FOUR years after violent rioting put Tottenham on every newspaper’s front page for the wrong reasons, a church is playing a vital part in rebuilding trust between the community and the police.
St Ann’s, South Tottenham, has held a summer festival for schoolchildren for the past 15 years, but this year decided to dedicate it to improving community relations.
The Vicar, the Revd John Wood, is also a local police chaplain, and used his contacts to secure a visit by the Metropolitan Police’s Territorial Support Group (TSG) — the men, dogs, horses, vans, and helicopters responsible for riot control across London.
United around the theme of “Stay safe — have fun”, 1800 children from 12 local schools over five days trooped into St Ann’s for hours of live music, theatre, and talks. In between skits and songs performed by groups of students, officers from the TSG mingled with the children with their horses and dogs.
“This year, we used 150 different kids to do [a performance] of the history of policing from Celtic times to the present day,” Mr Wood said of the festival, which took place under the auspices of the Hope in Tottenham charity, last month.
“There is a whole educational thing here in Tottenham . . . about how the police are your friend, not your enemies,” he said.
The Borough Commander for the Met in Haringey, Ch. Supt Victor Olisa, said: “The Hope in Tottenham event at St Ann’s was another great example of police working with our partners and community to educate our children on the wide range of work that police officers do. I am definitely looking forward to next year.”
This was echoed by the head of the TSG, Ch. Supt Gerry Campbell, who said he was “astounded” at how well the event had gone. “I was astounded by the success of the event and how the children engaged with our officers. It’s pleasing to see that further engagement work is planned.”
Besides meeting pupils in St Ann’s, Mr Wood arranged for officers from the TSG to visit schools and housing estates to explain how they used horses and dogs, and tackle controversial issues such as stop-and-search.
“This is the big thing that alienates the community from the police,” Mr Wood said. Using role-plays and discussion groups, the police attempted to explain why they stopped and searched people, and they also heard from the students how they could use the powers better.
Mr Wood, who received an MBE last year for services to the Tottenham community, and who counselled police officers during the 2011 riots (Features, 3 August 2012), said that the police struggled to build any meaningful dialogue with young people on the streets of his neighbourhood.
“That’s why we are so committed to community engagement. I think that’s something the Church should be involved in.”
This year’s festival has built on a scheme at St Ann’s where young probationary police officers meet local teenagers inside the church when they are first assigned to Haringey, in an effort to build bridges and understand each other.
“Both sides said we want to come to the church because it’s neutral ground,” Mr Wood said. With the Met’s budget facing a further one-third cut by 2020, officers will become more and more stretched while trying to keep their community onside. In this environment, Mr Wood said, the part played by the Church as a broker was invaluable.