One of my photos

Public meeting about antisocial behaviour

July 4th, 2006 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · No Comments · Politics

Tonight there was a partially successful public meeting in the Broadfield community centre about antisocial behaviour – it all depends on how you define success. Obviously the wider problems of antisocial behaviour were not solved, and no individual problems were solved, so if anyone had turned up expecting a magic wand to be waved they would have called it a failure.

On the other hand, there were about 40 people there and at least 25 were normal residents of Broadfield. The rest were housing officers from a couple of housing associations, officers from Crawley council, a couple of Sussex Police inspectors, a PCSO, Kenny from the West Sussex youth services, a manager from the CAB, some borough councillors and Adrian from the Crawley News.

It may not sound like much, but its a good turnout for the Broadfield Forum. There were loads of new faces and many will return next time. Before then they might spread the word a bit and the whole thing will start to gain some critical mass.

Part of the reason for the increase in numbers is that the meeting was advertised, by which I mean it was ‘sold’ as a meeting on a specific topic. Previous meetings were just notified in dry, unattractive terms. Modesty prevents me from saying whose idea that was… Another reason for the increase was that one of the councillors took a load of posters/flyers for the meeting and went round putting them through doors. A combination of having a coherent message and some proactive behaviour got some results which can be built on.

I wish I could say it was a Labour councillor, but it was one of the Tories. Again, most of those who turned up were from the Courts and Broadfield North, with few from the Tollgate Hill area. Whether this is because everyone is happy up here in Tollgate Hill or because our area missed out on the leafletting I don’t know. It is not unusual for Tollgate Hill to be ignored. Next time I will have to talk to the Tories and come to some arrangement – if they are going to publicise the meeting elsewhere, I will do this end of town.

Just before the meeting there was an incident where the unluckiest kid in Broadfield rode past the centre on his mini motorbike as Mathew from the council was setting up the room. He rode the machine down the footpath and stopped just round the corner from the fire door to tinker with his bike, at which point one of the police inspectors went out and confiscated the machine.

It was ironic because when the meeting kicked off, the first topic was mini motorbikes and the conversation only rarely got away from them.

Unfortunately the meeting did get a bit heated. I don’t know if the police were expected to come up with a solution on the spot to a problem which has been around for ages, but some of the residents were getting quite frustrated and there was a bit of a lynch-mob mentality. For example, when Inspector Piper was explaining that you can’t chase kids on motorbikes without the risk of them getting killed some old boy piped up with “whats the problem with that then?”

Another couple were fixated with the police putting too many resources into speed cameras instead of chasing motorbikes. I can see their point of view, but I think the statistics will show that even with the so-called draconian speed traps more deaths and injuries are caused by speeding cars than by motorbikes on pavements, however annoying they may be.

It may be that the meeting served a purpose by letting frustrated residents let off some steam and vent some anger directly at the police, although that is not really moving towards a solution.

A few of the people there really do seem to be living in fear, and its depressing to see that happening. Doubly so because one or two particularly obnoxious and aggressive youngsters have probably got these families to regard all youngsters the same way.

Right next to the centre is an enclosed football/basketball courts, where a group of boys were playing football loudly. There were frequent references to them and their behaviour and language, which most people there said they found to be intimidating.

In a poignant moment at the end of the meeting, I slipped out for a quick smoke and was watching the boys play. It was a four-a-side, shirts v. skins game, with a few other boys sitting at the side watching. A bit boisterous, but nowhere near as bad as Holland v. Portugal last week. A chap came out of the meeting and passed me on his way home. He had said nothing in the meeting, but as he passed me he looked at the football game and said to me “they’re only playing. Its only what we would love to do.”

A shame that he felt unable to voice any sort of moderate comment in the meeting itself, but when these things get into an escalating frenzy of Daily Mail headlines it can be hard to find the confidence to come out with a different view. But I have noticed before how it is those who are most likely to describe themselves as ‘the silent majority’ who are more likely to be the dominating influence in smaller, moderated groups, which rapidly turn into witch hunts.

I don’t want to sound negative though. A lot of residents made contacts with the various agencies and with each other during and after the meeting. That is the sort of thing which can lead to improvements in the longer term – if only some way can be found to include some of those perceived to be responsible for antisocial behaviour. If anyone does come up with some scheme to alleviate problems there is now a larger pool pf potential volunteers to help with it.

No doubt there is a hard core of truly antisocial people – not necessarily all kids – but there are a lot on the fringes. They fall in with the trouble-makers because they are made more welcome by them than by the rest of society generally. Every time someone talks about ‘the community’ and ‘ the kids’ as separate groups it makes the problem worse – the kids are part of the community: let them know that and they just may act like it.

The council are now looking for a suitable topic for the next Broadfield Forum. Any ideas? Anyone know from experience what topics are able to generate the most interest? Fly-tipping, vandlasim and grafitti and other streetscene issues? Parking? Travellers? Is it possible to generate a lot of interest around something positive or do we only get motivated to come together by adversity?

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