Peter Ward talks to Len Lauk
Len: When did you start working with VAC?
Peter: My experience with VAC is over a long period and an on-going relationship. About 14 years ago when I stated at the CCPC I found myself on the executive of the Community Safety Partnership. That’s where VAC had a rep as well, Simone, and we quickly worked out we were allies. Us against them.
Because the Community Safety Partnership is a strategic borough wide partnership. There was a senior Police Chief officer and senior officer from Council. Where there’s a cake to cut up they tend to cut it up among themselves first and we may get a few crumbs off the table – so that’s how it works. Simone and I would be the token members representing the whole of Camden’s Voluntary sector on this board, representing the whole of Camden. So we were all equal but some were more equal than others.
Len: What were you looking for from working with VAC?
Peter: My funding was always coming from police. I’m out of all the loops of the community centres. There are all these links. All these agencies had some kind of funding from the council. We never had that. So I didn’t really know the legislation coming through. I met with Simone and she had a wealth of knowledge, whatever the current directions from government, or council or from anywhere. She gives me a good overview of where the land lies.
Much later on there was the network of networks and I was on the community Empowerment Network. I found that really useful. Most community organisations find the police impossible to deal with and I find them very easy so I could tell them what is happening policing wise.
There are two parallel structures. From VAC I got the contacts and knowledge to work in the Voluntary services sector. When our offices had the rent doubled, Sarah who manages Somerstown Community Association was on the Community Safety Partnership board and we used to talk regularly so she found a space for me here at a small cost. So VAC was useful in that way. And I use the VAC payroll service which works fine. In the past I’ve used the mailing services but these days sending emails is so much easier. So that service is useful but it’s waned.
Len: What sort of work were you doing with VAC at the start?
Peter: The person I speak to mostly at VAC would be Simone. I find her knowledge is fantastic. We’ve put in joint proposals in the past. Like I said we get the crumbs from the table but we’ve tried various ways of getting our slice of that cake. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s changed a lot recently. The structure changed of CSP, Simone was on the executive and I was on the management. And what you discover is that the people who get that money are the people who sit round that table. The role I took on at that level wasn’t just a role for me. I have a wider brief.
So with Simone we put system in place so that if there’s money that there’s a bidding process that is open for the VCS to bid. That’s a big step. Previously they would allocate money for projects; guns, knives, gangs whatever it is and there would always be money sloshing about at the end of the year that hadn’t been claimed. So you’d find that every March you’d have 40 thousand pounds for police overtime. So great for the officers, great for the police. Because in the old days the police and council thought they could everything. So it’s getting them to realise that they can’t. Working with Simone we were able to achieve a change.
They advertised contracts for the first time. They advertised pilot scheme for street reporting, something like that, and I went along and put a bid in the proper way jointly with the Somerstown Community Centre. And we won it. So that was a step forward. At least people had a chance to go for it which they never had before. So whenever there’s any projects try to think of ways of doing stuff. And all that has been joint thing with VAC. Simone and I meet about this on a regular basis.
Len: Can you describe your work on the Community Empowerment Network?
Peter: That was really good while it was there. It started, it worked and it died. The Local Strategic Partnership consisted of business, chief execs, leader of the council and they looked at several areas. It was meant to bring a lot of work under one umbrella. Get people to work together. It had several arms. Community safety came from that. Each area had community representatives in each area. They divided it up between Stronger and Safer.
So I got volunteers for the safety side of things. The Community Empowerment Network would appoint people to this Safety Board. The VSC had a massive presence on the board of this organisation at the time. So the board would see the agendas of the partnerships involved. I think Simone became vice-chair for a time.
And VAC was facilitating the whole lot. They were making it happen. Donna and another VAC person were working on this. For me it was useful for making links to other groups. Part of the work of the Community Safety Partnership is that each year they have to do strategic assessment. What they do is get all the data from the police, fire, council reports and social behaviour but that is only the reported statistics. And what I do is go around and speak to around 10 or 12 groups around the borough, Bengali, Somali etc. asking them about unreported crime. And having that network from VAC made my work easier. Those contacts came to me from VAC. It made it easier for me to meet them and hear about crime in their area. But that group has gone now. The change of government has let it wither.
Len: What was the impact of CEN?
Peter: It pulled the VSC together so it could speak with one voice. It gave us access at the highest level, with descion makers. We had a voice from the bottom, at the operational level right through to the strategic level. Simone and I would have liked more support at the operational level. It’s easy to go to strategic meetings and say big things but actually you want to influence it from the bottom to the top.
The way the community safety groups were structured was that the six working groups and the chair would be on the Performance Management group which would feed up to the partnership. These working groups were always either chaired or vice chaired by council or police and the problem with that structure is that the Performance management would always be the council or the police.
And they moved from that structure to one where they have a monthly meeting where all the groups meet at the same time in the same room so there’s a lot of cross filter. We can now get one or two people from the community now to get involved at that level. So there’ a lot of community participation at that level now. In the back of my mind it’s always about widening community involvement. It’s not easy because the police don’t get it. When they see it in action they like it. But you have to get them over that hurdle.
The problem is that all the middle management of the police, there’s a turnover and there are some police officers who have never worked with the public unless they’re nicking them. Once you’ve earned the police trust they are very loyal and very easy to work with. They will bend over backwards to help you. But every two years there’s a churn. And you have to build up all that trust again. The council’s fine. They are there for years, there’s no churn there. But when there’s a new borough police commander he changes his senior management team pretty much every time.
VAC has access to emerging groups. When there are changes of demographics they’re the first to see it. I work with established groups. Neighbourhood groups, tenants all rock solid, been there years. What VAC are good at if there is new crime associated to a new community they can give me access to those communities and I can start reflecting their concerns.
Len: What effect has your work with VAC had on the people you provide services for?
Peter: One example is Safe Neighbourhood Policing which the city hall introduced several years ago. Each ward would have two community officers, two PCs and one police sergeant and they would be dedicated to your ward and would not be taken away from the ward except for May Day protests, New Year and the Carnival. Up until then you were lucky to have one beat officer. The police were rubbish at it.
So they flipped it to make community policing at the heart of what they did. So all eighteen wards in the borough would have all those officers. There were Safer Neighbourhood Panels made up of members of the public and the police. The police were saying we don’t want the usual suspects on these panels. But you need the usual suspects if you are going to build something up from the bottom. So we, the CPCG, helped them and the way we did that was by pulling resources such as VAC into the process. VAC could identify people in wards who might never have got involved. That’s a kind of example of how I use VAC with their experience of working with emergent communities.
Their grass roots work in those communities is very useful. The groups I work with the police struggle to talk to and the groups VAC work with I struggle to talk to. So with VAC’s help we can break down barriers.
Len: Where do see your work with VAC going in the future?
Peter: I judge it on the individuals I know and have worked with and I have every confidence in them. I think Simone’s strategic knowledge is very central and useful for me. I love to pick her brains about the new directions taken and the politics behind it but I really love their access to different groups in the community. There are not many organisations that can dig into communities like they can.
I’m worried that their work in the future will be forced to be about generating an income and doing projects that you can sell. But what gives it soul is that nitty gritty.
As an example one of the issues we’re involved with is sexual violence. There are a lot of people in those new emerging communities who are worried about getting kicked out of the country. There’s fear. New groups in this country may come from counties where the police aren’t the same as in this country, more authoritarian let’s say, so they just don’t want to talk to the police. So if VAC can break down those barriers it’s really good for us especially with regard to sexual violence because it’s massively under reported.
Peter Ward 23.10.2013