Antisocial behaviour may delight as voyeuristic television (think of Neighbours from Hell), but the off-TV reality is that it can seriously damage your health. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 considers antisocial behaviour to be that which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. It can include: graffiti; abusive and intimidating language, which is often racist; excessive noise, particularly late at night; littering; drunken behaviour; and drug dealing and taking.
The government’s response has been to introduce antisocial behaviour orders (Asbos) which can be legally enforced. The first Asbo was used in 1999. But they are used more vigorously in some places than others. Between April 1999 and March 2003 in England and Wales, 1,112 Asbos were granted (and 31 refused by the courts). Greater Manchester led the way with 126 Asbos, while Essex issued just two. In London, of the 63 Asbos granted, 20 have been issued by Camden Council.
The borough believes that drug-related crimes and behaviour, and racially fuelled violence, are the root causes of most antisocial behaviour. In response, it has been keen to use the new law. As well as being granted the first Asbo in London, Camden was the first borough in the UK to be granted Asbos for an aggressive beggar, for a leaseholder and for a drug addict. However, it agrees with the government that enforcement must be used alongside preventive measures.
And this is where Camden also stands out. Its schemes, including the £24m Boulevard Project to clean up the streets and dog patrols to combat drug-taking in communal areas, are already reaping benefits. But its approach is perhaps best illustrated by the community-led Families in Focus (FIF) project, which is jointly managed by the leisure and community services and housing departments.
Working with residents on the Ampthill Square Estate, FIF provides activities to get young people off the streets. Historically, there have been problems. In summer 1999 the estate erupted when children and young people caused such disturbances that it was designated a “hot spot” by police. The Stopping the Rot on Ampthill Square report identified the usual suspects: high levels of peer pressure; boredom and lack of involvement in alternative activities; lack of family support; and a lack of information about, and financial problems in using, local facilities.
In the past two years FIF has worked with 300 children and young people and 150 members of the wider community. Its list of achievements is impressive.
In consultation with residents, FIF has set up a gardening project to develop skills and awareness of the environment; festivals to encourage respect for other cultures and backgrounds; a school holiday programme to provide fun and learning for children and young people out of school; family day trips to promote positive interaction between generations and families; a community fun day to develop positive relationships; estate walkabouts with young people and housing officers to build involvement; litter picking by children and young people with caretakers to raise awareness of their environment and develop positive relationships with the caretakers; newsletters; a care-based play service; community mornings; education welfare officer advice surgeries to increase school attendance and attainment; and children and young people’s meetings, forums and workshops to develop social and mediation skills.
It’s not just the community on the receiving end that benefits. Trainees and volunteers have been involved in the FIF project – one local volunteer has been supported to find paid employment and is now working for an NVQ in play work. And, given the commitment and community goodwill, there is every reason to hope that this progress will continue.
– For more information contact Clare Saul, press and public relations officer: Clare.Saul@camden.gov.uk
Scheme: Families in Focus
Location: Camden, London
Staff: Manager, two youth and community officers, family community worker and administrative and finance officer
Inspiration: To improve antisocial behaviour
Cost: £75,000 from leisure and community services department with other funding coming from the children and young persons’ strategy (chaired by the borough solicitor) and single regeneration budget. Last year, SRB contributed about £200,000