Two recent tragic deaths in the City's Middlesex Street Estate has local resident Ian McPherson asking, shouldn't we all be looking out for each other just a little bit?
On 12 September, City of London Police officers attended the home of a male resident on the Middlesex Street Estate.
Inside, they discovered the dead body of the occupying tenant. At the time of writing, I do not know who this person was, and none of the neighbours with whom I am friendly seem to know much about him either. However, it appears that his body had lain undiscovered in his flat for some time.
This sad and sobering story is made worse by the truly shocking revelation that just a few weeks earlier exactly the same thing had happened on our estate.
In July, during the recent heat wave, the body of another male resident was again discovered in a flat in Petticoat Square.
The man reportedly lived alone and had passed away at home, lying undiscovered for enough time to have elapsed that it was the smell of decomposition that seemingly alerted the authorities to his death.
I cannot claim to know anything about either of these two men and it would therefore be remiss of me to offer any speculation about their individual situations or the circumstances around their lives, or their deaths.
However, the fact that two such events could have occurred within such close physical and chronological proximity is certainly something that warrants some introspection, don’t you think?
It seems incredible to me that, within the space of a few short weeks, two different members of our community died, alone and unnoticed, yards from where the rest of us were living out our busy lives.
Perhaps the most pertinent question to ask is what this says about the rest of us. I cannot help but wonder whether either of these deceased residents had any kind of local support network or anyone to look in on them every now and then to see if they were OK.
I don’t know the answer to this, and to be clear, I ask these questions not in an accusatory tone but rather in a reflective one. I am a practicing social worker, and am therefore well versed in the scourge of loneliness and isolation in our society; an issue that I know very well disproportionately affects older people.
But I will readily admit to being as guilty as anyone else in getting wrapped up in my own little existence and paying scant regard to those who live immediately around me.
The recent deaths lead me to wonder how many residents living on the Middlesex Street Estate might be isolated, lonely or vulnerable. Is there anyone who might appreciate a friendly knock on the door now and again, just to have someone to check in with them and see how they are?
Might anyone find it helpful to have a neighbour fetch them the odd pint of milk? Again, I simply don’t know, but I suspect the answer is yes. All of this brings me on to a recent conversation I had with Common Councillor Jason Pritchard about his plans to set up a Neighbourhood Watch scheme on the Middlesex Street Estate. I think this is an absolutely fantastic idea.
The fact that there are persistent antisocial behaviour problems plaguing the estate and its immediate surroundings will be obvious to any resident who has eyes and ears, and I have written about such issues in this column before.
However, Councillor Pritchard’s pitch to me about his proposed Neighbourhood Watch scheme took me a little by surprise.
“It’s not just all about crime,” he says, challenging my clichéd stereotype of Neighbourhood Watch schemes involving twitching net curtains in leafy, middle class suburbs.
“Coming together as a community to address antisocial behaviour is obviously really important.
“However, Neighbourhood Watch schemes that have been set up elsewhere have also successfully helped to promote a greater sense of community cohesion, as well as helping address important issues such as social isolation and loneliness,” he told me.
“My vision is to see if we can all work together to promote a greater sense of neighbourliness towards one another.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a place where we all looked out for each other a little bit more? That’s what a good Neighbourhood Watch scheme should strive to achieve.”
He went on to say how he has aspirations that the community will take ownership of the scheme.
“It’s not all about top-down stuff. Local people know and understand their local issues better than anyone else, and Neighbourhood Watch schemes work best when local people come together to address concerns they collectively hold about their community.”
Effective engagement with stakeholder partners is also essential. Councilman Pritchard explains that the City of London Police has never before been involved in a Neighbourhood Watch scheme, but he has been liaising closely with them on this project and the force is coming along to the two community workshops that have been arranged for 20 September (one in the daytime and one in the evening to ensure as many residents as possible can participate).
Also in attendance will be a community engagement officer from the National Neighbourhood Watch Network, an organisation that has helped local people set up schemes all over the country. Park Guard, who undertakes the estate’s security, will also be present.
Given the sad recent events described, Councilman Pritchard appears to be proposing an idea whose time has well and truly come.
He says he is very keen for as many interested residents as possible to come along to one of the two workshops he has organised in order to have an open discussion about what type of Neighbourhood Watch scheme people would like to see developed.
The two Neighbourhood Watch Workshops will be running at 12.30pm and 6.30pm on 20 September at Artizan Street Library.
Ian McPherson lives on the Middlesex Street Estate with his partner and young daughter.