Thursday, 11 June 2009

Neighbourhood watch

I founded and have acted has coordinator for our scheme for the last seven and a half years. The movement has developed a lot in that time. One of the key developments for me was when we formed ourselves into an association. All the local schemes joined. We have a proper constitution and funds. We elected a chair, a deputy (me) a secretary and a treasurer. In theory we run our meetings and the police are invited. It’s very rare for the police not to attend and often senior officers are present. Crime reports are, what you might expect, always a high priority agenda item.
About a year and a half ago our group decided it wanted to branch out and petition for road safety measures in our area. Traffic lights at two major dangerous junctions and traffic calming on another contentious stretch of dual carriageway were targeted. Good response to petitions and I eventually presented these to our Town Committee on behalf of the association. Funding for Red Route meant that the traffic light schemes can now go ahead. Sounds good you might think we should be proud of our achievement. Not so I’m afraid. One member fought strongly against the schemes in the letters column of our local paper and because I challenged his views he threatened me with legal action and slandered me in the press.
It now appears we have no procedure for censuring this behaviour and there are no facilities to protect coordinators/spokespersons from this kind of action. We are all volunteers and as such should not be expected to have to deal with this should it happen out of our own pockets.
Our watch area became a safer place to live because of the scheme, we virtually had no crime for the past seven and a half years and people got to know each other. We became a community which was looking out for each other. I was very sad then to have to come to the conclusion that because of this threat it was time for me to quit. Last week I gave my neighbours and the association three months notice of my intention to stand down. This should be long enough to elect a new coordinator which I sincerely hope they do. It should also stimulate the association to strengthen its rules to prevent this kind of thing happening again.
I just wonder if there have been other examples of coordinators getting into trouble and how they were dealt with.

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