Voluntary sector plays a key role in fighting crime: Guest blog from Martin Surl, Gloucestershire PCC

Martin Surl is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire. He is a former senior police officer and worked for more than 10 years in Estonia, helping to modernise its police service and develop its crime reduction partnerships. He was awarded the Order of Merit for introducing child protection measures there. In November Martin pledged £1million to continue funding projects, many of them by voluntary organisations, designed to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour around Gloucestershire.
 

A boy walks into a club in the Forest of Dean. If that sounds like the first line of a joke, read on.  
 
The club is Forest Fighting Fit, which is situated in a mainly rural area of Gloucestershire blighted by the decline of coal and light engineering. It is run by volunteers with support from the police and local authorities with the aim of reducing anti-social behaviour and crime in one of its main urban centres
 
A young person who had been heavily involved with gangs and anti-social behaviour in the area went into a taster session ‘acting big’. Within 20 minutes his demeanour had changed and he was taking part in all the activities.
 
The boy’s attitude, and that of his mates, altered dramatically for the better and afterwards they asked if they could join in on a regular basis. When I asked him what he liked best, he said it was the discipline. 
 
Forest Fighting Fit works by providing a focus for young people who previously had none. It also acts as a catalyst to engage families with key workers from agencies such as social services and Families First through positive pastimes like boxing, off-roading, volunteering and other activities.
 
Another organisation called Keep Safe Keep Active runs a scheme which identifies “safe places” where people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, autism and dementia can seek assistance. The organisation started life as a small Community Interest Company in the Cotswolds but has expanded to such an extent that it now has over 1000 businesses signed up as “safe places” and its network reaches throughout Gloucestershire, providing a safe haven for more than 6,000 of the county’s most vulnerable people.
 
I have supported organisations like Forest Fighting Fit and Keep Safe Keep Active because I believe problems are best solved by solutions that come from within the community. After all, people who live in an area are usually the first to recognise what the problems are and often have a view on how to resolve them. Volunteers and voluntary organisations, by their very nature, bring enthusiasm, commitment and, more often than not, knowledge. Solutions are more likely to succeed with that kind of dedicated local support. 
 
When I was elected as Gloucestershire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) in 2012, I had a clear vision for less crime in the county. It seemed obvious to me that against a background of budget cuts, the police could not do it all on their own. That is why I was keen to tap into the knowledge and experience of the voluntary sector with its close connections to the community. The result was a Police and Crime Plan based on my own experience as a front-line officer and what Gloucestershire residents told me they wanted, and a ‘Commissioner’s Fund’, where once a year community groups and organisations in the county are invited to bid for grants.
 
Recipients take many different formats ranging from restorative justice schemes, to young driver safety training, to community building activities and centres. But all share the same goal of making Gloucestershire a safer, more inclusive place to live and work. 
 
Between November 2012 and the time of writing, I have been able to help finance 129 local organisations and 240 projects. One of them is GL11 Community Hub, a family centre in a small village in the south of Gloucestershire. GL11 applied to the Commissioner’s Fund for help in providing a range of inclusive community activities and received an initial grant of £5,000 with another £5,000 this year. It is a registered charity run by volunteers providing a programme of training and education, a range of drop-in social groups and volunteering opportunities. You can see a film of how it operates here
 
In November, I renewed my commitment to funding local organisations by pledging a further £1million from the Commissioner’s Fund to see recipients through the next financial year. Anyone can apply for a share of this money, providing their project relates to at least one of my Police and Crime Plan priorities. Of the 129 funded so far, 75 are voluntary organisations
 
In most cases, each agreement is for a maximum of four years. This provides an initial period of financial stability and sufficient time for projects to bed-in. With elections every four years, it’s important they can attract match-funding and become self-supporting if they are to continue beyond the life of a particular PCC. But having the PCC on board and tapping into the network of Commissioner’s Fund beneficiaries has undoubtedly helped them attract further funding. 
 
It is the police and the public working together to improve our quality of life and I am proud to say that many other PCCs are now following Gloucestershire’s lead.
 
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