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Community help sought to fight graffiti vandalism

31 May 2007

With Christchurch’s graffiti vandalism problem now costing ratepayers almost $1 million annually, the City Council is calling on the community for its help.

Last night, the Council launched a city-wide volunteer programme designed to get local residents to sign up to help keep their community clean of graffiti.

"Key to the success of this programme is community ownership," says Council Amenity Maintenance Team Leader Richard Bailey.

"Taggers need to have their work seen and the best deterrent to keeping the city clean of graffiti is fast removal of any tagging, ideally within 24 hours."

He says with one can of spray paint, a tagger can create up to $10,000 of damage.

"Tagging brings fear and intimidation into a community but its fast removal helps to build strong communities by restoring a sense of community pride, safety and well-being for residents and businesses. This is the aim of the new city-wide volunteer programme," says Council Community Development Adviser Claire Milne.

"Volunteers are critical to the success of keeping the city free of graffiti vandalism and creating a safe community."

The launch of the city-wide initiative follows a successful six-month clean-up/eradication graffiti vandalism programme in Phillipstown. The Strengthening Communities Project was set-up in 2005 after a significant increase in tagging in the area which had a threatening undertone.

"The community had simply had enough," says Phillipstown Community Centre Community Worker/Manager Jane Manson.

The project has focussed on a collaborative, structured approach to restoration and social justice programmes for the removal and reduction of graffiti vandalism, and education and prevention programmes.

"Through restorative justice, there is an opportunity for victims to meet with the offenders and community and for them to take steps to repair the damage they have done. This is an important part of the process.

"It makes the offenders accountable for their actions and also is proven to stop them re-offending," says Christchurch Police Youth Aid Co-ordinator Bevan Seal.

The Phillipstown project has been a partnership with the Police, community, City Council, schools and youth. The success of the project has recently seen it extended into the Charleston area.

A comprehensive and planned approach to graffiti vandalism is recognised at the best way to achieve significant cost savings for local government, corporations, the local business community and property owners, says Strengthening Communities Project Co-ordinator Cheryl Hitchlock.

"As the Phillipstown project has shown, this approach has successfully reduced graffiti vandalism and created a new sense of community pride. When the project started, 28% of properties in the area were tagged. The clean-up has reduced it down to 4%.

"Through the Strengthening Communities Project, we are not just painting over the graffiti but also addressing the underlying social problems that have created the problem with the involvement from the Police, community and youth workers.

"For many offenders, they simply need to find a legitimate way to express themselves. The project helps them to find a voice, to be heard, understood and use their creative talents in an acceptable way. For the community, it is about recognising the difference between tagging and graffiti, and developing an understanding about the culture behind graffiti."

The project is successful because it directs offenders to develop their creative talents through tertiary courses and such programmes as Project Legit, a legal graffiti art project which educates youth on the history, theory, ethical and practical aspects of graffiti art. If not in school, the project has also been successful in finding participants employment within the community.

Under the city-wide Graffiti Removal Volunteer Programme, residents will be given clear criteria and guidelines to follow in helping to eradicate graffiti vandalism in their neighbourhood. This is an important first step for communities, Ms Hitchlock says.

"In the past, there has been an inconsistency in how graffiti/tagging has been removed. These guidelines will help to ensure the best results are achieved.

"Volunteers will need to register and through a supported and monitored programme be able to provide uniform, cost-effective and city-wide graffiti removal, while ensuring the protection of public and private property."

She says will intent fliers will be given to property owners before any work is undertaken and volunteers will be given guidelines on best practice methods for removal. This will include taking time to ensure it is a neat and tidy job"

For more information on the Graffiti Removal Volunteer Programme, pick up an information pack at your local Council Service Centre or phone the Phillipstown Strengthening Communities Co-ordinator on 377 6457.

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