Inside UK's cost of living capital where sky-high bills leave troubled teens 'desperate to get jailed to stay warm' | The Sun

PASTY-FACED and with pinhole eyes, heroin addict Nigel Canning admits he's a “professional shoplifter”.

The junkie from Burnley, Lancashire admits he needs £30 a day to feed a habit that has left him strung out for the best part of 35 years.

Nigel admits: “I’ll pinch anything – TVs and whole racks of jackets – there’s no point just pinching one, you might as well take the whole lot.

“I don’t feel guilty about thieving. I’m not robbing old ladies. I need £10-worth of heroin just to function.

“At the moment I’m injecting but hope to get into rehab soon. I’ve had enough. All my friends are dead. I’m the last samurai.”

Now – at the town’s Church on The Street Ministries – this lost soul is seeking solace.


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The charity – run by Pastor Mick Fleming, a former underworld enforcer and drug addict – doesn’t believe in lost causes.

Visiting as part our Broke Britain series, we watched its food bank volunteers hand out parcels to the needy. Others come to the centre to wash their clothes and simply keep warm in the winter months.

The organisation has long fed the homeless and those like Nigel suffering from addiction in this old milltown nestled below the Pennines.

Now, as the cost of living crisis tightens its savage grip, its HQ in Hammerton Street is helping an increasing number of impoverished pensioners and young mums.

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'People feel worthless'

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the town’s Church on The Street Ministries in JanuaryCredit: Getty

Pastor Mick – who earlier this year welcomed Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge on a visit to the charity – revealed:  “Our ministry was largely about homelessness. Now that's 10 per cent of it.

“Many people in the town are really struggling to make ends meet. You’re sat down holding older people’s hands who are crying because they’ve got no food and they don’t know what to do.

“They’re proud pensioners who have worked hard all their lives. So we do what we can to look after them.

“We’ve got people coming who live in houses rather than on the streets but just can't afford hot water. It's really disturbing.

“We’ve had people attempt to take their own life because they can't afford to feed their own children. People feel worthless.”

You’re sat down holding older people’s hands who are crying because they’ve got no food and they don’t know what to do

Pastor Mick admitted he's not seen poverty like this in his lifetime, and that the cost of living crisis is affecting Burnley "badly".

“People can't afford to put their washing machines on and get their clothes clean," he said.

“There's such fear. People feel trapped. We try to help but we’re getting busier and busier.

"We are all pulling together. They’re good people here.”


Burnley – which has two neighbourhoods among the 20 most deprived in the country – has the nation’s highest inflation rate at 11.5 per cent.

Think tank Centre for Cities said the real inflation rate in Burnley in May was nearly 30 per cent higher than in London and Cambridge.

The organisation’s policy director Paul Swinney blamed low wages and that more people in the town rely on cars rather than public transport, meaning they have to pay for more fuel.

He also said more than 70 per cent of homes in Burnley have low energy efficiency ratings, leading to “huge use of gas and electricity".

Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar said the think tank’s findings had come as "no surprise" to him.

He revealed: "It is because of the levels of deprivation, the housing stock we have and the transport links – or lack of them.”

Poor getting poorer

Church on The Street Ministries volunteer Kev Whittaker said the dire situation means "the poor are getting poorer".

Former cocaine and diazepam addict Kev – “you name it, I took it” – agreed the cost of living crisis has hit Burnley hard.

The 50-year-old, who has been clean for seven years, said: “The number of people visiting us has doubled.

“We’re seeing a lot more elderly people and families. We see as many as 200 people a day.

“We have a food bank, people can come in and take a shower, wash their clothes. They can have a feed and a brew, keep warm and chat to other people  – everything is free.

“It’s normal Joe Bloggs coming in. Pride wouldn't have let people come in before.

"It's upsetting to see old people who have worked hard all their lives now at their wits' end. And it's only going to get worse when the weather turns.”

'I don't know what I'll do if bills go up further'

Folk like this include grandmother-of-four Valerie Murgatroyd, 75, who we met playing a board game with heroin addict Nigel.

Valerie, who left school for a job making slippers for Marks and Spencer, brings in pies every Wednesday to give to those who drop by for food.

The mum-of-two said: “I come here to meet people and when I’m here I don’t have to put the heating on at home.

It's upsetting to see old people who have worked hard all their lives now at their wits' end

“My gas and electric was £83 a month, now it's gone up to £284. They say it's going up further – where am I going to get that? I need the heat for my arthritis.

“I don't know what I’ll do if the bills go up further. I’m on pension credit.”

She added: “I can get brews and sandwiches here if I want. It’s a community and we all look out for each other.

“People may have alcohol and drug problems but they're still human beings.”

'It's a battle and I can't get out'

Cradling her year-old baby Rosie May at the drop-in centre, Rachel Boyd, 37, is fighting desperately to keep her head above financial water.

Mum-of-two Rachel, who is on Universal Credit, said: “I can't afford to put both the electricity and the gas on, so I do without gas. 

"When it gets cold we’ll just have to wrap up in blankets.

“My big monthly shop was £100, now it's £180. Baby food was six pots for £3 and now it's £1 a jar.

I know a young lad who had just come out of jail and robbed a shop. He told me, 'I’d rather be in jail where it’s warm and you get three meals a day'

“I shower here to save money and get food parcels too. I’m constantly chasing to get by.  

"It's a battle and I can't get out of it. I know loads of people in the same situation.

“I know a young lad who had just come out of jail and robbed a shop. He told me, 'I’d rather be in jail where it’s warm and you get three meals a day'.”

'I didn't want to live'

The crucial and heartfelt work conducted by the charity marks an astonishing turnaround for its founder Pastor Mick.

In a previous existence he was an underworld gangster, as lost in drugs as heroin addict Nigel.

Dad-of-three Mick, 56, was a drug runner and debt collector, arrested twice for murder, three times for armed robbery and "countless" other times for firearms offences.

"I was good at my job. I'd hurt people," he told the BBC. "I was making crazy money, but there was nothing glamorous about this.

"I was lost, trying to keep my pain down, hide it. None of it worked. I didn't want to live, I didn't know how to change."

I was good at my job. I'd hurt people. I was making crazy money, but there was nothing glamorous about this. I was lost

A mental breakdown after he failed to execute a gangland hit saw him get clean, take a degree in theology and become an ordained pastor.

During the Church on The Street's royal visit in January to mark the vital work it carried out during the pandemic, Pastor Mick explained how "so many people in Burnley fall through the gaps with poverty".

Now Prince William has penned the foreword for Mick’s upcoming autobiography – Blown Away: From Drug Dealer to Life Bringer – branding the centre an "extraordinary place".

At the charity’s bustling drop in centre, professional shoplifter Nigel enjoys a last tea with pensioner Valerie as the shadows over Burnley’s terraces begin to lengthen.

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He said: “Now I just want to get clean and leave my past behind. Here there are some really caring people who can help me.”

For confidential support, log on to or call the Samaritans on 116123.

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