The West Hampstead rise of Neighbourhood Watch

IF you say Neighbourhood Watch, most people think of tea-and-cake meet-ups, busy-bodies and curtain-twitching – which is probably why it has fallen so out of favour in recent years.

But one young Police Community Support Officer in West Hampstead is determined to change that image, and in the past year she has transformed the area’s Neighbourhood Watch from one stalwart member to a community of 135 across 28 roads in the ward.

PCSO Charlotte Louis De Canonville, 21, has been with the team since the age of 19, when she turned down offers from four universities to become an officer. And she decided Neighbourhood Watch would be her first mission.

She said: “When we started to look into it, we thought there might be 20 or so members still in operation. But once I had gone through all the old records and contacted people about half of them didn’t even live in the area any more.

“So I decided, because I am quite good with computers, to do a leaflet that we personalised for each road so that people know who we are and what Neighbourhood Watch is about.

“There is a real interest in looking out for the community in West Hampstead. I think we saw that with the Christmas Market – everyone got involved and worked together.”

But the days of meetings over Victoria sponges are long gone – busy lives demand that Neighbourhood Watch has to adapt.

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Sergeant of the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhoods team, David Timms, said: “The momentum behind it hasn’t all been crime prevention, which I think has been really important.

“Of course we teach people about making your home safe and also keeping safe when you are out and about. But it is also creating a community which looks out for each other and getting the community that already exists to talk about crime issues.

“We aren’t being old-fashioned about it. When we talked to people, they were really interested in the idea of getting the information and learning about keeping safe, but didn’t want to give up their time to come to a specific meeting.”

So now Neighbourhood Watch meetings are incorporated into other community meetings and events. With 28 roads now incorporating Neighbourhood Watch into their established activities, crime prevention information is getting around without the stigma of nosy neighbours.

PCSO Louis De Canonville said: “We have really strong memberships now – on Avanley Gardens, Ariel Road and Crediton Hill we have very active groups. Last year, on Crediton Hill, there were no members. But now their busy residents’ association has taken on the Neighbourhood Watch and they are very active with it.

“On Avanley Gardens, the residents have even been working together to use their different private CCTV cameras to identify a suspected burglar who has been targeting the road. It makes people feel safer if they can do something, together.”

The West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhoods team now sends out regular newsletters with crime updates, safety tips and a sprinkling of photographs of the team out and about in the ward. It even had a Christmas ‘Where’s Wally’ style quiz this year.

To find out more about Neighbourhood Watch, email or call 020-8721 2697.