The Grand Mosque at Wincobank in Sheffield is, as the name suggests, very impressive. The building dominates the landscape around with its tall minaret and large dome. Unlike most mosques I visit it is in a more industrial part of the city and not set among residential properties, as the other purpose-built mosque is on Wolseley Road – the mosque with twin minarets that you see from the train when coming into Sheffield from the south.
For as long as I have been Police and Crime Commissioner the mosque has been in construction and even now it is not finally completed. The restaurant, for instance, is yet to be furnished and opened.
I was given a grand tour – from the vast prayer room accommodating hundreds of worshippers to the ‘green’ roof with its solar panels. The prayer room is in use and was full to overflowing at the recent end of Eid prayers and celebration. The sums of money the congregation are having to raise are huge – one reason why it has taken so long to get to this point.
I went to see whether this particular Muslim community knew their neighbourhood police team, which they do, and to talk more generally about relationships between the police and people of Muslim faith. If the police are to police all sections of South Yorkshire society appropriately, then this is an important group and one that is growing in numbers.
When I look at the figures of people attending mosques, on present projections, they will probably overtake those attending churches within a decade or so. That will not make the country culturally Muslim, but it does mean that the police – and other public services – will need to understand this growing part of our communities, not least because Muslims come from many different ethnicities and cultures. The imam I spoke to was of Pakistani heritage but the police chaplain who was with him was a British convert – and a woman – and other Muslims I meet have family in Yemen, Sudan, north and west Africa.
Policing by consent is about understanding all of that.
I have recently had a number of people ask me about electric scooters. They have generally had a story to tell about one coming past them very fast and very close, or one travelling at speed down the middle of the road somewhere. They want to know what the legal position is.
In a nutshell, it is simply against the law to ride an electric scooter on a public road, cycle lane, park or pavement anywhere in South Yorkshire.
But people can be confused – for two reasons.
First, it may be illegal to ride an e-scooter but it is not illegal to sell or buy one. This is because they can be used on private land with the owner’s permission. Then second, there are parts of the country where e-scooters are being trialled and so it is lawful to ride them there. These include nearby places such as York, Nottingham and Derby; but South Yorkshire is not a trial area. Taken together – the fact that it is not illegal to sell scooters in South Yorkshire and the legal riding of scooters in some nearby cities – it is not surprising that so many seem uncertain about the position here.
Those who do ride electric scooters in the county need to realise the serious nature of the offences they are committing. E-scooters are classed as powered transporters and fall within the definition of a motor vehicle under the Road Traffic Act 1998. This means that the rules that apply to motor vehicles also apply to them. This includes, though is not limited to:
At present it is not possible to get appropriate insurance for privately owned e-scooters. It is, therefore, illegal to use them on any public road, park or pavement.
E-scooters can be modified so that they can reach quite fast speeds, as those who have contacted me have pointed out. These can be quite dangerous on pavements with pedestrians, not least the elderly and small children.
So what are the police doing about it?
Those who ride them – who are generally young people – run the risk of being stopped by the police. Officers will speak to them about the legal position and in certain circumstances, the scooter may be seized and destroyed. Fines can be imposed, including fines on the parents of those under sixteen.
The message to parents and grandparents who may be asked by their teenage children for a scooter is, resist the requests. Wait for the trials to complete and take it from there otherwise you may be unwittingly getting your young people into trouble and throwing your money away.
A Covid legacy
Covid-19 was a huge disrupter of working practices in almost every organisation in this and other countries.
As soon as we were ordered to stay at home we had to figure out new ways of working, and that included police staff (and some officers) and those who work in my office. My staff were issued with laptops so they could work from home and we all began to master the techniques of remote (at first Zoom) meetings. Once the restrictions were lifted, we realised we had evolved new work practices and we did not want to return fully to what had gone before. Working from home is now an accepted part of the employment landscape.
There have been some big gains for employees. For many, if not all, since travelling to the office is no longer a daily routine involving the car or public transport, getting children to nursery or school has been made simpler, appointments at clinics and surgeries has become easier and life has in general become less of a whirlwind at the start and end of the day. We have saved on travel even if we have had to pay a little more for heating the home. We have seen more of our children and partners. We have taken the dog for more walks than they can remember. We have almost forgotten what the pre-Covid working life was like.
There were gains for employers as well. All over the country, police forces have been able to reduce the amount of office space they require for staff since not everyone is in the office every day. There have been rationalisations and forms of hot-desking. Buildings have been sold and leases not renewed, there have been capital gains and savings on rents, heating and lighting. The sense of well-being has generally improved in the workplace.
No one seriously supposes that we can go back to pre-Covid practices.
But there has been a downside and some losses. Some, perhaps after initially welcoming home working, have found that for their own well-being they need to be around others for at least part of the working week. They miss the buzz of the office and the non-work related conversations that go on there.
At first, everyone reported that they were working harder. ‘I can get more done at home.’ ‘I concentrate more with fewer distractions.’ The working hours might be different, but the work was done and, it seems, more was done than if people had come into the office. But we did not always pace ourselves well at first, or found it hard to know when the working day stopped. Anecdotally, that seems to have been the experience of people nationwide. Some have adjusted better and more quickly than others. However, it was not always so easy for new members of staff to get to know their colleagues as quickly as it would have been in the past.
One serious casualty, though, may have been creativity. And it is not difficult to understand why. I notice that when people are in the office there is a great deal of interaction of the sort that is rarely possible when talking remotely – these days on Teams. There is informal conversation, but also people speak about what they are doing, and in doing so, stimulate the thinking of others. It is this viewless loss of associative thinking that also needs to be thought about. Are we in danger of losing it?
Taking a wider view, we seem in this country to have embraced working from home more than almost anywhere else in the world apart from Canada – probably because we commuted more than anywhere else. In Britain, we now aspire to work at least half the week from home. In most countries in the Far East, for example, it is rarely more than half a day. Any loss of associative thinking could, therefore, have economic consequences for the United Kingdom.
I expect some PhD student is already working out the gains and losses. Whatever the conclusions, one thing is sure, this is a genie that will not be put back in the bottle.