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Newmarket group helping to make neighbourhood safer 10 years on




The founder of what may have been the first online Neighbourhood Watch in the UK is celebrating its tenth anniversary today.

Newmarket man Mick Smith, who had become frustrated over what he thought was a lack of police action after his car was broken into and his stereo stolen, set up a Facebook page on May 21, 2010, to warn other people in the area to be on their guard.

“At the time, I didn’t realise there had been a spate of vehicle break-ins in Newmarket which the police were looking into and it wasn’t just me,” said Mick. “If I’d known that, I would have been much more alert with my own car and I thought that giving other people an immediate warning when vehicle break-ins and thefts from garages were occurring would be a real service.”

Admin team Will Owen, David Wright, Bodek Grzech, Mick Smith, and Shawn Toyn. Also involved is Kevin Law. Picture taken before government ordered lockdown and social distancing measures.
Admin team Will Owen, David Wright, Bodek Grzech, Mick Smith, and Shawn Toyn. Also involved is Kevin Law. Picture taken before government ordered lockdown and social distancing measures.

The response to his page only confirmed what a good idea it had been and from small beginnings with an initial membership of about a hundred, there are now nearly 7,000 members.

Mick and Will Owen, who joined the group a couple of weeks after it started up, have also helped other groups to create similar schemes both locally, in Exning, Fordham, Isleham and Red Lodge, and nationally.

“It dominated my life for quite a long while,” said Mick. “But now we have an awesome team of six who put in a bit of time each and I am very proud of what we have achieved.”

Mick said that to start with the police were a bit suspicious of the group’s motives.

“I think they were concerned that we might be vigilantes,” he said. “But once they realised we weren’t, we have had no trouble at all.”

Will, who like Mick lives in Freshfields, said the job of the admin team was to monitor posts and comments to ensure they were not malicious or offensive in any way.

“We also put a lot of effort into making sure reports we post are genuine and that crimes have always been reported to the police and have a reference number,” he said.

“Since the coronavirus restrictions started, government statistics show there’s not as much crime and that has also been our experience but we have still covered a range ofissues from missing people to honey bee swarms,” said Will who soon dealt with the latter as he keeps around 50 colonies at sites around the area.

“It certainly doesn’t seem like 10 years since Mick set it all up and asked me to join,” said Will. “It’s good that we have been able to inspire groups in some of the local villages because the public is better served by people who know their own communities.

“We have just gone from strength to strength and we’re not only what I believe to be the first facebook Neighbourhood Watch in the country, but we are also one of the biggest.”

The site can be visited at www.facebook.com/nktareapublicnotices/