Friday, 31 January 2014

Safe in whose hands?

Why was a Community Safety Forum destroyed despite over 1000 members of the community objecting to the decision?

Children watch anti Social behaviour in Galliagh 2013
Over the past few weeks I have been following threads on social media relating to the dissolution of a safety forum in my area. Some members of the now defunct Outer North Community Safety forum feel that that this forum was arbitrarily removed. This assertion alone was enough to spark my curiosity.

Having experienced the effects of anti-social behaviour first hand I couldn't understand if something was effective and delivering what it set out to do why anyone would want rid of it. As a Galliagh resident for over 30 years I knew nothing of a community safety forum, however I do have first hand experience of 'community workers' who claim to work for the good of the community whilst failing to engage with the community even at a tokenistic level.

The Outer North Community Safety Team was established in December 2009 in line with recommendations arising from the 'Community Safety positional paper' (Holywell consultancy 2009).
Community Safety Team Structure

The Outer North Community Safety Team was to comprise of representatives from organisations already tasked with dealing with community safety issues and was tied into District Policing Partnership community sub-groups.

These sub-groups were dissolved in Oct 2010 with specific people then being invited onto the newly established Community Safety Forums. One of these was to be in the Outer North area of the city, covering Galliagh, Culmore and the greater Shantallow area. The work of this forum was to feed into the work of the Outer North Community Safety Team.

Outer North Minutes
The majority of these forums are within Neighbourhood Renewal Areas and are now operating across most areas of Derry City. Through these forums the agencies involved are supposed to be held accountable for delivery of community safety and crime reduction within the specified neighbourhoods 
Online I discovered in Derry City Council City Secretary and Solicitor’s Department Annual service Plan and performance report 2012/13. That 'the tasking calendar agreed through the Outer North Community Safety Forum has been hailed as best practice in community engagement/safety and the Community Safety Manager with members of the forum have presented this template to senior officials at the Department of Justice.'

So here we have something cited as a model of best practice by Derry City Council and presented to the Department of Justice on the same basis, yet for some reason it has been disbanded, with other forums still operating across the city.

I made contact with someone who had been a member of the Outer North Community Safety Forum asking why such a valuable resource and model of best practice in community engagement/safety had been dissolved? 

The person I spoke to said that there was no viable or rational reason for the forum to be dissolved. And despite differences between many of those engaged in the forum that the community was being served well and problematic issues were being addressed from a community level.

I asked specifically what reasons had been given and by whom for the destruction of this forum, his reply surprised me, 'you wouldn't believe me if I told you, so I'll show you'.

A few days ago I received a number of documents. The first of these documents was dated July 27th 2012 this was when members of the Outer North community safety forum received the following correspondence....

'Following recent reports of discontent within the Outer North Community safety forum, and given that local residents are contacting members of the Outer North Community Safety team directly the 'team' no longer see merit in the 'forum' continuing in it's current format.' Members were then advised to contact two community workers for further information.

The explanation to forum members

What is absolutely astounding is that the very next day on the 28th July 2012 in the Derry Journal Martin Connolly of CRJ and Chairperson of the Community Safety team was calling for additional resources for the area. Surely it stands to reason that one of the most effective resources is people who are willing to give their time, energy and expertise to engage with people on the ground? But it would seem, as with many unelected groups there is no logic or basis in reality for their decisions, merely the need to fulfil their own agendas.
CRJ Chair the Community Safety Team meetings.

When I questioned who on the Community Safety Team received these alleged complaints from residents and what was the nature of the discontent within the forum? I was told 'your guess is as good as mine'. As a response to the closing of the community forum, community activists had gathered 1000+ signatures from the community asking for an explanation as to why the forum had been taken away, yet still no credible reason has been provided.

Considering the community support for the forums retention I asked did he contact the members of the team directly and did they give a reason for their decision?

In a response from the Housing Executive on February 4th 2013 the district manager stated, “I would confirm that at no point was I asked, nor did I vote (nor would I) in relation to the other forum referred to your in recent correspondence.”

In her response SDLP Councillor Angela Dobbins vowed to seek answers on the dissolution of the Outer North Community Safety Forum and claimed that the SDLP were not represented on the Outer North Community Safety Team.

Councillor Dobbins then vowed to ask the following questions “Why all members of the forum were not informed of this intention to discontinue prior to the team meeting?” Why the team “no longer see merit in the forum continuing? What reports of discontent were raised and by who?” And “ Who attended the meeting?” Councillor Dobbins also stated that the Outer North Community safety forum 'should not have been dismissed so lightly' and that she would be interested in 'continuing with it's work.' Councillor Dobbins went further to question was a quorum attained, where all members of the team notified and why the meeting to discuss this took place during the annual holiday?

What is extremely strange is that the SDLP who hold the majority seats in council for this area were not involved in the Outer North Community Safety team at that time.  And since joining the Outer North Community Safety Team Councillor Dobbins has still to provide answers to the questions she vowed to ask? (Although she did release a statement about the dangers of hair straighteners)

In a response from one of the Team members to be contacted for clarification of the teams decision Cathal McCauley of the Shantallow Community Residents Association, stated that he “would be willing to work with any like-minded individual or organisation that seeks to improve the quality of life for residents of the Outer North, Greater Shantallow and Derry City Council areas.” The sentiments expressed by Mr McCauley are to be applauded but give nothing in terms of explanation or 'further information' in respect of dissolving the Outer North Community Safety forum.'

In a response from the Outer North Neighbourhood Partnership the strategy manager Darren Kirby said” Unfortunately the ONNP board are not in a position to answer your specific questions and have referred the matter to the Outer North Community Safety team for their consideration and response in due course.” No response was ever received, and this is despite ONNP being listed in the team structure.

In responses from both the Western Education and Library Board and the Western Health and Social care trust both agencies claim they were NOT represented on the Outer North Community Safety Team.

As a Galliagh resident I am disgusted at the self appointed community quangos making decisions on our behalf without either consultation or engagement. As a community we need to start asking what mechanisms are in place to hold these groups to account.

In light of this fiasco there are serious questions that need answered.

What methods were used to publicise the existence of the safety forum to the wider community?

What statistics exist to support the claim that the community was not using the forum but contacting team members directly?

Which agencies took part in the decision to dissolve the Outer North Community Safety forum in 2012? 

Can I obtain the minutes of the meeting were this decision was taken to dissolve the Outer North Community Safety forum ? 

Was the community informed of this decision?

Since 2012 has the Outer North Community Safety forum been established in another format? If so when?

Was the community informed of this?

If another forum has been established then can I have the minutes of the 'set up' meeting?

Who are the members of the forum and what is the criteria for membership?

On what basis did the Community Safety Team feel it acceptable to ignore the signatures of over 1000 people on a petition asking for the team to explain it's actions?

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