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Commissioner's blog: Safer Streets project must have a lasting legacy

In February 2020, before Covid gripped the planet, members of my team and officers from Plymouth City Council hosted a meeting of community leaders at Plymouth Cathedral in the heart of North Stonehouse.

Commissioner's blog: Safer Streets project must have a lasting legacy

The meeting was to discuss a possible bid for funding to the Home Office’s Safer Streets fund – which issued grants to areas which had high incidents of domestic burglaries.

If successful it would mean money for big infrastructure projects – CCTV and street lighting being obvious ‘quick’ wins – but also funding for community enrichment.

After an understandable delay due to Covid and lockdown the bid was awarded a £546,000 grant which had to be spent by the end of this month (March 2021).

North Stonehouse is as close to inner city living as Devon and Cornwall gets.

On the edge of the city centre – bordered on its south side by Union Street with its string of night clubs, bars, and fast-food joints.

It is hugely multicultural. The Canon at the cathedral Fr Mark O’Keefe reckons 40 different nationalities are often represented at his services.

The area offers accommodation to families and students but there are also houses of multiple occupation and hostels - many of which home those with complex needs.

But it is also a vibrant and close-knit community with many wonderful people working hard to make a difference.

A partnership, called Stronger North Stonehouse, was quickly formed which aims to help the community drive out crime such as burglaries, vehicle thefts and robberies and in doing so improve the area’s reputation.

There’s strong evidence that crimes like these can be prevented by using tactics that either remove opportunities to commit crime or act as a deterrent by increasing the chances of an offender being caught.

Things like good quality CCTV, improved home security, Neighbourhood Watch schemes, better street lighting and more advice on crime prevention stop these crimes and make communities safer.

North Stonehouse has become the first city area to benefit from a computer modelling survey to assess the level of street lighting at different times.

As a result, a so-called ‘dimming profile’ is being implemented so that outside the hours of normal high activity, both pedestrian and vehicular, the amount of energy the lights use is reduced.

While this leads to a very small reduction in the output of the lights themselves it leads to significant reduction in the amount and cost of energy, a reduction in resulting CO2 emissions and enhances biodiversity.

About 320 streetlights are now ‘dimmable’.

The survey has also identified 40 black spots which will now benefit from new lighting.

Six brand new CCTV locations have been identified and cameras have now been installed.

The most significant improvement to coverage being in Victoria Park where there will be three.

The council needed to carry out significant network reinforcement to accommodate the new cameras.

The project has brought together several community organisations from within and just outside North Stonehouse, such as Cliik, to run community-led projects like graffiti clean-up schemes and improvements to the public spaces.

A community sparks fund has awarded almost £45,000 to 25 groups who submitted ideas on how to prevent crime and make the community safer. This was administered by Nudge Community Builders, a vibrant community group based on Union Street.

Thirteen new community watch groups have been formed with the help of Devon and Cornwall Community Watch Association. Neighbourhood Watches are already making their presence felt in the area.

A ‘Feel Safe Scheme’ was launched which will help residents carry out small repairs to their properties, such as fitting stronger locks and other security devices.

Free crime prevention courses have been offered to residents as has restorative justice training provided by the OPCC’s commissioned Restorative Justice provider. All the courses have been popular, and many have been fully booked.

A strong brand was created thanks to a local design collective and a website quickly produced by a Plymouth company.

This gave real focus to digital communications which was taken forward by contracting a locally based social media expert who lives in the heart of North Stonehouse to run all the social media.

But North Stonehouse suffers great digital poverty, so it was wrong to rely on digital media and a monthly eight-page tabloid newspaper, Stronger North Stonehouse Journal, is now designed and delivered by a local company to around 1,500 homes.

Stronger North Stonehouse has brought together positive energetic groups and helped local people create real momentum in the area.

I am pleased to say that this partnership will continue to operate into next year as we continue to work with and support the residents of North Stonehouse. Funding identified by my office and support provided by Plymouth City Council will allow us to take forward additional work, in particular to help fully establish the Stronger North Stonehouse Network and expand some of the work that was inevitably affected by the pandemic.

Over the coming weeks the partnership will be working together, and with community organisations to agree a programme of work over the coming year, which will build on the brilliant initiatives we have seen in the restorative justice training and help us strengthen the legacy of this project.