Vandalism and Theft are two of the key factors to consider in the creation and running of any public greenspace. Many people are put off from creating things by the prospect of vandalism- the fear that whatever they build will be destroyed overnight. Whilst nothing can guarantee to protect against vandalism, there are possible choices and actions which may help:
1. Planting on the Greens Edit
Trial and error on New Southgate Millennium Green seems to have improved our success rate with damaged and stolen plants. Immediately after the initial planting of shrubs and other plants on the Green by Council contractors there were a number of thefts of plants. During the first few years of the Trust planting trees etc, immediate vandalism destroyed a number of precious trees. We developed a system for planting which has reduced vandalism and theft considerably.
1. If you are in an area prone to theft, you may have to forgo planting in very public events- one of our trees got stolen before we even got to plant it and on one day all the plants that were planted whilst various local children were watching were pulled up overnight, whilst those planted when they had gone were not found and left untouched. Choose a wet day- which is good for the plants anyway- and maybe no-one will notice the newcomers.
2. All new planting should be left looking as if it had always been there; this means putting a sheet down or a wheelbarrow to catch all soil while you dig, not leaving tell-tale soil messes afterwards. Also, remove all labels from the plants, which not only identify a new plant but encourage people to steal it and sell complete with label- such things appear in car boot sales. If planting into grass, cut a cross in the turf and peel it back; plant, then put the turf back as neatly as possible.
3. All trees and shrubs should be firmly staked and tied to their stake with a tree tie nailed in place - this helps protect the plant from being easily snapped. Most of our staked trees are left alone, most of the unstaked small trees were snapped or mauled by dogs.
4. In extreme cases, where attack is very likely we have had trees removed repeatedly until we wrapped them in firmly fixed chicken wire and planted with stinging nettles. That worked!
5. Identify areas most prone to attack. We stopped planting too close to a vulnerable pathway- they seemed to just reach out as they walked along.
6. Get to know as many of the local youth as possible. Whilst you may never be their friends, they may be less likely to cause trouble if you at least know their names. Getting the young children involved- with their parents approval- may help, but do be very careful working with children and expect most of the children to disappear, or sometimes even turn against you and the Green at a certain time as they grow up.
The golden rule is to remove it all as quickly as you can. Nothing is more disheartening to you than watching your hard work destroyed- the same is true of the graffiti artist or tagger, if you quickly paint over their name two or three times, they may well give up.
There are specialist sprays that remove all sorts of graffiti, but they are quite expensive. Keep an eye out for any groups doing a community cleanup initiative and invite them to your Green. Ask the council if they can help you with tools and material- although the land may be yours to look after, graffiti anywhere on their patch looks bad. Also, ask about Community Payback people doing cleanups. Be careful with the chemical solvents that you use- especially paint on your paint. We ruined one of the original signs in New Southgate by removing the graffiti and the text below with it.
On New Southgate, we found that PETROL is one of the best cheap paint removers! It removed spray paint from other paintwork and various better than any other everyday solvent. We have used a WIRE BRUSH on tree bark, successfully removing paint without the bark coming off.
Structural Damage Edit
Sadly it is necessary to build everything accepting that vandalism will be attempted. Park benches need to be fixed down firmly into bolts and concrete foundations. Materials and designs need to be substantial enough to resist at least the most casual attempts to damage them. Usually, like graffiti, damage can be reduced if you quickly repair their damage so the "work" of damaging the structure is "undone" quickly.
Theft of Metal Edit
It is known that a number of Millennium Greens have suffered from theft of metal gates, metal seats etc. Canley Ford, for example had their two metal sculptures stolen the day before they were to be concreted in place. With the great rise in the theft of many metals, Greens may have to choose different materials, or lock gates and fix things down more to prevent theft. Even ordinary iron or steel can be targeted, but any fancy bronze or stainless steel may be asking for trouble; vandal-proof screws and welding may be required for these.
Theft of Tools Etc. Edit
On New Southgate Millennium Green, we do a Tool Walk, after everything is supposed to have been put away, and regularly find a tool that has been forgotten. During volunteer days, tools can be stolen while we work if we get too far from the tools. At New Southgate a wheelbarrow was stolen while left unattended for too long. Petrol for mowers MUST be returned to lockers and sheds immediately. The risk of children making off with a can does not bear thinking about. It may be useful to have a central place to put tools during a session, or even someone at that place, perhaps someone unable to dig and mow, who is prepared to sit and read a book. All our tools are marked with bright, fluorescent paint to discourage theft and locked in a place with a barred window and reinforced door and hinges.