Fostering fear at Easterhouse

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The Independent Online
Prince Charles took Jacques Chirac to Glasgow's notorious Easterhouse estate yesterday to teach him all about urban regeneration and community participation. Ever since the film La Haine (hate) was released, depicting the violence on a run-down Parisian estate, the French president has been under pressure to do something about inner-city deprivation in France. But why choose Easterhouse?

The racial divisions that dog inner-city areas of France are in contrast with the "social harmony" of Easterhouse - an area that now has its own Initiative and Development Corporation and is attracting a lot of money from the Scottish Office and the European Social Fund. However, there are divisions developing in Easterhouse - not racial divisions, but divisions based on fear and insecurity. Divisions that are being fostered by a little shop of horrors known locally as the Greater Easterhouse Community Safety Shop.

The "safety shop" is always kept locked - for safety reasons, of course - and it is plastered in posters warning of a thousand and one reasons to stay in bed, hidden under your covers. "Stop before you answer the door!" "If in doubt keep them out!" "Who is it?" "What do they want?" "Save a life, bin a knife!" "Beware of gas leaks!" "Stop attacks on buses!"

Fire-safety leaflets, similar to ones I received as a child, wishing you a "Fire Safe Christmas" have been distributed to adults across Easterhouse. Follow-up leaflets, for those that couldn't understand the first, are now available, reminding you to "Make sure all cigarettes are extinguished properly before going to bed." In case you still don't get the message, smoke alarms are freely available.

The Community Safety Shop is part of the Safe Greater Easterhouse Project, and is concerned with every risk imaginable, including the issue of "safety from the fear of crime". The project has been one of the most successful at winning grants from the Scottish Office: pounds 680,000 has been awarded to fix mortice locks, door chains, door viewers, hinge bolts and window locks onto every house on the estate. Stickers and even more leaflets have been distributed to encourage the occupants to use these locks properly. So you may have no job, no possessions and no money; but you can have the best smoke alarms and window locks in the business.

Money not spent on the window locks initiative has been spent on luminous waistcoats for children at primary school. As almost 80 per cent of Easterhouse kids get a clothing allowance, and only 18 per cent of adults have a car, I assume the purpose of these waistcoats is to keep the kids warm.

As these children grow up and leave their shiny wee jackets behind, they will face the anti-vandalism initiative. This "learning experience" involves children making a large frieze of their area, then taking it to an instructor and having it destroyed. "See how you like it!"

Their next treat is the "pioneering" anti-crime campaign, in which undercover police attack children in a "controlled environment" and pretend to stab them, while a woman grabs another child and tries to force it into the boot of a car. Later the same kids are taken to a pretend rave and shown "how easy it would be to get a spiked drink from someone you trusted". The lesson learnt - you can't trust anyone, especially those you trust. And if it's all getting too much, and you just want to go home - don't!

The Safe GE project surveyed the women of Easterhouse and found that the crime they were most worried about was being attacked in the street. Nonetheless, the project workers are now educating these women that street violence is in fact a panic, and what they are really at risk from is their partners. I guess this is one panic Prince Charles knows all about.

The writer is a youth worker in Glasgow.