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The Trouble with Neighbourhood Watch

You live in a flat in a six-in-a-block, part of a scheme built by the council in the fifties, though now only two of the households are council tenants. The council has decided to offer the installation of a security system for the entrance to the block and this poses a dilemma.

You have great neighbours and there is nothing about the immediate area itself that makes you feel unsafe. True, there is the occasional late-night yahoo and litter-chucking , but is a good, relaxed place to live. The hesitation around saying “yes, please” to the council’s offer hinges on a number of things things. First of all, you don’t think the system is needed in order to make you more secure and it will inevitably make comings and goings more inconvenient.

Yet the deepest concern is that the installation may in the long run make the place less safe. At present the relaxed sense of safety does not derive only from our good neighbours within the block but also from a wider sense of openness and trust in the wider neighbourhood with its complex fabric of sub-communities – dog-walkers, the Children Crossing woman, sharings across the hedge with other blocks, the familiar parade of prams and wheelchair, and much more. All of that conveys a strong sense of reasonable alertness for other folks’ welfare.

A secure entry system on a block strikes a dodgy note in all that openness and alert friendliness. It will be like a Neighbourhood Watch notice on a lamp-post with its clear message: “There are bad people about and you are probably one of them so go away!” This is the attitude that is behind the current hounding of the traveller community and the fear of migrants. It is also the disastrous dead-mindset that sends huge flotillas of UK warships (all belching climate-killing emissions) to far-flung parts of the globe to posture and parade enmity and distrust, at a time when the urgent need is for worldwide trust and co-operation. Our leaders are slow to grasp the fundamentals of all this. You cannot be safe until the sense of safety is made general.

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