Schoolchildren from Crofton Park offered flowers to shopkeepers participating in the City Safe Havens scheme as a ‘thank you’ for their participation during a community walk last week.
The London Citizens’ City Safe Havens campaign was launched in May by the family of murdered teenager Jimmy Mizen to commemorate the second anniversary of his fatal stabbing in a Lee bakery – and Jimmy’s brother Barry joined the students as they walked through Brockley, Honor Oak and Crofton Park.
The scheme aims to involve local traders and shopkeepers in keeping young people safe, and invites local shopkeepers to display a Safe Havens sticker in their shop window, undertaking to provide a safe refuge for any young person who feels threatened – and to promote ‘zero-tolerance’ of crime, recording any illegal activity and contacting the police when necessary.
Prendergast Ladywell Fields College (PLFC) pupils from years 7,8 and 9 organised the event in Brockley to promote the City Safe Haven community. They were joined by children from four local primary schools – Turnham, Stillness, St William of York and Dalmain, – Lewisham councillors and the entire Crofton Park Safer Neighbourhoods policing team.
Split into enthusiastic groups, the children also managed to persuade 15 new shops to support the campaign and put the Safe Haven sticker in their windows, including a local newsagent, the post office in Brockley Jack, and a wine bar on Brockley High Street.
Community police officers also gave guidance on how best to deal with a ‘Safe Haven Incident.’
For Derron Wallace, who co-ordinates South London Citizens and joined the students on the walk, “The CitySafe campaign is a strategic, sustained attempt to reclaim our streets. It’s about young people taking ownership of their communities today, in order to secure the futures they desire.”
For Turnham Year 4 children Letitia and Sian, the event was ‘fun’ and a chance to ‘help my community,’ while according to Community Support Officer Hugh Carrick, one of the important issues for his team is the building of community ties – between children and shopkeepers, but also between primary school children and those in secondary school, who can seem intimidating. It breaks down barriers, builds relationships and helps different generations to stop fearing each other, he added.
Christine Bernard, assistant head at Dalmain Primary School, reinforced the point: “The children are our future – they are our community; they want to be able to feel safe where they are. This helps our younger children feel a connection with the older secondary school kids.”
Representatives from religious organisations included delegations from Lewisham Mosque and Neasden Hindu Temple, as well as Father Stuart Bates, the parish priest for Crofton Park, which incorporates PLFC. He told EastLondonLines: “I’m very keen to see our community grow in cohesion and for people to look after one another and send a strong message to those who try to destroy our community that that’s not the way we want to live our lives.”
Manny Hawks, from the Lewisham Young Mayor’s office, spoke of his own experience of growing up in the borough and described how he’d wished at times that he could run and hide somewhere. He welcomed the participation of shops and local businesses in the scheme.
However, one warning note came from Crofton Park Labour councillor Pauline Morrison. While welcoming the change in shopkeepers’ perceptions of young people – towards no longer seeing them only as trouble makers – and recognising that ‘it’s a really big thing for Crofton Park,’ she warned that the Safe Havens project is precisely one of the schemes that faces seeing its grant sliced as Lewisham council wrestles with cuts of more than £60 million.
For the moment, though, the children’s commitment to building safer communities is continuing to win through. Simon Jones, the PLFC teacher who has been the driving force behind the school’s commitment to Safe Havens, told EastLondonLines he was delighted with the success of the day:
“Today I feel our whole community came together: shopkeepers, children, churches, temples, mosques, police, poiticians. All walking and talking for the same thing – a safer better society where people take the time to talk and care for each other.”
“We really strengthened our relationships with participating shops, and the children felt they were able to give something back to the community which is coming together to make their streets safer. We also managed to sign up another 15 shops, taking the number of Safe Havens in the area around our schools to over 30.”
Click here for more on the scheme from EastLondonLines.