Feeling safe starts with a simple ‘hello’

ACT Neighbourhood Watch president Margaret Pearson… “You really need to know what’s going on with your neighbours because police can’t be everywhere.” Photo by Danielle Nohra

“TWITCHING-curtain parade”, “vigilantes”… Neighbourhood Watch has been called many things over the years, but its ACT president Margaret Pearson says its role is a lot simpler than people imagine.

Neighbourhood Watch groups in Canberra don’t spy on their neighbours or chase baddies, but share the simple goal: get to know the neighbours.

Margaret, of Farrer, says if people know their neighbours then they’ll notice when something odd happens and can report it to the police or Crime Stoppers.

“You really need to know what’s going on with your neighbours because police can’t be everywhere,” she says.

“It’s as simple as saying ‘hello’ and it’s not difficult.”

The idea is that knowing the neighbours means they’ll keep an eye out for anything strange happening when you go on holidays.

But there’s more to Neighbourhood Watch than that, says Margaret. The groups around Canberra inform the community about current scams, provide bushfire tips, as well as information on reporting domestic violence and preventing crime.

“A lot of it is opportunistic crime and preventing it is by doing things like locking doors,” Margaret says.

She says it’s also about creating a community that doesn’t forget its  neighbours.

Neighbourhood Watch’s current community has about 5000 members in Canberra, with new groups starting in suburbs such as Coombs and Holder.

While not all suburbs have active groups, Margaret says it’s not hard to get started.

“We really just need a key person within the group and then we help them set up,” she says.

Margaret gave the Farrer group a new lease on life after she attended the Woden district Neighbourhood Watch meeting, with her husband, about 17 years ago.

“It’s really up to you to do something about your neighbourhood. We blame the government or police but it’s our responsibility,” she says.

“So many people say: ‘What do I get out of it?’ You gain a lot from getting to know your neighbours and getting to know your community.

“It’s about protecting your home and vehicle and protecting yourself.”

And, Margaret says, the Farrer group, which has the largest number of members in the ACT, has one of the lowest crime rates in Canberra.

“There’s no responsibility for a member to do anything, but if you join we hope you get to know your neighbours,” she says.

“In the long run it pays to know and get on with your neighbours. It’s much better if you have a problem with your neighbours to meet them before the issues arise.

“If you’re interested in the community and want to put something into it, it’s a great thing to do.

“And it’s free to become a member. All you need is a police check.”

To join an ACT Neighbourhood Watch group visit nhwact.com.au

What to do

Margaret’s top tips for holidaying Canberrans:

  • Tell a trusted neighbour when and for how long you’re going.
  • Make sure all doors and windows are locked.
  • Put a stop to getting papers and mail or ask neighbours to collect it for you.
  • Don’t leave the car outside, put it in the garage.
  • Don’t leave a ladder leaning on or near the house.
  • Don’t leave tools around (robbers could use them to break in).
  • Leave lights on in the house or a radio so it appears that someone is home (an automatic outdoor light also helps).
  • Don’t shut the house up too much, otherwise robbers will know you’re away.
  • Know the right number to call: if a robbery is happening in the present, call 000. However, if it’s already occurred then call the police on 131 444 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333000.
  • Clean gutters if away during the bushfire season.



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