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Speke Up – Tackling Serious and Organised Crime Through Strengths Based Engagement in Speke Merseyside

“There is evidence that suggests a strong correlation between low social capital and high levels of crime and disorder. High social capital can ensure the reinforcement of positive standards through the provision of role models, whereas in areas of low social capital young people will often create their own in the form of gangs”.
Robert Putnam1

Recent headlines in relation to serious violence, reduction in the number of police officers and the shifting roles of those who undertake a neighbourhood policing function have resulted in both police and public concern. As communities live with the impact of increased drugs markets and the associated county lines behaviours, the sexual and criminal exploitation of some of our most vulnerable communities, the seemingly out of control social media provoking negative social norms, and the knife and gun crime that appears to be on the rise, the police appear to spend their time adopting enforcement activities and other reactive measures designed to have an impact on issues that fall under the larger banner of serious and organised crime.

While there is a lot of postulating and debate about the number of arrests and seizures of drugs, weapons and money, there are few officers who support or promote the idea that communities can play a meaningful role in preventing crime and protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. Community engagement in policing is often delivered as roadshows, fun days or coffee with a copper style events, and the obligatory call from Chiefs that ‘someone out there knows who did this – we call on them to come forward’ is often said knowing that people are scared to come forward and/or do not trust those in power to help. Community owned solutions created through equal contribution, well facilitated dialogue, and empowered communities are unusual, rather than the norm, but they are at the heart of any positive change to society that we are likely to see. We often hear that we cannot arrest our way out of this, and youth clubs will not solve the ills of all in society. We need a different relationship with all, and we need to adopt different engagement techniques to create those relationships.

Among the five sites that the Home Office has supported to explore this issue is Speke in Merseyside. Speke sits on the edge of Merseyside bordering with Halton in Cheshire. It is the home of the Jaguar/Ford factory and Liverpool John Lennon Airport and has a sprawling 1950’s built housing estate that was designed as a satellite town for Liverpool and served to provide a workforce for many long gone factories.

Like many large housing estates, the years have taken its toll. Gone are the employment opportunities that included the famed Liverpool Docks, and instead they are replaced by increasing levels of poverty, crime and anti social behavior.

Many of the people in Speke have lived there all of their lives and the older generations remark on the notable decline of the area and the increase in the threat, fear, and reality of crime. Yet, as with all communities there is a palpable community spirit that has now been untapped and galvanized through the recent work that agencies and communities have undertaken in Speke.

First, they held the Speke Up World Café event to start their new relationship and then strengthened it through the recent Speke Up Participatory Budgeting (PB) event (held on Saturday 9th March 2019).

The World Café was held in late 2018 to ascertain the views, experiences and insights in relation to crime from those who live in the area. The data from the World Café, given the title of Speke Up, was analysed to provide the themes for applications for a share of the £26,000 on offer from Proceeds of Crime Act seizures.


Almost 80 people attended the World Café and 19 went on to play an active role in a PB community planning group, designed to ensure local ownership of the PB process, which started in January 2019. The group spanned age and experience and the 19 shared a common passion – they wanted to make Speke a safer place for their friends and families to live, socialize and work. The majority of those who stepped forward to be part of the group were engaged in some sort of voluntary work, either running sporting groups, supporting people into employment through training or helping to protect those who may be vulnerable to on line criminality. They all have busy lives, and many of the people representing the groups had both family and domestic challenges of their own, but this did not stop them from wanting to make their community a safer place, and a better place for their families and friends to live in; building new relationships with the police and partner agencies.

The first PB meeting was designed to share with them the history, flexibility,  principles and values of PB. The principles and values were especially important as they gave credibility to the steering group and the process. We revisited these on many occasions throughout the programme and they acted as a strong guide to ensuring best practice.

Almost immediately networks and connections started to be created and the community started to share resources and support each other. For instance, at the end of the first meeting our hosts stated that they might bid for new chairs as the ones that they had were uncomfortable for their elderly community. One person in the group stated that they were getting rid of chairs that would fit the bill and within a couple of hours the community hub had new chairs, leaving scope to focus on bids that would address community relationships relating to crime. In another example, a resident stated that he would be bidding for new computers to help elderly people protect themselves from on line fraud. This time the community hub stated that they were getting rid of some PCs and that he was welcome to help himself. This free exchange and support for each other would not have happened if it had not been for their role in the PB planning group, and this was only the start.

The community steering group met on four occasions to debate decisions in relation the bidding criterion, with the steering group determined to encourage bids from as many voluntary and community groups as possible. The decision-making process was relatively straight forward: bids of up to £2,000 were agreed, and they had to be from voluntary or community organisations. Multiple bids from a single organisation would not be allowed and the applicants could be from constituted and un-constituted groups. Bids were accepted from anywhere as long as the final product benefitted the people of Speke. The biggest debate came in relation to the age of those who could vote. The ages proposed ranged from 11 to 16, so there had to be a compromise. The debate moved back and forth with each party fervently defending their positions, however, it was finally agreed that the voting age would be 11. The reasons for agreeing to this age were two-fold:

  1. This was likely to be the lower age of those who would benefit from the money that groups could bid for, so why not let them have a say in how they wanted to see the money spent? PB uses the principle of ‘if it feels like we have decided…it’s PB. If it doesn’t feel like we have decide, it’s not PB.’
  2. It introduced many young people to the concept of democracy, voting and decision making and this would help them in terms of school studies, and future engagement in society. A key aspect of PB is budget literacy and the recognition that resources are finite

Following the four meetings, a few members of the community and a couple of the neighbourhood police team held workshops to help people prepare their application and later, to help them to prepare their pitch. It was important that people remembered that the bid must have a connection to reducing or preventing crime, protecting those who may be vulnerable or supporting those who may have been a victim of crime. This theme was reinforced throughout the process.

The initial interest was slow. Ideally with PB you should have bids that amount to double the money that is on offer as this enables communities to give considered thought as to which programmes or projects would have the greatest impact in the area.

In order to grow interest and ultimately the number of applications, we met with key partners from South Liverpool Housing. Throughout the process both they, and another housing provider, Onward Homes, played a key role with the local police team in the preparation of documents and marketing of the process. As a result of a push via social media, we ended up with 31 bids totaling just over £53,000. BRILLIANT!

The community steering group undertook a sifting process to ensure that all bids met the previously agreed criterion (not judgment on the validity of the proposal). Two failed to hit the mark and they were removed. Following this, a workshop was held to help people prepare their pitch, ensuring that they kept to their allotted three minutes, but also ensuring that they maximized the opportunity to share the impact of their work in relation to reducing or preventing SOC.

As the planning for the PB event started to take shape it became apparent that we were going to need a bigger venue. We had booked a local church hall that would comfortably hold 100 people, but the feedback that we were getting suggested a much greater number of people would be attending to listen to bids and cast their vote. Again, BRILLIANT!

It was a good job that we did move. On the morning of 19th March around 300 people attended the PB event to listen to 29 groups pitch for a share of £26,000. The atmosphere was electric, and the local Neighbourhood Inspector did a grand job of acting as MC, introducing the bids and ensuring that voting sheets were correctly completed.

Bids included:

  • Majorette groups who engage with young girls to prevent them becoming groomed into SOC;
  • Sports teams for young people teaching them about respect, punctuality and decision making;
  • Groups who have developed workshops linked to the Prevent programme, warning of the consequences of involvement in SOC;
  • Social meetings for those who are vulnerable through isolation and may become victims of cuckooing;
  • One group taught sewing and clothes making, helping to get young people into education or the work place, again, taking them away from a lifestyle that may result in them becoming involved in SOC;
  • Another helped service veterans who may suffer from PTSD to get back on their feet, stopping them from falling into the clutches of those who would victimise them or recruit them into criminality.

Again, demonstrating the opportunity for building networks, the sewing group offered to make the clothes for the majorette groups at a much-reduced cost, meaning they could get more for their money (should they win).

Interestingly, one group used their three minutes to state that they would not be accepting the money on offer if they won. The group was seeking funding to target specific families requiring support by providing access to trauma focussed counselling sessions and support for victims of knife crime in Speke. They used the platform to a positive end, asking people whether they agreed that mental health was a human right, and if so, should groups be pitching in this forum? They then asked people to lobby their politicians if they did think that mental health was a human right and asked the audience to give an hour of their time to help build understanding and coordination of the programme.

This was interesting from two perspectives. First, people did bid for their programme and they would have won the money they asked for if they had not turned it down. But second, and most importantly, they used their three minutes to share information about a concern directly associated with serious and organised crime; knife crime. In those few minutes, they created an interest, and people started to ask questions about the programme – an ideal way to start to create a network of people who are willing to work together to tackle serious and organised crime.


The votes were counted and verified in a back office and 16 very happy projects were awarded funding. There were obviously ideas that weren’t funded but whilst those leading those ideas were disappointed, they managed to take something positive from the transparent and empowering experience:

“Good evening Andrew. I did not get a chance to say to you and all the team a big thank you. Although we did not win any funding we had a great day and a good laugh. I have had a fab experience from start to finish and I also accomplished speaking in front of all them people!!! Massive for me, I was shaking like a leaf. It was a great set up and also a great turn out. Again please pass on my thanks to all the team and maybe one day we shall all meet again.”
Lindsey Winberg, Kav’s Crusaders

And the story does not stop there. The whole point of PB on this occasion was to begin to empower people, build networks and help groups to protect themselves from serious and organised crime. Here are the thoughts from another bidder:

“Hi Andrew. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you and all the other people involved in this process. Saturday was a really good event and it was lovely to have all the organisations come together and support each other. I’d love for it to continue as I think it has not only helped the organisations with funding but empowered the community.

It has been really positive for the young people that have been involved as well. They came to the initial meeting and then have had the opportunity to come and take part in the vote and be part of decision making. When they see they can affect change it helps them to engage so much more and that can only be a positive. Looking forward to hearing of future events and once again thank you”.
Paula Shaw, Speke Children’s Environment Committee

We also had positive feedback from a locally elected politician:

“Fantastic event listening to the fantastic work of community groups across Speke/Garston all bidding for funding from @MerseyPolice POCA fund. Well done Speke Up, @SLH_Homes @Onward_Homes. Best community event I’ve attended for years”
Lynnie Hinnigan. Ward Counsellor for Cressington and Deputy Mayor of Liverpool

At the conclusion of the event, the local neighbourhood inspector told me that his career has been defined by few key events, and the Speke Up programme was in his top three. He knew of eight community groups when the process started, now he knows of 31 and that number continues to grow.

What did we learn?

  • Holding a pre curser event, such as a World Café gives people an opportunity to share their stories, and allows themes to be drawn from the data captured which can become the themes for the PB process itself
  • The World Café galavanised the community and provided a platform to strengthen confidence to become a part of the planning group
  • Some of our most complex communities facing personal and social challenges, contribute the most positive energy if they are given the opportunity
  • Having a strong and creative partnership increased our reach across the community, resulting in 31 applications being received
  • Having someone with experience of PB to facilitate the process was crucial as it gave people confidence in what they were trying to achieve. This reflects the principles advocated in the PB movement of Scotland. Questions were answered based on experience of similar events and national and international knowledge.
  • The use of social media was positive. The message seemed to be shared across groups via Face Book and Twitter, encouraging them to submit bids
  • Leadership is a key element of success. The local police inspector and sergeant attended the majority of meetings, as did representatives of the two housing associations mentioned earlier; they ensured that the event was a success by playing their part but not taking over
  • Hold your nerve. With a few days to go it seemed as though we were not going to get the number of bids that we were looking for. Over three quarters of the bids that came in, did so in the final two or three days
  • Special mention must go to Catherine Sowler from South Liverpool Homes who did a lot of the design and marketing work and Inspector Paul Holden and Sergeant Jon Smith for their leadership and unceasing enthusiasmIn conclusion, there are now over 300 people in the Speke area who know that it is possible to work together to break the cycle of serous and organised crime. There are statutory and voluntary groups as well as private associations who are willing to help.The Speke Up programme has been one of the most rewarding programmes that I have been involved in and it will be interesting to see how this has blossomed in 12 months time.

    The message is – DO NOT stop now – this is the start of a collaborative relationship that can tackle the serious issues affecting our most vulnerable communities. Early help is possible with strong communities that display high levels of social capital – let PB provide you with the platform.


Written by Dr Andrew C. Fisher.  Lead Associate  or Community Safety MutualGain
1 Putnam, R. (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community as cited in Barnes, I. & Eagle, T. (2007) The Role of Community Engagement in Neighbourhood Policing. Policing, Volume 1, Number 2, pp. 161–172