HertsWatch is the umbrella organisation which oversees the maintenance and development of Neighbourhood Watch across the county of Hertfordshire. It was established in 2006, when the then Chief Constable, Frank Whitely, held the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) responsibility for Neighbourhood Watch. He wanted to ensure that Hertfordshire had a strong and vibrant organisation in place.
The Hertswatch committee was made up of a representative from each of the ten districts, but the governance and funding at that time was organised by the police. The aim of the committee was to offer help and advice on setting up Watches, recruiting volunteers, developing the Online Watch Link (OWL) (www.owl.co.uk) database and messaging service, and ensuring consistency and continuity across the county. Household membership was very low at that time.
By working together, HertsWatch was able to galvanise effort and encourage new volunteers to join the system as road, area or ward coordinators. As with all volunteer work, key figures in the organisation served their time and utilised their individual skills to develop the Watches in their districts. Two of our current District Coordinators have been members of the Hertswatch committee since its inception, so have clocked up 13 years’ service each. They have given much time to assist new District coordinators, have linked with the National movement and have been instrumental in maintaining links with the senior officers in the Constabulary and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC).
In accordance with the European Social Funding figures, Hertswatch volunteers put in an equivalent of over £5m of effort each year.
All district coordinators have established a good working relationship with their Safer Neighbourhood team officers, and with colleagues from the Fire and Rescue service. In 2012, HertsWatch became totally independent from the Police. They took control of their own finances and governance, and established a Memorandum of Understanding with the Constabulary and the OPCC.
Our membership was less than 20,000 in 2006 but we have seen a rise to over 140,000 during 2018. We are deemed to be the largest NhW community in the country, with 33% of the homes receiving OWL messages.
In 2016, the High Sheriff of the County presented us with an award, having appreciated the huge contribution Neighbourhood Watch was making to creating safer communities. The dedication of the HertsWatch group was recognised again in 2017, when a local councillor in Three Rivers recommended the group for the Queens Award for Voluntary Service. The announcement that we had won the prestigious award actually came as a surprise to us all, as there had been a time lapse between application and confirmation, but it was an absolute honour to be presented with the award, and for me to attend a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace last summer on behalf of the group.