Community Spirit A Powerful Reviving Force
28 Oct 2007
SEAMS the result of Determination and Cooperation
The pits had shut. Businesses were putting up the shutters left, right and centre. And the thieves were having a field day. Then one day a single shocking and dastardly act set something powerful and wonderful in motion. That’s the day that one shop owner said, “Enough!”.
That’s the day that the South Elmsall and Moorthorpe Shopwatch was born…at least the idea of it.
On that day back in 1995, in broad daylight, a man in a mask jumped out of a car and used a hammer to try and break the window of a school uniform/jewellery shop on the High Street in South Elmsall. The shop belonged to a spirited young woman named Karen Harrison, who immediately called the police, but by the time they had arrived, the perpetrator had broken the window and gone. Nothing had been taken, but neither could the would-be thief be identified or prosecuted for the damage he’d done. But Karen had had enough. It was either shut her doors or do something about it!
There wasn’t a day that went by when shop owners in that and neighbouring towns didn’t live with and deal with loss of profits resulting from rising business crime. Shoplifters were thumbing their noses at them because nothing was done. Vandals were roaming the streets causing damage to property. Parked cars weren’t safe. Nothing was safe. Female shop assistants were afraid to walk to their cars at night, and businesses were suffering to the point of closing their doors for good.
That’s when Karen approached Crime Prevention Officers John Parks and Dave Reevell. They in-turn secured three in-house CCTV kits and commandeered the help of a man named Steve Coy to design a Ring-Round list for all the shops and come up with a Watch scheme that would work.
All Steve had to go on was a bunch of phone numbers scribbled on scraps of paper, a lot of local knowledge, and a whole load of pride in that small village. That was the beginning of SEAMS. Steve and Karen set to work getting every shop owner involved and trying to raise the money to get the equipment they needed to get the scheme going.
The first Ring-Round list was a black and white photocopied affair, as were the first unrecognisable mugshots. But in less than 18 months the membership had gone from 5 to 29, and the ring-round list was now in colour! Photos from the first November ’98 meeting were used to produce a calendar, which allowed the group to open a bank account with the £75 they made from them. Steve and Karen bullied everyone they could to get things done (and get them to part with their cash) in order to make this a successful community effort because the future of that village was at stake and they were determined not to let it die.
Six years later the scheme had over 80 members and the difference was amazing. They had been able, by a variety of means, to purchase additional CCTV cameras with radios linked to them so that shop owners could communicate more efficiently than with the initial ring-round system. Crime was on the wane, because now the criminals were being seen and prosecuted with CCTV evidence.
There were no empty shops on the High Street. The quality of businesses in the area had improved with chain stores moving in. Shop employees no longer felt intimidated by the criminals. The whole area had rediscovered its sense of community and the locals felt much safer and more secure. Crime had dropped dramatically in just three years time!
Because of the efforts of groups like SEAMS, the Home Office has had to take a good long look at the effects of business crime on the economy and on the development of communities as a whole. It is increasingly becoming a part of local councils and government agendas with some watch schemes and business crime iniatives attracting funding to expand and spread best practice.
Every business can play a part in bringing business crime down. In South Elmsall and Moorthope the criminals no longer rule the roost and the hammers have been taken away. It’s all the result of something that no amount of money could buy – a cooperative community spirit.
Written in 2001, by the late Steve Coy, founder member of SEAMS.
South Elmsall and Moorthorpe Shopwatch still operates today with this year seeing the organisation celibrate over 12 years of successfully working together to keep business crime down and make South Elmsall and Moorthorpe safer areas in which to trade, visit and shop.