Walking down Ruislip High Street and a wet afternoon paints the image of a place, that, unlike many other retail areas of its kind, is thriving. A collection of independent food spots selling everything from authentic woodfired pizza to sushi is mixed with a scattering of chain outlets and old-school pubs.
The facades of the High Street disguise some of the difficulties facing people that live within just a 3-minute walk from the suburb’s main thoroughfare. A seemingly innocuous alleyway, some residents’ most convenient route to and from their hedgerow houses into the beating heart of Ruislip’s commercial landscape.
Wedged between the local Superdrug and Tesco the alleyway is often bathed in darkness, particularly in winter. It has become a spot that has drawn behaviour that those who rely on the pass to get their children to nursery or access their homes are starting to find intolerable.
Reports of people congregating in the concealed crannies of the alley in order to take drugs, drink and even defecate have caused consternation for many. Women don’t feel safe, with tales of people being followed through the blackness of the alley at night.
This has sparked concerned Hillingdon residents to petition the council to help improve the security of an alleyway which acts as the connective tissue between Poplars Close and Ruislip High Street. So far around 35 residents signed the petition asking for “adequate lighting and CCTV”.
Signatories also requested that the council require the shutters used by a nearby Superdrug to be closed when not in use. They wrote in the petition that they believed these measures would reduce anti-social behaviour, littering, urination, defecation, and increase personal safety for local residents.
Residents wrote: “Frequent drug users meet in the shutter area. Often (we) find needles and human faeces along with broken glass bottles. Children often use the alley to go to nursery as well as old people.”
The petition also notes that residents have raised issues previously and nothing has ever been done. Women also ‘bypass the alleyway’ as well as staff from a nearby local nursery, who also avoid it.
Local Democracy Services decided to visit residents to hear the full story. Passing through the daunting alley from Ruislip High Street, there is fencing as it quietly transitions into Poplar Close.
Gates to far-off homes line the final part of the pathway before it opens out into a more traditional suburban cul-de-sac. These gates imply a heavy level of security and perhaps the insecurity of their occupants.
One such entranceway was that of a signatory of the petition, whose gate had its own CCTV camera ruggedly rigged onto one of its wooden posts. The reason for why became apparent almost as soon as she answer the doorbell.
Explaining why she signed the petition she said: “For me personally, they take a number two outside my gate, regularly. I have the council come out and clean it. That’s why I have a camera here.”
She added that a couple of houses had been broken into, with neighbours finding people in their gardens. In terms of a response to this kind of behaviour the resident said she wanted: “Lights and cameras. If it was brighter it wouldn’t be a hidden area.”
“It’s frightening at night time. When my friends leave my house I have to watch to make sure they reach the end because it’s so dark in the middle [of the alleyway] that you can’t see into the middle of that. So if someone is crouching down… it’s really dark, it’s dangerous.”
One of the big concerns about the state of the alley is its role as a key walkway for parents, staff and children to the High Street. “It’s ok in the summer but when the girls [ nursery staff] are going home it does worry me,” says Debbie Gumm, the owner of Woodlands Nursery.
“You got people in their weeing, taking drugs, it is worrying. Worry for me as well really, I don’t like walking down here. I don’t mind in the summer but in the winter it’s a bit scary.”
Debbie explains that mums who walk from Ruislip High Street to pick up their kids often pass through the alley potentially exposing children to some pretty grim behaviour. She says she signed the petition as did all the other staff at the nursery.
This included Carol Hrano and Chelsea Pritchard who very much echoed Debbie’s sentiment. Carol says she’s never seen drug taking or defecation in the alleyway but “but we have definitely smelt evidence of both.”
All the activity revolves around the back entrance of Superdrug which is designed for deliveries meaning it has a slight overhang providing a decent nook for anti-social behaviour. Although open during the day, even in the dark winter, many residents said that shutters out the front of the entrance are lowered at the store’s closing time.
Carol adds that she “definitely” feels “unsafe” walking down the alleyway at night and is in favour of extra lighting. Parents take the long way around to get to the nursery rather than use the alley, she says.
Chelsea says that if she walks down it on her own she “literally speed walks with her phone light on the whole time.” Lily Hammett, a worker at the Cafe Nero on Ruislip High Street says she avoids it altogether.
“After hearing about our neighbours getting followed down there I just avoid it,” she told local democracy services referring to the couple that started the petition who live above the cafe.
“Someone was banging on our back door,” she added, “sometimes people come down the alleyway and sometimes the back door isn’t shut properly or they have found a way to get in so they come in through there.”
The door is primarily used for staff breaks however with a small courtyard on the other side but this is generally not accessible to the public which Lily admits freaked her out.
As a result of the submission of the petition, the council said it conducted patrols of the area in order to assess the situation. Environmental Enforcement Officers patrolled the footpath on 13 separate evenings, issuing fixed penalty notices as appropriate between 09 June 2022 and 10 July 2023.
The officers reported that they engaged young people who were loitering in the area on two occasions and who subsequently moved on after being spoken to by the officers however no actual offences were witnessed during these patrols.
The council also conclude that despite a fire exit in the alleyway providing shelter to street drinkers and rough sleepers could be considered an issue for residents it was not within the power of the local authority to force a private owner to lower the shutters. The question of CCTV cameras being installed in the alley was not a clear-cut solution in the eyes of the council as there wasn’t deemed to be an appropriate place to attach a camera along the footpath, however after an assessment officers found that it might be possible to attach one on the High Street which would give limited coverage of the alley entrance.
The petition was set to be heard in front of the council on July 27 however no one made any representation from the 37 people that signed it. This left the cabinet member of Residents’ Services Cllr Eddie Lavery with little to make his decision on beyond the petition and the council’s report.
Commenting on the residents’ request for more lighting he said that the possibility of additional lighting in the alleyway would require the agreement of the property owners and needed to be considered alongside the concerns of neighbours who may have light flooding their back gardens late at night.
The councillor also added that extra lighting although making it safer for some would also encourage more people to use the alleyway potentially adding to the problem. The discussion on the future of the alleyway is still ongoing.