Over the summer, my estate has suffered an increase in what the government likes to call 'anti-social behaviour'. Gardens vandalised, a family racially harassed, a car burned out, bikes nicked, a rise in graffiti, and more besides.
Why? Partly because Hackney Council's incompetence forced our youth club to close for more than half a year. But the other main reason: a 'dispersal zone' on neighbouring Pembury estate. The police, supported by the Council, have got one of these court orders whereby coppers can disperse groups of people who are causing a nuisance on Pembury estate. So they leave the Pembury and cross the road to our estate. It's like having a leaky water pipe in your living room and redirecting it to your kitchen instead of fixing it.
There is a genuine problem with anti-social behaviour on the Pembury, probably because it's run-down and neglected and there is nothing for kids to do. It has around a thousand homes, but doesn't have a playground, so even toddlers have good cause to think that society doesn't care about them. The Pembury used to have a playground, but then Peabody, the landlord, built an office on it.
I don't see how this Dispersal Zone is going to solve the problem. I do, however, see loads of pitfalls - for example, dispersing groups of kids who are just minding their own business. And who do you reckon the police are more likely to disperse - a group of youngsters wearing hoodies, or a group of suits discussing the stock market?
And you have to wonder why the police even need this order. If groups of people are threatening or harming others, then the police already have enough power to deal with it. Threatening behaviour is an offence, you know. But I guess that stuff like collecting evidence and proving a case against someone is a little tiresome, so it's just that much easier to move them on - on to someone else's patch, that is.
A member of our Tenants' and Residents' Association committee wrote to our local councillors, and got a reply from one of them saying that he was very sorry to hear what was going on - and, er, that was about it.
The police? Well, they patrolled the estate in the early afternoon, rather than when any trouble was likely to take place. And when we asked them to do something useful - lock up the playground at night - they came up with some lame excuse as to why this was impractical.
I'll comment later on what our TRA is going to do about it. In the meantime, any suggestions are welcome.
Here's the relevant extract from the minutes of last week's meeting:
Residents reported the following recent incidents:
• airgun pellet through a resident’s window
• resident threatened while watering communal gardens
• car burned out on Poulton Close/Spurstowe Road
• repeated destruction of plantings in playground
• tree broken
• wing mirrors stolen from car
• bikes stolen
• stones thrown at resident
• increased graffiti
• racist harassment of family
We believed that the immediate causes for the recent increase in harmful anti-social behaviour are:
• the closure of the youth club
• the ‘dispersal zone’ on the Pembury estate, which has simply displaced trouble onto our estate
We further noted that:
• the police patrolled our estate, but at the wrong time of day, and when we asked them to help lock up the playground at night, they refused
• the Pembury has a genuine problem with harmful behaviour, rooted in it being a run-down estate with poor facilities for children and young people
We agreed to:
• organise an event to get young people along to discuss the issue – perhaps organise a film show and/or invite Leon Black
• reject any proposal to extend the dispersal zone to this estate, as this would simply displace the problem to somewhere else
• initiate a discussion at the youth club (now reopened)
• encourage residents’ involvement in the Hackney Wolverines FC football sessions which will start on 23rd October
• use the Hackney Wolverines FC anti-drugs/guns campaign
• demand that the Youth Service, Council and/or Police make resources available to our estate to tackle this problem eg. extra youth club sessions, events etc
•write to the Gazette, pointing out the ‘downside’ of the Pembury disperal zone
• write to the Pembury TRA
• produce a notice for display around the estate urging residents to come together to defend our community
There's an intersting article in the current (the first, actually) issue of Hackney's Better Homes newsletter (on page 12), about a young man's efforts to improve life for Pembury youngsters and the lack of support he has received.
In 2003, Toks Williams set up a football team called Pembury Knights. They play on Hackney Downs. He got support from the Park Ranger on Hackney Downs, who kept the pitch in good nick, but no support from Hackney Council.
He wants to see changing facilities on the Downs, and funding for kit, balls and training.
More generally, Toks calls for:
- more youth workers
- more youth leader training
- more premises to be made available for youth clubs
- youth club sessions for different age groups
He wants to carry out a survey of young people's needs, but guess what? He can't get funding.