I used to go to school in a neighbouring town to Luton, and everyone there was physically scared of it. “Don’t go to Luton, you’ll get mugged” they said, trembling.
Unfortunately when I grew up all the jobs and cheap houses were in Luton, so I moved there and did indeed get mugged. Luton in the 90s was pretty grim – there was a bus station with a tramp living in the roof who would throw empty cans at you, and a carpark where people got stabbed. There was Marah Farm estate which had its own nationally famous riot.
However there was also (and still is) a lot to do – live music of every variety, films, swimming, art, etc, so I stayed and made friends. Some pubs were/ are quite safe to drink in.
I did get mugged, burgled, kerbcrawled, egged and verbally abused but was never seriously injured and as time went on i moved out of the town centre into a working class residential area and used the transport links to work somewhere more salubrious.
I still avoid the town centre which looks like something from Shaun of the Dead, but the Council has been wisely tearing down all the old sh*tholes (bus station, car park, power court) and leaving them as empty pavement so now it’s less easy to get mugged.
I have recently spotted signs of gentrification as the next wave of impoverished young people from posh towns try to set up independently. There is a jazz club and several of the pubs have recently been painted. I have even seen a hipster, and nobody was setting his beard on fire.
I’m not saying Luton is safe, exactly (only a couple of months ago I saw about 30 teenagers spilling out of McDonald’s smacking each other in the face, I couldn’t tell what was blood and what was ketchup) but despite the obvious deprivation, it’s still possible to live a good life here and go to lots of pubs, clubs, gyms, theatres, museums etc without getting beaten up too badly. And if you hate it you can alway take a 30 quid ryanair to spain from the airport.