Here in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, we are always striving to have safer, more resilient and better-connected communities. Living on a peninsula, surrounded by sea and with five inhabited islands, I think we are very good at stepping up and taking our share of responsibility for each other.
The fact that so many individuals and communities are involved, including in my own street, to support some of us who have needed help during the covid-19 crisis is inspiring. If there’s one good thing that’s come out of this difficult time it’s a reminder of just how kind and considerate, we all are, and can be.
This is shown in the recent work of Devon and Cornwall’s Watch Association (DaCCWA). It has connected with almost 300 new communities since the beginning of Covid-19, as residents look to support each other during lockdown.
Its latest initiative, Good Neighbour Groups, launched through Neighbourhood Alert, was set up at the beginning of the pandemic and asked people to think about how they could support the vulnerable and isolated residents in their communities. The Alert also provided many individuals with a lifeline for help, enabling DaCCWA to introduce them to their local Neighbourhood Watch Scheme or pass their enquiry urgently to local authorities or agencies such as Volunteer Cornwall.
The aim of DaCCWA is to inspire people to come together to create strong, friendly, active communities where crime and anti-social behaviour is less likely to happen. Through its network of area Watch Offices, existing Community Watches have been active in not only crime prevention but supporting each other during these challenging times.
The pandemic has given us the opportunity to really re-energise people about the benefits of being part of a Community Watch and it has been heartening to see examples where support has been given that has gone beyond crime prevention. Volunteers have shared extensive local knowledge and experience to ensure more people feel safe from crime during lockdown especially if they are vulnerable or feel isolated in the place they live.
Keyham in Plymouth is a great example of an active Neighbourhood Watch which is focused on bringing the community together and closer and it really dispels the historic curtain twitching image of Watch schemes.
The Keyham team covers everything from odd jobs for the elderly, community events such as the Great get Together and Easter Egg Hunt, regular litter picks and allotment tidies as well as an active crime and anti-social behaviour reporting system. It also has a thriving Facebook group giving everyone the chance to get involved and have their say.
During the pandemic, the group has risen to the challenge of supporting those affected and vulnerable from Covid-19. Examples include delivering tonnes of food to people in need in the area; securing free sanitary ware and incontinence supplies; distributing free fire and personal alarms and maintaining regular contact with those unable to venture out. It estimates that since March, the Watch scheme has completed over 737 tasks for the neighbourhood.
The operational set up of Keyham’s Covid-19 support group was sorted out in three days, with a dedicated phone line set up and social media channels launched. A leaflet was also produced and put through every door in Keyham offering help to over 6000 residents.
Door chain locks were purchased and fitted for the vulnerable who had requested extra security for their home and over 200 personal alarms were issued. A brief on fraud awareness was delivered highlighting recent Covid scams to an elderly community to improve both their knowledge and awareness.
More than 15 knives were taken off the street as part of a knife amnesty. As cases of domestic violence increased in the area, those affected were also supported with personal alarms and security for their homes along with food and other help.
Like Keyham, more schemes are now focussing their efforts on other types of community assistance projects and events which allow people to engage with each other and form friendships and support networks. This ultimately empowers people to feel they can equally report crime and anti-social behaviour and in so doing, reduce crime and the fear of crime.
DaCCWA is the recognised umbrella organisation for watch schemes in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Initiatives include Neighbourhood Watch, Boat Watch, Farm Watch, Horse Watch, Caravan Watch, Hotel Watch and the newly launched Heritage Watch. You can find out more by visiting dc.police.uk/daccwa