BY YANN TEAR
Residents living in the characterful Lots Village area of Chelsea are using social media to create a Neighbourhood Watch for the digital age – thanks to one man’s promptings.
A new WhatsApp group has been set up specifically to combat crime in the zone, which is designated as a conservation area, and Kensington and Chelsea council has become the first local authority in the country to set up WhatsApp street signage.
The hope is that the signs will act as a deterrent for crime in the area, especially theft from vehicles, which has been one of the issues in the area, even if not on an industrial scale.
Giso van Loon, a 46-year-old technology entrepreneur, who has lived in the area for the past five years, said such schemes were commonplace in his native Holland, and thought it time to set up something similar here.
“We don’t really have any major specific issues here,” he told the London Weekly News. “Crime in the area is already very low.
It’s a quiet and very distinct residential area, and we get the odd vehicle crime but very few burglaries, and we want to keep it that way.
“Neighbours have been very supportive. When they saw the signs going up, they asked why we hadn’t done this before, but it makes sense because most people already use WhatsApp and you don’t need a special app.
I think this scheme also gives people a sense of community.” The area is a diverse mix of commercial, industrial, retail, leisure, educational and residential properties, including well preserved Victorian terraced housing.
It is also home to the much-loved 606 Jazz club in Lots Road. As well as making the area safer, it is felt the community-led initiative will allow residents to provide regular updates about activities in the area, and strengthen neighbourhood bonds.
Councillor Gerard Hargreaves, lead member for community safety, said: “Utilising modern technology to fight crime is definitely the way forward, and the residents in Lots Village are making best use of simple-to-use but very effective tools.
Hopefully their example can be spread across the wards of Kensington and Chelsea.”
The network is easy to join and allows residents to share information regarding suspicious activities in the area, criminal acts or any other areas of concern which can then be fed back to the local police force or emergency services.
Safer Neighbourhood Sergeant David Bavey said: “This is a prime example of communities taking proactive action to assist the police and local authority in combating crime and anti-social behaviour together in their areas.”
There are presently 50 members of the WhatsApp group founded by Mr Van Loon, with many from the local residents’ association signing up – that means one in 10 households are involved.
If you are interested in joining the group, you can enrol by emailing email@example.com.