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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Residents' battle to reclaim streets
By Cindi John
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

As the government continues its drive against anti-social behaviour, BBC News Online visits one area which has been turned around by its residents.

Dispersal notice in Bruce Road
Young people's movements are monitored in the Bruce Road area

At first glance, Bruce Road in Harlesden, north-west London, looks like many other suburban streets. Only a notice pinned to a lamp post distinguishes it from its neighbours.

But that notice is what is helping to keep Bruce Road and the four others which run off it a safe place to live, says resident Craig Lynn.

For the notice is a Metropolitan Police dispersal warning issued under the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act.

"It means that people younger than 16 can't be out on the streets after 9pm without an adult, and any more than three people of any age at any time of the day, who are hanging about and who might be suspicious, can be told to disperse and not come back," explains Mr Lynn.

It might seem draconian but the dispersal notice was necessary to restore peace to the Bruce Road area according to Mr Lynn and other members of the residents' association, such as Irene Sharp.

BEHAVING BADLY
Anti-social behaviour reported every two seconds in England and Wales
Results in annual costs of 13.5m
One-third of adults say anti-social behaviour is a problem in their area
Source: Home Office

Ms Sharp, who has lived in the area for more than two decades, said over time the area had slowly become a haven for drug dealers and young vandals.

The environment was scarred by graffiti, dumped cars and rubbish. Drug pushers traded openly, destroying the sense of community which had once existed, she said.

"When you've got the pushers coming round trying to tempt the children, even actually moving into the area, then it spoils the whole atmosphere and people start shutting doors, locking themselves in, not coming out and getting involved in anything."

'Behaviour contracts'

Last year an environmental clean-up campaign by the local council led to residents like Craig Lynn and Irene Sharp deciding to cleanse the area of the pushers and vandals.

Muriel Stott and Richard Adam say their area is much safer
They were among the founding members of the Bruce Road Neighbourhood Pledge project, working in collaboration with the police and local authority to turn their area around using a variety of measures.

Local police officer Matthew Slaney says one aspect of their work is targeting disruptive elements within the community.

"We've had some disorder with children around the area and we're working towards anti-social behaviour orders on them, there are signs around for dispersal notices so any anti-social groups can be moved on.

"We're also endeavouring to take up acceptable behaviour contracts with about 10 local youngsters," he says.

In February the Bruce Road project became a fully-fledged residents' association, which now boasts over 300 members.

Members such as Richard Adam lend a hand to make sure the area remains clean and safe.

"Last week I helped do all the strimming of the grass round here, that took a couple of hours," he says, pointing out some neat verges. "I also report things that have been dumped, for example a mattress or television, because if it's left other people will dump there also."

Another member, Muriel Stott, feels things have definitely improved over the past year.

"We don't get so much rubbish around, not so much noise late at night. It's definitely safer, I think we've all made quite a bit of difference."

Award

Their efforts have been recognised nationally as well as locally.

In 2003 the Bruce Road project was among the winners of the first Home Office 'Taking A Stand' awards, which recognise the efforts of those who have fought anti-social behaviour in their area.

Hazel Blears (left) with Irene Sharp (centre) and Craig Lynn (right)
Home Office minister Hazel Blears congratulated Bruce Road residents

This year Bruce Road was the venue of the launch of the second award scheme, which has been expanded and will result in 100 rather than 30 grants of 1,000 being handed out in December.

Speaking at the launch, the national director of government's anti-social behaviour unit, Louise Casey, said initiatives like the Bruce Road project proved individuals could make a difference.

"A lot of people think Harlesden has got a lot of problems. Well it may have, but it's also got some solutions and some really good people trying to do some very difficult things," Ms Casey said.

Irene Sharp says they haven't yet won all their battles, particularly with the drug dealers.

"The drugs problem, that's a bigger issue, that's going to take a little bit longer, but we have our eyes open and ears open.

"And now that we've got more liaison with the community police, hopefully once we get the neighbourhood watch into action, we'll be able to tackle that a lot better."


SEE ALSO:
Troublemakers facing street bans
22 Jun 04  |  London
Communities win cash for clean-up
24 Jun 04  |  England
Cracking the crime figures
22 Jan 04  |  UK


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