A fresh start for our high-rise homes

Partnership work is transforming life in our town centre blocks

An initiative to stamp out anti-social behaviour in our high-rise blocks is starting to transform the lives of hundreds of residents. The work, led by bpha, has involved local partners coming together to tackle serious issues, including drug-related criminal activity. After just a few months, residents have gone from being frightened in their homes to feeling safer and more supported.

David Genery, Regional Housing Manager and Rosetta Triolo, Community Engagement Manager, have fronted the project, bringing colleagues and external partners together to safeguard nine of our high-rise blocks in Bedford.

“At the start of 2020, residents began telling us about problems in the high-rise blocks and we decided to take action,” explains Rosetta. “No-one should have to live in fear in their own home. We knew that we couldn’t deal with it on our own, so we reached out to our partners in the community – including the police, the council, drug support services and others – to ask them to work with us.”

Gathering information

Once the partnership team had come together, the next step was to engage with residents to get an overall picture of life in the blocks. Initially, community events were planned but when the pandemic arrived, the team switched to a phone survey.

This involved contacting 532 residents living at Chandos Court, Beckett Court, Richbell Court, Priory Court, Beauchamp Court, Ashburnham Court and Roise Court.

According to Rosetta, this approach proved to be better: “Of those we called, 215 gave us information and we had some extremely useful conversations. I think people felt more comfortable opening up over the phone. To complement this work, our Housing team and caretakers have been working hard to engage with residents.”

These conversations pointed to drug dealing as being the main problem. And, alarmingly, some of our more vulnerable residents were being forced into letting dealers use their homes.

“We took action – no-one should have to live in fear in their own home.”

Securing the blocks

The Housing team acted quickly and secured a number of property closure orders, which meant that only residents, their immediate families and support workers could enter the buildings. Security guards were put in place to manage entrances while additional CCTV and better outside lighting made the grounds more safe and secure.

Commenting on action taken against the criminals, Inspector Samantha Hunt, from the Bedford Community Policing team, said: “Since the closure orders in July, eight people have been arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply Class A drugs, and three have been dealt with for breaching the closure orders. This is something that could have only been achieved alongside the hard work of our partners.”

Giving support to residents

As well as making the blocks safer, our Housing team recognised that many residents needed extra support. As a result, more partners have been drawn in to give specialist support to help those experiencing money problems, drug addiction, mental health problems, domestic abuse and isolation.

The partnership group is now made up of 50 people from different organisations, split into subgroups, headed by bpha employees with meetings held on a regular basis.

David Genery chairs the partnership meetings and has been amazed by the support from the community. He said: “This project is a great example of the difference we can make by joining with others, especially our residents. We hope it will act as a blueprint for tackling anti-social behaviour and strengthening communities across all of the areas we operate in. We would encourage residents to come forward and work with us to help make a positive difference in their community like we’ve done here.”

Thanks to this initiative, 24 residents living in our high-rise blocks have signed up to take part in a new Neighbourhood Watch scheme, which is being spearheaded by Councillor Colleen Atkins at Bedford Borough Council.

One resident who’s delighted with the change is Ann, who lives at Chandos Court. She said: “I’ve been living here for 20 years, but things got so bad I asked if I could move to another property. I couldn’t sleep at night as often my buzzer would go off and I was waiting for something to happen. Now that we have security in the building, and those who were causing the trouble have left, it’s much more peaceful. I love living here now.”

“We hope this project will act as a blueprint for tackling anti-social behaviour across all of our communities.”