no more and despite the pleas of Gary, Dr Drysome and Dorchester Council, the national media were contacted and on week 4 they arrived to witness scenes not unlike the London/England riots of 2011. After Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, intervened directly the Puddletown project was brought to a swift end. Once all the chavs had been rounded up by a Police Riot Squad, who were forced to use teargas and considerable force, they were detained and eventually charged with a string of offences that covered everything from vandalism to attempted murder. Gary and his group of volunteers were shocked, shaken and hurt by what had happened to Puddletown. “After the Police vans left I had a look around at the devastation those ungrateful little chav bastards had caused. There were clean-up teams in place, builders, even counselors helping people in their own homes, you name it. I sat on a bench with my head in my hands and I cried. I remember an older lady coming up to me. She was covered in red and yellow spray paint, even her hair. She’d asked her grandson to take pictures for her to send to The Daily Mail but he’d been beaten up, his camera stolen and he’d had to walk home without any trousers or underpants. It felt like the end of the world had arrived.”
For Dr. Drysome, retirement seemed like the only option. In all his time working for and with his local community he had never experienced a failure like it. At a press conference that was unwisely called in haste by the local Police, the Doctor gave an emotional speech to the assembled press, one he wishes he hadn’t. “Jesus was not with me that day, that’s for sure. I guess he was up the road in Puddletown helping them come to terms with the horrors they’d endured. I lost my temper a bit.” He most certainly did, as the opening part of his statement to the press that day suggests:
“I have dedicated my life to serving the community of Dorchester. I have always been honest about the fact that as a teenager I was a bit of a tearaway and I got into a few scrapes with the law, back when a Constable would give you a clip around the ear without fear of being called a paedophile. I had high hopes, very high hopes, for this project and nobody is as disappointed by what’s happened as I am. I believed that by taking them out of their usual environment, our chavs would realise there’s more to life than saying rude things to people, drinking in public and causing a nuisance, but I was wrong. These boys and girls are a stain on society and will be the undoing of our community if we don’t throw the book at them. I don’t wish to make light of our predicament but I feel the need to quote Alan Partridge in describing them as “scum, sub-human scum”. And you, their parents, the people who are responsible for raising these monsters, you should be ashamed of yourselves. You are to blame for this and it’s you who should be in Puddletown right now clearing up the mess your evil, demented and beast-like offspring have caused. All I wanted to do was help them change their ways, become good citizens, but no. I have never believed in the “Broken Britain” diatribe but right now it’s hard to dispute it. I am embarrassed to say I am a citizen of Dorchester. Your children have brought shame upon us all and you should feel as guilty as sin about the terrible job you have done as parents.”
While some openly agreed with him, many were outraged and after being escorted out of the Council building by the Police he reached his car only to find it had been vandalised. It was the final straw for a man who had only ever wanted the best for his town and the people who lived there. Crestfallen, he and his wife left Dorchester that very afternoon and have never returned. “I couldn’t stomach one more minute in that hell-hole” he told me, “I felt like I was escaping from hell when we drove out. I’d honestly rather live in a predominantly Muslim area than in Dorchester.”
For Gary Orfall, things would never be the same. After being initially held accountable for the “Puddletown Massacre” (as it was described in a Channel Five documentary of the same name) Gary ended his relationship with the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. In an interview for the documentary (that was removed from the televised cut) he said “Well it (Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme) doesn’t work, clearly. You can’t make a chav read a map or put up a tent if they don’t want to and after that, well, there’s no point is there? As for cooking their own food, forget it. It took an hour of explaining to them before they could all point roughly north and that’s with the compass right in front of their fucking faces. I’m not joking.” He now works in retail, many miles away from Dorchester and has been forced to stay away from social media completely after weeks and weeks of abuse. He’s vowed never to work with teenagers again.
For Puddletown, their chav experience is gone but not forgotten and had it not been for a number of wealthy local benefactors the clean-up operation might have taken months, not weeks. While it’s business as usual for the villagers now, it has taken a long time for the scars to heal and people are now understandably edgy when they see young people in the village they don’t recognise, especially if they’re wearing anything that looks like it was purchased from Sports Direct. Lifelong resident Doreen Spittle, who I later learned was the poor woman who’d had her hair sprayed yellow and red, wrote a series of articles for the Dorset Echo about the events that took place during the ‘month of hell’. In her final article she proposed that the 50 chavs should be surgically prevented from being able to reproduce, the only way she could think of to prevent them producing a second generation of young people like them. Despite criticism from certain liberals in the press the Dorset Echo told us they received an unprecedented amount of letters from the public in support of her article although they were quick to distance themselves from a number of other remarks she made about the influence of immigration on British culture and particularly the rise of the chavs. “It may not be a popular view, but if you have an infestation of rodents you call someone out to destroy them. Dorchester has an infestation of its own for some reason they’d rather try to ignore it. If they’re not going to lock them away or cut off their testicles then they should round them up and shoot them.”
For the good people of Dorchester, however, there remains the forgotten side of this dreadful story, the 50 DofE volunteers who came to them from Puddletown while the chavs were raising hell. For four weekends in a row Dorchester was a peaceful, friendly place, with the young volunteers ensuring the streets were kept litter-free, that damaged flowerbeds and places of beauty in the town were restored and that the faces of the young people out and about were friendly. For four weeks they helped people with everything from carrying their shopping back to their cars to re-painting walls that had previously been covered in chav graffiti. I spoke on the phone to one of those volunteers, 18 year-old Maisy Duncan-Johns who led the group who started re-painting defaced walls. “We didn’t have to do much, to be honest” she told me, “It really wasn’t all that bad. I mean, have you ever been to London? That’s bad, it’s disgusting there, but other than a few rude words here and there I really don’t know what all the fuss was about – I’ve seen much worse in school toilets. Still, it got us away from our boring village for a few weekends and it was a piece of piss getting into the pubs in the evening. I managed to get a bit of cock too which was good as the village boys are all so gay and Christian. Also, it was so nice not having to walk up a hill just to have a smoke and then have to go crazy with the wet-wipes and perfume to hide it before you get back home; I just sat outside the back of the hostel with a bottle of Vodka and a couple of cans of coke, loving it. I had a great time although the boys didn’t; they tried to chat-up the local girls but they had no idea what they were doing. It was funny watching them crash and burn though. So square.”