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Last Updated: Monday, 8 December, 2003, 08:35 GMT
My London: 'We are the eyes and ears'
Alan Davies
Merton's neighbourhood wardens patrol social housing estates
Alan Davies, 49, is part of a team of neighbourhood wardens who patrol housing estates in the south-west London borough of Merton. Their efforts to clean up the Pollards Hill area of Mitcham won them a national award in November.

'Where there's grime there's crime' - it's an old one but very true.

If you don't keep on top of graffiti, it will grow, if you have a little pile of litter, someone will come along and add to it.

When an abandoned car is set fire to, it costs about £5,000 for the fire brigade, police, damage to the road and removal.

The neighbourhood wardens cover the whole spectrum of social problems such as fly tipping, abandoned vehicles and graffiti.

They patrol with a view to reporting them and passing them on for cleaning.

The ethos of most (warden) schemes is very non-confrontational.

We are the eyes and ears of the public, a high-profile uniformed presence which sees what's happening and gains the confidence of the community.

I started early 2001 and saw it as something I could slip into quite easily.

I love working with the public, I enjoy dealing with other people's problems and trying to improve their lot.

A lot of people genuinely want to make their place better
Alan Davies
We deal with a lot of anti-social behaviour. We have groups of youths loitering on the stairs because winter's coming in so they are moving into residential blocks.

And we get associated problems such as mess, noise, graffiti and drugs - drugs are always an issue with the discarded paraphernalia.

That situation can become slightly more confrontational, but we will ask, request, cajole and use tact, to try to resolve the situation.

They don't think they are doing anything wrong, but the residents don't like it. The wardens have got to negotiate between both sides.

We can act as professional witnesses. If people don't want to contact their neighbour about noise nuisance, we will go round and ask them to turn it down.

We can also go to court on behalf of residents so they are never identified.

Impetus and enthusiasm

It could be neighbours who don't get on, harassment or racial harassment. I have been to court two or three times and given evidence on behalf of other people.

We also support vulnerable residents, we get a lot of referrals from Victim Support who identify people who have been having problems.

We can visit daily if required and reassure them that we can walk past their front door if that is what is needed.

A lot of people genuinely want to make their place better and we can add to that by helping to provide a little bit of manpower and equipment and put in impetus and enthusiasm.

Mr Davies checks out a graffiti-covered wall
Mr Davies: "If you don't keep on top of graffiti, it will grow"
We did an extension on a borough-wide clean-up day and went into Pollards Hill, brought in the RSL (registered social landlord) who helped with staff and equipment.

There were about 40 or 50 children from the William Morris school, people from the environmental services and wardens, residents from Pollards Hill - we had a really big turnout.

Several vehicles were removed, a fair amount of graffiti cleaned and a whole lot of rubbish - it was an excellent day. The older primary school kids absolutely loved it. There was a camaraderie, it was like a social event with a purpose.

We have had a really positive response, people are just glad to see a familiar face, I think many are reassured by the presence of a warden.

Our uniform is quite clearly distinct from the police, it has 'warden' on the back and I think it's quite obvious where we are coming from.

Some people walk out of their front door into the corridor and the first thing they see is a mass of graffiti and that's awful.

If we can stop it from recurring we have achieved something and if we can prevent the youths from coming back that's a longer term success.

My London is a series of features about life in the city which will be on News Online every Monday. If you have a story suggestion please send an e-mail to: londonnews@bbc.co.uk.

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