Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston made stamping out crime and anti-social behaviour a priority when he was elected in 2019 – and Middlesbrough’s Neighbourhood Safety Wardens are on the front line of that battle. We spent the morning on patrol in the town centre to find out what they do.
When long-serving warden Liz Tiffney starts her shift, the only thing that’s certain is that no two days will be the same.
On the night before we hit the streets, wardens had attended incidents as diverse as a fire in Grove Hill and a 50 person fight at a town centre pub after an England football match.
We join Liz and Aaron McInnes at Middlesbrough Bus Station as they get set to start their shift.
Their role is wide-ranging - the team deal with reports of anti-social behaviour, and can hand out fines for things like fly-tipping, dog fouling or littering.
Among other responsibilities, in the town centre they also enforce the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), which cracks down on issues like bin-raiding, urinating in the street and begging.
We start in the Community Enforcement van and head out to the streets just outside the town centre, to carry out parking enforcement.
As Aaron drives, Liz explains matter-of-factly how a violent beggar recently threatened to stab her in the neck.
They can be targets of abuse from members of the public and those behaving badly, but the good often outweighs the bad.
Liz had earlier explained how she’s saved five people’s lives by administering Naloxone, an injection which rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
Later she speaks of how she and Aaron were first on scene recently to help an elderly woman who was left badly bleeding and seriously injured after being knocked over by a bicycle in the town centre.
Previously, Liz has saved the life of a two-year-old child choking on a sweet.
The team regularly receive cards, chocolates and flowers for the work they do.
“There’s never a dull moment,” said Aaron from the driver’s seat. “But it’s a rewarding job.”
Liz, 62, has only just returned to the front line in March. She spent six months recovering from a hospital stay after developing a heart condition.
Four years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer but is now in remission.
“I’ve done this job for 18 years,” says Liz. “And I still love it.
“You never know what you’re going to get!”
As we reach Stamford Street we leave the van and Liz and Aaron begin to inspect whether every car has a residential parking permit.
Aaron spots a BMW parked in a cycle lane and on double yellow lines on the corner of Marton Road, and begins the process of issuing a parking ticket.
The pair must wait for five minutes next to the car – its owner might return, and they will explain to them why the ticket is being issued.
“How you speak to people is really important,” said Aaron, who has been a warden for four months.
“I would explain why the parking is illegal and why the ticket has been issued, but you need to have compassion and treat people with respect. That can diffuse a situation.”
Three cars on Stamford and nearby Esher Street are ticketed for not displaying a permit.
Then Liz spots a pile of tyres and rubbish dumped near the street’s alleygates.
On closer inspection, there’s also dumped bricks, ripped bin bags, and even a broken flat screen TV that’s been fly-tipped.
As Aaron continues to check cars, Liz documents what’s among the rubbish and takes photos which will be sent to the council’s new Flying Squad.
“It’s a big problem, but they’ll take it away quickly and then look for evidence to fine or prosecute,” she continued.
Back in the van, Liz and Aaron head towards Aldi on Newport Road, a regular spot for begging.
Aaron tells of his conversation with one beggar known to the team the previous night, who they believe lives in a tent in the town centre.
“I told him I wasn’t there to judge him, but that he knew that I had to move him on,” said Aaron.
“We ended up having a chat, he told me what he used to do. It’s a sad story.”
As we come into the car park, Liz spots a well-known beggar sitting outside the entrance. Aaron pulls in but he’s clocked the van and quickly gets up to walk away, towards town.
Instead, we patrol the town centre – in Captain Cook Square, they speak to another regular.
“He’s a lovely man, causes us no trouble,” said Liz. “He’s an alcoholic, but he knows he’s not allowed to drink on the streets anymore because that’s banned.”
Soon, another regular – ex Armed Forces - is spotted sitting on Gilkes Street.
“You weren’t very nice to me last time we spoke,” Liz tells him, as she informs him she’s clicked on her bodycam.
He apologises, and chats with the wardens about his housing situation.
They promise to look into an issue for him, and they leave on friendly terms – but he’s told he’s not allowed to loiter with the intent to beg, and he’s moved on.
Similarly, another man known to the team is spoken to in the alleyway connecting Linthorpe Road to the Dundas Arcade.
“Most of the people we speak to, they’ve got drug and alcohol issues, mental health problems,” said Liz.
“Many of them now have criminal behaviour orders or civil injunctions, so we have to enforce that.
“It’s difficult – you do feel sympathy, but that’s part of our job.
“The help is there too. We get them in touch with the correct people to help get them accommodation, benefit advice, there’s always food available.
“We give them a mobile phone with £10 credit for them to ring people to arrange that sort of stuff.
“We have to let them know that we have to move them on, that begging isn’t acceptable, but we’re here to help too.”
There’s two shifts in the warden team – 8am-8pm and 10am-10pm, with crews operating in Newport, the town centre, and the east and west of town.
As Liz and Aaron, 29, walk around the town, shoppers and visitors ask directions, but many know the pair personally and just stop to chat. One man complains about a man loudly begging.
Liz and Aaron’s radios crackle with reports from across Middlesbrough, with both tasked to respond to complaints about a drunk man outside the Tesco Express on Linthorpe Road.
“I do think there’s a misconception about what we do,” said Aaron, a dad-of-two.
“We are here to provide a service, to help people first and foremost.
“Enforcement is part of our work but we’re here to provide reassurance and make people feel safer.”
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said: “Residents and businesses have long grown sick and tired of the rising tide of crime and anti-social behaviour across the town, which is why I pledged to lead a crackdown when I was elected as mayor.
“Our Neighbourhood Safety Wardens are on the front line, taking the rapid and positive action needed to make streets safer and reassure decent people.
“Enforcement is important, but there’s so much more to the job than that – our wardens help and support those that need it most.
“They are a brilliant bunch of local people who really care and want to make a big difference to make our town better.”