Gillingham families are in fear of using a community skate park due to escalating anti-social behaviour.
Social media groups connected to the town show comments from upset and angry parents whose children and even themselves have been the target of threatening behaviour. Reports include verbal and racist abuse, aggressiveness, littering and the smoking of illegal substances by a group of young people frequenting the skatepark near RiversMeet sports facility in Hardings Lane.
Zoe Bell, mother of two from Marnhull, told the digital Blackmore Vale: “My daughter Charlotte, who is only 10, experienced extreme verbal abuse when she went to the park. She was so upset.
“There’s so much bad language being spoken and a gang play really loud music with foul lyrics. It just puts you off taking your children there. Since my daughter was verbally abused, we just won’t go.
“Even as an adult, I’m scared as these troublemakers don’t pay any attention to other adults who have challenged them. It’s appalling that so many well-behaved children are unable to use the park because of these kids.”
Reports mention children as young as 12 behaving aggressively towards adults who challenge them, preventing others skateboarding by sitting on the ramps smoking and watching porn on their phones with graphic commentary. Some adults declined to speak to us for fear of reprisal and blame lack of parental control.
According to David Sidwick, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, anti-social behaviour, (noisy dogs, noisy neighbours, litter, vandalism, public drunkenness – in short, anything that makes people’s lives a misery) – is a growing issue across the county.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time visiting sites across the county which have been affected by this problem, to learn more about it and what I can do to provide more support. Where possible this has been in person or alternatively virtual, including recently speaking with Gillingham residents.
“I’m aware of the skate park issue as are the police. I know many residents across Dorset are concerned about anti-social behaviour and I’m determined that this will be tackled.’’
Responsibility for dealing with anti-social behaviour (ASB), is shared between a number of agencies as well as the police and local councils. This creates delays and confusion. Dorset Police www.dorset.police.uk/help-advice-crime-prevention/safety-in-your-community/asb/ state they are aware that victims can feel helpless, bounced from one agency to another and then back again.
To combat this problem, changes have been made to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014), placing the victim at the heart of the response to ASB and giving police and other agencies flexibility in their response.
This led to the development of the Dorset Community Trigger – Dorset Council, giving victims and communities the right to request a review of their case to “bring agencies together to take a joined up, problem-solving approach to find a solution to anti-social behaviour.”
Any Dorset-based resident, community or business may use the Community Trigger to request a review of their case. The community may be a loose group of affected residents or a formal community group such as a residents’ association.
For over four years, Gillingham Town Council has funded the Outreach team from Gillingham Rendezvous, helping local young people find solutions to issues they may have.
Newly appointed Mayor of Gillingham, Councillor Paul Harris said: “We recognise that some recent behaviour at the park has upset parents of younger children. We can approach this in a variety of ways. Solutions are found through interacting with our young people, understanding the motivation behind their behaviour and what they see as the solution.”
“Rendezvous Gillingham has helped many young people and has a presence around the town, including at Hardings Park. We’re also working in partnership with the local police, specifically our local PCSOs, who work closely with the community ensuring that, where appropriate and proportionate, police action is taken.
Councillor Harris confirmed that CCTV is provided at Hardings Park and footage is available for the police to draw on as necessary.
“In general, our young people in Gillingham respect each other and we don’t suffer from excesses of other anti-social behaviour, such as graffiti, that occur in other towns.”
However, problems at the skate park have been going on for a long time with perpetrators largely unchallenged, as Zoe Bell explained:
“These aren’t isolated incidents. There have been numerous issues over 18 months. It’s so sad that a really great community facility is ruined by a handful of kids who just don’t know how to behave.”
Along with other Gillingham residents, she would like to see regular police presence at the park and believes incidents should be reported to nearby Gillingham School, urging others to do the same: “We need to keep reporting to the police and the local school. Although the kids causing problems aren’t in uniform, the school may know who they are.”
Head Teacher of Gillingham School Paul Nicholson said: “It’s most unfortunate and upsetting that a small minority of young people, whether they attend our school or not, continue to involve themselves in anti-social behaviour. We will continue to work closely with partners in our wider community to address these behaviours.
He added:’’ At Gillingham School we’re proud of the role that we play in our community.
Young people during the pandemic, perhaps more than any other generation, have been a force for good and an inspiration to many of us.
“The vast majority of our students make an outstanding contribution, often involving themselves with local charities and volunteer work. We continue to remind all students of their responsibility to make a positive contribution, indeed one of our core values is ” to treat everyone with kindness and dignity.”
Dorset PCC David Sidwick added: “Working closely with Dorset Police, with local authorities and with other partners
, I am absolutely committed to clamping down on anti-social behaviour, and this will form a key element of the Police and Crime Plan I am currently developing. I will be looking to address the short term need and the roots causes of the problem. Residents deserve this and we will tackle it.”
TO GO IN PULL-OUT BOX?
How to report anti-social behaviour – advice from Dorset Police
Don’t turn a blind eye to anti-social behaviour. If you see it, report it.
You can report anti-social behaviour online here or by calling Dorset Police on 101. In an emergency, where life is at risk or a crime is being committed, always dial 999.
If we are not able to deal with your complaint directly ourselves, we will give you advice on which local agency can help and how to contact them. We work very closely with our partners to deal with anti-social behaviour, including all local authorities.
No matter how you report anti-social behaviour, all complaints are treated as confidential. You don’t have to worry about your identity being revealed.
By: Tracie Beardsley