Churches have come up with an innovative way of deterring anti-social behaviour
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BY MO METCALF-FISHER
From the title of this piece, you might be wondering what I mean by churches having an anti- social behaviour problem. It might be hard to imagine anyone wanting to carry out criminal damage at your local church; a place where many gather in prayer, reflect, exchange vows and pay respect to the deceased. In reality though, the scale of the problem facing churches and other religious buildings across the UK is incredibly concerning.
Last November, after months of waiting for 43 of 45 UK police forces to return FOI requests, we learnt that over 2 years a staggering 20,168 crimes has been recorded by police as taking place on or in churches; that is either inside the premises or within the grounds or graveyard.
Among the responses collected were a catalogue of heinous crimes, including multiple cases of drug trafficking, harassment, sexual assault and drug possession.
When I released the findings into the public domain, the story was run exclusively by the Mail on Sunday. When contacted by the Mail to give their response to situation, a representative from the Church of England said: ‘Our experience is that one of the most effective ways of combating crime is for churches to remain open and welcoming, at the heart of their communities’ and went on to say that churches were no more likely to suffer at the hands of criminals than houses or shops. At the time, I found the position somewhat obtuse. While, I had originally been spurred to conduct the investigation by a growing number of reports about lead theft from church roofs in villages, I genuinely couldn’t have predicted the sheer scale of the siege churches were under.
Upon reflection, I understand the view that churches want to remain open and welcoming. I do however believe that in order to address the problems they clearly face, churches need to be on the front foot of crime prevention strategy. I appreciate that for many parish churches, investing and installing top of the range security features is going to come at a heavy price.
Some time had passed until I saw an article yesterday in Thisismoney which claimed over 100 churches had begun opening up their car parks to the public for general use. The rationale behind the move, the churches claim, is to prevent anti-social behaviour following my November report. The funds raised, they say, are going towards church upkeep and for better security. One church based in Harrogate said that by opening up their car park, they have noticed a dip in anti-social behaviour in their immediate surroundings, as more people are on site daily deterring any unwanted behaviour.
This is an incredibly sensible move and one that has sought to use an otherwise empty space, for the long term benefit of the church. By using a private company, they are able to transfer the management to a new app, which allows customers the flexibility to book online; saving the church time and resources.
Innovative thinking such as this that utilises the marketplace, when it occurs, should be congratulated. I hope it goes some way to raising the funds needed to protect the public and church premises.
It also serves as an important reminder to us all, irrespective of faith, to keep an ever watchful eye on places of worship and it reinforces the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote.
Mo Metcalf-Fisher is a political commentator and spokesman for the Countryside Alliance. Follow him on twitter: @mometfisher