We were in a situation where a small group of residents (30+) had set up an estate chat group on the (Facebook affiliated) Messenger platform, an instant messaging network (similar to the WhatsApp platform I had been using regularly myself). As we were near a resolve with the issue, the group conversation had slowed dramatically and only intensified when an ‘event’ happened on the estate. The events were forming a disturbing pattern of anti-social and criminal events, so I proposed to the group that it’s primary purpose now be to alert us of ‘security issues’. We all agreed this was a good idea, so from this our network was born. As simple change of title to ‘Banner Watch’ was all that was needed, and we were in business!
There is little to choose between various messaging systems such as WhatsApp and Messenger etc, but there is a possibility that more users have Messenger installed on their smart–phone, as at one point Facebook actively added the platform as an integral feature. It is now an independent add-on or ‘App’ that can be downloaded in the normal way to smart–phones, laptops, notepads etc. And should not require a Facebook profile. In reality, the platform in itself, is not important, it is just a free service that provides a large group message feature. (It is suggested that Messenger had a limit of 150, but we have far exceeded that. I cannot seem to locate an actual limit online).
We established a simple agenda, that the group be self regulated and general chat to be kept to the minimum. The main criteria I chose to use is ‘ please add good guys only’, an American term that is pretty much self explanatory, meaning to use your judgement and only add people you know and trust. Youngsters seem to join and leave, not really understand that a quiet network is not exciting, but it is good. “No news, is good news!”. On this experience you will find members exit when incidents are low and re-join when they need you. People are fickle and everyone has their own reasons to join, as in all groups in life!
To support more general chat and for those that were alarmed by the constantly chiming messages when a concern is active (you can turn of notifications chime in ‘settings’) some of the more active members decided to set up a similarly named, ‘static’ Facebook page, also called Banner Watch so residents may visit for more historical info, much like a Neighbourhood Watch report. Members are free to relay relevant information from the ‘live’ platform and also other estate noticeboard pages that they may see any kind of relevant posts in the local areas. This voluntary sharing of relevant posts allows us to have a spiderweb of network info across a massive area of Coventry, and all info is welcome.
A by-product of members wanting to chat and physically meet lead to a number of Bannerbrook, community chat groups been formed as off-shoots, on parallel messenger groups, including a mother& baby group, ‘Bannerbrook mamas’. ‘ Bannerbrook Ladies’ and ‘ Bannerbrook Blokes’ which are social chat rooms with volunteers setting up support websites for all residents who wish to join and socialise within them. i.e. we have created a number of new and active estate online community chat forums and increased active membership of our voluntary Residents Association too ! We have brought our community closer together. People now walk past you and say ‘Hello’ and smile!
Another idea was to try to reach out to local CCTV system owners, so we created the ’CCTV Local Network‘ that allows owners to seek and collate security data, trade their private system information and also offer an advice forum for residents enquiring about D.I.Y. system purchase , professional fitting, servicing, tuning and upgrading advice and recommendations etc. We also have security system fitters and professional CCTV operators on-board that may be called upon to offer system or even legal advice if needed. This means, if my cameras didn’t get a good picture, my neighbour 2 doors up, or the ones opposite will. None of us sit all day watching screens, but systems continually record and if someone asks about a time window, you can gues 4 or 5 people will pool good information for them. The night vision on 1080 HD cameras is like daylight vision, but in black and white! One of our guys has his tuned so finely it can see in colour in the dark! I am still fine tuning my system and am researching new technologies such as ‘Nite Devil’ cameras.