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Starting a Neighborhood Watch - VISIBILITY is key


You've held your first meeting, your community is behind you and you have a committee to get started with. Now the REAL work starts!

One of the important aspects of a NHW is visibility. You need to mark your territory, identify your members and ward off opportunistic criminals. Your first task as a NHW is to make the criminals life just a little bit more difficult.

Signboards are a well used deterent and show an active and alert community. This of course costs money! Before we talk money though, let's talk about those signs and what works and doesn't. Experince has taught me that signage needs to be visible and eye catching featuring your project logo prominently. Ideally you want reflective boards so that when a cars headlights hit the sign they're distinct. In addition to this you actually DO want the house's number on it. Yes, it makes a little extra work for the person putting the sign up, but it REALLY does help when the police or emergency response services are able to find the right address that much quicker. When ordering your signboards, have the manufacturer throw in vinyl numbers that you can fix onto the signs (include a few a's and b's in case you have those in the area too).

I've always believed that 400cm x 400cm is a respectable size for a signboard and when mounted at about 1200cm from ground level it's perfectly in the headlights of passing cars. Don't skimp on quality if possible as these signs need to endure winter weather and the UV rays of summer without fading. Normally you'll be able to get good quality signboards at around R30 per board including spare vinyl letters.

Now this is where the money comes in. You see you only get good pricing really on boards if you make them in reasonable quantities and have a few spares to place prominently around the corners of your area and in problem spots (parks etc.). Most NHW's charge a basic fee of about R50 a year to help cover signage and basic admin costs. It should be a reasonable fee and use common sense if some of the elderly folks can't afford it - the elderly members of the community are vital to your projects success as they're typically home all day and easily see things that are out of place in the area. Don't let R50 to a pensioners meagre budget scare them of from being members.

You'll find that most NHW's stick to a firm rule - pay your subs then you get a signboard and not before. This is also your first opportunity to get people involved as patrollers, to get to know them and identify any skills that they may have that can contribute to your project. Are they medically trained, do they have a policing or security background? Perhaps there's someone out there that can offer basic self defence classes?

A NHW isn't just about crime prevention, it's about drawing a community closer and learning more about each other. Use the tools that you have available within the community. If you have a graphic designer in the area, don't be shy to draw them in to help with your designs, try to find someone who writes well to manage your newsletter (www.mailchimp.com is fantastic for easily managed newsletters). If you have nurses, paramedics etc. see if they'd be prepared to help in an absoloute emergency where they're closer than an ambulance etc. Being prepared is the first step!

Growing a NHW isn't as hard as many people see it to be. It certainly doesn't have to. You need to remember that people are inherently introverted and keep to themselves. They're reluctant to get up and get involved if they don't know other people that are involved. Taking the time to chat to people when canvassing door to door is a great start, get to know people and really DO take an interest in them. If you visit just two non-members an evening for 10 minutes, you'll see a major growth spurt happening. Once people see the social and community aspect it gets easier.

Now that you have a plan for signboards (remember to get three quotes to be fair and transparent) it's the right time to look at something like a "meet the neighbors" session. These are terriffic ways to get to know the people around you, invite people to join you at a central spot like the local park or community hall etc. and arrange a braai or just coffee so that people can socialise and discuss what the NHW can do in the area. It's a lot of fun and a great way to get more people on board and spread the workload.

Remember that having a committee is one thing, but you need more hands on board to spread the workload.

In the next article, we'll discuss running your monthly NHW meeting. What should be included, who should be present, what each person should give feedback on - and of course how to keep it all on track. If you find these articles useful, please remember to like the page you saw it on so that you can easily stay up to date with the next articles - and of course don't be shy to share them :)