After firefighters were called to a spate of deliberate fires in Daventry town centre in 2017, the consensus was that something needed to be done to tackle a growing and worrying trend.
That year saw fire crews called out 77 times to public areas to tackle flames that had been deliberately started, putting not just the perpetrator at risk of injuring themselves, but also putting at risk firefighters and members of the public.
It was at this point that leading organisations in Daventry came together – and the end result was Operation Unite. The scheme works to reduce arson and anti-social behaviour in and around Daventry town centre and is run as a partnership that includes amongst others Northamptonshire Fire & Rescue Service, West Northamptonshire Council, Northamptonshire Police, Daventry Town Council and Neighbourhood Watch.
Norm James was a Watch Manager at Daventry Fire Station at the time Op Unite was formed and remains heavily involved in the scheme in his new position as a Community Safety Officer for the fire service’s Prevention team.
He said: “We were getting a lot of deliberate fires in the town centre, but I think it was one event that triggered it. There was an incident in the High Street and some bins were set on fire next to a House in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) and it stopped anyone escaping from the flats because it was smoke-filled.
“We started looking at deliberate fires and went to a council meeting where the Community Safety Partnership was, and we aired our concerns as there was a big discrepancy between our figures and the police’s figures – which was down to the different ways in which they were recorded.
“With the endangerment to life that these fires posed we started working with all these organisations and co-ordinated with each other to do what we could to drive those figures down.”
And the improvement has been stark. Those 77 deliberate fires back in 2017 had dropped down to 17 in 2021, a massive decrease of 78 per cent across the Daventry district. Equally as impressive was that 26 of the deliberate fires in 2017 were in Daventry town centre, but there have now been no deliberately started fires in the town centre in 2020 and 2021.
And Kirsten Bates, a Police Community Safety Officer (PCSO) in the Daventry Neighbourhood Policing Team, has attributed that success down to a new joined up way of thinking across all the services.
“It just highlights and demonstrates the positive partnership working we have here in Daventry,” says Kirsten.
“In the past we (police and fire) would have worked on our own, but now we work together.
“Where I have worked in the past there was very little partnership working and over the years that has developed and definitely since coming to Daventry we’ve worked together on a huge amount.”
Other aims of Operation Unite include promoting water safety – with partnership work from the Canal & River Trust and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – as well as creating a safer environment in the Daventry district, reducing waste issues and fly-tipping working alongside Norse, and educating local businesses about fire safety.
Events that the partners have organised include a town centre survey to gain feedback on issues affecting the area, a day of action on the Southbrook estate to share fire prevention and community safety advice with residents and two Emergency Services Fun Days at Danetre and Southbrook Learning Village.
The success of Operation Unite is no doubt food for thought for Norm in his new role, which sees his patch stretched to the entirety of West Northamptonshire.
He said: “Everyone was doing their own little bit but there was no linking up and it was named Operation Unite as we wanted to unite all these partners.
“It was originally for Daventry town centre, and then we moved into areas like Southbrook and have continued to branch out. I see no reason why a similar scheme can’t be made to work in other areas of the county.”
And Kirsten Bates added: “It’s something that has been mentioned about doing cross county and a lot of different areas are now working with similar concepts.
“The partnership working didn’t stop during lockdown either. We’re proactive as well as reactive and we’ll look at each issue as it occurs, not just from a police or fire perspective but from a joint perspective.”