Agenda item

Community Action Team - Update


The Committee received a report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change which provided an update on the work of the Community Action Team (for copy of report and presentation, see file of minutes). 


Jennifer Jones, Team Leader for the Community Action Team and Graydon Martin, Neighbourhood Intervention Manager were in attendance to deliver the report and presentation.  The Community Action Team Leader explained that the team is a small team, working alongside key partners and residents to tackle local housing and environmental issues and deliver community action projects. The team, which was launched in 2013, had delivered 41 projects to date, covering 28 locations across County Durham. Project locations are carefully chosen using factors including public health data, levels of deprivation percentage of private lets and the number of empty homes, to identify areas of greatest need.  Newly available antisocial behaviour data has been used to inform locations for 2023-24.


The Committee received information on the work carried out during 2021 to 2022 which comprised of 6 eleven-week projects and 9 reviews of previous project areas and during the presentation Members viewed ‘before and after’ photographs which demonstrated improvements made by the team in response to issues such as the accumulation of waste, flytipping and housing disrepair. 


The Team Leader highlighted the multi-agency working which is carried out with bodies such as town and parish councils, Durham Constabulary, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service and colleagues in other services, including housing and licensing.  The Committee heard that projects begin with an initial meeting at which partners agree their participation and an action plan is put in place for a 7-week period.  A review takes place 6 to 12 months after each project is completed.  Performance monitoring is undertaken by reviewing casework and gathering feedback from surveys completed by residents and landlords, at the end of each project. 


The Team Leader also provided information on funding which is provided through the community protection budget, which also funds the work undertaken by Groundwork North East and Cumbria, to deliver community-based events and activities, such as volunteering and training sessions.  Concluding the presentation, the Team Leader highlighted future project locations for 2023-24 including Coundon, Chilton, Deneside Seaham, Annfield Plain and West Ward, Newton Aycliffe. The Chair thanked officers for the presentation and invited questions and comments from the Committee.


Councillor Charlton asked if there had been any comparisons done on the cost of delivering the service against the amount of income generated from the payment of fines.  Officers responded that they were not aware that an exercise of that nature had been carried out as income generation was not the main objective, however, they assured the Committee that steps are taken with regard to the non-payment of fines, for example through court proceedings and legal charging orders placed on properties.  Officers undertook to provide details on income generation for future update reports to the Committee.  In response to a question from Councillor Charlton as to how the work of the team can influence wider issues such as problems caused by empty properties, the Team Leader explained that serving legal notices increases the debt on properties which can act as a lever for the intervention of the Empty Homes team. 


Councillor Adam asked how success is measured and whether analysis is carried out as to the number of locations which required repeat visits as they had reverted back to their former state when the work of the team concluded.  Councillor Adam also asked whether follow-up work is carried out alongside other teams, to embed improvements.  In response, the Team Leader explained that during the exit stage, ongoing issues are identified which are followed up at the review stage.  In addition to the work of the Community Action Team, the Safer Communities Team also carry out interventions and Neighbourhood Wardens patrol hotspot areas. 

Groundwork North East and Cumbria undertake community and education work including litter picks and voluntary clean-ups to embed behavioural change. The Team Leader confirmed that it had been necessary to carry out repeat visits in some areas and she explained the Horden area had benefited from external funding to establish the Horden Together Project. The Neighbourhood Intervention Manager commented that one of the main aspirations of the work is to raise confidence within communities in order that residents can see for themselves that, through their reporting, action will be taken. 


In response to a question from Councillor Adam on the scope of the educational work, the Team Leader responded that this includes visits to schools by the Fire and Rescue Service, the Police and the Civic Pride team and the work of Groundwork North East who carry out training sessions and work with youth and community groups.  The Team Leader agreed to discuss the plans for the future project at West Auckland with Councillor Adam, following the meeting.


Councillor Potts observed the table comparing percentage change before and after by location and raised concern that some areas had declined following the team’s withdrawal and he asked what action could be taken to maintain standards. The Team Leader referred to the outcome for Shildon and explained that the review took place during a Covid-19 pandemic lockdown period and also followed the Christmas break, however action was taken as soon as possible, to address the issues. The Team Leader also spoke of difficulties in obtaining evidence, however, she stressed that when evidence is available, the aim is to ensure those responsible are held to account.  In response to a question from Councillor Potts as to how the team collaborates with the Police, the Team Leader replied that the Police are invited to attend planning meetings and their knowledge is important for identifying hotspot areas and to inform on local issues.


Councillor Kay said he was looking forward to welcoming the team to Coundon.  He commented on the value of the work in terms of community investment and he added that the work the team carried out in 2016 had stood the test of time.  He highlighted the benefit of the networking meetings which bring people together and he emphasised the importance of ensuring the work is inclusive of smaller communities.


Councillor McLean asked whether the work of the team in some locations of the county is, at best, simply managing a decline.  He referred to the work done by the former district councils and their ability to react to community issues quickly, such as assisting the elderly with their bins and removing rubbish from yards. 

The Team Leader clarified that the team must exercise caution when clearing private properties and she highlighted that community work is carried out to educate residents on their responsibilities.  The Chair agreed to pass Councillor McLean’s comments to the relevant service.


Councillor Wilkes referred to interventions available to assist those who need it, such as assistance provided by the Yard Clearance team and Neighbourhood Wardens and he added that whilst the Council provides assistance to those who require it, it also has a duty to promote personal responsibility. 


Councillor Quinn asked whether a percentage figure was available for the locations which had remained at the level they were at, when the Community Action Team concluded their work.  The Team Leader responded that it would be difficult to quantify as it would require like for like walkabouts to be carried out and variables could not be controlled.


Councillor Sutton-Lloyd provided his view that public confidence is gained when tangible evidence exists and he suggested that it may be useful if Members could identify areas for targeted, promotion work to be undertaken.  Officers highlighted that Members are invited to engage in the work and specific issues, such as anti-social behaviour are addressed through the work of the Community Safety team.




That the report and presentation be noted and a further update on the Community Action Team be included within the Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny work programme for next year.


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