A crackdown on anti-social behaviour, drug-taking and alcohol consumption at a historic church building in Kirkcaldy is proving to be a success.
Regular patrols by the community wardens alongside work by the police and the Fife Alcohol and Drug Partnership are now paying off at the Old Kirk.
The move follows an escalation of complaints about incidents in the grounds of the B-listed building and churchyard last year.
There have been issues at the Old Kirk for a number of years, but in September the problem came to a head with local councillor Kenny Selbie taking the lead in pulling Council services and other agencies together to see what could be done to reduce the incidents of anti-social behaviour.
Councillor Selbie, who is also chairman of Fife Council’s safer communities committee, said: “In response to an escalation in complaints, it was arranged for the community wardens to begin making daily patrols to monitor the area and to report incidents where groups of people were congregating to consume alcohol.
“Incidents of drug use were also identified which resulted in the removal of discarded needles.
The grounds are misused by a minority who do not seem to understand their behaviour alienates them from their peersRosemary Potter
“The wardens have continued to patrol the area on a daily basis and have worked with the Fife Division of Police Scotland and the Fife Alcohol and Drug Partnership.
‘‘The police have also redirected their route to the town centre to cover this area.”
As a result, the Kirk’s grounds have become less of a magnet to anti-social groups.
He added: “Within the past four-six weeks the level of anti-social behaviour has reduced significantly, although regular patrols will continue for the forseeable future to ensure the area remains safe.”
When wardens first started patrolling, they were finding 20-30 needles every DAY in the church grounds.
Shoplifters used it to stash their goods, and it was a place used by drinkers.
Brian Westwater, lead officer for the Fife community wardens, said: “We were recording the items we were finding on our systems and monitoring the area up to three times a day. We would remove the items and assist the caretaker.
“Prior to Christmas we were finding security tags which had been take off clothes or bottles, as well as jars of coffee which had been hidden.”
People who were found congregating in the Old Kirk grounds were asked to move on - and since the start of this year, the problems have decreased.
There are fewer needles and bottles and cans being uncovered.
“There was only one incident of drugs paraphernalia found in January and one again in February,” he said.
‘‘In the last record on March 2, it was noted that one syringe wrapper had been found. This is a significant decrease compared with the number of needles we were finding when we started the patrols back in September.
‘‘The area is still patrolled once a day, but we are not finding items every day.”
Mark Steven, partnership and policy co-ordinator at the Fife Alcohol and Drug Partnership, said he welcomed the improved situation at the Old Kirk.
He said: “The progress so far has been brought about by co-ordinated action across a range of services.
“For our part, we were able to alert Addaction, our specialist harm reduction service, to the issues raised by members of the community, local elected members and the Fife Free Press.
“They continue to carry out outreach work in that area every week to ensure people who may need help for a drug or alcohol problem can get it and drug users are educated about the safe use and disposal of injecting equipment in order to protect themselves and the wider public.”
For Rosemary Potter, chairman of the Old Kirk Trust, the patrols and the departure of many responsible for the anti-social behaviour is warmly welcomed.
It means the majority who respect the Kirk’s ancient grounds can now enjoy a visit in peace.
She said: “The grounds are misused by a minority who do not seem to understand their behaviour alienates them from their peers.
‘‘Those addicted to drink and/or drugs try to spoil other people’s peace with their loud, raucous comments, inappropriate behaviour and discarded litter.
“I always ask those I see sitting in the graveyard not to leave litter and most people respond well at the time, but there is a constant trail of fast food wrappers, discarded bus tickets, dog fouling and alcohol cans.”
She continued: “The community wardens have been very helpful, monitoring the situation regularly and reliably logging any signs of illegal activity and picking up any used needles or occasional stolen items hidden there - all with a cheery word of banter even on dark, dreich days!
‘‘Indeed I haven’t come across a used needle since they started coming - they are very diligent.”
Alan Seath, police community inspector for Kirkcaldy, said there had been no calls about incidents at the Old Kirk since the issue was raised last year.
“We will continue to monitor and engage with addiction services, the community wardens, the local supermarket and other agencies.
‘‘It has not been a major problem over the winter months, but the good weather will bring more people out, increasing footfall in this area.”
We see it all from our office ...
The Fife Free Press sparked the latest crackdown at the Old Kirk.
Our editorial floor overlooks the church doorways and we see everything - literally!
It’s a well known hang out for drug users and drinkers.
Last September we watched a young couple settle into the doorway and then inject each other with drugs.
It was horrifying to witness - this was mid-afternoon in the centre of Kirkcaldy - so we called the police.
They turned up some 20 minutes later ... despite the church being one street from St Brycedale Station, so we alerted a number of councillors.
Since then the church has been the subject of significant action with regular police patrols and a high presence from the community wardens.
Neil Crooks, chairman of Kirkcaldy Area Committee and councillor Kenny Selbie both took it up.
“The area was designated as a hot spot by the area tasking team which meant community wardens and police made several visits over a sustained period.
“The graveyard was being used by shoplifters to hide contraband, people were shooting up there in daylight hours,’’ said cllr Crooks.
‘‘It had deteriorated into a den of iniquity beside our town centre.
“I requested the intervention and was happy with the approach.
“It will continue to be a patrolled area so it is a positive destination in future given the Old Kirk’s historic status.”
Fellow town councillor Judy Hamilton added: “I have not received complaints lately so in my view the regular patrols are proving effective.”