By Claire West
Wakefield is at the heart of a radical new approach to community activism that will see people reclaiming their streets, tackling local issues and improving their environment, according to a report published by Baroness Newlove today.
The government's Champion for Active Safer Communities has detailed what residents, businesses, local agencies and central government can do to begin a generational shift in the country's approach to activism and tackling neighbourhood crime.
A key part of the report, 'Our Vision for Safe and Active Communities', includes work carried out by Baroness Newlove over the last three months in seven handpicked areas, including Cutsyke in Wakefield. She has spent time working alongside the community and local agencies in each area, to find out what works and what the barriers are to successful activism.
In addition, Cutsyke has been given £15,000 to help get community activism going with the money to be spent on projects approved by the community. The fund will be taken forwards by activists, who could seek support from local businesses and charitable donations providing a pool of money to help drive up community pride and confidence in the area.
Baroness Newlove's recommendations for local areas like Wakefield to take forward include:
- Community Reward — where information provided by the community leads to a conviction the community is given a reward to spend on crime prevention work;
- Bling Back — where money made from selling local drug dealers' assets is handed back to the neighbourhood they blighted;
- letting communities set their own local speed limits;
- taking crime maps to the next level so people can use them to report crime and antisocial behaviour (ASB), and agencies can publish details of what action was taken against offenders;
- giving the public a single point of contact through the roll out of the 101 number to report ASB;
- providing council tax rebates, or vouchers for local businesses and services, for people who take part in activism;
- asking Police and Crime Commissioners to commit at least one per cent of their budget to grass roots community groups to use or have a say on;
- encouraging public servants to go out into communities, volunteering their time and expertise to support local groups;
- pooling agencies' budgets, giving communities a choice in how it is spent; and
- changing the '9 to 5' culture of local agencies so they are there to respond when people need them most.
Baroness Newlove said:
"The difference in the quality of life between an active community, like Cutsyke, that looks out for each other especially the most vulnerable and one that closes its front door and says it's someone else's problem, is enormous.
"For too long now too many people have either not known how to get involved, have not been listened to when they have tried to speak out, or simply felt that it wasn't worth it as nothing would ever change.
"This report sets out how we can change things by empowering local communities to reclaim their streets. Everyone has a role to play, communities must begin to take more responsibility and local agencies must begin to lessen their grip on the decision making process and trust the people they serve to solve problems for themselves.
"In the past six months I have seen good people make a fantastic difference, and I am especially impressed with the work I have seen in Wakefield. I know there is a big appetite out there for volunteering and making a real difference. This report is written with them, and for them and to encourage others to follow us. Together we can change the way we approach activism forever and build that happy, safe neighbourhood we all deserve to live in."
Minister for Crime Prevention James Brokenshire said:
"Since her appointment Baroness Newlove has been working tirelessly to inspire, challenge, support and learn from areas across the country.
I look forward to seeing how her report, and the good work going on in Wakefield, will help to shape how we approach community activism in the future."
Rheta Davison, a community activist in Cutsyke, said:
"The community here has worked hard building up the Cutsyke Community Group since 2000 and we have achieved a great deal for ourselves.
"I am proud that lessons we learnt here may help other communities. My advice to others is learn as much as you can about the area in which you live go to council meetings get some training there are colleges around the country who offer training to community activist as this is usually free."
The report calls for a change of culture on the side of communities, no longer seeing crime and ASB in their neighbourhoods as 'someone else's problem'; and on the side of services, going beyond simply asking communities what their problems are, to seeing them as equal partners in dealing with them.
The report is also calling on people to take small actions that can help make a big difference, like planting flowers outside your home to improve the local environment or carrying the shopping upstairs for an elderly neighbour.
This report is the culmination of six months of intensive work by Baroness Newlove following her appointment in October last year as Champion for Active Safer Communities.
During that time she has visited local areas across the country, meeting with activists, the police, local councils and housing associations to find out the different approaches to activism. She has also shared her four years experience as a successful community campaigner following the murder of her husband Garry in 2007 outside their home by a gang of youths.
Sharing her experiences online at her blog, Baroness Newlove has provided a helpful forum for people across the country to ask for advice and share their good work.