Addressing anti-social behaviour in Eaglesfield
Formed to deal with anti-social behaviour, the group has been vigorous in engaging local businesses and young people, reporting to the police and founding a problem-solving group with the council.
Key Learning Points
- A group will not survive without regular communication with residents. Maintain visibility through communicating using a variety of means. Face-to-face contact is particularly important e.g. when dropping off newsletters knock and say hello.
- A website is low cost once set up and enables crime messages to be shared quickly via e-alerts. It can also open up communications with neighbouring groups and enable everyone to observe trends beyond Neighbourhood Watch group boundaries.
- Social events are very important for sustaining interest and building a sense of community. Give people constant encouragement and importantly, thank them. The Eaglesfield Park group runs an annual community event and thank you events for coordinators and stakeholders.
- Be confident in approaching stakeholders and do not be afraid to approach those at a high level. Exploit opportunities to work with local businesses, who may sponsor your newsletter, for example, or lend you facilities for meetings.
- It is very important that the coordinators gel as a team and give out consistent messages. With too many coordinators below them group leaders can be overburdened with people management and managing expectations. It is better to have a smaller team with a narrow set of clearly focused objectives.
The group is located in the Eaglesfield Park area of Greenwich, South East London. It was set up in January 2006 in response to problems with a particular group of young people, who were frequently drinking alcohol, intimidating residents and vandalising play equipment in Eaglesfield Park. Following a particular incident in January 2006 two local residents distributed a leaflet to their neighbours asking for volunteers and since then the group has established itself through word of mouth.
The group serves 248 residents and businesses in four streets in close proximity to the park. A married couple lead the group as Principal Coordinators and are supported by a team of twelve coordinators, each responsible for communicating with residents on a dedicated ‘patch’ comprising a number of houses. Membership of the group is free, which is seen as important for attracting new members. However, the group has secured financial and other resources from local businesses to support its work. For example, the tennis club sponsors the newsletter in return for advertising space and the local shop has donated prizes for the annual community event. In addition, the bowls club provides the group with meeting space which is seen as lending more formality and credibility than having meetings in houses.
The group launched a website in June 2009 and those with e-mail can sign up for alerts to notify them when content is updated, which is particularly useful for alerting people quickly to incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour. The group is enthusiastic about the potential for the website for developing stronger partnerships with other Neighbourhood Watch (NHW) groups and has recently expanded its remit to cover the whole of the Shooter’s Hill Ward. However, they feel it is important to retain the quarterly newsletter and face-to-face communication in order to maintain contact with those without computers and retain a ‘personal’ feel.
The group adopts a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to anti-social behaviour and has addressed it through a variety of means including keeping incident logs and providing them to the police and Council. The group also founded a local ‘problem-solving’ group led by Greenwich Council which has produced tangible results.
In recognition of the link between anti-social behaviour and the lack of youth provision in the area, the group has sought to obtain opportunities for young people to engage in structured diversionary activities. For example, as a result of its discussions with the Council, youth workers were brought into the area as was the Connexions youth bus, which ran a number of summer activities. Although the youth workers found the local ‘gang’ challenging to engage, the activities were successful to an extent in that they were well attended and enabled the group to start a dialogue with some of the young people.
The group is very vocal in the area and has successfully campaigned for a variety of other improvements and resources including a ‘Your Call Counts’ fridge magnet which was distributed to residents, community notice boards, anti fly tipping signs for Eaglesfield Park and road safety improvements.
Specific impacts have included getting the local youths to help clean up the park and paint over the graffiti, which was seen as a significant achievement. In addition, there was a spot near the park where a group of young people were congregating and intimidating residents who lived nearby. Following discussions of the problem-solving group the Council shortened a wall to stop the ‘gang’ congregating to play football there and the police installed temporary CCTV. These measures stopped the problem. Whilst the park still experiences problems periodically, on the whole it is much improved (aesthetically and in terms of reduced crime and anti-social behaviour) and is now a more pleasant environment for the local community to enjoy.
The work of the group has had a definite positive impact on community spirit in the area by providing an opportunity for residents to get to know their neighbours through the annual community event, NHW meetings and through face-to-face contact with the coordinators. Residents and businesses are clearly appreciative of the support system that is now in place and there is now a sense that you are ‘not on your own’.
The group has been crucial in developing closer links between the community and the Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT), and it is felt that there is an enhanced police presence in the area. There has also been an increase in the level of reporting of incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour, with a decline in the apathy that existed prior to the group’s existence.