Out with the community Wardens on Wednesday
Yesterday I spent the day out and about with Southwark’s Community Wardens. I think it’s fair to say that lots of people (including many councillors) know little about what our Community Wardens do each day. I often hear people ask what wardens are doing and speculating whether or not we are getting full value for the money.
So, as Chair of Southwark Housing and Community Safety Scrutiny Sub-committee, I asked if I could spend the day on patrol with the wardens, talking to them about their role and to the Southwark residents they came into contact with.
There are 31 patrolling wardens and 6 team leaders, with teams focussing on three town centres Elephant and Castle, Camberwell Green and Peckham. The teams also regularly patrol other areas, such as Peckham Rye, particularly when there have been reports of anti-social behaviour and fly-tipping.
On the 9.30am to 1pm patrol, I went out with two wardens around Elephant and Castle. They knew the area extremely well and it quickly became clear that a big part of their job is dealing with issues arising from drug abuse and homelessness. What impressed me was that the wardens did not simply see their job as ‘moving on’ rough sleepers. In the subways of Elephant and Castle they did their utmost to make homeless people aware of the support and advice which was available, and to encourage them to attend forthcoming appointments or meetings.
This is not an easy job. On a daily basis they are interacting with people who often have complex psychological problems and have fallen on the hardest of times. Most of the people we spoke to had drug and alcohol related issues and the wardens were trying to get them to safer places where they would find it easier to get help.
During the length of the shift the two person patrol called in around 10 pieces of information ranging from fly-tipping which needed to be cleared and Graffiti which needed to be cleaned. Quite rightly, they see themselves as the eyes and ears of the council.
On our way back to the Queens Road Peckham Control Room at 1pm, the wardens helped avert what could have been a violent incident. One of the wardens spotted that there was a large amount of scrap metal lying in a back alley off a main road. Three men in a van had just pulled over and another man was standing by the metal gesticulating. The wardens approached this man and found out that he had collected together the scrap and was intending to sell it at another location. The men in the van, it turned out, were highly likely to take it away from him in their van, without his permission.
The wardens handled the situation very well. They confronted the men in the van and ensured they left the scene, taking a note of their number-plate. The man who had been threatening violence to defend his scrap metal was calmed down and instructed to remove it within the hour.
In the afternoon I spent time patrolling with the Camberwell team, who were equally diligent. One thing to highlight is a visit we made to an elderly resident who had been recently defrauded. The visit was simply to check he was OK and to reassure him that there were people looking out for him. He clearly appreciated the visit. We also visited a local shop which had recently been the victim of shop-lifting.
Finally, I spent an hour with the warden’s information analyst, who does an excellent job of collating the incident reports from the wardens so that the intelligence can be analysed and so those managing the service can ensure the right areas are being patrolled.
The wardens patrols are informed by tasking sheets which they are given at their morning briefing. These come from reports from members of the public, the police and councillors. This formal system of reporting gave me greater confidence that wardens are responding to concerns from Southwark residents, and not just doing the same patrols day in and day out.
All in all, a really interesting day which will help inform our Committee’s report on the wardens service. I picked up a number of small changes which I think could make a difference to improving the service, but my overall impression was that these are dedicated people doing a very good job in often testing circumstances.
If you want to know more about the service or make a report to them you can find out more here: http://www.southwark.gov.uk/info/200030/community_safety_and_enforcement/431/community_wardens/1