Article submitted by Colin Brown, Winner of Ruud Kleinpaste Award 2016

I enjoy being a member of Keep Levin Beautiful (KLB) and am proud of what we have achieved. Recognition of my work through the KNZB Rudd Kleinpaste award for 2016 was very much appreciated. Like other branches, different Levin members are involved in a variety of projects including improving our town’s gardens, organising clean-up week and best street competitions, organising planting programmes, looking after our town information kiosk and working with other community groups and schools.

My particular KLB focus over the last few years has been on removing tags and keeping our town tag free. The good news is that as a community we have largely been successful, The bad news is that when I drive through other towns it is clear that we are all facing the same challenge. I hope that other branches will find Levin’s story useful.

It started for me when I moved to Levin and counted nearly 50 tags in the central shopping area alone. I told the then mayor and KLB and we all agreed it was not a good look. We needed to do something about it. At the time it looked like a pretty entrenched and complicated problem and we were unsure what would work. However, with the support of like-minded councillors and KLB, the council agreed to set up a small community task group made up of key council staff, councillors, police and members of KLB.

Initially this group met monthly to pool ideas and come up with an agreed plan. We co-ordinated tag removal, worked through tricky issues (for example, tags on private property) and kept an eye on how we were going. A small quick-response team of volunteers, including KLB members, was formed and supplied with different coloured paint and cleaning material from Resene Paints and the council. This group took on the job of removing existing tags and once this was completed they undertook to remove any new ones within 24 hours. Owners of tagged private property were offered volunteer help and free paint to remove tags and we took every opportunity to spread the idea of Levin being a tag-free town.

As the tag-free town goal took hold, a number of neighbourhood paint-out working bees (involving service groups, neighbourhood policing teams and schools) were held and supported. Critically, the council also set up a system to encourage community members to report any new tags either by phone or through the council website. The mayor, police and other community leaders often came out publically in support of the work that was going on and this helped sustain a positive can-do attitude.

The Mobile Alert app was integrated into the council system to enable a tag monitoring group, which included KLB members, to send photos of any new tags and their locations directly to the council. The current system is that a designated council staff member logs reported tags, actions one of a number of removal options and records when it has been dealt with. A regular tag report is also discussed with police and the council’s Pride and Vibrancy committee to ensure the system is working well and we are on top of any outbreaks of tagging. This council managed process is central to the success of our efforts.

We have been evolving this integrated approach over a number of years and we have learned a lot over this time.

  • We learned that success breeds success and you can overcome initial public scepticism by getting stuck in and showing people how quickly you can make a difference.
  • We found most tags were quite old and possibly represented many years of undealt with tagging. Once these were removed the number of new tags was quite manageable.
  • We learned from talking to students in our schools that our children don’t like tags and become anxious and fearful when they see tags in their neighbourhoods. They put tagging at the top of their list of concerns.
  • We learned that a focus on removing tags needs to go hand-in-hand with other positive initiatives within the community that give young people a sense of pride, inclusion and ownership.
  • We learned the value of persistently focusing on a simple goal and that that goal needs to be supported by key staff members within local bodies and other agencies such as the police.
  • We learned that it takes time to change attitudes, to get community buy-in and to set things up so they become business as usual.
  • The biggest thing I have learned is that lots of people are keen to help, it is worth making the effort and that there is no better feeling, than driving through your town and not seeing a single tag.

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