Place, crime and insecurity in everyday life: A contemporary study of an English town

Lead Research Organisation: Keele University
Department Name: Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences


In this project we investigate how people living in one English town, Macclesfield in Cheshire, talk about and act towards a range of threats that they regard as impinging upon their safety (their personal bodily integrity, their property, their locality, their wider habitat). Such threats include but are somewhat wider than those traditionally brought under the umbrella of the 'fear of crime' and include new forms of risk, and risk-consciousness, made possible by the digital revolution. When people encounter such problems they often hope to see action on someone's part to address them (the police, local authorities, schools, central Government, private security providers, parents, for example). What do differently-situated people take to be the sources of security and insecurity in that town, and how do they act towards them? What do people worry about, talk about, seek protection from, avoid or manage today? What demands do they make upon responsible authorities, and what happens if those are not met?

In the mid-1990s, members of this research team addressed earlier versions of some of these questions through a two-year study of people's fears and feelings towards crime and social order in Macclesfield in Cheshire. We published the outcomes of this work in a book, Crime and Social Change in Middle England (2000), and a number of articles, as well as a short report for local circulation. In this proposal we argue the case to return to Macclesfield, a quarter of a century later, to undertake a new study of people's everyday experiences of security and insecurity against the backdrop of rapid social, political and technological change (notably, the digital revolution, migration, austerity, and Brexit). The advantages of such a return are clear: they provide a comparative baseline for thinking about social and cultural change with a clarity and confidence that are not otherwise possible.

In our earlier study we used a range of methods to interrogate local 'crime talk'. We lived in and around the town. We attended meetings in the Town Hall and community centres. We collected newspaper reports and many other documents. We held focus groups in residential areas, workplaces and social settings. We conducted biographical interviews with residents 'old' and 'new'. In our new study we propose to add to these approaches in a number of ways. We will draw upon newer methods that have evolved to capture people's uses of, and responses to, their internet use and online identities; and we will deploy deliberative methods both to help us capture local voices as forcefully as possible and to bring perspectives arising from the research more directly into the frame of policy and decision-making. We therefore plan to organize our work under the following seven strands:

Strand 1: Contextual data gathering and analysis (months 1-6)
Strand 2: Systematic observations of locations within the town (months 2-31)
Strand 3: Two half day local deliberative security workshops, each with 40 residents of the town (month 7)
Strand 4: Investigating and analysing forms of 'security talk' (months 8-25). This encompasses i) focus group discussions; ii) biographical interviews; iii) textual and pattern analysis of discussions about crime/security on digital platforms; iv) written or visual contributions to project website by members of the public; v) individual interviews on security experiences.
Strand 5: Governing local security (months18-28) - interviews and focus groups with police and other agencies and professions
Strand 6: Local security survey (month 26-30)
Strand 7: Deliberative security solutions conference (month 30).

This array of approaches will enable us to involve people in diverse life circumstances in the project. This will help capture important aspects of security and insecurity in contemporary life and inform public debate about the qualities people seek in crime control and security in democratic societies.

Planned Impact

Designing and delivering security arrangements and enhancing the sense of safety for members of the public in the ordinary settings of their daily lives are among the most challenging tasks facing police services, local authorities and other agencies today. In England and Wales new developments in the policing and security landscapes - especially the creation of elected Police and Crime Commissioners - are oriented towards enhancing democratic accountability for and public involvement in these activities. At the same time, the changing landscape of crime threats calls for new policing and community safety strategies beyond the supply of visible police authority in public spaces.

Our research will help to refine and inform strategy, policy and practice in these respects. We will work closely with Cheshire Police, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner , Cheshire East Community Safety Partnership and other bodies locally and nationally to ensure that findings and insights from this research are shared, discussed and integrated into policy and practice development. The study has been designed in close consultation with Cheshire Police and with the Police and Crime Commissioner and we have enthusiastic commitment, and letters of support, from both bodies. We have also had discussions with the College of Policing and they have offered their support in maximizing the impact of the research on the national policy stage.
We will assemble a Local Reference Group to reinforce the capacity for co-production and to optimise the impact of the study. The Group will consist of local practitioners and residents with the purpose of ensuring that local users of the research can inform decisions regarding the implementation of the research design as well as advising for local impact and dissemination activities.

In addition, we plan the following activities designed to maximise the impact of the study:

Output events: The deliberative conference that we have integrated into the later stages of the work is designed both to enable further and more refined data gathering on our part and to provide a key stage in advancing dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders both amongst statutory agencies, third sector bodies and the wider public. Dissemination of the outcomes of such engagements offers the opportunity to widen the scope of such dialogue and discovery from the local to national and international levels.

Materials for training and professional development. We anticipate using research as the basis for writing a range of policy and practice briefs for use in training and professional development for police and community safety practitioners. We are in contact with colleagues in the College of Policing and with the Chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council, both of whom have indicated their strong support for our work. This means that have open channels of communication that will enable us to inform training and strategic thinking at the highest levels of police decision-making.

Engaging public dialogue. Throughout the study we will maximise opportunities for fostering public dialogue through the use of social media and the writing of blogs and 'op-ed' pieces. We will also use the project website as a forum for ongoing engagement with residents and practitioners about the research. We also plan to make a number of short films on the theme of 'everyday security today' which will use Macclesfield and the data we generate as its core resource. We will work with FRANKSFILMS (, a professional film production company with an excellent track-record in making imaginative and accessible films with researchers. The film-maker will engage with the research at key points throughout the research. We envisage using the films both to inform public deliberation about the topic and for use in practitioner training.


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