Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence


Annex 1

Local Intervention Fire Education (LIFE) Programme in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets

BACKGROUND

  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 related injuries;

    —  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.

LOCAL INTERVENTION FIRE EDUCATION

  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 syllabus includes:

    —  induction;

    —  icebreakers;

    —  team building exercises;

    —  basic health and safety awareness;

    —  first aid;

    —  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 further.

  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 referrals from:

    —  the Tower Hamlets and Inner London Youth Offending Team;

    —  the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP); and

    —  the Tower Hamlets Pupil Referral Unit.

  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 Clich

estate has also been encouraging; relationships have improved significantly and firefighters are now seen as allies not adversaries.

  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.

ACHIEVING SAFER COMMUNITIES

  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 ways:

    —  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.

PROGRESS

  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 programme.

    —  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 the LFB.

    —  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 programme.

    —  Non -accidental fires in Tower Hamlets have declined by 46%.

    —  Attacks on firefighters have reduced by 76%.

CONCLUSION

  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 actions.

  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.

OTHER INITIATIVES—PRINCE'S TRUST VOLUNTEERS IN THE LONDON BOROUGH OF HOUNSLOW

  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.

WHY HOUNSLOW?

  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 this context.

  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.

CONCLUSION

  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 are encouraging.



 
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