Community engagement, fuelled by the launch of several new initiatives, including the introduction of Neighbourhood Watch schemes, has never been as strong as it is now in North Stonehouse in Plymouth following the success of a Home Office Safer Streets Fund project for the area.
Although often referred to as the ‘forgotten part of the city’, North Stonehouse has a wonderfully vibrant and close-knit community of long-standing residents as well as a transient population moving through it. However, being close to the city centre has meant that the area has also sadly seen an increase in burglary, violence, anti-social behaviour, and drug crimes over the years.
The ambitious project, named Stronger North Stonehouse and delivered collaboratively by a dynamic team from the Office of the Police and Crime Commission, Devon and Cornwall Police, Plymouth City Council and Devon and Cornwall Community Watch Association(DaCCWA), set out to help the community to drive out these crimes and in so doing, improve the area’s reputation.
As a result of the funding, the community is now benefitting from the introduction of state-of-the-art street lighting and the installation of new CCTV cameras and access to crime prevention training and home security advice. However, a major part of the driving force behind the project's success has actually come from the very community it set out to help.
Lisa Vango, National Policy and Parliamentary Affairs Manager of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, explains, “As a project team we were adamant that to make the project a success we needed to work closely with the community, listen to their views and build initiatives that actually responded to their needs and provided legacy beyond the initial funding period.
“From the very start, we spent time in the community, and this investment has paid off with residents saying they’ve never known the area to be so vibrant and alive as it is now.”
As part of this focus, the project’s dedicated community engagement team took time to meet with as many residents as possible to inspire their own involvement in making their area safer and stronger. From community gardening projects, street art, new waymarkers and even the re-opening of a community facility, the team inspired residents to think about what they could do to make their community more resilient. For some, this increased engagement has also led to setting up or investigating the possibility of running their own Neighbourhood Watch Schemes.
Jules Fairman from DaCCWA says: “It’s been so rewarding showing residents how they can benefit from being part of a Neighbourhood Watch and providing them with access to the nationally recognised and fully-supported way for a group of neighbours to come together, look out for each other and make things happen so that they can live in a friendlier and safer place.
“Already we’ve seen instances where they’ve had a much better chance of being heard through their shared and much louder voice, and by keeping their eyes and ears open, using their local knowledge and reporting anything suspicious, they’ve been able to help reduce crime and the fear of crime within their community.”
Alongside the new Neighbourhood Watches, DaCCWA has also rolled out another way for the residents to ‘watch out’ for each other in the form of its Feel Safe Scheme.
The scheme, run by DaCCWA’s network of Watch Offices based in local police stations around Devon and Cornwall, provides free support for people that a neighbourhood believes are vulnerable or isolated within their communities and could benefit from small works to help them feel safer in their own homes.
Since launch, the Stronger North Stonehouse Feel Safe Scheme has received referrals to help over 20 residents, providing a range of small works undertaken at their homes, including spy holes added to their front doors as well as new safety chains, door bolts and window locks fitted.
Michelle Quintrell, Chair of the new Millbrook, Stoke and Stonehouse Neighbourhood Watch, says: “The Neighbourhood Watch scheme has been great for vulnerable people in our area. It has made them realise that they are not alone as there are people around them who care and can help.”
Referrals for help can either come from concerned neighbours, friends or family members via the new Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinators or the Neighbourhood Policing Teams, local community groups, churches, charities or social services, and all works are completed for free by approved, insured contractors who also care about looking after people and want to find ways to make sure they can feel safer in their own homes.