Anti-vandalism project off to a flying start

24th July 2009 at 01:00
Community scheme launched to stop schools falling victim to arson in the school holidays

Pupils will be keeping an eye on their schools this summer in a bid to stop vandalism in north Wales.

For the second year running, primaries and secondaries in Denbighshire and Conwy have joined forces to form School Watch, which has helped teachers build stronger relations with the police.

Flyers have gone out to homes, libraries and leisure centres asking residents to call a special number if they see anything suspicious in nearby schools during the holidays.

Pupils at Ysgol Mair RC Primary in Rhyl, which has suffered spates of vandalism in recent years, were visited by a police helicopter, fire engine and members of the local council to launch the project in Denbighshire.

Headteacher Stuart Plunkett said: "We wanted to make it a memorable day so they take the message home to their parents, friends and neighbours."

He said the idea was to encourage children to be proud of their local community.

"We have had break-ins and people have vandalised the garden that children have invested so much time in. It seems to coincide with the lighter summer nights when the school is closed," he said.

"Now, if children walk past the school, we want them to keep an eye on it and ask questions of anyone on the premises."

Ifan Hughes, divisional crime reduction officer for North Wales Police, holds regular security meetings with heads. He said: "Schools are targets for vandalism and arson because they have easy access. They get people climbing on to roofs and fences, littering, pulling down guttering or starting fires."

There have been over 120 arson attacks in Wales's schools over the past two years.

Mr Hughes added: "I believe that schools should consider perimeter fencing, and when they are closed they should be private property. No children should be allowed on to school premises at all."

He said residents do use the School Watch service to inform the police of problems during the summer. But Mr Plunkett hopes the positive message will last long after the school holidays.

"It has helped us build relations with the emergency services," he said. "When our pupils see police drive past, they now see them as real people."

Rob Stanway, assistant head of Blessed Edward Jones RC High School in Rhyl, agreed that the project had reduced the stigma attached to the police.

"The police have always been contactable if we needed them, but now they do a lot more work with the children inside school," he said.

"It used to be that when a police car was outside the school, something was wrong, but that isn't the case any more. Children can see that the police are there to help the honest person - not just to lock up troublemakers.

"I think the pupils have become a lot more appreciative of the facilities they have over the past few years," Mr Stanway added. "The school now has very little graffiti and much less litter.

"If pupils see others looking after the school, they're more likely to do so as well. It's not just about looking after your school but all public buildings. I can definitely imagine some of our pupils calling the number if they see anything untoward."

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