A few weeks ago we received an invitation to attend a 'Home Watch' meeting to be held on the 26th of January at 7.30 p.m. Both The Man and I have long felt it would be a good idea to have a 'Home Watch' group as from time to time there has been trouble -- Once there was an armed robbery in a nearby supermarket and the man had run from his car when the bag of money spewed forth pink smoke in front of our house. It was quite a shock for us to look out our front window and see an armed policeman standing in front of our gate! (Fellow Americans, this is England and armed police are still not the order of the day!) More than once the police helicopter has hovered over our street in the middle of the night searching for suspicious characters. And then there are Saturday night drunks -- men and women -- mostly young -- swearing and screaming obscenities as they made their way home at 4 in the morning! One night fire we heard a terrible commotion and looked to see flames pouring out from the windows of one of the houses across the street -- we stood mesmerized as the fire engines screamed to attention. Though things have quietened down for us the past couple of years, we have always worried a bit during the summer when our house has been empty during the annual French sojourn. Most years either one of our boys has remained behind and taken care of things and last year we managed to rent it out for 6 weeks.
We arrived at our host's home and the room was brimming with people. Several of them had been part of a Home Watch group for several years but there were just as many of us 'newcomers'. The room was a-buzz with excitement and after tea and coffee were served by our hostess we settle down to introductions and discussion. As talk went on we discovered to our amazement that four or five houses down the street there was a big problem house of flats. Drugs, arson, disreputable people and lots of suspected illegal activity. In addition there were problem children -- one boy in particular, aged 11.
Two young women seemed to have taken charge of contacting officialdom and had already made several contacts. One woman, who we already knew, had had lots of problems as she her place was next door to the problem house. One of the big problems that emerged was the inability of the police to do anything effective when there was an emergency. Once when she called because she smelled smoke through a fire wall, the 999 responder told her not to worry that she had an hour before the fire would get to her house...
A couple from a block or so away advised that they got action after they had contacted our Member of Parliament. His office is not far from our neighbourhood and we have found that various problems with officialdom have been solved when he gets involved -- and with other locally elected officials 'stick their oar in' as well. We are hoping to be able to get people from the police and Home Watch as well as our MP to come to future meetings. In the meantime we have been advised to:
- Keep a diary of all incidents and to record the date and time
- If we call the police or other emergency people, get the log number from the person to whom you report the incident.
- Keep a record of when the police or fire or ambulance respond
While a lot of what we heard was disturbing -- blissful ignorance is a tempting state to want to be in -- it was reassuring to feel part of a community and the realization that people really did want to help each other and to work together to solve the problems that are facing every town in the UK. I left the meeting feeling very positive -- The Man lay awake all night worrying! But then the next day he was out finding out what he could about surveillance cameras for the woman living next door to the problem house. And he said he would even install one for her if no one in her family was handy at that sort of thing.
It was really good to finally meet so many people, some of whom have been living in the area for as long as we have been and all of whom seemed to genuinely want have a real community instead of streets of strangers.