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Crime-busting great gran is honoured for beating gangs

PUBLISHED: 12:33 05 October 2015 | UPDATED: 12:33 05 October 2015

Alice Burke 
Photo:Philip Coburn

Alice Burke Photo:Philip Coburn

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An inspirational great-grandmother has scooped a national award for her role in turning around the Nightingale Estate where she lives.

Ben Shephard on ITV’s Good Morning Britain announced Alice Burke as their Local Hero award winner ahead of the Daily Mirror Pride of Britain Awards last week.

The 78-year-old has been campaigning to make the Nightingale Estate a safer place to live.

The former auxiliary nurse moved to the housing estate in Clapton 40-years-ago to raise her three daughters, but by the early 1990s, crime levels began to increase.

Residents were assaulted in lifts, empty flats were taken over by squatters and drug dealers, and the estate was blighted by prostitutes and gangs supplying guns to criminals.

The moment that turned the ordinary mum into a crime crusader came as she walked home after an evening at bingo, when she was mugged and the thieves snatched her handbag.

“I vowed from that moment on that I’d do everything I possibly could – that people wouldn’t have to face that here,” she recalled.

Through forming a residents association, she decided to fight back and went direct to Hackney’s mayor with problems and marched to the police station demanding they did something – eventually getting her way when the block was raided.

Alice said: “It was very important for me to make the estate safe. I wanted somewhere where my children were safe and happy.”

But thugs tried to scare her into giving up – her car windows were smashed and her life was threatened.

“It was awful to be honest, devastating,” she says. “But I carried on regardless. I had to – you couldn’t give in to them. It was all because I had the ear of the police. I got a sweep done on the estate two or three times. They found a lot of drugs, guns and knives.”

Alice would even confront troublemakers in the street.

She said: “I didn’t shout. I said to them, ‘unless you carry me out in a box I’m still going to do it’.

“A lot of the kids I used to chase were doing things they weren’t supposed to. I see those boys and girls now. You hear them say to their kids, ‘this lady used to kick our backsides. If you see her, don’t you dare be rude’.”

As a result of her campaign, the council launched a regeneration plan, replacing tower blocks with low-rise housing on the estate.

She said: “There was a time when people were downcast, and wouldn’t talk to one another. When things started to happen, people would smile and say good morning.”

Alice retired as chairman of the residents’ association three years ago, but she is on the board of Hackney Homes and is working with other estates to tackle anti-social behaviour.

The most recent figures show a 44 per cent reduction in crime over five years up to 2013, and Hackney Council said Alice has been instrumental in achieving this.


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