I used to be quite involved in Wandsworth Neighbourhood Watch in a strange, semi-detached, way as the cabinet member responsible for the council’s involvement in the scheme. Wandsworth Council is quite unusual in having taken on responsibility for running it from the police, and has traditionally had one of the strongest networks in the country. But that responsibility perhaps created meant focusing on the wood rather than the trees.

The council and police have recently highlighted a spate of burglaries in the ward, mainly in the roads between Lavender Hill and Clapham Common and while the police have done a lot to tackle that (fairly recently they made four arrests which combined accounted for a lot of the crime) they were also keen to see Neighbourhood Watches playing their part.

What struck me though, looking at a presentation they laid on, was how the north of the ward, the Shaftesbury Park Estate, had hardly any active Watches at all. I may have spent years being proud of the extensive Neighbourhood Watch network in Wandsworth, but had not noticed the decline on my front door.

It was a revelation for me. It’s been nearly three years since I had any responsibility, but even before, I’d never looked at the data mapped (which raises more thoughts on data visualisation that is for another time). Instead I’d focused on the overall number for the borough and the numbers per ward. Shaftesbury ward has always, and still does, fair well when compared to the rest of the borough and therefore never came to be a priority. Instead I focused on trying to innovate—by trying to create better networks and offering enhanced training—and work on those areas that were underrepresented—ward with high proportions of social housing have tended not to be involved.

The accepted wisdom has always been that there is a stronger sense of community in the Shaftesbury Park Estate and, therefore, an assumption that things like Neighbourhood Watch would thrive. This seems not to have been the case.

Naturally the lack of Neighbourhood Watch does not mean a lack of community, either on the Shaftesbury Park or elsewhere. It may well mean that community networks perform the same functions without the formal status. I do, however, think Neighbourhood Watch can act as a proxy measure for a sense of community, and while the correlation is not absolute there is a correlation.

I did wonder about how we could turn that around, but that is also something for another time: I have to practice what I preach, which means starting, or at least trying to start, a Watch in my own street, but as a council service and with the council elections imminent it raises all sorts of issues regarding purdah that make it inappropriate for me to do anything until June.

That does not, however, prevent others from starting, and if you are in Shaftesbury Ward I’m happy to offer whatever support I can (just get in touch). You can get further information from the council’s Community Safety pages and the national Our Watch website.

A bit of lazy blogging. But going through various bits and pieces from last week it occurred to me that I didn’t post my speech from the Neighbourhood Watch conference I referred to in Tweeting not twitching in Wandsworth.

I don’t often write speeches – which probably shows through in my performances in the council chamber – but was pressured to put a bit more preparation into this! And having done it, I’ll be damned if my words of wisdom won’t be available for all on the internet (with the usual “check against delivery” caveat):

Hello and welcome everyone to the Battersea Park Pump House for this afternoon’s conference on the Big Society and Neighbourhood Watch.

I would like to start by thanking Wandsworth Community Safety Trust for funding this afternoon and to the Wandsworth Community Safety Team for organising it.

I’m particularly excited by this afternoon’s programme because I have long believed that Neighbourhood Watch can be the leading example of the Big Society, and, here in Wandsworth, our work has been proving just that.

However, while we can throw any number of buzz-words at Neighbourhood Watch: whether we think it’s the Big Society, an example of nudge, traditional community empowerment – and I think there are plenty of examples to illustrate each concept and far more besides – the key thing about Neighbourhood Watch is that it just works.
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NW is so successful in Wandsworth, we've used up the budget for putting signs up!

It’s received precious little coverage but we are coming towards the end of Neighbourhood Watch week. Most of the coverage there has been seems to have centred on the “tweeting not twitching” soundbite (probably more because of the reference to Twitter than Neighbourhood Watch), indeed, if you are listening to the radio this afternoon you might catch me doing a little spot on it.

I’m in a council limbo at the moment, between jobs (de facto, but not de jure until the council meeting formalises it next month) but it was pleasing to still, technically, be around for conference in Battersea Park the Wandsworth Community Safety Trust funded part of Neighbourhood Watch week, not least because it was the venue Baroness Browning, minister for crime reduction and anti-social behaviour, chose to formally launch the Our Watch website.

Neighbourhood Watch has never been a sexy topic. Perhaps it never will be. But I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done in Wandsworth, where the council have been responsible for its management (it’s usually a police responsibility) since 1994.

I’m proud with good reason. Wandsworth has a disproportionate share of London’s Watches, of the 8,000 in London, 470 are in Wandsworth – and I’ve no doubt that plays a role in keeping Wandsworth inner London’s safest borough.

We are well ahead of the game on developing Neighbourhood Watch, recognising long ago that it’s about far more than curtain twitching and developing training schemes for members so in the event of disaster or terrorist attack they know what to do to help themselves, their neighbours and keep pressure off the emergency services.

And all this is recognised outside, so when London Fire Brigade were looking for a pilot area for a scheme in which volunteers are available to offer help and support to the victims of fire they chose Wandsworth purely because it had such a well-established base of Neighbourhood Watches that already went beyond the curtain-twitching stereotype.

If you want to find out more you might be interested in the council’s Neighbourhood Watch pages.

Yet more democracy in action last night at the Environment, Culture and Community Safety OSC.

I was there for the community safety and town centre parts of the meeting which come under my portfolio. In many ways it was a relatively straightforward meeting. There wasn’t anything particularly contentious on the agenda, although as the deficit is addressed I’m sure that is to come. The full agenda is on the council’s website (which does work from time to time, I promise you) but to give a few selected highlights.

10-646 Domestic Violence Strategy
Domestic violence is woefully under-reported and, unlike most crimes, almost all victims are repeat victims. The problem is that domestic violence and abuse often take place in situations that are hard to leave, perhaps because they are in the home, and the victim has nowhere else to go, or it might be that children are involved. In many cases there is a feeling of shame or embarrassment, particularly where the situation doesn’t fit the stereotypical man abusing woman scenario (one of the specific areas of focus are abuse in LGBT relationships).

10-647 Community Safety Division – Annual Quality and Performance Review
This is one of those monster reports that covers everything (each service produces one of these a year), but worth dipping into if you are interested in the sorts of things the council does to make Wandsworth safer.

This prompted a lot of discussion on Neighbourhood Watch (NW), which is one of my pet subjects because I think NW has such great potential and is one of the policy priorities for the coming years. We’re trying to see how we can expand the benefits of NW into hard-to-reach areas, for example council estates have traditionally had much poorer coverage, but also to see how we can create networks of watches and whether we can help in strengthening communities.

Of course, one of the problems with this is that it is uncharted territory. Wandsworth is something of a leader in this field and it’s difficult to know what will and won’t work. It’s a subject that I’ve touched on before, that to develop and improve you often have to accept that your experiments may end in failure, which is not something that sits well in politics. While exciting, I won’t pretend that I don’t have the occasional worry!

10-649 Policing in the 21st Century
This is the council’s response to the government’s white paper. It is generally supportive, although one of the biggest parts of the proposed reforms, directly elected police commissioners, will not affect London as the Mayor would take on that role.

The Labour group voted against this, disagreeing with the abolition of the Metropolitan Police Authority (a better reason than disliking the title of a white paper which they said they largely agreed) and I’m wondering if there’s a degree of oppositional politics starting to return. It is an unusual time for all tiers of government – national, London and Wandsworth to be (largely) politically aligned. It hasn’t happened for 13 years, and then probably only because there was no London government!

10-651 Petition – request for CCTV installation in the area of Leverson Street
This was the council’s response to a petition asking for CCTV to be installed in what is seen as a trouble black spot.

The council rejected this. For me there is a big issue about installing CCTV in primarily residential areas. As a matter of principal it feels wrong to me to have these areas surveilled. However, there are also practical concerns.

CCTV works well in areas where the problem is ‘contained’. So, for example, CCTV in town centre areas can help deter problems (or justify prosecutions, about half of all cases the local police bring use CCTV evidence) that are specific to that sort of area, for example issues around disorder or theft. When dealing with anti-social behaviour problems these can easily relocate, there is little difference between street-corners. In effect the problem is moved, not solved.

And that is the second problem, very often these problems are much better tackled by joint work between the police, council and (frequently) social landlords. Together they are able to tackle those who create problems and divert those on the fringes. Temporary, mobile, CCTV can be effective in gathering evidence for this. Personally I think we’re much better off going for a solution than seeing CCTV as a panacea – it never has been.

10-655 Town Centre Management – Annual review
The council’s approach to town centres has been one of the real success stories of Wandsworth, and has helped the borough avoid the problems faced by so many of having a single, fairly soulless, shopping destination and then nothing but residential areas with little focus.

The paper details some of the activity that has been taking place in each town centre to support, enhance and promote the businesses that are there. It’s split into sections of the five town centres so worth having a browse to see what’s been happening in your local centre.

Labour voted against this (disappointingly, I have to say). They felt that we should be putting equal support in for all shopping areas. The problem with that approach is that if you focus on everything you actually focus on nothing.

It’s also the case that we put a lot of support in to the ‘secondary’ shopping areas. Indeed, I’m meeting with a collection of the business associations representing them tonight to talk about how they and the council can work together. But increasingly we are seeing these areas, along with their local residents, developing their own initiatives (with some support from the council), Southfields and Battersea Square both being success stories of combined resident/business associations. It’s that sort of work we need to support and not applying a one-size fits all town centre management everywhere.

View Neighbourhood Watch in Wandsworth in a larger map
A fairly hefty map, but one I thought I’d put together following my post about freedom of information.

The data I used is freely available from the council’s website (although not in a very useful format). But, with a bit of copy and paste, some processing through a few tools available on the internet and a Google spreadsheet and voila, a map sort of telling you where is, and isn’t, covered by NW in Wandsworth.

It isn’t ideal, it’s a little crowded at this size, and the Google standard flags don’t really show it off that well. Additionally, because it’s roads it isn’t that accurate. For example, a long road might only be partially covered. Finally, there are a few roads that I couldn’t find – however hard I (or Google) looked.

But I would ask one question: how is anyone’s privacy infringed by this, and how would it be infringed if I used postcodes instead of road names?

James Brokenshire, the minister for crime prevention, visited Wandsworth today as part of Neighbourhood Watch week to see one of our training sessions in action.

I like to think that Wandsworth was ‘doing’ Big Society long before it became a part of Conservative and government policy. Our commitment to Neighbourhood Watch has been more than just putting up signs; we offer support to get them started, ongoing help and advice once running, central and localised messaging services to keep everyone informed and training sessions to help prepare co-ordinators so they can help in the event of an emergency (from floods and ‘flu, through to terrorism) and are better equipped to look out for and after their neighbours.

And at the risk of being boastful I believe the small team of dedicated staff in in the council’s community safety unit, with the help of partners in the police and fire brigade, and, of course, all the people who are Watch members in Wandsworth have created the best Neighbourhood Watch system in the country.

It has played a key part in making Wandsworth the safest borough in inner London, but that doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels. Strengthening and expanding Neighbourhood Watch was a key part of the local Conservative manifesto.

The challenge we have now set ourselves is to expand coverage so those who have not traditionally been part of watch schemes, council and social housing, transient populations and large private developments, are covered – while maintaining the high quality of support and training we offer – to ensure everyone has the same opportunity to play a role in making inner London’s safest borough safer still.

It’s been another week I’ve ended out of Wandsworth. This week the child in me has been excited by a trip on a sleeper train in which my knowledge of sleepers, derived entirely from Agatha Christie and Hart to Hart (a show surely due a remake) was confounded as no-one was murdered). If that wasn’t enough, it was topped by a tour around an airport – and not just the passenger side, but the driving around the runways side.

But, of course, Wandsworth is the purpose of my blog, and Wandsworth will be the purpose of the remainder of this post.

The YouTube of the Mastermind round on Wandsworth has to be the highlight of my week. Having felt a little saddened by my score, the honesty of others has made me feel a lot better about it. Indeed, one councillor, who shall remain nameless, confessed he only got four. Smugness isn’t pleasant, but I just can’t help it.

Regeneration and Community Safety
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday night was the major meeting I attended as a councillor this week. It wasn’t, if I’m honest, a meeting to set the world on fire. Unfortunately Tony Belton, the Labour leader couldn’t attend the meeting, and his absence brings home what an excellent opposition councillor he is – despite leading a small group, he makes sure we keep on our toes. Proof that size is not everything!

Much of the agenda was fairly uncontroversial, although some concerns were raised by the opposition councillor present, I think Labour voted with the Conservatives on all but one paper. The sole paper being on action taken to control street drinkers in Roehampton. The council has taken some very targeted action to help street drinkers where possible, but empowering the police to act where the drinkers aren’t responsive to the help offered.

This seems to have had the desired effect, although the situation needs to be monitored. However the Labour group wanted to call this an Alcohol Exclusion Zone (which it is not, since that has a strict legal definition) and therefore voted against. A slightly odd vote, I thought, since the problem has been tackled, but clearly image and spin still remain more important to Labour than substance.

Neighbourhood Watch
Much of the rest of my time has been taken up with various community safety meetings. One of the most pleasing with a researcher who was looking into how Neighbourhood Watch worked in various boroughs, and was examining Wandsworth as an exciting example of how it could be developed.

I’ve long held a deep respect for the Community Safety team (as well as all the other council officers!) for their dedication to their work, but it’s also good to see that work recognised elsewhere and be able to give credit to them to external bodies.

I’m posting weekly reports as an experiment to see how well received they are. You can read some of my thoughts about it in a blog-post I wrote before commencing the reports. My main concern is that these reports will, by necessity, have to omit so much routine council work they are not a good representation of my work.

Picking up from last week’s report, after posting I headed down to Tooting for the town centre police team launch publicity. While there I also took the opportunity to catch up with the Town Centre Manager and Town Centre Partnership Chairman.

Neighbourhood Watch
Saturday didn’t provide a break. The morning saw the Neighbourhood Watch Conference. Rather shamefully I have not posted about it. It was an incredibly successful event, organised by the council’s Community Safety team for Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinators. The session saw presentations on subjects ranging from art and antiques to dog control and bio-diversity. The conference was attended by representatives from the National Neighbourhood Watch Trust, and it was pleasing that they commented it was one of the best events they’d attended.

Devas Club
On Tuesday I visited, along with Peter Dawson in his capacity as chairman of the Children and Young People’s Service OSC, the Devas Club in Stormont Road. The visit took us from their commercial standard (and hit making, some number ones have been recorded there) music studios in the basement to the sub-standard basket-ball court on the roof (which has a spectacular view that my camera phone just couldn’t do justice).

The club does some great work in engaging youngsters in a building designed for a 1960s, rather than 21st century, youth club. And that shows. First, not all the facilities are what they should be for the users. Second, it means it causes problems for neighbours and coincidentally I’m also dealing with noise complaints from the club.

Wandsworth Business Forum
Last night was the Wandsworth Business Forum in Balham. I posted about it earlier today, so rather than write about it again, will refer you to that post.

Shaftesbury Park School
Finally, this morning, I went into Shaftesbury Park, the school I serve as a governor. For the second time to meet Peter Dawson, who was making an official visit along with David Walden. We spent time looking around the school and chatting about some of the challenges it face and successes it has had.

This is my first weekly report-back on the blog.  It is currently a trial, and you can read some of my thoughts about it in a blog-post I wrote before commencing the reports.  It is not intended to be, nor can it be, an exhaustive report of what I have been doing during the week as a councillor, above all, the nature of a councillor’s work means a lot of the work done for ward residents remains confidential. It is very much a selected highlights of the week.

Neighbourhood Watch Strategy
Much of the start of the week was taken up with final preparations for the Neighbourhood Watch strategy – which combined with an unsettled baby – managed to dominate much of the bank-holiday weekend.  I’m rather proud of Neighbourhood Watch in Wandsworth, which has been a key partner in making Wandsworth inner London’s safest borough.  The new strategy will be launched next week, and enhances the role of Neighbourhood Watch as well as, for the first time, setting out what Watches, the council, police and other partners can expect from each other to help make Wandsworth even safer.

Meeting with Wandsworth Chamber of Commerce
Along with the Leader of the Council I regularly meet with the Wandsworth Chamber of Commerce to chat about issues in the borough. Perhaps unsurprisingly the biggest topic of discussion was the recession. I have tended towards the bearish when discussing the recession – thinking it will be long and hard. However, a lot of the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard suggests the recession is focussed on the retail sector and while property and construction are showing signs of recovery the retail sector is going to be struggling for some time to come. What was pleasing, however, is that Wandsworth’s businesses still seem fairly optimistic about the future.

CompeteFor London 2012 event
On Thursday I attended and said a few words at a CompeteFor event in Wandsworth. Almost as evidence of business confidence in Wandsworth around 150 businesses attended the event in Wandsworth Town Hall to hear how they could bid for work associated with the 2012 Olympics. When you often assume businesses are struggling to think what they will be doing for the next three months, it was great to see businesses keen to bid for work for the next three years and beyond. If you are a business interested in bidding for Olympic related work then you should visit the official Olympic site at london2012.com/business and CompeteFor.com which is handling the online bidding process.

One of the drawbacks of starting these reports now is that the council tends slow during summer, while we don’t have a ‘recess’ as such there a few formal meetings over summer. In addition, the council enters a purdah during election campaigns which means many meetings and events have to be cancelled. And, of course, that gap gets filled by campaigning by those of us unfortunate enough to be political animals. When I’ve not been at the town hall this week I’ve been on the doorstep (maybe even your’s). It has been an interesting campaign, perhaps for the wrong reasons with the expenses scandal. I hope to find time to post some reflections on it next week.

I’m very proud of the work the council does in support of Neighbourhood Watch (unlike most other areas the council, rather than the police, provide support Neighbourhood Watch in Wandsworth) and particularly proud of the opportunities we’ve given for co-ordinators to take on enhanced roles.

Much of this is provided through extra training for volunteers on how they might assist authorities, like the council, police or fire brigade in the event of an emergency.  For example, one of the first training sessions was on flooding – large parts of Wandsworth are in flood risk areas.  The training taught volunteers some basics which would help them safely tackle floods – meaning they could help out their neighbours and take some of the pressure off emergency services.

Pandemic training has already been offered, but in light of the small outbreak of swine flu, and potential for it to resurface later in the year, the primary care trust – NHS Wandsworth – are offering another couple of sessions on pandemics.  This time they are open to any Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator, and not just those who have previously volunteered for the additional training.

The first session is next Thursday, 14 May at the Salvation Army Citadel on Ram Street, Wandsworth SW18 starting at 7pm.  A further meeting will be organised in June.  Any Neighbourhood Watch co-ordinator is welcome to attend.