Public servants need to visit communities in order to help local activists deal with anti-social behaviour and other problems, the UK Government’s Champion for Active, Safer Communities Baroness Newlove tells Meadhbh Monahan.
“Don’t just write a policy and then go away and forget about it” is Baroness Newlove’s main message for policy-makers. Helen Newlove was appointed as a Conservative peer in the House of Lords by David Cameron in October 2010 following her husband’s murder by a group of youths in 2007.
The Warrington-based community activist’s three priorities are:
• tackling problem drinking;
• turning the Civil Service into a ‘civic’ service; and
• creating a web ‘hub’ for community activists to use.
When asked what a good community looks like, Newlove responds: “The title of my third report is ‘Strong Foundations for local people’. For me, you just need to read it and you will see what a good community is all about because when you ask an activist, they can’t tell you why they do it, they just want to do it.”
In that report, she contends that happier, safer neighbourhoods are dependent on local people who care passionately about their home, streets and neighbours, and “who go the extra mile as a result.”
Speaking at an agendaNi justice seminar, Newlove outlined her time in Northern Ireland, where she visited community-led projects in East Belfast and Derry.
“In East Belfast, I saw an amazing community-led partnership where people happily gave up their Friday and Saturday evenings to patrol their streets engaging with young people in their neighbourhood.”
She told delegates: “The title of the project I visited in East Belfast very eloquently captures the way forward: ‘Street by Street’.”
Reflecting further on that visit, she tells agendaNi: “We saw the murals on the walls. I have family in southern Ireland so I love everything about Ireland but it was my first time to visit Northern Ireland. Because you watch the news all the time you become desensitised, but [the visit] had a huge impact. Everyone is so warm, everybody understands and grows up with [the conflict] but the people we spoke to had had enough.”
Newlove refers to the Challenging Underage Drinking initiative in Derry where older and younger men meet to play pool and watch TV in order to keep them off the streets, provide a good influence and “break down the inter-generational barriers.”
“They didn’t wait for policy-makers to enact legislation: they did it themselves,” she reflects.
Her ‘Strong Foundations’ report’s recommendations for the Government include:
• giving community groups cash from assets seized from drug dealers and other criminals;
• providing the public with a single point of contact for reporting non-emergency crime and anti-social behaviour;
• following the neighbourhood policing example and “get the justice system out of the court room and into communities”; and
• end the 9-5 culture because “agencies need to be there for their community when they need them.”
While Newlove acknowledges that “agencies have a huge role to play”, she adds that “local people have an unmatched knowledge of their area and an unmatched passion for doing something about it.”
She urges community groups to do what they can without having to wait lengthy periods for policy or legislation to change. Newlove acknowledges that “there are some wonderful civil servants”. She points to a “humbling” experience where a group of civil servants formed a maternity action group and helped midwives to deal with paper work concerning asylum seekers by drafting template letters. “They used their knowledge to help and they wrote to me saying they had been inspired by me,” she says.