PCSO Julie McFadden is beaming from ear to ear.
She’s just found out Southend has been awarded £40million in National Lottery funding to redesign services to improve young children’s social and emotional development, nutrition, and language and communication development.
The scheme, called A Better Start, is just one of the many projects Julie has been involved with in her seven years as a PCSO in Southend.
All have helped transform the lives of people in her community for the better.
“It’s the most exciting thing to happen to Southend,” Julie said.
“It’s not just the case of getting lottery funding, it’s that all these organisations have realised we need this system change and we need to think differently about how we stop social problems snowballing.
“It will really make an impact because issues like poor upbringing, poor health and poor housing will all be addressed and should made for a better family life.
“With early intervention, and working with the families, and having the focus should mean things like domestic violence is stamped out earlier and children get the best chance.
“It will inspire so many people and will be so great.”
Julie’s work as a PCSO sees her out speaking to residents on a daily basis. Doing just that has seen her learn sign language, organise events, help tackle antisocial behaviour and improve people’s perception of the police.
It all started seven years ago when Julie decided she wanted to take her love of problem solving out into the community.
She said: “I love helping the community, there is nothing better.
“Our role as a PCSO changes on a daily basis – no two days are ever the same. One day you will be guarding a scene and the next day you are saving someone’s life.”
One thing Julie is particularly proud about is learning sign language.
The intense course has opened many doors for Julie to connect with deaf residents, not just in Southend, but also across the whole of Essex.
Julie also travels the county in her own time, helping victims of crime and giving advice to residents missed by police in the past when they did not have sign language interpreters.
Julie said: “I was dealing with a deaf lady and I realised there was nobody to help. We did a lot of writing and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to help and learn their language’.
It’s wonderful to think I am having an impact.”
Julie has helped a deaf person in a domestic violence case, another who needed help in custody, and many others.
She has also used her ingenuity to try to address recent crimes.
After hearing about break-ins at 12 churches across Southend – as reported in the Echo last month – she secured funding for so-called smart water. It will be painted on church valuables to trace them if they are ever stolen.
She has also set up quarterly meetings with church leaders to pass on information to parishioners and also receive details of crimes. She said: “I take ownership of my area and I don’t like it when someone comes onto my patch and causes an issue.”
Taking pride in her patch also saw a three-day event in the Kursaal ward’s Woodgrange estate in 2010, which saw a drop in anti-social behaviour.
As PCSOs and officers became increasingly well known in the area, residents became more inclined to work with police.
With all this going on, Julie rarely hasaminute to herself. But success stories keep her going.
Like when a hyperactive teenager was given an opportunity to thrive when Julie set up a youth club at vandal-hit Whittingham Avenue Methodist Church. Julie soon found she had just as many people on a waiting list wanting to sign up to the club than she had registered.
She saw an opportunity for a tearaway teen to make a name for herself and set her the challenge of securing grant funding for the club.
Working together, the girl secured a £1,000 grant. A few weeks ago, five years on, Julie saw the girl, aged 18, and about to go to university.
Julie beams: “She was out with her friends and ran across the road to give me a big hug. She said, ‘If it wasn’t for you I would have gone down the wrong road’.
“That’s why this money we have got from the National Lottery is so brilliant.
“Four, five or six years down the line, we will have more of these stories.”