Designing our strategy for social action and crime prevention at Neighbourhood Watch
Neighbourhood Watch is a hyperlocal network of committed volunteers, actively supporting neighbours to keep safe within their homes and their communities. Neighbourhood Watch Network, the charity supporting the continued development of Neighborhood Watch across England and Wales, is starting to implement plans to extend our appeal and reach into more diverse and higher crime areas and tackle issues that affect the most vulnerable people within our communities.
We have previously been supported by Nesta and DCMS to introduce active listening practices into our day to day work to help us develop more people powered services that are adaptable to meet different needs. Our Communities that Care project showed us that involving our volunteers, community members and beneficiaries in developing solutions has enabled us to have a greater positive impact on the lives and concerns of residents and a more fulfilling experience for our volunteers.
We asked The Social Change Agency (SCA) to help us understand the challenges and opportunities for communities future engagement with Neighbourhood watch. This was done through listening to people living in an inner city area in Lewisham, London and a rural area in Monmouthshire, Gwent to gain their perspective. We knew, from our previous research, that there was a latent demand for the services that we can provide in inner city and rural areas and learnt from early engagement that crime was a growing concern for residents in both of the test areas. However, very few of those interviewed had previously considered Neighbourhood Watch as a potential solution.
The community insight gathered started to clarify the problem. We had previously assumed that the community perception of Neighbourhood Watch in inner city areas may be a barrier to residents engaging with us. We learnt from the interviews conducted that perception was an issue in both inner city and rural areas – though for different reasons. In Lewisham the perceived close alignment of Neighbourhood Watch with the police was a significant barrier to engagement due to the low levels of trust in the police within the local community. In Monmouthshire, residents felt that Neighbourhood Watch was not necessary, as they felt that the police were adequately fulfilling the crime prevention function and lower levels of crime meant that Neighbourhood Watch was a “solution to a problem we do not have”.
We identified that if we wished to engage effectively in inner city areas we would need to extend the conversations we have with communities and the police to include issues that impacted upon public confidence in the police, such as stop and search, the gang matrix and other negative experiences of contact with the police. We would need to assert our independence from the police and local councils, while using our positive relationships with these agencies to create opportunities for members of the community to share directly with their local policing teams the impact of policing on their lives and to support members to campaign for police reforms. In rural areas, we learnt that we could add value by helping to build and coordinate active community networks and connect those in remote areas through our information and communication channels.
Both areas already had strong community networks and this research helped us understand the need for us to provide incentives for people to take on roles within Neighbourhood Watch in these areas. We needed to look at opportunities to enhance the skills and impact of current volunteers and groups, such as advice, training and supported networking and skill sharing with other coordinators and community groups. We learnt that looser structures and greater alignment with the way that the local communities currently operated would ensure that we were able to add further benefit to current practices by enhancing the role of the community, rather than introducing unnecessary complication to the way they worked.
Insight from this engagement work is now helping us to plan more effectively how developments in Neighbourhood Watch might better reflect the needs of inner city and rural areas and has helped establish relationships with people within these communities that we can build on to ensure the community voice is reflected in our future strategy.