Friday, 18 November 2005

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Social housing and anti-social behaviour Much of the work I've been doing over the past few months has clarified for me the role of social housing providers in promoting positive social relations. "Good housing management is a powerful antidote to anti-social behaviour," as this recent report on dealing with anti-social behaviour puts it. The report is called Safe as houses and it offers insights from a range of European housing estates. Among the conclusions: Housing management works best when it is estate-based and accessible to local people. Local knowledge and good relationships with customers are essential, if estates are to be safe and secure. Adequate community facilities must be provided on all new housing estates and should be part of the regeneration of older schemes. Social housing providers should introduce and support intervention programmes designed to prevent anti-social behaviour. Agencies involved in making estates safe and secure should work from local estate-based offices with easy access for local people. Impressive though it is, this report does little to get us away from the relentless negativity of the anti-social behaviour agenda. Yesterday I was told that a teenager with tourettes syndrome was given an ASBO for swearing, and other young people with autistic spectrum disorders have received comparably inappropriate ASBOs. Apart from a good deal of healthy and welcome attention being paid to the design of places - (CABE has taken a colourful swipe today at the design quality of new housing estates) - the clamour of the lockers and fencers and gaters still drowns out other voices. So I'm not quite relaxed about seeing, almost at the end of this report, the suggestion that where highly visible neighbourhood policing is not provided, "social housing organisations should consider paying for private security or extra police cover." Quite apart from what the literature of gated communities tells us, I've witnessed the symbolic exclusion of such systems in South Africa, and I'm unlikely to be convinced until someone has demonstrated how the long term social costs of such a course of action can be taken into account in a meaningful and balanced way. Safe as houses: EU Social housing organisations preventing and dealing with anti-social behaviour is written by Bill Randall and published by CECODHAS, the European Liaison Committee for Social Housing, together with the Building and Social Housing Foundation and JRF. Thanks to Jan Steyaert for drawing it to my attention.
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Importance of relationships for effective neighbourhood governance Power, support, and listening – the key ingredients for neighbourhood governance as summed up by the Young Foundation’s Paul Hilder at the end of a bubbling workshop in west London yesterday. And if there was one key message it was that more credibility should be given to trusting, lasting relationships between service agencies and residents. Conversation, conversation, conversation – it’s an agenda in waiting, maybe it just needs policy makers to have the courage to recognise it. I’d pulled the event together partly because the articulation of a community sector position on neighbourhood governance is long-overdue. Half-fortuitously I persuaded about 30 people to come together in a room, with a very informal programme for the day in which the centrepiece was a trial run for the Neighbourhood Governance Game. Thanks are due to Community Development Foundation who came forward with venue and catering costs to help make it happen. The trick that wasn’t really fortuitous was getting the mix of resident activists, community development workers, consultants, think-tankers and even a couple of policy folk from the ODPM’s Local Vision team. The game is really a workshop technique designed to surface the issues in a fictional context which avoids people coming to blows (usually) and allows for creativity and a bit of fun. Games maestro Drew Mackie came down from Edinburgh to join David Wilcox in guiding us through. More soon on David’s blog. Initially participants worked in three groups: a policy group, briefed to develop a policy framework for neighbourhoods; and representatives of two localities, who defined the characteristics of their imagined areas. The participants from the localities groups subsequently split into an agencies group and a residents’ group, each charged with developing a three-year timeline for their area. As a simulation it was uncannily realistic. The policy people struggled with the slight vagueness of their brief and worked away at trying to clarify it without going to talk to the service reps or the residents’ groups. In one locality, the service and community groups began by swearing undying mutual support but before long had drifted apart. The community group in this case struggled very realistically to agree on things. At the other locality, the reverse happened: they began deciding independently what they were going to do, but in due course came together harmoniously and creatively. And on one side we had this exquisite example as participants worked on the timeline: in one locality in the fictional year two, the residents came up with a stack of initiatives (orange post-its - click on the image to enlarge) while the agencies' sole initiative was ‘Progress report and evaluation.’ I’m not saying this to poke fun at the participants in question. There’s a fundamental point exposed by this exercise, which is that uncertain relationships – people spending time getting to know where the others are ‘coming from,’ arguing the meaning of the brief, adopting a conciliatory style as someone else adopts an insistent management style, etc - caused problems and delays, took...

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