Today’s alleyways no longer have the quaint Coronation Street-style feel as they did in days gone by.
Many are now seen as threatening places – dark, lined with brick walls or fences, with no colour and plenty of possibilities for crime.
But a new campaign is calling for neighbours to come together and take ownership of their alleyways, transforming them from intimidating crime hotspots into mini-community gardens.
The Royal Horticultural Society is calling on communities to transform unsightly, neglected alleys into green havens, after a recent RHS survey of 231 gardening groups found neglected areas were often problematic because of crime and the fear of crime.
Disused alleyways were a particular concern because they are a perfect access route for burglars.
The RHS It’s Your Neighbourhood campaign – part of Britain in Bloom – is offering advice on planting up neglected spaces like alleyways and helping people to find funding for projects.
Stephanie Eynon, RHS community horticulture manager, said: “A lot of groups that have renovated disused spaces like alleyways which have been prone to vandalism and anti-social behaviour have reported that vandals sometimes continue but this is extremely short-lived.
“If they steal planters, do graffiti or whatever, they soon notice that the planters are put back and the graffiti is removed – not by the council, but by residents. These once disused areas become looked-after, used, lived-in, part of the community and vandals are put off by the fact there is a strong community presence.
“Groups report that vandals don’t return. Whether it’s through fear of being watched, the fact that there are people physically now in these areas is off-putting to them.”
A number of housing estates in Corby were designed to be car-free, with the alleyways winding through the estate considered to be safer for young families and children.
But over time they began to feel unsafe and encourage crime.
Corby Council has done a lot of work to tackle the problem, including closing off some of the alleyways on the Kingswood estate.
Improvements were also made to a problem alleyway on the Hazelwood estate.
Kim Buzzard, of Corby Council, said: “It was badly littered and a hot-spot for flytipping, with hedges growing into the alley and people were saying they didn’t feel safe walking down there.
“As part of our regular weeks of action, we litter picked, investigated the flytipping for evidence, then had it removed. We worked with Community Payback to cut the hedges and swept the alley. After this the wardens and police community support officers patrolled on a regular basis to deter people from hanging around in the alley and to help prevent fly tipping.
“This had a positive effect and complaints have stopped coming in. The cut hedges made the alley wider so when passing someone you felt safer using it.
“In the past we have also installed motorcycle inhibitors where we have had reports of motorcycle nuisance.”
A group of residents in Northampton has taken up the RHS challenge and worked together to transform a communal green area.
Neighbours in Spring Boroughs, one of the town’s most deprived areas, formed the Castle Environmental Group and carried out work to improve the green spaces around the high-rise flats.
With funding from the local council, charities and businesses, they bought tools, installed water butts and compost bins, and built two polytunnels.
Now their operations are largely self-sustaining, growing their own plants from seed and making use of reclaimed building materials to develop garden structures. With 11 regular volunteers, they’re an enthusiastic and committed bunch.
Group chairman George Howard said: “People love what we’re doing. I get stopped in the street all the time and told how much of a difference it makes.”