Experiences and Perceptions of Community Safety: Recently Published Research Projects

The Complex map of community safety in Scotland

Although my primary focus is local and community based it is also useful and important to be aware of national developments, trends and ongoing research and insights, I often ask the question: how do we as a community fit with wider national concerns and issues?

A major piece of community safety research was published last month, carried out by Mainstreet Consulting, and commissioned by SCSN. There are 4 separate but overlapping research projects which have now been concluded and it was Project (2) that I felt was of most interest: What makes a community safe? And related to that mapping out how the relationships across the partners can support safer communities.

Community safety is complex and involves an extensive array of interconnected factors, some local some national and in this high-tech age some are virtual and online. These factors all interact with each other, and it is therefore a massive challenge to identify absolute certainties or present any type of template for making our community safer.

The research involved focus groups, a questionnaire, and the direct involvement of members of the Scottish Community Safety Network (SCSN) it was therefore national and detailed. A safer community was found to be based upon the principle of personal safety and safety within the public realm. This is explained as a person being at risk of harm due to the risks they encounter within the community where they live, it is about their personal relationships, their personal circumstances, their behaviour, and stage of life. A safer community will then have to deal with these micro issues and localised concerns, these can even be online. Community safety was found to be complex and was impacted by national, local, and specific neighbourhood-based factors.

The research confirmed that safety means different things to different people but there was three generally identifiable components:

  • Seen to be safe: – quality of the environment is a big factor, this is about the appearance of local areas: in particular; dark streets, graffiti, dog fouling, derelict property and neglected green spaces, these are especially important factors for making people feel safe. When applying this to our own local community safety strategy that fits well with our Keeping Camelon and Tamfourhill Tidy, clean, and Green. #tidycleangreen
  • Felt to be safe: This is about the fear of crime and the need for reassurance, it’s very difficult to make people feel safer by explaining the actual nature of the risks when that is being negated by the mass media and social media amplifying particular issues like crime and public disorder. Our local strategy highlights the community having an improved sense of security and reassurance.
  • Understood to be safe. the importance of basic information about safety within communities was noted frequently and it was found that communities valued knowing where to go to get support and advice and knowing that something will get done. This is a great fit with the local strategies key outcome of Local people having greater confidence in the agencies that deliver relevant services and in particular the local intention to re-establish the successful street a week multi-agency project.  

Other significant factors that were found to impact upon a community’s safety is its sense of place, where a positive sense of identify and pride in the area were massive factors, this relates well with our own Key Outcome of Improving community cohesion and a theme crossing several of these outcomes is to support various community development projects which will facilitate further local ownership and improved responsibility and pride in our local areas, parks, and community facilities.

The final factor highlighted by some of the respondents was poverty and inequality and how this can badly damage a community’s sense of safety through exasperating local criminality and anti-social behaviour and undermining mental health and wellbeing. This is a social structural challenge and requires macro political interventions however we should also be aware of strategies and projects that tackle poverty as being necessary and absolutely fundamental to improving the sense of safety and wellbeing within a community.   

Finally, this research project looked at how best to engage with communities, there was an acknowledgment that this was a basic and necessary part of any community safety strategy, but there were clear warning signs articulated about the dangerous and destructive tendency of tokenism, it is well worth quoting directly from the summary report:

There is the danger of community consultation’ being tokenistic, the risk of giving attention to

those that shout the loudest rather than those in the greatest

need, lack of the resources required to involve communities

using the imaginative and sustained approaches required to

achieve the greatest success and relatively low levels of

confidence and experience in digital communication as a

tool to support community engagement

I hope and believe that our own strategy has avoided this pitfall and is inclusive and representative of the actual circumstances in Camelon and Tamfourhill, the success of our approach will be through participation and local people taking ownership of the projects and initiatives. I believe we are moving in the right direction and the underpinning of the community safety strategy is empowerment and local ownership.

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