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Creating a haven for safer communities

Clare Corran explains how a scheme born out of tragedy in London has become a powerful tool against crime in Liverpool and a lifeline for young people

Members of the C.A.K.E group in London visiting the Mizen family.

In May 2008, 16 year old Jimmy Mizen was murdered in a south-east London bakery. During an argument with Jimmy the perpetrator threw a glass dish, wounding Jimmy in the neck. The bakery proprietor didn’t know what to do, so did nothing and Jimmy died of his injuries.

Following this attack, Jimmy’s parents – Barry and Margaret Mizen – established a scheme whereby local shops would agree to provide help for people in distress. ‘Safe havens’ were born. Over 250 shops and businesses in London now offer their premises as a place of refuge for young people who feel threatened and the scheme is having a significant impact in reducing violent crime.

Barry and Margaret always hoped to extend the scheme to other cities. In January of this year Liverpool became the first place outside London to adopt its own scheme. CitySafe Havens was created following input from officers who were part of the city’s Disarm Group, a partnership between Liverpool Council, Merseyside Police and several education and criminal justice organisations that aim to tackle gun, knife and gang crime.

The youth inclusion programme, Positive Futures North Liverpool, was engaged by Disarm to ensure that young people were at the heart of the development of CitySafe Havens.

Positive Futures North Liverpool appealed for young people from across Anfield, Kirkdale and Everton wards to get involved. These young people formed their own representative group and C.A.K.E. was born, with each letter signifying one of the four wards. It is important to note that these four wards currently experience higher levels of gang rivalry when compared with other Liverpool wards.

HOW IT WORKS
Members of the group were mentored and supported by Positive Futures North Liverpool to identify premises they considered to be safe places across their wards such as shops and community venues. They identified 35 such venues that could provide refuge for people feeling vulnerable or intimidated.

Through the group, Positive Futures North Liverpool promoted the initiative to over 1,000 young people at school assemblies to raise their awareness of how to use the scheme. The project steering group considered this to be key to its early success.

CitySafe Haven staff received first aid and child and vulnerable adult safeguarding training and their premises were ‘target hardened’. This includes updating security systems and additional measures such as automatic remote door locks and uprated external shutters. Each set of premises also displayed a large illuminated CitySafe Haven sign.

Since the initiative was launched the early results for Citysafe Havens speak for themselves. Violent crime has been reduced by 29%, knife crime by nearly a quarter and criminal damage by 47%. The number of hate crimes has halved and harassment levels have fallen by 64%. Robberies from local businesses have fallen by over 35%, common assault has declined by nearly one third and drug crime has dropped by 10%.

The Disarm Partnership through Liverpool John Moores University’s criminology department has commissioned an evaluation of CitySafe Havens which commences in the new year. Researchers will use hard crime data coupled with soft data from C.A.K.E. and the wider community to make recommendations for the wider roll-out of the scheme.

PARTNERS IN CRIME REDUCTION
Inspector Mark Lawes, serious youth violence co-ordinator for Merseyside Police, says the scheme has already had ‘a “halo effect’, significantly reducing crime within 50 metres of our 35 venues’. He adds: ‘It’s vital that we understand why this has happened so we can spread this “halo effect” across the city. Liverpool was the first city outside London to establish safe havens and we’re hoping it will be adopted in other areas.’

Strong partnerships have been central to the success of the project. The different organisations in the Disarm Group worked together to create a visible project; something that, in a time of austerity, showed communities that they were still involved and committed to reducing local crime rates.

Firm partnerships were also developed between local shopkeepers, young people and the police. The project aimed to show that youngsters and business owners could make a positive contribution to prevention activities and target-hardening to avoid crime being committed.

Positive Futures North Liverpool was central to ensuring the safe haven message was heard by as many young people as possible. Statistically, young people are more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators so it was important to provide targeted messages through school assemblies, youth groups as well as posters in shop windows and on social networking site Facebook.

The peer mentors who delivered the project were credible, passionate, local and knowledgeable and other young people listened to their stories.

The significant reduction in crime figures is testament to the effort put in by the young people who were involved in the CitySafe Havens scheme. It also shows the power of peer-led projects. Young people have the credibility and respect among their peers to make a difference when it comes to educating people about violent crime.

 

BROADER BENEFITS
CitySafe Haven venues also provide additional benefits for the local community, offering elderly and disabled residents safe places to rest when out and about.

The peer mentors who raise awareness of the scheme have gone down particularly well with local shopkeepers, especially when peer mentors took flowers in to each safe haven premises to say thank you.

A number of business owners believe perceptions have changed. Indeed, one shopkeeper was taken aback when a number of young people entered the shop simply to thank him for volunteering to get involved in the scheme. ‘It’s not normally what I think when a load of kids pile in,’ he says.

Barry Mizen has been closely involved in the development of Liverpool’s CitySafe Havens. The scheme has now been officially twinned with the knife crime project that Barry leads in Lewisham, south-east London. Project leaders from Liverpool and London have visited each other’s schemes and are committed to sharing best practice and ideas on improving their localities.

One of the key success stories around Liverpool’s CitySafe Havens scheme has been the return on investment.

It took £25,000 to set up and manage the scheme and for this there has been a considerable reduction in crime across the north of the city plus a range of additional positive outcomes including increased community engagement, stronger relationships between the police, local organisations and young people and a boost in residents’ perceptions of their neighbourhood.

This low-cost crime reduction model has now generated significant results in two large UK cities. More areas should consider this safe haven scheme as a viable way to make people feel safer in their communities.

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