2 August 2002

RURALWATCHDOG

In the latest of the Farmlife series celebrating

key figures in rural communities,

Tim Relf meets a Rural

Community Warden

IN HER distinctive green-and-white uniform, Jane Durrant is becoming a familiar figure in and around the Kent village of Staplehurst.

Shes recently become the areas rural community warden – one of 10 introduced across Kent as part of a groundbreaking County Council and Police initiative.

The wardens, who work closely with the police, aim to combat crime, cut the fear of crime and deter anti-social behaviour and vandalism. "The eyes and ears for the police," is how Jane describes her role.

The day Farmlife visits, shes security-marking tractors on farms with PC Mark Carron. But her brief to "act as a visible presence in the community and a focal point for concerns about crime" can embrace a multitude of tasks.

She might be listening to residents concerns about youths; she might be meeting farmers at the opening of a farm shop. "I dont know what each day will bring," says Jane.

Her role is partly about "visual reassurance". Hence the uniform which, she hopes, make her recognisable and smart – but also casual enough to be approachable.

The wardens will also support the community and help people to help themselves, she explains. "Even if you just solve one problem, thats one less."

Theyll help local residents access the services available to them from the council and other local agencies; and support victims of crime, together with the elderly and the vulnerable.

"If people can help themselves and work together, they can draw a community in together. Everybody should be looking out for each other.

"What people always want to know is what powers Ive got," says Jane. "The wardens have no more powers than anyone else. Weve got the power of common sense and we are professional citizens.

&#42 Talk and listen

"What we must be able to do is talk and listen – and have a sense of humour."

And in this respect, she thinks her background is a big plus. Shes had many farming-related jobs including milking and a spell with auctioneers Hobbs Parker.

"Farmers would rather talk to people who know what theyre talking about. I hope theyll get on well with me because I talk their language."

Plus, shes worked for Ashford Borough Council as a gipsy liaison officer. "If I can do that, I can do anything."

Indeed, it was the word "rural" in the job title that first attracted Jane to this post. "Anything rural interests me," she says.

"Because Ive worked with the public before, that helps, too," says Jane, whose farming credentials also include a National Diploma in Agriculture from Bicton College.

Jane has, however, undergone intensive training to help her become a successful warden. Everything, in fact, from first-aid courses to studying wildlife law and training in unarmed defence.

On her rounds, she carries a first aid kit, a personal attack alarm, a powerful torch and a mobile phone. But shes unfazed by any possible dangers the job may bring. "Weve been taught that if we are in a situation that could be dangerous to retreat, observe and get on the mobile."

If she were to witness a bank robbery, for example, shes adamant the best thing she could do is "watch". "Wed be far more use having seen it, than being a dead hero. Our safety must be paramount. If we are not safe, we cant help any one else."

PC Mark Carron reckons the polices efforts to combat thefts of – and from – motor vehicles, burglaries and criminal damage will all be helped by the wardens presence.

&#42 Reducing crime

Reducing crime – and the fear of crime – among farmers is also an important goal of his in the face of thefts of high value plant such as tractors and ride-on mowers. "Farmers feel isolated," says Mark.

Kent County Council council leader Sandy Bruce-Lockhart is vowing to increase the number of wardens to 100 within four years. "People in rural areas can feel very vulnerable and for many people there is an everyday fear of crime.

"Feeling safe in your own home is a basic human right and I have every confidence that this scheme is going to achieve great things," he says.

In Staplehurst, Jane – in her distinctive uniform – is at the sharp end, working hard to improve the quality of rural life.

Community warden Jane works closely with Kent Police.