Speech to Braintree District Area Annual Neighbourhood Watch Conference on Tuesday 10th October at the Braintree District Counci

10th October 2006

I am delighted to have been invited to speak at the Annual Neighbourhood Watch conference for the Braintree District Area.


National representation of the Neighbourhood Watch is experiencing a rebirth at the moment, as a new charitable trust fills the vacuum left by the winding up of the National Neighbourhood Watch Association.

This is, of course, good news for a national movement which is supported by 11 million members and which continues to go from strength to strength.

But the true focus of Neighbourhood Watch has never been national.

It is at heart a local initiative which depends for its success on individuals, like you, who are committed to strengthening their own communities.

The idea of a Neighbourhood Watch began in the United States and was first brought to this country nearly 25 years ago.

It first took shape in Mollington, Cheshire, and from there quickly took off across the country.

By 1997 Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary was applauding the 'special relationship' that had been formed between police forces and local Neighbourhood Watch organisations - a fitting description, perhaps, for a British import of an American concept.

1997 was also an important date for Neighbourhood Watch.

A joint statement published by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the National Neighbourhood Watch Association that year announced that "Neighbourhood Watch is defined by the action communities take to make their communities safer, not just by the name alone."

In other words, the strength of Neighbourhood Watch is that it is able to respond to local needs and local problems with local solutions.

It allows communities like ours to decide on their priorities and to work with the police and other partners to achieve real results instead of merely satisfying government targets.

That flexibility explains the movement's enduring success and it is what I want to focus on briefly tonight.

As your MP I am particularly pleased to see Neighbourhood Watch thrive because its success proves that local knowledge and commitment is often more effective than a national diktat.

One of the three criteria for Neighbourhood Watch which was identified in 1997 was that "it is a community based organisation involving residents who are working together."

Neighbourhood Watch was never intended to be centrally directed and it is all the stronger for that.

A second objective was "making the community safer by tackling crime and fear of crime."

It is essential to acknowledge that crime cannot be tacked by the police alone - they must have help from their 'eyes and ears' in the communities that they serve, and that is how all of you continue to help them.

But even more important than crime itself is the fear of crime - and that is something that the police have always had limited control over.

'Dixon of Dock Green' is long gone and, however much I support bobbies on the beat - and police community support officers - it is individuals and, through them, communities which must take a stand against the fear of crime.

The final theme from 1997 was that "The community works in partnership with police, local authorities or other agencies."

A strong partnership has been formed in our area between local people, police and the council, and that is the key to effective community involvement in policing.

Tonight's meeting is a good example of that cooperation in action, given the composition of the audience and the venue in which we have been able to meet.

On a more practical front, the announcement that more Braintree District Council employees are being granted targeted police powers to deal with antisocial behaviour is another mark of progress.

It is good news for me as an MP, since a significant proportion of my constituency case work involves 'antisocial behaviour' - a term which has in itself become a convenient euphemism that covers a multitude of sins.

There is no easy answer to a problem which is both universal and complex. But Neighbourhood Watch is a good start because it draws on all of the strengths available in our community to tackle a problem that can strike anywhere and anyone.

So much for past action and statements of purpose - it is what you are all doing today that is really important.

In the first six months after Clive Stewart was appointed as the area's first overall co-ordinator, ten new groups were founded - bringing the number in the district to more than 400.

I have no doubt that similar progress has been made since then, particularly due to the coverage that Neighbourhood Watch is receiving in the media.

August's edition of 'the Villager', for example, carried two articles on the Neighbourhood Watch.

One highlighted the traditional advisory function of Neighbourhood Watch by reminding people not to open their doors to strangers.

But the second addressed one of our latest urban plagues - the misuse of mini motorbikes on the highway and on footpaths.

I think that this is proof positive of the value of Neighbourhood Watch - its ability to adapt to new community issues which would not have been foreseen in 1982, or even 1997.

But new problems arise all the time and I hope that you will take the opportunity this evening to tell me about any similar issues affecting your communities which I might be able to help you with.

Thank you for inviting me here tonight. It is a testament to Clive's work and your commitment that so many people are here and it certainly helps to prove the maxim that "The Opportunity of Crime Reduces in a Community which Cares".



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