Dr Andrew Fisher connects strength based engagement and participatory budgeting. Find out what happened at Speke Up – Tackling Serious and Organised Crime Through Strengths Based Engagement in Speke Merseyside, a project led by MutualGain.
“There is evidence that suggests a strong correlation between low social capital and high levels of crime and disorder.
High social capital can ensure the reinforcement of positive standards through the provision of role models, whereas in areas of low social capital young people will often create their own in the form of gangs”.
Recent headlines in relation to serious violence, reduction in the number of police officers and the shifting roles of those who undertake a neighbourhood policing function have resulted in both police and public concern.
As communities live with the impact of increased drugs markets and the associated county lines behaviours, the sexual and criminal exploitation of some of our most vulnerable communities, the seemingly out of control social media provoking negative social norms.
Knife and gun crime that appears to be on the rise, the police appear to spend their time adopting enforcement activities and other reactive measures designed to have an impact on issues that fall under the larger banner of serious and organised crime (SOC).
Among the five sites that the Home Office has supported to explore this issue is Speke in Merseyside. Speke sits on the edge of Merseyside bordering with Halton in Cheshire.
The years have taken its toll
Speke is the home of the Jaguar/Ford factory and Liverpool John Lennon Airport and has a sprawling 1950’s built housing estate that was designed as a satellite town for Liverpool and served to provide a workforce for many long gone factories. Like many large housing estates, gone are the employment opportunities that included the famed Liverpool Docks, and instead they are replaced by increasing levels of poverty, crime and anti social behaviour.
Many of the people in Speke have lived there all of their lives and the older generations remark on the notable decline of the area and the increase in the threat, fear, and reality of crime. Yet, as with all communities there is a palpable community spirit that has now been untapped and galvanized through the recent work that agencies and communities have undertaken in Speke.
In order to hear the voices of Speke and galvanise them into helping the fight against SOC, a two process programme was undertaken. First a World Café was held in late 2018 and second, a PB even was planned for March 2019.
Almost 80 people attended the World Café
19 went on to play an active role in a PB community planning group, designed to ensure local ownership of the PB process, which started in January 2019. The group spanned age and experience and the 19 shared a common passion – they wanted to make Speke a safer place for their friends and families to live, socialize and work.
The majority of those who stepped forward to be part of the group were engaged in some sort of voluntary work, either running sporting groups, supporting people into employment through training or helping to protect those who may be vulnerable to on line criminality.
They all have busy lives, and many of the people representing the groups had both family and domestic challenges of their own, but this did not stop them from wanting to make their community a safer place, and a better place for their families and friends to live in; building new relationships with the police and partner agencies.
Networks and connections started to be created from the first PB meeting
The community started to share resources and support each other, finding out about existing resources that they were unaware of.
The community steering group met on four occasions to debate decisions in relation the bidding criterion, with the steering group determined to encourage bids from as many voluntary and community groups as possible. The decision-making process was relatively straight forward but the biggest debate came in relation to the age of those who could vote.
The ages proposed ranged from 11 to 16, so there had to be a compromise. The debate moved back and forth with each party fervently defending their positions, however, it was finally agreed that the voting age would be 11. The reasons for agreeing to this age were two-fold:
- This was likely to be the lower age of those who would benefit from the money that groups could bid for, so why not let them have a say in how they wanted to see the money spent? PB uses the principle of ‘if it feels like we have decided…it’s PB. If it doesn’t feel like we have decide, it’s not PB.’
- It introduced many young people to the concept of democracy, voting and decision making and this would help them in terms of school studies, and future engagement in society. A key aspect of PB is budget literacy and the recognition that resources are finite
The opportunity to apply for funding via the PB process was shared throughout the community
Initial interest was slow, but as a result of support from key partners, South Liverpool and Onwards Homes we ended up with 31 bids totalling just over £53,000. BRILLIANT!
As the planning for the PB event started to take shape it became apparent that we were going to need a bigger venue. We had booked a local church hall that would comfortably hold 100 people, but the feedback that we were getting suggested a much greater number of people would be attending to listen to bids and cast their vote. Again, BRILLIANT!
On the morning of 19th March 2019 around 300 people attended the PB event to listen to 29 groups pitch for a share of £26,000. The atmosphere was electric, and the local Neighbourhood Inspector did a grand job of acting as MC, introducing the bids and ensuring that voting sheets were correctly completed.
- Majorette groups who engage with young girls to prevent them becoming groomed into serious and organised crime (SOC);
- Sports teams for young people teaching them about respect, punctuality and decision making;
- Groups who have developed workshops linked to the Prevent programme, warning of the consequences of involvement in SOC;
- Social meetings for those who are vulnerable through isolation and may become victims of cuckooing;
- One group taught sewing and clothes making, helping to get young people into education or the work place, again, taking them away from a lifestyle that may result in them becoming involved in SOC
- Another helped service veterans who may suffer from PTSD to get back on their feet, stopping them from falling into the clutches of those who would victimise them or recruit them into criminality.
The votes were counted and verified in a back office and 16 very happy projects were awarded funding.
There were obviously ideas that weren’t funded but whilst those leading those ideas were disappointed, they managed to take something positive from the transparent and empowering experience:
“Good evening Andrew. I did not get a chance to say to you and all the team a big thank you. Although we did not win any funding we had a great day and a good laugh. I have had a fab experience from start to finish and I also accomplished speaking in front of all them people!!! Massive for me, I was shaking like a leaf. It was a great set up and also a great turn out. Again please pass on my thanks to all the team and maybe one day we shall all meet again.”
Lindsey Winberg, Kav’s Crusaders
And the story does not stop there
The whole point of PB on this occasion was to begin to empower people, build networks and help groups to protect themselves from serious and organised crime. Here are the thoughts from another bidder:
“Hi Andrew. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you and all the other people involved in this process. Saturday was a really good event and it was lovely to have all the organisations come together and support each other. I’d love for it to continue as I think it has not only helped the organisations with funding but empowered the community.
It has been really positive for the young people that have been involved as well. They came to the initial meeting and then have had the opportunity to come and take part in the vote and be part of decision making. When they see they can affect change it helps them to engage so much more and that can only be a positive. Looking forward to hearing of future events and once again thank you”.
Paula Shaw, Speke Children’s Environment Committee
We also had positive feedback from a locally elected politician
“Fantastic event listening to the fantastic work of community groups across Speke/Garston all bidding for funding from @MerseyPolice POCA fund. Well done Speke Up, @SLH_Homes @Onward_Homes. Best community event I’ve attended for years”
Lynnie Hinnigan. Ward Counsellor for Cressington and Deputy Mayor of Liverpool
At the conclusion of the event, the local neighbourhood inspector told me that his career has been defined by few key events, and the Speke Up programme was in his top three. He knew of eight community groups when the process started, now he knows of 31 and that number continues to grow.
Back to the Putnam quote at the top of the page and this was exactly what we were trying to achieve – high levels of social capital resulting in lower levels of crime.
What did we learn?
- Holding a pre curser event, such as a World Café gives people an opportunity to share their stories, and allows themes to be drawn from the data captured which can become the themes for the PB process itself
- The World Café galavanised the community and provided a platform to strengthen confidence to become a part of the planning group
- Some of our most complex communities facing personal and social challenges, contribute the most positive energy if they are given the opportunity
- Having a strong and creative partnership increased our reach across the community, resulting in 31 applications being received
- Having someone with experience of PB to facilitate the process was crucial as it gave people confidence in what they were trying to achieve. This reflects the principles advocated in the PB movement of Scotland. Questions were answered based on experience of similar events and national and international knowledge.
- The use of social media was positive. The message seemed to be shared across groups via Face Book and Twitter, encouraging them to submit bids
- Leadership is a key element of success. The local police inspector and sergeant attended the majority of meetings, as did representatives of the two housing associations mentioned earlier; they ensured that the event was a success by playing their part but not taking over
- Hold your nerve. With a few days to go it seemed as though we were not going to get the number of bids that we were looking for. Over three quarters of the bids that came in, did so in the final two or three days
The message is – DO NOT stop now
This is the start of a collaborative relationship that can tackle the serious issues affecting our most vulnerable communities. Early help is possible with strong communities that display high levels of social capital – let PB provide you with the platform.
Written by Dr Andrew C. Fisher. Lead Associate for Community Safety, MutualGain. This blog was originally posted on the MutualGain website