A watching brief: How Neighbourhood Watch has helped improved Mansfield’s communities

From tackling problem drug dealers to ensuring the removal of abandoned fridges on playing fields, the Upper Ladybrook Neighbourhood Watch scheme’s jurisdiction has always been wide-ranging.

By Matt Halfpenny
Monday, 25th August 2014, 8:00 am
Ladybrook Neighbourhood watch founders, Mary Penford MBE, front left and Iris Goodall, front right, pictured with some of their supporters from left, back row, Bob Reynolds, Elaine Lamb, PCSO Craig Bull, Jean Drabble, Colin Handley, representing the Crime Commissioner's office, and coun Sally Higgins.
Ladybrook Neighbourhood watch founders, Mary Penford MBE, front left and Iris Goodall, front right, pictured with some of their supporters from left, back row, Bob Reynolds, Elaine Lamb, PCSO Craig Bull, Jean Drabble, Colin Handley, representing the Crime Commissioner's office, and coun Sally Higgins.

But the key point as far as Mary Penford is concerned is that it works.

The 76-year-old has lived on the estate for 53 years and set up a local branch of the renowned organisation in 1998 along with friend Iris Goodall as a response to growing concerns over crime and anti-social behaviour.

Since then, she and a team of volunteers have assisted police wardens, PCSOs and local councillors in identifying and addressing issues that are of the highest concern to the local community.

Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping has seen how Neighbourhood Watch can help communities in Mansfield.

The branch has around 100 members and meets around 10 times a year at the Local Inn public house on Armstrong Road to discuss new and existing problems.

Matters are then taken up by representatives of the various authorities and the results reported in a regular newsletter that is delivered to members and posted on notice boards in shops, schools and local pubs.

“I believe Neighbourhood Watch has made a massive difference to Ladybrook,” said Mary, who was awarded an MBE for her voluntary services to the community of Mansfield in 2008.

“When we formed it, we thought why should we move out of the area that was our home? Instead we decided to try to do something about the problems.

Neighbourhood Watch schemes across the Mansfield area get involved in a host of projects. Here, county councillor Joyce Bosnjak, right, is pictured with June Wass, left, Morvern Avenue Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator, and Sharon Cawar, centre, co-ordinator of the Mansfield Woodhouse Communuty Development Group for the unveiling of a new information board at the Butterstumps in Mansfield Woodhouse.

“We are not curtain twitchers, but people who are genuinely concerned about the local community and keeping it as good as possible.

“We work with all the local authorities in what is very much a partnership - it’s not police or council run - and we can help bring things to their attention that they otherwise might not know about.

“In the newsletter we can also warn people about rouge traders who may have been operating in the area, to remind them not to leave property unlocked and highlight the precautions they should take with their property when they go away on holiday.”

Earlier this year, Mary received a commendation from Nottinghamshire Police’s chief constable’s Chris Eyre for her sterling work, but she is not the only one helping to make Mansfield’s streets that much safer.

Head co-ordinator, John Kearney with his Westfield Lane Mid Section Neighbourhood Watch team from left, Mary Penford MBE, Carole Heald, Denis O'Neill and Alan Heald.

The Ladybrook scheme is just one of around 60 currently operating across the area, and there are many others across the county, raising specific concerns of local residents.

Mary added: “Unfortunately we no longer tend to have bobbies walking the beat, so the information Neighbourhood Watch can provide can really help.

“I also help with the Mansfield and District Association, as well as at county level, and so I know there are so many groups doing their bit, whether they are small and communicate mainly online, or meet in person.

“We obviously can’t arrest anyone, but we can impart the local knowledge that can be vital.”

Bringing communities together is a leading aim of Neighbourhood Watch schemes.In this instance, student Paul Laking, from the Oakdale School on Westfield Lane, hands over the proceeds from a summer fun day totalling £360 to the Rev Barbara Greenwood at the Chesterfield Road South Methodist Church last Thursday. Also pictured are from left, neighbourhood warden Andy Gwynne, leadership team member Mel Loyeau, church leader Keith Bonsall, specialised teaching assistant Donna Overton, PCSO Romek Kordecki and Dorothy Wright from the Titchfield Neighbourhood Watch.

It’s 50 years since Neighhourhood Watch was pioneered in New York after the rape and murder of a teenage girl at her home in March 1964.

It first arrived in on these shores in 1982 and has been successfully rolled out across the country since them.

Mark Webster, neighbourhood policing inspector for Mansfield North, has worked closely with the Upper Ladybrook and other groups in the area and believes Neighbourhood Watch is ‘invaluable’.

“It is one of the best methods of crime prevention and the more proactive people are the better,” he said.

“They encourage people to engage with their neighbours - for instance, warning others if they see someone acting suspiciously. It’s impossible to quantify the impact it has, but it brings groups closer together.

“With the austerity measures that have been affecting public services, Neighbourhood Watch becomes even more important because we need people on our side.”

Former Sherwood MP Paddy Tipping was elected as Nottinghamshire’s first police and crime commissioner in 2012 and he has seen at first hand some of the issues facing communities, having walked around problem areas of the town with local police and councillors.

He said: “I’m very keen on neighbourhood watch schemes, which is why £25,000 has been put into them across the county in each of the past two years since I started in my role - and they remain a priority.

“In the early days they got a lot of support from the police, but it’s my perception that dropped off for a while. However, there’s been a recognition in the past two or three years that the police can’t do things by themselves and they have to mobilise local people.

“There are some great schemes across the county and Mansfield and the Upper Ladybrook one is a fine example. A lot of time and effort has been invested and we have seen positive results.

“People found it difficult talking to the police before, but now they have the confidence to come forward. It shows the power of local people getting together.”