Innovative practice - Neighbourhood defence

1st June 2012 at 01:00
Young people are tackling violence and the fear of crime by setting up 'safe havens' in local shops

The background

The murder of 16-year-old schoolboy Jimmy Mizen in a baker's shop in Lewisham, South London, in 2008 made local residents acutely aware of the importance of keeping young people safe.

A year later, Prendergast-Ladywell Fields College held a "listening campaign", canvassing pupils' views on a range of community projects that the college might support.

One of the projects chosen was the SafeHaven scheme, an initiative in which local businesses are designated as safe zones where anyone can seek sanctuary if they are threatened.

The scheme is part of CitySafe, a project run by Citizens UK, an organisation that aims to promote local community cooperation. CitySafe seeks to harness local energy to combat crime and fear of crime. School staff had found out about the scheme through a course run by an affiliated group called London Citizens.

"The SafeHaven idea had particular relevance to us in Lewisham following the murder of Jimmy Mizen," says Simon Jones, head of geography and community links officer at the college. "High streets and shopping parades can be very anonymous, even hostile, in big cities, but here was a way of restoring a sense of them as places in which people know one another and can look out for one another in a crisis."

Jones says Citizens UK's work also chimed with the college's desire to make citizenship "a concrete thing for our pupils, underlining that they can have a positive impact both at school and also in their neighbourhood and beyond".

The project

Pupils from the college went on a series of "SafeHaven walks", visiting shops in the area and starting to build up relationships with local shopkeepers. This work culminated with many of the businesses signing up to the scheme, committing to put up stickers proclaiming their SafeHaven status and promising to protect any young person who requested their support.

The school gained many early supporters through letter-writing campaigns to "power players" such as the local MP, plus liaison with other charities such as the Jimmy Mizen Foundation. "But our biggest boost came about nine months in at a meeting of the Lewisham Community Police Consultative Group," says Jones. "We were asked some very searching questions."

Pupil Amanda Osei Braimah, 15, says: "For the first time, we were not told, 'How wonderful it is to see young people having a go.' We were treated as equals; we were judged by what we had said." Lewisham Shopping Centre's manager then offered to make the entire centre a SafeHaven.

Tips from the scheme

"Think big, start small," says Mel Whitfield, the school's headteacher. "The pupils are showing the local and national community what young people can achieve if given the opportunity."

In order to make the scheme sustainable, try to have representatives in each year group. The college now has more than 100, and a system in place for delegating tasks.

Get other schools involved. Pupils have visited 12 local primaries and encouraged them as they get their own SafeHaven projects up and running.

Evidence that it works?

The majority of shops in the area - more than 60 - have signed up to Prendergast's SafeHaven scheme, on top of those in the shopping centre and others recruited by local primary pupils. "I don't have to worry about kids in my shop now," says local shop owner Jay Patel.

There is anecdotal evidence that the scheme may have contributed to a broader lowering of crime in the school's immediate ward.

In December 2011, a "community hands" event took place in which 800 people joined hands and linked the school to the shops that had signed up to the scheme.

The school has received both the Spirit of London and Philip Lawrence awards, gained plaudits from the mayor of London and prime minister and travelled to Liverpool to take part in a SafeHaven twinning ceremony.

The project

Approach: Setting up 'safe havens' in shops

Started: September 2009

Leader: Simon Jones, head of geography and community links officer

Citizens: UK www.citizensuk.orgcampaignscitysafe-campaign

The Jimmy Mizen Foundation

The school

Name: Prendergast-Ladywell Fields College

Location: Lewisham, South London

Pupils: 816

Age range: 11-16

Intake: A comprehensive with a higher than average proportion of pupils speaking English as additional language and pupils on free school meals

Ofsted overall rating: Satisfactory (2010).

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