During October and November 2022 Garry Turner and Erica Semerdzhiev started the process of setting up three neighbourhood watch schemes in the West Hill, Dartford area and they were keen to share both why they felt drawn to do this and to invite other Dartford residents to consider doing the same.

A seed of inspiration

Having observed for some time the work of Newtown councillor Laura Edie, West Hill residents Garry and Erica were curious what motivated Laura to set up her NHW group.

Laura shared “I have always championed the power of community in making changes. I decided to set up the Newtown Neighbourhood Watch group last year, as a way of bringing Newtown together. Having a neighbourhood WhatsApp group means that, as it is instant, it’s a useful crime prevention tool, warning residents in a timely manner and making them more vigilant.

We have dealt with issues few and far between, ranging from anti-social behaviour, burglaries and speeding concerns. We have quartely meet ups and have also organised a VAWG walk, to help women living locally share their concerns. Next up we have a PCSO community safety walk planned on 4th Jan.”

Garry realised just how disconnected his own life was from his local community and wondered if others felt the same way.

This lead to a prompt research project being carried out where he drew up an estimated zone for what would become West Hill Neighbourhood Watch 1 and then made a direct proposal to all 800+ homes in the upper West Hill area to ask if residents would be interested in joining such a scheme.

The appetite for a community based scheme was clear to see and so with the support and guidance of Laura and Erica, approaches were made to both NHW and Kent Police and the formal process of setting up the first scheme was underway.

Replicating NHW Across Dartford

One of the most inspiring things about NHW is that any resident can set a scheme up. The process is straight forward, the support is fantastic and the impact is almost instant when designed with intention.

At the neighbourhood watch website ourwatch.org.uk you can search for any currently live schemes to a) see what already exists, any of which you can join and b) identify areas where a new scheme could add value to the local community.

With regards to setting up a new NHW scheme Erica shares that “Although safety and security remains our primary concern, we are actively creating opportunities to bring community together. Through meetings, litter picks, rallying around Wilmot Park, ideas are being shared and voices are being heard. This sends the message of care out into the community. People want to feel cared about, they want to have a reason to care as well. We are creating those reasons and reinforcing the messages of care and concern in our community. This is a powerful way to connect with people and strengthens the bonds of the community which before did not exist, as there was no space nor platform for that to exist. Neighbourhood Watch may seem like the unlikely hero in this scenario but it’s familiar, trusted, and helpful. We are truly building a safe and connected local community and I look forward to watching it grow both in scope and impact.”

Setting up the schemes is one thing, but ongoing guidance and support of the scheme is a crucial consideration.

Garry shares “it is important to note that these schemes are voluntary, self-organised and do not come with any funding attached.

That said, the support from the NHW and Kent Police is great and from what we have learned, there is much goodwill within the community to support and take part in the ongoing running on such schemes, provided they are designed to be inclusive and with co-creation as a key value.”

What’s next for West Hill Neighbourhood Watch

Such has been the impact in West Hill in such a short time that Garry and Erica are grateful that the three local councillors have shown an active interest to be part of in person meetings and to work with the NHW in tackling issues of anti social behaviour, getting the dilapidated Wilmot Park review brought forward and more and they have also engaged Kent Police such that a community safety walk with local PCSO Mel Butler is in the diary for Jan 24th 2023.

These NHW screens are not as people may imagine, a curtain-twitching, complaint-based group that doesn’t get things done! It is quite the opposite, an activist group of residents that are working with our representatives to actively ensure that not only reactive topics are dealt with, but that proactive topics are brought forward and investigated.

Garry and Erica have gained some deep and effective knowledge of how to set up these schemes and whom to contact so if any Dartford residents are interested to set up their own scheme, feel free to contact Garry at greengarryturner@gmail.com or Erica at mrssemerdzhiev@gmail.com.