Saturday 30th June 2012
By Baroness Helen Newlove, Government Champion for Active, Safer Communities, Department for Communities and Local Government
If fate had not intervened, I would still be an ordinary wife and mother, campaigning against local anti-social behaviour due to underage drinking; preoccupied with bringing up three young daughters and worrying about frail elderly parents. I am fiercely proud of them and my working class roots. I was brought up, and try to pass down, values of self-control, and respect for yourself and to those around you.
Our comfortable world was shattered on 10 August 2007. My husband Garry was punched and kicked to death by a gang of drunken, drugged fuelled teenagers in front of our screaming girls, practically on our doorstep. He had asked who had damaged my car.
Heartbroken, I vowed that Garry would not be just another statistic. My daughters and I launched “Newlove Warrington” to raise aspirations in young people-Peter Kay and Rick Astley performed at a fund raiser and we set up a ‘community project’ radio station in Garry’s memory (he loved music and was a part time DJ). Two guests who were interviewed were David Cameron and Gordon Brown (then the Prime Minister).
In July 2010, I was elevated to the peerage by the Prime Minister. He has been warm, encouraging and a huge support to me these past years. He has always treated me with respect, courtesy and deep humanity and understanding. So I do not recognise the remote ‘posh boy’ label some try to pin on him. We share a common belief. Everyone should be happy and safe in their own home and neighbourhood. No one should ever violate that. State employees who have little idea of our reality, must work with local people to enshrine that right. David Cameron put me in the House of Lords to be a voice for people who do not usually have a say. I was a PA to a legal firm and had worked in courts. But now I witness many injustices in the way victims are treated in the Criminal Justice process at first hand. I added my support to the Sobriety (alcohol offender) programme now on trial. I want to see it established nationally. I also co-chair the APPG for Victims and Witnesses.
I became Government Champion for Safer and Active Communities 18 months ago and produced three reports. I spent six months in the Home Office and selected seven ‘Newlove Neighbourhoods’ who I mentor and champion, still. Great leaders are building united communities mostly as volunteers, abetted by sympathetic agencies. The red tape that tied them down has given me an insight, and for the past year I have worked in the Communities Department closely with Eric Pickles and his ministerial team, advising on ‘busting barriers’.
But my burning desire has always been to get to grips with underage and binge drinking that continues to devastate our country. Innocent victims of anti-social behaviour are fearful and hopeless. I took the Chair of a prestigious board called Community Alcohol Partnerships where local solutions to local alcohol abuse issues are helping to drive down ASB by double figures and is welcomed by the police and local authorities. I am now waiting for positive support from government to roll that out as fast and widely as we can. Anything that is proved to save lives should be embraced.
At last, and to my delight, I can announce the launch of ten areas selected to benefit from the government’s £1m Alcohol Fund. Bury, Greater Manchester; Chelmsford, Essex; Cornwall; Durham; Lincoln; Maidstone, Kent; Moseley, Birmingham; Newcastle; Shropshire and Wakefield, West Yorkshire, will tackle alcohol abuse in their areas. They will work in close partnerships over two years. I shall monitor their progress, and spread their success. We will also make small one off grants for innovative projects from non- winning applications.
I am not a Minister or a politician. I cannot claim to understand the jargon and practices of the civil service or Government. And I do not play games-I have not the time or inclination. I am Helen Newlove, propelled into this position by circumstances I wish with all my heart had not happened, as I said in my maiden speech. I know I am hugely fortunate to be given the opportunity to make a real difference to real people’s lives. The people, just like me, who are battling against the tide deserve no less. Garry deserves no less.