Starting a new series on community, Fay Young and Nick Gardner take a walk with PC Simon Daley who challenges some popular misconceptions about young people – and the police too.
On night patrol Simon Daley sometimes turns on the blue light simply to reassure people that a police car is in their neighbourhood. By day he often thinks he is invisible.
Not today. On a sunny summer morning, the Community Beat Officer for Broughton (Leith) seems not just highly visible but very well known. People of all ages stop to talk to him on our shortish walk from McDonald Road Library to Scotland Yard Adventure Playground by way of Redbraes Community Garden.
If you ever wonder what community looks like maybe this is it: white van drivers, primary school children, mothers with prams, older women with shopping trolleys, school teachers and shop keepers. People wave, call out or stop for a chat and Simon knows each of them by name.
We decided to begin our new series on community by taking a look at the work of our local community police officer. By coincidence we met him at the end of Neighbourhood Action Week when combined forces of police, fire officers, council workers and Wombles (Wombles? See also, environmental officers in disguise) knocked on doors in streets off Leith Walk to listen to local concerns and show people they were taking action.
Visibility matters. Being seen and reassuring the public are part and parcel of being a bobby on the beat. “This is a very safe area,” says Simon, “the crime statistics are low but public perception tends not to be the same as reality.”
Changing public perception is a long task but Simon does not seem daunted. “I quite enjoy challenging stereotypes and prejudices,” he says with a broad smile. Which is why you find him visiting the local Mosque, leading police colleagues in discussions about Islam, facilitating workshops of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender groups and joining local school children for role play sessions about personal safety. And why he went to Downing Street in January this year to receive an official ‘thank you’ (recommended by our local MP, Mark Lazarowicz) for his work in building relationships between Polish and Scottish communities.
It’s the work with young people that makes most news. Simon is often quoted for his robust defence of young people. “I like kids,” he says, “I don’t just see them as some sort of nuisance to the rest of society.” The former head boy of Trinity Academy who was suspended for having his hair cut too short remembers what it is like to be young. On days off, he spends much of his time with his eight-year-old daughter Erin (often at Redbraes). On duty he got fed up moving young people on and being asked, “But where will we go Simon?”
A recent survey of local people listed a lack of things for young people to do among their top concerns – along with anti-social behaviour, litter and dog fouling. Which is why we are on our way to Scotland Yard via Redbraes to see a side of police work that challenges quite a few stereotypes. Simon has been a leading force in the development of Redbraes Community Garden [reported elsewhere on our blog], working closely with the committee chaired by Davie Thomson to raise both money and team spirit in the creation of an amazing urban oasis.
Simon stops for a chat with Davie Thomson at Redbraes community hut
An outdoor classroom and garden plots for local schoolchildren are there to encourage young people to take part in healthy outdoor activities – “and discover that food does not grow in packets”. The garden also aims to build a sense of community so at the entrance Simon created a Polish war memorial made from stone which he helped to pay for from his £500 community fund available to all community police officers (though the fund has been frozen this year).
At Scotland Yard the mouth of the old railway tunnel is still closed but soon Simon hopes it will open to reveal the vision he has for a creative space where young people will want to come. Characteristically the police officer is hoping to introduce some razzamatazz to the open day on July 30 when an event to mark the start of work on the tunnels will include teenagers from Drylaw, in North Edinburgh cycling from Glasgow to Edinburgh – reaching Scotland Yard by the new cycle path along the Water of Leith. Expect lots of other imaginative touches to attract media and more good news.
In a two hour walk we have travelled less than a mile but covered far more ground than we can squeeze into this blog. What’s more, we have run out of time to follow Simon on his regular Friday visit to the Mosque because he must now rejoin the Neighbourhood Action Team, led by Police Sergeant Andrew Harborow, to complete their week of team work. But you can be sure he will be back to Scotland Yard very soon. Visibly.
Through the new tunnel to Scotland Yard.
Pictures by Nick Gardner, words by Fay Young