News story

Inventor Gary Fenton wins latest Big Society Award

Hertfordshire invention leads to drop in crime in towns across England and Wales and wins Big Society Award.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A Stevenage man who created an online Neighbourhood Watch scheme which has seen crime rates drop by 25 per cent, is being recognised by Prime Minister David Cameron with a Big Society Award.

Gary Fenton created the Online Watch Link or ‘OWL’ which allows volunteers to interact directly with local law enforcement officials and is now being used by five police forces across the country. The tool provides a two-way flow of information, with police sending alerts about local incidents and volunteers passing information back to local officers.

OWL has been used by Stevenage residents since 2006 and is now used across Hertfordshire, Staffordshire, Gwent, North Wales and Carmarthenshire. There are 100,00 members in Hertfordshire police force areas, and 20,000 members in the Gwent and Staffordshire. 8 million messages were sent through the network in the last two years, alerting watch volunteers to a range of serious or useful local issues from rubbish collection times, to scam prevention.

The OWL system is even credited with the successful arrest of two thieves in a Hertfordshire town after information about their crimes was sent to 2500 local residents through the network, a case which had almost been classified as unsolved.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

I’m delighted to be recognising Gary’s achievement with this Big Society Award.

The OWL software not only helps people feel more empowered in their local communities, its also providing real results with crime rates falling in the town.

By supporting local people to take action on the issues that matter most to them, OWL is an important part of creating a community everyone can be proud of.

OWL founder Gary Fenton said:

While the police are our largest partner agency, we are also used by Fire and Rescue, Trading Standards, the Elderly community (helping them to be aware of scams, flu jabs or fuel allowances) flood alerts, School alerts and finding missing people.

This is not only for crime, Fenton says, but also a way for local communities to keep informed of issues of importance to them, from missed rubbish collections, to fraud and scam prevention, the system allows for interaction, but unlike social networking OWL encompasses all forms of communication, from faxes to text messaging.

Research in Hertfordshire suggests if residents are signed up to OWL and in an active watch they are half as likely to be burgled. A survey in Gwent with 900 responses further highlighted the success:

  • 64% have increased confidence in the police
  • 89% are more aware of scams and rogue traders
  • 70% have increased confidence in their local schemes. e.g. Neighbourhood Watch.
  • 64% are willing to help their neighbours more than before

Inspector Paul Lawrence of Hertfordshire Constabulary said:

OWL supports the hard work of a lot of people in the county and enables communities to better look out for each other. This is at the heart of what Watch schemes are all about. OWL is a very effective tool that has clearly gone a long way in doing this and helped in the effort of the police and public to tackle crime.

Gary envisions a Britain where local communities are more in touch with each other, and take control of issues important to them, and hope that more local communities across the country will embrace this service

Notes to Editors

Images available upon request, email

Locations include Hertfordshire, Staffordshire, Gwent, North Wales and Carmarthenshire

OWL is a member of Secured by Design, the initiative from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) that aims to reduce crime through innovative products and processes. The SBD logo is the only symbol that guarantees national Police approval of a product.

For more information on OWL please visit the OWL website.

External site: Big Society Awards - find out more

Updates to this page

Published 16 January 2013