Local Intervention Fire Education (LIFE)
Programme in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets
1. A range of issues that affect the London
Fire Brigade (LFB) and the lives of Londoners come together within
Tower Hamlets. Tower Hamlets experiences a high level of residential
fires, car fires and other types of incident including arson,
together with problems of youth related crime. There are also
many social factors that add to the problems. Male unemployment
is high and a lower than average proportion of the school population
gains educational qualifications.
2. Bangladeshi pupils make up 55% of the
school population of Tower Hamlets, with 53% of pupils speaking
Bengali/Sylheti as a mother tongue. The London Fire and Emergency
Planning Authority (LFEPA) as an organisation employs very few
firefighters of Asian origin and none from the Bengali community,
which makes engagement with the local community particularly difficult.
3. On some isolated occasions in the past
local fire fighting crews have been subjected to both physical
and verbal abuse in carrying out their duties. Between October
2001 and April 2002 18 incidents were recorded by station personnel.
The nature of the incidents ranged from kicking footballs at the
appliance bay doors, seeking to gain access to the fire station
both when fire crews were responding to incidents and when they
were on station. A large number of incidents involved the throwing
of missiles ranging from yoghurt pots to fireworks, bottles, bricks,
broom handlers and lighted paper. Youths sought to interfere with
equipment whilst crews were responding to emergency calls. Verbal
abuse and/or throwing of missiles were often the response when
asked not to interfere with equipment. On other occasions youths
stood on a zebra crossing and sought to impede fire appliances
from responding to emergency calls. The incident with the greatest
potential for harm to both firefighters and perpetrators involved
placing Calor gas cylinders in the back of a car and setting the
car alight, hoping to see the cylinders explode!
4. Against this background and in order
to tackle these issues the Authority agreed to direct resources
into Tower Hamlets to identify what could be achieved in terms
of community engagement given a concerted effort and corporate
backing. A Community Engagement Action Plan was produced for the
borough with three main objectives:
reducing fires, fire deaths and fire
attracting and recruiting young men
and women, particularly those from a minority background, from
the local community; and
improving relations between fire
crews and the local community.
5. The Action Plan covers a number of areas
including community fire safety advertising, the fitting of smoke
alarms in residents' homes, supporting local community events
and information days promoting the LFB as a career to local people.
Once produced, the plan was taken to four consultation events
in Tower Hamlets. These events were focused on the general community,
young people, women and older people. The plan was well received,
with some additions suggested during the consultation events being
incorporated into the final version. The plan was formally launched
at St. George's Hall in Shadwell on 22 July 2002.
6. It was recognised that to reduce arson
and improve community relations in the area contact had to be
made with the young people of the borough. To achieve this, officers
looked at best practice in other fire authorities with similar
problems and it was decided to adopt and adapt a scheme that works
with young people, often young offenders, to help improve their
quality of life and enhance their citizen skills. The schemes
are known by different titles, for example, Phoenix in Tyne and
Wear and Firebreak in Leicestershire. The title chosen for the
Tower Hamlets' scheme was Local.
Intervention Fire Education (LIFE). LFB officers
from Tower Hamlets visited Merseyside, Leicestershire and Tyne
and Wear brigades to evaluate the courses being run in those fire
authorities and adopted best practice from the three to form the
basis of the LIFE scheme.
7. The LIFE scheme can be viewed as a social
crime prevention initiative in that it looks at the causes of
crime and addresses consequential thinking skills covering all
aspects of moral behaviour, instilling discipline, team spirit
and the teaching of life skills and values.
8. In the run up to producing the first
LIFE programme, four LFB officers from Tower Hamlets followed
a full Phoenix course. This proved invaluable in developing the
scheme and gaining an understanding of the skills required to
work with the type of young person at whom these courses would
be aimed. The officers attending these courses included the borough
commander and an officer who is working full-time on young persons'
issues and arson in Tower Hamlets. The other officers were volunteers
from fire stations in Tower Hamlets. To run a scheme such as LIFE
there needs to be a high trainer to young person ratio, ie one
trainer to every two young people. In order to achieve this ratio
the Borough Team asked for volunteers from the fire stations in
Tower Hamlets. To date fourteen volunteers ranging from firefighter
to sub officer have been trained in Tower Hamlets.
9. The first LIFE course took place in June
2002 and since then a further nine courses have taken place. The
team building exercises;
basic health and safety awareness;
the consequences of fire setting;
basic fire fighting skills;
confidence and team building activities
at an external venue;
a passing out drill demonstration;
individual mentoring; and
an exit strategy to help them develop
The exit strategy has been developed with Tower
Hamlets Borough Council and the Youth Offending Team and is aimed
at either further education or employment.
10. Following discussion with local partners
attendees on the courses have come from a range of sources including
the Tower Hamlets and Inner London
Youth Offending Team;
the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance
Programme (ISSP); and
the Tower Hamlets Pupil Referral
Some have also come from the Cliché estate,
Shadwell, where fire fighters have been subjected to verbal and
physical abuse in the past.
11. From a disparate group of individuals
on the first day the participants develop into a team by the last
day and demonstrate their newly acquired skills in a pass out
drill that is watched by friends, relatives and other supporters.
Each participant receives a certificate and portfolio on completion
of the course. The portfolio details the skills they have learnt
and the areas covered by the course. It includes attendance, behaviour
and attitude and can be used as a reference point for potential
access to education or employment. The LFB trainers also act as
personal referees to support the young people following their
successful completion of the course. For many attending the course
this is the most responsibility and recognition they have had
and to date all have responded positively. The response on the
estate has also been encouraging; relationships
have improved significantly and firefighters are now seen as allies
12. The LFB provides positive role models
in its instructors and station personnel alike. Participants are
encouraged to think of the consequences of offending behaviour
and to discuss how it affects their families, the victims and
organisations like the fire brigade which deals with fire setting,
hoax calls, road traffic accidents, the abuse of staff and vehicles
alike when on duty.
13. All who are involved or come into contact
with the scheme, including the local borough and other partners
are impressed by the dedication of the local staff and its success
so far. We are currently developing a framework for the course
with a view to rolling it out in other boroughs. The scheme, however,
requires further resources to maintain the momentum and to continue
to make a difference to the local area.
14. LFEPA provided the accommodation, equipment
and human resources required to launch the LIFE programme. In
2002-03 we received £65,000 from the Single Regeneration
Budget (SRB), £96,000 from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund
(NRF) and £62,000 from the Government Office for London (GOL)
to meet the other costs. NRF and GOL subsequently provided further
grants of £86,000 and £50,000 respectively in 2003-04.
15. The SRB provided additional funding
of £54,000 in 2003-04 and this is being used to run a twelve-week
Achieving Safer Communities (ASC) programme, This operates one
night a week at Shadwell Fire Station, using the same personnel
involved in the LIFE course. The aims of ASC are to:
Provide an extended programme offering
a basic first aid qualification, community project day and residential
training courses followed by an identified forward strategy for
each young person.
Address anti-social behaviour, consequences
of crime, education and employment issues first aid qualification
and further achievement of certification.
16. These aims are achieved in the following
We are already actively involved
in the organisation of a partnership with the Tower Hamlets Housing
and Regeneration Community Association to enable unemployed young
people to fit smoke alarms in the area.
During the ASC course each participant
takes part in a community day whereby community work is carried
out in an identified area of need, such as the installation of
smoke alarms, removing graffiti from communal areas or removing
waste from a housing estate.
During the ASC course local training
providers are invited to assist candidates. There are recruitment
and careers evenings during which the young people will be given
advice and guidance to help them find an appropriate career option.
17. This course enables the participants
to recognise that the skills that they have acquired through LIFE
and then ASC are transferable to many situations that they are
likely to encounter in their lives.
18. At the time of writing 10 LIFE programmes
have been completed and they can be judged a success by any standards,
as the following statistics indicate:
The overall attendance rate is 95%.
90% of those who have participated
have not offended or re-offended 6 months after completing the
Three young people have subsequently
secured employment as youth workers in their local community.
Six young people, all from ethnic
minority communities, have entered the recruitment process for
Five young people have participated
in a mentoring scheme with operational firefighters.
Nine young people continue to work
with firefighters one night per week on the Achieving Safer Communities
Non -accidental fires in Tower Hamlets
have declined by 46%.
Attacks on firefighters have reduced
19. The LIFE programme was a strategic departure
for the London Fire Brigade in that it was its first initiative
addressing the wider social issues, leading to fire related anti-social
and criminal behaviour. The LIFE programme supports the Authority's
principal aim of making London a safer city, by addressing those
wider issues and endeavouring to prevent such behaviour occurring
at all. LFEPA is in the front line of dealing with the repercussions
of anti-social behaviour in terms of the fires that result, and
the deaths, injuries and material losses that they can cause.
As such LFEPA can make a valuable contribution to the community
by making the perpetrators aware of the potential results of their
20. The LIFE programme was visited by members
of the Independent Review of the Fire Service and was cited in
their report as follows:
"Some of the most impressive work that
we saw when we visited the London Fire Brigade was in the education
of disaffected youth in Tower Hamlets. Local fire officers set
up a course for disaffected young people covering team building,
basic health and safety and first aid, consequences of fire setting,
basic fire-fighting skills and a pass out drill demonstration.
Nine out of 10 of those who started the first course finished
it, An external evaluation concluded `the course can only be a
positive for young people, fire service and the local community'.
Relations with the local community are improving and recruitment
is up also".
21. The LIFE and ASC programmes in Tower
Hamlets will serve as templates for schemes for other London boroughs
with anti-social behavioural issues comparable to those encountered
in Tower Hamlets.
22. LFEPA is also involved in the Prince's
Trust Volunteers (PTV) scheme, as a programme manager of a franchise
in the London Borough of Hounslow. The Prince's Trust has been
running such programmes since 1990 and some 60,000 have participated
in that time. The Learning and Skills Council fund this activity.
23. Since 7 May 2003 the Authority has been
working to a business plan agreed by the Trust to deliver a 12-week
personal development course designed to equip the participants
with the skills and attitudes vital to the world of employment.
The objective is that the participants move on to employment,
job-related training or further education. The team will typically
consist of 10-15 young people aged between 16-25 years who are
either young offenders or potential offenders, from disadvantaged
backgrounds and/or ethnic communities and/or have learning difficulties.
To achieve balance their employers have placed some volunteers
on the programme.
24. The team will undertake community projects
and attend a residential week, as well as pursuing their own personal
development objectives. The programme is based upon a City and
Guilds profile of achievement and volunteers can gain vocational
qualifications recognised across the UK.
25. Hounslow was chosen for this programme
because it is one of the poorest boroughs in London. Almost 35%
of the population are from various ethnic minority communities,
the largest being from the Indian sub-continent. Social deprivation
is prevalent and there are a number of large social housing areas
with disproportionately high levels of crime and drug dependency.
A significant number of young people are disaffected from society,
due to a combination of socio-economic and educational factors.
The South Asian and Somali communities figure significantly in
26. Crime and repeat criminal activity is
prevalent amongst the youth community in Hounslow. In excess of
50% of all crimes in the borough are committed by young people
in the target range of the PTV programme. Young people in that
age range are also most likely to be the victims of crime. Of
particular concern to LFEPA/LFB is the high incidence of fires
involving vehicles, and evidence indicates that many of these
are set deliberately by young people.
27. The London Borough of Hounslow has been
supportive of the programme from the outset.
28. As stated previously the first PTV programme
commenced on 7 May and is still in progress. It is too early to
draw any firm inferences, however reports from the Team Leaders