With concerns growing about anti-social behaviour plaguing Preston communities, one group of neighbours decided to take a stand to empower residents with an innovative new scheme. CATHERINE MUSGROVE found out what’s happening and how the first six months has gone.
“People are commenting how different it is in that short space of time”, said Irfan Sabir, chairman of the Deepdale Community Association, reflecting on the first six months of its incorporation.
The group was set up to serve the ‘Counties’ area of Deepdale at the start of the year and has attracted more than 150 people to its meetings. Thanks to its success, volunteers are now looking to branch out into wider areas and to wider-ranging schemes.
He added: “People feel empowered, they know who to contact if there’s a problem and what to do.
“It’s grassroots stuff, like the difference between calling 999 and 101.”
Irfan, a social worker, Idnan Sabir and Kamran Ahmed decided change was needed at the start of the year, after hearing of repeated problems of social isolation, fly-tipping, debt problems and anti-social behaviour.
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Irfan, of Burrow Road, said: “It started because there was no community cohesion.
“Everyone had issues like anti-social behaviour and fly-tipping, but people were isolated. The elderly were isolated, people work all day, and nobody was talking to one another.
“Everyone had small groups and there was a distrust of people in this multicultural area.
“We (Irfan, Idnan and Kamran) got together and thought that maybe we should start chatting to neighbours and reporting things like fly-tipping. We wanted to empower our three streets.”
He added: “Our three streets started flourishing and word spread. We had people who wanted to come on board so we started leafleting.
“One hundred and fifty people came to our first meeting and we asked them to fill out questionnaires about what they were worried about.
“The top thing was isolation, so we designated co-ordinators for each street.”
Each co-ordinator covers 10 to 15 houses and often people do it in pairs - there are husband and wife teams and a brother and sister - so they don’t become over-burdened.
The idea is that they are a point of contact for other residents of the street and help with advice or signpost people towards the right help.
Irfan said: “Universal credit is a big thing on people’s mind as well as debt, and people wonder how co-ordinators know how to advise. But we have a group for the co-ordinators to discuss these things. Amongst us there are social workers, compliance co-ordinators, prison workers, people from carers agencies, and between us we have a good pool of knowledge.
“It’s real, practical help we’re offering. This isn’t about just making the place look pretty with flower pots.
“One person moved in from out of the area, he’d accumulated a lot of debt and was depressed. So one of our co-ordinators befriended him, and after some swearing and abuse, they were able to work with him to signpost him to the services he needed.
“Another example is a single mum carer who was on a zero-hours contract. There were times that she and her children went without food. One of our co-ordinators gave her some money for food while they were referring her to a food bank, and another one who works in a takeaway sorted out some food as well.”
A social media presence for the Association members also recently paid dividends when a missing four-year-old girl was located within minutes of her mother realising the front door had been left open.
Irfan added: “In the media there’s a lot of scaremongering, but we’ve seen that there is a sense of community that can be tapped into. Our problems are the same, and as a group we are stronger.”
Irfan said there was a feeling that the Counties area of Deepdale had been overlooked in the past for help by councils, officials and organisations, and that the community was “waking up” to its entitlements.
Irfan said: “As an area, we’ve been overlooked - and that’s not just my opinion, it’s the opinion of everyone here.
“For instance, National Rail have been and cleaned up 20 tonnes of rubbish from the old railway embankment recently, but it’s 20 tonnes in 20 years.
“These organisations have responsibilities and they are answerable. I think the community is waking up and becoming aware of that.”
Deepdale Community Association is proudly a non-faith group, so not to exclude any member of the community, and is looking to spread its work out across the wider Deepdale area.
One of their ideas is to offer a supper club where professionals can be called in, and those who run the club are put through food hygiene training.
Volunteers have also carried out clean-ups and are looking into a Holiday Market scheme where food is offered at a low cost to families struggling at holiday times when children are at home more.
Their work has been noticed by local councillors who are now keen to take the model and use it elsewhere, something Irfan is keen to see.
He said: “Hopefully people will see that it can be done and it will inspire other communities.
“All it takes is a hello to break down barriers”.
Deepdale Community Association is willing to work with any agency or business who wish to sponsor their work.
Anyone interested should email: firstname.lastname@example.org