Eight villages in the Hughenden area have been chosen for a pilot scheme to combat loneliness, isolation and fight doorstep scammers.
Local Resident Associations and the Neighbourhood Action Group, supported by the parish, district and county councils along with Thames Valley Police will launch the Hughenden Street Association scheme at Hughenden Primary School on Monday 20 February. The scheme will cover the communities of Great Kingshill, Naphill, Walter's Ash, Hughenden Valley, Widmer End, North Dean, Bryant’s Bottom and Cryer’s Hill.
This pilot scheme, the first parish-wide Street Association in the UK, aims to develop a stronger sense of community by:
• Encouraging residents to be 'nominated neighbours' to look out for older and more vulnerable people.
• Working with the whole community to ensure everyone feels safe.
• Directing people to the right organisations for support.
Every community will have its own co-ordinator to rally residents' support, and a toolkit with training modules is being assembled to heighten residents' awareness of doorstep crime, how the scammers work, and how to recognise potential vulnerabilities.
Already three Street Association members have come forward as community co-ordinators and they will lead in the drive to recruit residents to the scheme, supported by the professional services in this unique partnership.
The villages, all in Hughenden parish, have been chosen because of the unusual age profile of their population. Between 2001 and 2011 the number of residents aged between 25 and 45 fell by a third and the number over 60 rose by 50%.
Senior Trading Standards Officer Chris Holden, one of the County Council's scheme co-ordinators, said they had seen crimes against the elderly increase significantly in the past 25 years. More than half of their criminal investigations are into frauds on people over 75.
"We want this scheme to make people feel safer and encourage neighbours to look out for one another, especially our more vulnerable residents," said Chris. "Dementia plays an increasing role in susceptibility to doorstep crime and, sadly, proportions increase with an ageing population."
In the past two years seven doorstep scams were reported in Hughenden parish, but Chris emphasises that these figures represent the tip of a community crime iceberg, with “only one in 10 incidents ever reported”.
"The hidden nature of doorstep scamming is clear, as is the likelihood of under-reporting within Hughenden, which is why the Street Association scheme is so important."
Across Buckinghamshire the annual losses from doorstep crime are estimated to be around £5 million and the average age of victims is 77. In one incident during 2014 an older couple with dementia were groomed by scammers over seven months and defrauded of nearly one million pounds.
Where vigilant Buckinghamshire neighbours have raised the alarm, police and Trading Standards have been able to intervene and prevent more than £300,000 from being pocketed by doorstep criminals.
However, this initiative is not only about preventing crime. Natalie Judson, Community Links Officer with the County Council and steering group member added: “Equally important is the support Association members can make in improving the wellbeing of residents across the board, not least at times of ill health, bereavement and isolation”.
“We will be encouraging members to signpost people they believe may need support to the ‘Prevention Matters’ programme.” said Natalie. “Prevention Matters works with communities to develop and support a range of social activities and clubs and we’ve seen huge improvements to residents’ health and overall confidence and wellbeing from taking part in these social opportunities.”
As Stan Jones, Parish Councillor and Chair of the Steering Group, says: “We are really lucky to have such a diverse range of groups, clubs and societies across Hughenden, but of course not everyone knows about them. So we are also producing a directory of all services available to residents, including all the social activities.”
Margaret Aston, Cabinet Member for Community Engagement and Public Health, said: "People's spirit of community is very welcome, and when there are issues, everyone is so good at pulling together. We'd like to encourage this spirit of goodwill to make sure that the most vulnerable enjoy the protection of their caring neighbours."
Feedback from Street Coordinators during the next year will help determine how the County Council extends the scheme.