How Doncaster volunteers are helping deal with lockdown breaches, domestic violence and fears over shopping

It’s in place to hold Doncaster police to account – and it could have already helped contain the spread of the coronavirus.

By David Kessen
Friday, 9th April 2021, 5:00 pm

The Doncaster Independent Advisory Group was scaled up 18 months ago from an organisation keeping an eye on issues like stop and search, to look at wider issues, and work with more communities.

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Months into the plan the pandemic struck – forcing meetings online. But those involved with the sessions feel it has shown its value.

Jenny Dewsnap, who chairs Doncaster Independent Advisory Group, with Ch Supt Jayne Forrest

The group is chaired by Jenny Dewsnap, the woman behind Doncaster Pride.

Members include refugees,asylum seekers, people with tourettes, transgender people, pensioners, the Chinese community, black residents, Muslims, and the Roma and Slovak communities.

They are keen to expand with members from any backgrounds.

Chief Insp Jayne Forrest, the senior officer driving the scheme from the police side said “We feel it is a way to bring a diverse community together. It gives people a voice and accountability to the Doncaster command team."

She feels it has already had an effect, dealing with issues arising from the coronavirus.

"When the pandemic first hit, we were concerned there may be a wave of hate crime against the Chinese community, because of links with the pandemic to China. That never really happened in Doncaster. We were able to ask the group ‘are we missing something?’

"There has been a slight increase in hate crime – but it’s been neighbour disputes as a result of lockdown where people have thrown in offensive language.

"But it is about digging below the data, knowing if there is tension.”

She also feels work in Hexthorpe helped deal with lockdown breaches last spring.

It became apparent there was a problem with residents breaking rules, socialising in groups outside. It was discussed with members of the community within the group.

It became clear those who were out did not use social media to get lockdown messages and many did not speak English.

The result was leaflets were published in other languages and circulated on the estate.

Some still gathered outside, but Ch Insp Forrest feels it was less than would have been the case if the action had not been taken

"If we’d not put the leaflets out, I think we may have seen incidents of disorder,” she said. “You can’t measure what you prevent, but we had no issues of social unrest.”

There have also been discussions around domestic abuse, leading to a scheme allowing victims to use a codeword in chemists’ shops to get support. All chemists in Doncaster signed up.

Pensioners’ views have also led to action. Concerns were raised about the shopping area in Nostell Place, Bessacarr, with some saying they felt vulnerable there.

It led to a crime reduction survey recommending improved lighting. The advice is being passed on to Doncaster Council.

Ms Dewsnap said the group had helped put communities in touch with important services, including help access mental health groups and helping socially isolated people to find support.

She said: "I expect the roadmap out of lockdown will be a source of new challenges, and that will probably shape what we do in the next sixth months.

“There is a collective willingness to look at issues, and it gives me comfort to know that.”

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.