Judith Collins: Address To Horowhenua Neighbourhood Support
Levin, 23 September 2009
Thank you for inviting me to join you this evening, and thank you for that kind introduction.
Ladies and gentlemen, the grass-roots nature of community support is, I believe, extremely important to our society. Without groups like Neighbourhood Support, our streets would be much less safe.
It's always a pleasure to visit groups such as yours - groups which unassumingly, and without fuss, play such a vital role in our communities.
Up and down the country, Neighbourhood Support networks act as a link between the public and the Police. And, though certain issues may vary from place to place, I know there are some problems which concern us all.
I know you want criminals cracked down on and locked up.
I know gangs and drugs, particularly P, worry you.
And I know you all want a safe neighbourhood for your families and friends.
I don't believe this is too much to ask.
People expect safe communities. It is your right.
It is also your right to be able to walk the streets without feeling intimidated, and without the threat of violence. You neighbourhood should be a place where you can sleep easily at night, knowing your family is safe and where there is respect for your property and for the law.
Since 1985, Neighbourhood Support has been doing its utmost to uphold those values.
I know from Wendy that this particular branch of Neighbourhood Support not only focuses on protecting the public, it is also active in wider ways within the community.
Each year at the Mansfield Field Days, Horowhenua Neighbourhood Support takes along volunteers to encourage other communities to start their own Neighbourhood Support network.
In 2006 and 2007 you put on an expo day with other businesses, and this proved to be a huge success. In both 2008 and 2009, you ran a safety day with ACC and the Fire Service, inspecting people's electric heaters and electric blankets.
You also help out at events, like the hot air balloon festival, to raise funds to keep the network going.
All this goes beyond what most people would expect of Neighbourhood Support - while you look out for one another's property; you also make a real difference in people's day-to-day safety.
The original aim of Neighbour Support - or Neighbourhood Watch, as it was called during its foundation in the 1980s - continues to hold true, however.
The network was set up to encourage families, people living alone and the elderly to co-operate to help keep their areas crime-free.
This Government recognises the value of Neighbourhood Support. We know how important it is for you to develop strong links within your community - and that doesn't just mean with the people on your street; it also means with the other organisations out there which are part of the fabric of your society.
I'm talking about the emergency services; the social services groups; the representatives of law and order; and justice, here in the Horowhenua.
For you, the Police aren't just people you call on when you have a crime to report - your group has a fantastic working relationship with local officers; sharing information and advice on a daily basis.
For Police to be successful - especially in more rural areas such as the Horowhenua - they can't operate in a vacuum. They need to be out and about within the community and they need to engage, to build strong links and to value the people they both work with and serve. A strong relationship with Police stops crime taking root in the community.
I think that ideal has been put into action here in the Horowhenua. You have put in the effort to forge robust relationships with local Police officers and you have shown just what can be achieved when the Police and the community come together.
I'm told Senior Sergeant Willy Roy has been a stalwart for Wendy and has an open-door policy for Neighbourhood Support volunteers. To my mind, that symbolises the best kind of relationship between official agencies and community groups - a relationship where free and frank discussion is not only tolerated, but encouraged.
Community Constable, Graham Wright also stands out as being a dedicated link between Neighbourhood Support and the local Police force. I have been told he's greatly missed when he's on duty with other sections. His rapport and empathy with the public and Neighbourhood Support volunteers alike has really struck a chord with you here.
Liaison Officer, Damian Graves completes the trio of officers who deserve special mention in making this Neighbourhood Support Group such an integral and reliable part of the Horowhenua.
Willy Roy says, " there is now a better flow of information between Police and the community in rural areas. This is a direct result of Wendy and other co-ordinators setting up rural Neighbourhood Support Groups and giving these Groups an ear, other than that of Police, to talk to."
But these kinds of relationships are only formed by commitment and a dedication to getting the job done.
When Wendy came on board as your co-ordinator three years ago, she was told there was over 200 active Neighbourhood Support Groups in Levin. After ringing around the list of neighbourhood co-ordinators, she found most had moved away from the area.
In reality, there were just 28 groups.
Now, I understand Wendy isn't the type of person to let small obstacles get in her way.
Over the past three years she has poured a great deal of energy and enthusiasm into motivating the community to make the most of Neighbourhood Support.
In fact, the Neighbourhood Support team in one area is so 'on the ball' they were out of their doors in a flash to investigate when a burglar alarm sounded at a nearby house. It turned out the occupants had only moved in that day and now had an alarm different from the one at their old house.
The gentleman occupying the house was so impressed at the speedy Neighbourhood Support response that he joined his local Group and, six months later, put his hand up to become a committee member.
Now, that's what I call making a real impression on new arrivals!
There are now 320 Neighbourhood Support Groups involving 3,766 households in the Horowhenua - and you should all feel justifiably proud of your work in achieving that.
There are also 255 businesses involved in Neighbourhood Support, which shows just how vital your eyes and ears are to the commercial sector, too.
People wouldn't join Neighbourhood Support if they didn't think you were doing a worthwhile job - so your popularity speaks volumes for the high esteem in which you're held.
Senior Sergeant Willy Roy has told me it's not just on criminal matters where you work with Police.
During last year's horrific flooding, a road was cut off at Kuku Beach. In some stretches of the road, the water was deeper than the height of a car.
Wendy called the area's Neighbourhood Support co-ordinator, who was able to organise vehicles and trailers to evacuate those residents on Kuku Beach Road who were cut off from emergency services patrols coming in from other areas.
Without any outside assistance, the Neighbourhood Support team managed to evacuate homes threatened by the floods before any damage occurred. They even managed to move furniture out of some houses and store it safely in their own sheds until the flood waters receded.
It's that mixture of quick-thinking and common-sense which makes Neighbourhood Support so vital. As Wendy says, 'it's about doing the behind-the-scenes things so the official forces can concentrate on the big picture.'
And how would that big picture look without Neighbourhood Support to add the background, the colour? I'm sure it wouldn't look half as good.
As I said before, people who think Neighbourhood Support is about stopping crime are only partly right. Neighbourhood Support really does embody those values which some say are old-fashioned, but which I believe are the bedrock of a civil and decent society.
Compassion for people.
Care for the vulnerable and at-risk.
Pride in a great community.
Neighbourhood Support can turn a street of strangers, or a rural district of scattered households, into group of people with a shared, positive purpose.
I know there are a great many people throughout the Horowhenua who have a lot to thank Neighbourhood Support for.
But you're a modest bunch, as I had to get Senior Sergeant Willy Roy to share some stories about your life-saving work.
Last month, an older lady went missing. Police mounted an urban search, involving Search and Rescue and their own staff. Wendy heard what had happened and immediately put the call out to Neighbourhood Support Groups.
Volunteers began to fan out and comb the area where it was thought the lady had gone missing. Not long after beginning their search, the local Neighbourhood Support members found the missing lady.
If she had not been found when she was, medical staff believe the lady would not have survived the night in such bone-chilling conditions.
You saved her life.
I can't think of a more valuable service one person can perform for another.
I came here today to thank you for making our streets safer - but you do more than that.
Neighbourhood Support truly is a life-saver.
Thank you, and I hope you continue your good work long into the future.