Empowering London Student Spotlight Interview with Bethany Barlow

Our Empowering London module's student spotlight this month is on Bethany Barlow, a BA Criminology and Law student who undertook a work placement with Islington Council.

Why did you want to get involved with your work placement organisation? 

The main reason I wanted to get involved with Islington Council’s volunteer placement was to get better acquainted with the employment opportunities that are available for my Criminology and Law BSc degree. Previously when I thought about what I could do with my degree, the usual careers I could think of were primarily in law enforcement.

However, working at the council has given me a greater understanding of how my degree may not only be useful in response to crime but also in preventing crime whilst improving quality of life for citizens. I had not previously volunteered before and was eager to learn from an experienced team where I could perform multiple duties that would provide me with valuable experience in both administrative and customer-facing work.

My motivation for wanting to help with this project was because I could see that the council's Safer Hillrise project had huge potential based on the extensive pre-project research and plans they had in place. My local council rarely if ever hosted community engagement events or promoted initiatives such as the StreetDoctors charity that Islington Council has partnered with. Seeing this effort made me want to play my part in helping residents feel acknowledged and cared for by their council. 


Out of the six challenges facing London, which challenge did you address and how did you address it with your work placement provider? 

During this placement, we looked to address the challenge of crime in London, specifically growing concerns around youth violence. When I joined the Community Safety team they had secured funding for and had begun implementing their Safer Hillrise project as this area of Islington had seen a small but significant growth in youth violence.
Conducted polls suggested that many residents no longer felt safe and as a result, many grew to distrust young people leading to many reporting youths to the police even when there was no offence being committed. Residents also felt let down by the council due to reports of broken security cameras and other measures not being addressed. Thus, the Community Safety Officers decided to set up the Safer Hillrise project as a means of reconnecting with Hillrise residents.
Part of this plan involved working more closely with local community centres, sports clubs and London Metropolitan University. As a volunteer from the University, my role was largely administration based, i.e. conducting questionnaires with residents, designing promotional materials such as posters and leaflets, conducting progress reports on the project and serving as the main point of communication between the team and community centres, schools and other council teams.
In order to improve community relations, the council began organising more community engagement events to improve their visibility in Hillrise and rebuild trust with the residents. The first event I helped promote was the official launch of new bleed control kits which were installed at five locations in Hillrise. For the kit that was installed at Islington boxing club, I sent invites to Islington’s Council members and police officers for this event and took photographs of the event for news articles so that residents can see our efforts to address their concerns.
My supervisor and I also installed the remaining kits at the other four sites. I  also attended and organised events such as bike marking, cultural festivities, and youth engagement events in addition to door knocking to have local businesses sign up to be safe havens that would report antisocial activities and take in anyone who is in danger.
This gave us many opportunities to promote our project and our safe haven drive also saw the number of safe havens in Islington almost triple since I first started. Finally, my biggest achievement was the promotional material that was finalized shortly before I finished my placement. Not only was I trusted to organise the information to be printed on the materials, but I was also in charge of the formatting, colour scheme, and coordinated with the marketing team on this. To make the materials widely accessible, I requested website links and QR codes with more information and language options to be included as well. This has helped give the project a clear identity and as the project continues currently, the team now has more promotional materials to use at future events. 

What skills and knowledge have you developed from your Empowering London work placement and how do you plan to apply them toward your future goals?

Working at Islington Council presented me with numerous networking opportunities as I was able to interact with other staff members outside of the community safety team such as the Environment team. Police officers were also present at many events and I was able to build a good rapport with constables and senior officers who offered guidance on how to use my degree beyond crime control. This experience allowed me to develop my communication and networking skills and provided me with valuable contacts and advice to take forward in my career. Although I found the idea of conversing with new people to be anxiety-inducing, I know communication is a key skill for many careers.
Currently, I am employed as an academic support worker for numerous North West-based universities which has seen my improved communication skills called upon multiple times. I am required to support students with a variety of needs including but not limited to, note-taking, transitional support, guidance for physically disabled students, and study support. All students are different so I must adapt my approach as needed depending on their individual needs and the communication techniques that I've developed at Islington Council have aided me in this endeavour.
This has allowed me to connect with students much more quickly than I would have otherwise. For example, I never want to assume the student’s needs despite what their initial profile may say, I prefer to let them clarify exactly what they need from me and actively listen to their requirements to avoid offending them. This was a technique utilised frequently during my time at the Council where it was imperative to listen to and note the concerns of those living in the Hillrise area. Looking into the future, the skills and knowledge gained here can be applied across multiple disciplines and whilst my final career path is not yet set in stone, I am looking to continue my Law studies.
I can see these skills being applied in engagements with future legal clientele, co-workers and superiors to further my career. I would like to extend my gratitude to the Islington Council Community Safety team for giving me this work placement opportunity and I hope that they continue to partner with London Met as this experience could be invaluable to others as it was for me.  
a portrait of Bethany Barlow