On Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th March, Victim Support Malta organised a training on neighbourhood watch, as part of Project WO (Watch Out), funded by the Social Impact Awards.
Project WO is a train-the-trainer program which aims to improve knowledge of neighbourhood watch in Malta, equipping local communities with the practical tools to set up schemes in their local area. Although several neighbourhoods in Malta have attempted to implement neighbourhood watch schemes in the past few years, it appears that most of them have failed or become redundant. Through this project, VSM is hoping to revitalise neighbourhood watch in Malta, by training local residents from different neighbourhoods around Malta.
Last week, Lianne Taylor, Community Engagement and Memberships Director at Neighbourhood and Home Watch UK, flew to Malta to deliver the training to VSM staff, police officers, local government and local council staff.
The schedule was tight and prior to Lianne’s visit, we worked closely with her on the programme, to make sure that we could fit all the relevant information in and deliver a thorough and targeted training. The training was interactive and engaging: Lianne got us to discuss and reflect on what the major issues are in Malta, who needs to be involved, how to involve them, how to engage the community and much more. She also opened our eyes to the different shapes and forms that neighbourhood watch schemes may take – while some localities may be more suited to traditional schemes, others may opt for a different style of engagement.
There may or may not be a strong online element, with Facebook pages and Whatsapp groups being more or less active; and the people involved might also vary across towns. Where a strong and healthy faith community exists, the parish church may spearhead local crime prevention efforts; in commercial areas, businesses such as retail shops, bars and restaurants might take a more active role.
There is a host of options and possibilities, yet at the basis of every successful neighbourhood watch scheme is collaborative partnership among the voluntary sector, the Police, Local Government, local councils and other relevant organisations. One of the chief goals of neighbourhood watch is in fact that of building trust between residents and the police, and ensuring better and more effective communication with the authorities.
This should translate in the police’s reduced involvement there where its intervention is not required, but also in increased crime reports. This is particularly relevant to the Maltese context, where people are often reluctant to report crime, due to the size of the island and their consequent fear of breaches of anonymity. The issue of anonymity was brought up on multiple occasions by different participants during the training, and constitutes one of the main challenges to address in order to establish effective neighbourhood watch schemes on the island.
Neighbourhood Watch has a long history in the UK – it was first established in Cheshire in the 80’s and then spread to different localities. However, it is currently undergoing transformation, in an attempt to adapt to face new challenges posed by our fast-changing world. Cyber crime, online grooming, hate crime did not originally fall within the purview of traditional neighbourhood watch schemes. This is now changing, and work is being done across the UK to ensure that community-based crime prevention schemes are capable of preventing and responding to new and emerging types of crimes.
In Malta, the road is long and the stake are high. Nonetheless, for us here at VSM, it was encouraging and refreshing to witness genuine interest by many participants at the training.
We are hoping that Project WO will act as a catalyst for meaningful and long-lasting change in the area of crime prevention in Malta. This can only happen if tangible partnership among all relevant stakeholders is formed and sustained.