In recent months Kettering has come in for some strong criticism from residents who have vented their frustration on social media about what they see as rising anti-social behaviour problems and escalating drug issues.
Working alongside the police at the coalface of dealing with the anti-social problems is a team of eight wardens employed by the borough council. Seven days a week they patrol the town’s streets and enforce the Public Space Protection Order which came into the town in July 2016. A multi-skilled role, they act as dog warden, parking warden and pest control officer and are also responsible for dealing with fly-tipping.
We joined warden team leader Bill Field to find out what’s in a day’s work.
Heading out on to Market Square in Kettering town centre our conversation straight away turns to the homeless living on Kettering’s streets. The official figure recorded at the start of the month is 17, a number that has grown gradually in recent years.
Speaking with, helping but also enforcing the behaviour of the town’s homeless is a significant and growing part of the everyday duties of Bill and his team.
Bill personally knows all of the town’s long-term homeless people by name and is aware of where they bed down for the night.
During our walk he points out various locations where people are sleeping rough, including the grounds of St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Market Square and the United Reformed Church in London Road.
One man is sleeping in a bush in Meadow Road Park.
He says: “Unfortunately some homeless people’s lives impact on the community. They sit on benches and drink, they beg and we have a big issue with shoplifting. The people we are dealing with are very complex and a lot of them are broken. They often have addictions and mental health issues.”
As well as sharing information with agencies such as mental health teams and addiction and substance abuse charities, the wardens use powers available under the town’s public space protection order. Banned behaviour includes begging, on street drinking, skateboarding, anti-social driving, swearing and loitering.
Enforcement of the town’s destitute is often criticised, but in his five years’ experience of doing job the Bill has found it can be the first step to someone moving on with their lives.
He gives the example of one man who had been living on the streets and had been demonstrating disturbing behaviour.
He said: “The magistrates ordered a full mental health assessment and it found that he was seriously ill. He was sent to a mental health facility in Cheshire and received proper treatment. I’m now led to believe he is back in Northamptonshire and doing much better.”
On-street drinking is also a problem in the town. On our walk at 11am we came across a group of three men drinking at the top of an alleyway. After a chat with Bill, who informed them that the town centre was a no drinking zone, they apologised and moved on with their cans in hand. He says they were shift workers who had met up after their night shift to drink together before heading to bed. On this occasion there was no fixed penalty notice given and Bill says that people will be asked to stop the outlawed behaviour first and if they refuse then they will be fined. Persistent offenders who do not pay their fines or continue with the banned behaviour are taken to court and the magistrate can issues a criminal behaviour order (CBO). Since the PSPO came into force in Kettering 17 CBOs have been given.
A staggered shift system means that wardens are on patrol from 8am to 8pm seven days a week. They work closely with the police and share a base with Kettering’s neighbourhood police team. They also do at least five hours a week of joint patrols with police officers.
Bill, who has an Army background, has praise for Operation Viper, the police’s high-profile crack-down on drug dealing and organised crime.
He said: “Operation Viper has shaken the tree. We were aware of the issues, but are now aware of the depth of them.”
He says crack cocaine and heroin use is a big problem. Recently spice (a synthetic drug) has made an appearance on Kettering’s streets but Bill says as yet it is not common.
All of the wardens wear mobile cameras to collect evidence. Bill has been assaulted a couple of times while doing his job and so the cameras can help in the prosecution of offenders.
A large part of the role is managing six pay and display car parks in the town and investigating environmental crimes across the borough such as fly-tipping, littering, dog fouling and abandoned vehicles.
Bill says: “The perception is that we don’t care and it couldn’t be any further from the truth. I love my job and my team are trying to make a difference. Where we are now is much improved on where we were 18 months ago.”
And I can vouch for the fact that Bill cares.
Helping to make sure our streets are safe, clean, and the vulnerable are helped, is an extremely difficult job and one that needs a bucket load of compassion and resilience to do properly.
Sarah Ward, Local Democracy Reporter