10/06/2014 12:26 BST | Updated 08/08/2014 06:59 BST

Canadian-style 'Safe Houses' Can Slash Youth Violence

We rarely hear the Prime Minister or members of his government talk about the "Big Society" nowadays. The idea behind it was simple. It is in most cases always better to get government out of the way of individuals, and to encourage the voluntary sector and local people to take a lead in improving their communities.

I recently championed such an idea in my report, "Home Safe Home". In London, there were 22,236 reported cases of youth violence between April 2011 and March 2013. 11-14 year olds were victims in over a third (8,213) of these crimes. These are worrying statistics, and my report looks at highlighting innovative ways in which people could step up to help make vulnerable kids safe, in a low cost way. I propose setting up a pilot of Canadian-style "Safe Houses" in five small communities across the Capital. Under the scheme, local people, who have been security checked and interviewed, could open up their homes to children and older people if they are in trouble.

Known as "Block Parents", volunteers would sign up to the scheme at their local police station and go through enhanced security checks. If successful, they would be interviewed at home by the programme, before being given adhesive window signs and placards, with serial numbers and watermarks, so they cannot be replicated or stolen. To ensure safety, local volunteer coordinators would input vital details such as names, addresses, and serial numbers into an online database. Canada has about 25,000 - 30,000 Safe Houses currently. It costs about $1,500 (approximately £820) to recruit 10 Block Parents in a community with 25,000 residents and three primary schools.

Safe Houses offer a safe place if you are bullied, mugged, followed or attacked, but the prominent signs and placards would act as a deterrent to gangs, muggers and child abusers, who would think twice before committing a crime. I have urged the Mayor of London to pilot this scheme in the Capital. The cost to the public purse is minimal, as demonstrated in Canada, where the bulk of the small cost of recruiting volunteers and producing signage is met by businesses. It's one way to make our neighbourhoods safer by encouraging closer working between small communities and local police teams.

Safe Houses are a great example of bolstering local communities to take back control of their areas, without an expensive price tag and the interference of a large bureaucracy. It sends a message to those individuals who blight housing estates up and down the country, that thuggish and anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated.

Andrew Boff's report: "Home Safe Home: Safer Neighbourhoods through Safe Houses and Citizen Patrols" can be accessed at: