Back in February 2003, following an unusually quiet advice surgery at the Ivy Street Community Centre Jack Straw decided to take his staff for a quick drink in the Ivy Hotel next door. It was a quick drink, but not quiet. An impromptu meeting developed in the public bar – with vocal complaints about crime, poor housing and juvenile nuisance. There had been a couple of (unlinked) murders, much of the property on Mosley Street was in declining condition, the atmosphere amongst residents was of depression. It was clear that some immediate action was needed.
Jack hit upon the idea of holding a public meeting which he would chair, at which the Chief Executive of the Council, Chief of the local police, the Leader of the Council, housing officers and local Councillors would be present. By a simple process of delivering letters to every property in the area (about 1000) the meeting was publicised.
The main hall at Ivy Street Community Centre was packed. In spite of relentless heavy rain on the day people just kept turning up. The atmosphere at that meeting was highly charged. Many residents were angry and felt let down. Their area was due for clearance but progress had been slow, resulting in a general decline and an increase in crime. As nothing like this meeting had happened before there was also cynicism – many thought that we’d just turn up, listen to what was said then disappear. So it was vital that not only would resident’s concerns heard but also that they would be acted on and Jack would report back and hold follow up meetings.
It’s possible to look back on that meeting as an historic turning point in the local democracy of Blackburn. Several further meetings were held at Ivy Street and approaching 50 in other centres around the town. Each time the atmosphere improves. At that first meeting the police received a really tough reception and came in for much criticism. In sharp contrast at recent meetings they have received spontaneous applause for their hard work and responsiveness. The Lancashire Constabulary are now rated as the best force in the Country. Many of the ideas of community policing that they have put in place are based on issues raised and ideas suggested at residents’ meetings.
Residents meetings continue to this day, chaired by Kate Hollern MP.