Cheryl Spruce is the chair of Greenwich Borough Neighbourhood Watch. She is helping to tackle knife crime in south-east London by giving presentations to primary school children. Here’s her story…
“When my son was in primary school, the local Safer Neighbourhood Team found a knife between two local schools in the area. That really concerned me as it was in an area where local children played together.
I was concerned that people were focusing only on secondary school students when it came to knife crime. We needed to do something to ensure that primary school children knew what to do if they came across a knife while out playing. I didn’t want them to pick the weapon up or to feel frightened – I wanted them to know what to do.
I designed a simple Powerpoint presentation and approached local primary schools, one of which was my sons, about the prospect of showing and talking about it at assemblies.
My aim was to empower the children to feel confident if they ever did come across a knife while out and about, rather than scare them. Whenever I do the presentation, the reaction from the kids is really positive. They tend to ask hilarious questions such as have you ever arrested someone? No, cos I’m not a police officer – I’m Neighbourhood Watch, I would say.
One boy really touched my heart. After the presentation – where I get them to repeat about 200 times not to touch the knife – he said: ‘I don’t like talking about knives. My uncle went to work one day and never came back. He got stabbed in his arm and died, and it really made me sad.’ This boy was about 8 years old. He said: ‘After this, when I go home, I’m gonna go out looking for knives’. I said: ‘No you’re not! You know how sad you feel about your uncle, think about how your mum would feel if something happened to you, this is all about knowing what to do if you come across a knife, not to go out looking for them.’
Recently, we launched a brand new website for Greenwich Borough Neighbourhood Watch which is a resource for new and current schemes. We’re going to have a co-ordinator for each of the 17 wards in our district, so that when people are interested in starting up a scheme, the ward co-ordinator would support them, give advice and help them start their scheme.
In addition, we created a cafe in the local community centre so that people can come in, talk to the local PCSO who is also working behind the counter at the cafe. Local police come in and do surgeries, local councillors too, we have a table with leaflets from the police and us. People feel it’s a safe environment. Now we’re looking at establishing pop-up cafes around the borough in different venues, including the YMCA.
Originally, I joined Neighbourhood Watch because of drug dealing and gang issues on the estate where I live. It all came to a head when my husband was held up at knife point by three guys. I was approached by the Safer Neighbourhood policing team who asked if I would consider starting a Neighbourhood Watch scheme. I decided a scheme for just our estate was simply not enough. The whole of the Woolwich Riverside community was crying out for some direction. I used to work as a retail manager and estate agent so I know how to develop and train people. I have these skills and thought I could put them to good use in the Neighbourhood Watch. I am glad I did.
Since then I have helped to set up over 20 new schemes as well as support existing schemes that require assistance.
I have also become the Chair of the local Safer Neighbourhood ward panel and sit on the Borough Safer Neighbourhood Board representing Neighbourhood Watch. It has been a very rewarding experience over the past 18 months that has resulted in a safer and more engaged community.”
Cheryl details her project in Neighbourhood Watch Inspiration, the good practice guide for Watch coordinators, which can be accessed here.