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City Spotlight: City of Portsmouth, United Kingdom

Portsmouth is an island city on the south coast of England, serving as the primary operational base for the Royal Navy. Portsmouth is also the most densely populated city in the United Kingdom (UK) outside of London, featuring a diverse population of long-term residents, immigrants and transient naval personnel. Portsmouth’s Vision for 2040 includes transforming the city into an example in the UK of economic growth, cultural richness, educational excellence, environmental sustainability and efficient infrastructure, aiming to build a prosperous future for both residents and visitors.

Portsmouth joined the Strong Cities Network in April 2023 after participating in a transatlantic dialogue on City-Led Support for Community-Based Prevention Programmes. In September 2023, city officials represented Portsmouth at Strong Cities’ Fourth Global Summit in New York and have participated in a number of Strong Cities activities since then.

What is the local government concerned about?

As outlined in its most recent Partnership Strategic Assessment of Crime, Anti-Social Behaviour, Substance Misuse and Reoffending, Portsmouth had 819 reported hate crimes in the fiscal year of 2022/23, recognising that actual numbers are likely higher, given the general underreporting of hate crimes. Of these 819, the majority (476 or 58%) were motivated by hostility based on race, with sexual orientation being the second most targeted protected characteristic. Overall, offences targeting sexual orientation and gender identity have increased since 2021 and hate crime levels remain significantly higher than they were pre-COVID, although this may be explained – at least in part – by a greater willingness to report such crimes. 

Further, while terrorism risks in Portsmouth have declined in recent years, the City remains concerned about ‘mixed, unstable and unclear ideologies[1] and right-wing extremism. It is particularly concerned about online extremism and that, combined with COVID-legacy isolation and increasing mental health challenges, residents might be exposed to extremist content, increasing the risk of radicalisation to violence.

Beyond hate and extremism, violence against women and girls – which includes domestic abuse, stalking, rape and other sexual offences – is another persisting threat, as outlined in the Partnership Strategic Assessment. Finally, the Assessment warns that youth at risk of criminal exploitation has increased in recent years and that the possession of weapon offences has also increased by nearly 10 per cent.

[1] A phrase used in the UK to “describe people who don’t clearly identify with one specific ideology but have underlying vulnerabilities such as mental health conditions that can help make them susceptible to extremism”.

Another challenge Agadir is facing relates to the preservation and safeguarding of the Amazigh culture. Preserving Amazigh identity necessitates more than just acknowledgment; it requires active support from the community and authorities, ensuring that this vibrant culture continues to thrive amidst the pressures of globalisation.

How is the local government responding?

Portsmouth’s efforts to enhance community safety, tackle hate crime and combat extremism are largely coordinated by the Safer Portsmouth Partnership. This involves various local, county and national actors such as Portsmouth City Council, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Rehabilitation Company, the National Probation Service, University of Portsmouth and several local and voluntary services and community groups. These actors come together to monitor, discuss and collaboratively deliver on a range of community safety priorities, such as preventing violent extremism; facilitating the necessary psychosocial and other support for young people at risk; addressing anti-social behaviours, including substance misuse, violence and sexual violence; improving community-wide accessibility and capacity of mental health provision; and raising awareness of and tackling cyber-harms. Among others, this includes through raising awareness of reporting processes if one is witness or subject to crime or anti-social behaviour, strengthening prompt multi-agency responses to anti-social behaviour through serving as a coordination body, and delivering communitywide surveys to understand how communities experience and perceive different threats to their safety and social cohesion. For example, the Partnership works closely with the City Council’s Public Health Intelligence Team to publish a regular assessment of key threats to community safety, which informs its (and, more broadly, the City’s) forward agenda to address such threats.

To prevent and respond to online extremism, Portsmouth was also involved in the European Union (EU)-funded Project ORPHEUS, a collaboration among Portsmouth City Council, University of Portsmouth, City of Mechelen (Belgium; the project lead), universities in Ghent (Belgium) and Middelburg (Netherlands), and several NGOs such as Ceapire. From 2019 to 2023, Portsmouth City Council and its partners worked on developing, testing and deploying a ‘well-being oriented’ approach to prevention that promotes “the agency of young people as equal citizens in democratic societies”. Together with youth workers and young people themselves, project partners developed a series of training toolkits for professionals (such as social workers and teachers) as well as youth, covering topics such as:

Portsmouth City Council piloted these tools in schools across the City, with evaluation findings suggesting a positive impact overall. For example, 93% of surveyed youth agreed that the ORPHEUS trainings provided increased their awareness of online harms such as mis- and disinformation, including how to identify it.

Further, the collaborative nature of Project ORPHEUS, and the cross-border relationship it has fostered among project partners, means Portsmouth can leverage international expertise and experience in dealing with extremism, like from the City of Mechelen (Belgium) – also a Strong Cities member – which faces similar challenges due to its geographical and socio-political context.

In addition to Project ORPHEUS, Portsmouth is a member of Hampshire’s Strategic Partnership Prevent Board and statutory Channel Panel. These form part of a comprehensive, multi-agency approach as stipulated by the UK’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. The Channel Panel offers early support for individuals at risk of extremism, bringing together expertise from various safeguarding agencies within the city to develop personalised strategies to support individuals at risk of or already engaging with extremist content and/or groups. The broader Safer Portsmouth Partnership Board oversees the delivery of community-wide preventive measures while also ensuring that relevant partners (such as those involved in Portsmouth’s Channel Panel) are ​aware of radicalisation risks and thus able to fulfil their Channel duties.

Portsmouth also benefits from structured multi-agency coordination mechanisms beyond Channel and which focus more broadly on social cohesion and diversity and inclusion, such as its Community Tasking and Coordination Group (CTCG) and bi-weekly Community Tension Monitoring meetings. These offer fora in which city and community-based partners, as well as county police, can discuss and create strategies to mitigate rising community tensions. They also monitor diversity, equality and inclusivity both within the local government and across the City.

Furthermore, Portsmouth has established a Third-Party Hate Crime Reporting Service, enhancing the accessibility for victims and witnesses to report incidents. These centres provide an alternative to speaking directly to the police about a hate crime or hate incident and can offer confidential help and support. This service is located in community venues across the City and is crucial for early detection and intervention. Importantly, to lower the threshold of reporting incidents, these centres allow citizens to remain anonymous.

In addition, through the Portsmouth Education Partnership, Portsmouth City Council collaborated with schools to create an anti-racism toolkit that educators can use to create inclusive classrooms. The toolkit provides tips and scenarios for how educators can broach difficult topics such as racism, while also providing guidance on micro-aggressions, unconscious biases and reporting racist incidents,

Finally, through its support of Portsmouth City of Sanctuary (PCoS) – a humanitarian organisation that runs a number of projects for people seeking sanctuary – Portsmouth City Council is committed to welcoming and supporting refugees and asylum seekers, and fostering inclusivity, compassion and safety while actively working to reduce violence and harm.

These collective efforts demonstrate Portsmouth’s dedication to a holistic city-wide approach that makes use of both local and international collaborations to bolster community safety against hate and extremism.

What’s next?

Portsmouth’s Vision for 2040 seeks to strengthen community safety, foster economic growth and promote a sustainable, inclusive and participatory city environment where all residents feel heard and integrated into the City’s social fabric. The City Council will continue to prioritise tackling hate, extremism, and violence against vulnerable groups like minorities, women and girls. Engaging with the Strong Cities Network allows Portsmouth to leverage global expertise and resources to bolster its strategies in these areas. City officials stated that the Network’s focus on strengthening community resilience through international collaboration and knowledge sharing will be instrumental in helping Portsmouth implement its comprehensive safety and inclusion initiatives, ensuring that the City’s priorities align with global best practices for urban safety and cohesion.

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