Supporting the neighbours

Heather and Lyall in their Flagstaff office

Heather Styris and Lyall Duffus know all about being neighbourly.  Both work as volunteers for the North Hamilton Neighbourhood Support group, and have just moved into the police station at Flagstaff.

There’s always room for more groups, they say.  “We have several groups in the Horsham Downs-Gordonton area, but we’d be happy to talk with anyone interested in setting up one,” says Heather.

There are about 9000 households looked after by the North Hamilton Community Policing Centre, and 3600 households are part of a Neighbourhood Support Group.

The groups started overseas, and used to be known as Neighbourhood Watch, the name was changed in 1999.

“It’s still about crime prevention, but is more friendly, more about looking out for one another, rather than peering through the curtains,” says Lyall.

Heather’s group, which is in Bankwood Rd, holds a street barbecue every year which is very popular.

“People really enjoy it.  The key thing is, it’s a great way to get to know people around you, to tell them when you’re going to be away.  And the whole group keeps an eye on places, not just one or two people,” she says.

It’s also a good way to help police.  “There was one case recently where someone noticed a plain rental truck in a neighbour’s driveway.  Being members of a group, he called the person on the mobile and said ‘You didn’t tell us you were moving.’  The answer was ‘We’re not.’  A call was made to 111 and there were three cop cars there within minutes.  It’s much easier to convict someone caught in the act,” says Lyall.

He has been involved for five years, and says when he first tried to start up a group in Flagstaff no one was interested.

“I put flyers around my street, twice, and didn’t get one response.  Then something suspicious happened – a car came up the street one night, with no lights on.  They went into a driveway.  When they saw me they flew out backwards and hoofed it down the road.

“That was the catalyst.  I then door knocked on the neighbours, saying  ‘just be aware, if you see anything strange call the police.’  And then I asked if they’d like to reactivate the Neighbourhood Support group, and that was it.”

He says it doesn’t need to involve a lot of time.   “We’re not highly active in my group, most people are busy, but it’s good to know that support is there.  In my street, if an alarm goes off, we all whip outside.”

It’s important to know your neighbours, he says. “Especially when there’s an event like the Christchurch earthquake, it helps people be more resilient.  And when you know one another, you’re more likely to notice when something goes wrong.”

A classic example occurred in Hamilton a few months ago.  “Someone was away, and the lady next door was keeping an eye on the place.  She saw two kids slinking around.  It turned out one had been in court just that morning, convicted for burglary.  He’d gone straight from court, picked up a mate and was out casing places.  She called the police who caught these two wandering down the road, and they managed to get this kid back in front of the same judge before the end of the day.  His Honour was not impressed, and remanded them in custody.  So being proactive really made a difference in this case,” he says.

The Neighbourhood Support Groups are in Gordonton South, Horsham Downs Rd, Osborne Rd, Kay Rd and Sainsbury Rd, Puketaha.

Heather is at the Flagstaff police centre Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, from 1.30pm to 4pm.

  • To find out more, ring 854 6118.
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