Recently, the Just Act team visited Chris Hoare, founder of the Birmingham South West Group, a residents’ group set up over 25 years ago to tackle crime, prostitution, anti-social behaviour and other issues troubling his estate. Keep reading to find out about the Birmingham South West Group’s work and incredible achievements.
How did they get started?
The group was set up with really ambitious aims – to make a dent in the area’s crime rates including anti-social behaviour, drug use and prostitution. How the group got its name, however, was a little less ambitious. “We just looked at the back of the phone book,” Chris said. “I read ‘Birmingham South West’, and the Birmingham South West Group was born.”
Innovative methods to crack down on PROSTITUTION
When the Birmingham South West Group began, it was felt that prostitution was a hugely damaging issue to the local area and its wider reputation. Now, the issue has been almost entirely eradicated.
Chris said that it was estimated that over a thousand prostitutes were working in the area when the project began. Today, there is only “a handful”.
Chris told us that this was due to the Birmingham South West Group’s innovative approach of dealing with the problem.
Rather than the typical procedure of arresting the women, resulting in a court appearance before they were back on the streets again, the group worked collaboratively with housing associations and health organisations to provide health and social security advice. They were able to work with the NHS to tackle the complex issues that cause prostitution, rather than criminalising the workers themselves. They were the first community project in the country to work in this way and the figures have gone down dramatically in this part of the city.
What else does Birmingham South West do?
Over the years, the Birmingham South West Group has run a series of projects which have completely transformed the estate.
Through a series of grants, corporate sponsorship and favours called in, the estate now has improved street lighting, CCTV cameras and lockable gates in spots where crime has been rife. What’s more, 10,000 bulbs have been planted across nine new community gardens.
Chris told us that this activity means that while the estate used to have high-crime rates and a really poor reputation, it is now a really pleasant part of Birmingham to live in.
These days, they run a full calendar of community events including a youth club on Thursday nights and events where residents can drop by – free of charge – and make hanging baskets or Christmas wreaths, depending on the season.
Sharing the group’s great work with others
Chris told us that he has been able to share the work that Birmingham South West does far and wide. This includes receiving a variety of high profile visitors to the estate such as politicians and he even name-dropped a couple of celebrities who came to see the difference community activity has made to the estate.
Chris also shares the difference that community projects make with politicians. He works closely with Louise Casey MP and has attended meetings to offer advice to Prime Ministers since the 1990s.
And politicians from Lyon, France and Mexico City have also paid the estate a visit to learn about the projects they have run over the years and how they can be replicated abroad.