Work is underway in the North Stonehouse area of Plymouth to deter crime and anti-social behaviour by strengthening community cohesion and enhancing the local environment, in an initiative supported by the Government’s ‘Safer Streets’ fund.
The local context
Stonehouse makes up the western part of the city of Plymouth, Devon. Some areas of Stonehouse have seen significant regeneration in recent years. North Stonehouse, however, is one of the most deprived areas in Devon and has high levels of burglary, ASB and drug-related crime. A home here is three times more likely to be burgled than in other parts of Plymouth.
In 2020 the Home Office Safer Streets Fund awarded over £546,000 to Stronger North Stonehouse (SNS), a partnership including Plymouth City Council, Devon and Cornwall Police, the Police and Crime Commissioner and community organisations. Thirty-five places in England were awarded Safer Streets funding, which was targeted at areas particularly affected by acquisitive crime.
The vibrant and close-knit community of North Stonehouse was the driving force behind the successful bid. Residents and community groups wanted to be actively involved in building cohesion and reclaiming a sense of local pride.
SNS is striving to reduce crime and ASB, and fear of them, through a number of work streams:
- strengthening the local environment
- protecting victims and preventing future victimisation
- working with offenders through a restorative justice offer
- helping the community to reclaim its spaces and increase its strength and resilience.
Community involvement runs through every strand of this work, and a £20,000 ‘Community Sparks’ fund was set up to award small grants for initiatives that would enhance the area, deter crime/ASB and make public spaces safer. It was administered by Nudge Community Builders, a community group set up by Stonehouse residents with a mission to ‘nudge’ lasting change.
Two levels of funding were available: up to £250 for small-scale projects, or up to £3,000 for larger projects which would bring more people together within a neighbourhood and spark a longer legacy of collaboration and positive change. Projects had to be completed by 31 March 2021, a short timeframe of just a few months.
Impact and outcomes
The Community Sparks fund received 30 applications ranging from £150 to £3,000. The judging panel awarded funding totalling almost £42,000 to 24 projects – double the original funding allocation, but with Home Office approval this was increased using underspend from elsewhere.
Grants were awarded to a range of initiatives, including solar lighting for a new community space on a former bowling green; bringing a disused space back into use for community meetings and groups; local artists creating a mapped trail on telephone and utility boxes; new equipment for a park; community composting, and a ‘We Live Here’ exhibition of photography by residents.
With such a short timeframe for delivery, the immediate impact was very visible. The longer impact will be assessed over time. SNS Project Manager, Michelle Murray, said:
One of the joys of this project has been working with tried and tested approaches but also looking at how we can work better and differently.
The results are shared through the project newsletter and social media. SNS is far more than just the Community Sparks fund – other activity underway includes:
- removing and deterring graffiti and vandalism, for example with planting and murals
- new signposting to encourage use of local spaces and increase community identity
- enhanced street lighting, CCTV and home security in ‘hotspot’ areas
- reclaiming parks through CCTV, lighting, infrastructure and community guardianship.
There is ongoing work such as new Neighbourhood Watch schemes, a property marking and crime prevention campaign, and crime prevention advice training for local groups and statutory partners. A ‘Feel Safe’ scheme will enable small works to be carried out at the homes of vulnerable people, based on a model in operation in Torbay, which will be managed sustainably via donations after start-up.
The overarching ambition is to improve people’s lives, with broad social and economic benefits through the reclaiming of public spaces, a stronger community and greater confidence in the police and council services. Before this work, the most deprived area at the heart of North Stonehouse experienced on average 50 burglary offences per year and 134 other acquisitive crimes. SNS aims to achieve a 25-35 per cent reduction in burglary and a 20 per cent reduction in wider acquisitive crimes.
The SNS Board will work to sustain the momentum – continuing with local projects where funding is available, developing new ideas, reacting to challenges, and facilitating links between community groups to strengthen the framework for future work.
SNS is one small element of the work going on across Plymouth to reduce and deal with ASB. Plymouth is a ‘trauma informed’ city, recognising that trauma and exposure to adversity is a profound health, wellbeing and social care issue. Services provided by the community safety team and youth service have been re-designed around a trauma informed process: enforcement is an option but not usually the first option. Close partnership work with the statutory, voluntary and community sectors is key to this work.
Dave Ryland, Plymouth’s Community Connections Strategic Manager, said: “We are continuing to develop our services in line with city need. Working with partners we are striving to achieve the best possible outcomes for our residents, visitors and businesses. We will continue building a safe, strong and resilient city with services equipped with the powers and tools needed to address emerging issues, thus reducing the negative impact they can have.”
- Community groups identified the risk of a feeling of ‘being done to’, so the project had a strong focus on community consultation and involvement.
- A simple application process was designed, with either a 400-word statement or three-minute video, to ensure that the Community Sparks fund was accessible to all.