THE Co-operative Group has announced a first for London by opening a police office in a Welcome convenience store in the capital.
The office ? at the rear of the premises in Westhorne Avenue, Eltham ? has been specially designed as part of the store's recent refurbishment to provide a permanent base for officers patrolling the area.
The ground-breaking partnership between the Co-operative Group, the Metropolitan Police, Greenwich Council and the South Greenwich Regeneration Agency is the first of its kind in London.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Co-op Group have provided the office space free of charge and the Metropolitan Police have paid to equip it after receiving a grant from the Regeneration Unit.
The office, which can be accessed at any time of the day or night through a private door as well as via the store, provides a base for a new team of police Safer Neighbourhood officers in the heart of the local community as the nearest established police station is around two miles away.
Six officers will have a well-equipped office space and storage, plus a garage for their motor and pedal bikes.
"This is a unique partnership and we are delighted to be able provide a community office for the police," said Julia Rogers, the Co-operative Group's General Manager of Central Services.
"The Co-operative Group is committed to doing what it can to help tackle problems of crime and anti-social behaviour, and this initiative is an important development."
Chief Supt Peter Lowton, the police's Greenwich Borough Commander, said: "Safer Neighbourhood policing is here to stay in Greenwich and we are pleased to have worked closely with the Co-operative Group and our other partners to develop this initiative in the heart of the community."
Councillor Chris Roberts, leader of Greenwich Council, said: "The close partnership that Greenwich Council and the South Greenwich Regeneration Agency have built with the police and local people has allowed us to establish some extremely successful schemes for tackling crime and making the streets safer.
"I am very pleased we have been able to attract support from the Co-operative Group for this new initiative that will bring the police closer to the local community."
Eltham MP Clive Efford, who first suggested the initiative, said: "I was delighted the Co-op agreed that the police Safer Neighbourhood Team should be based in the shop.
"This will transform this shopping area for other businesses and local people and is an excellent example of people working together for the benefit of everyone ? except those involved in criminal behaviour."
The Co-operative Group says the initiative could be replicated in other areas, depending on local factors and the suitability of stores.
A spokesman said: "We are always looking at ways of making communities safer and tackling crime and anti-social behaviour for the benefit of all."
? The Northamptonshire-based Raunds Co-op has run a similar scheme for police for two years. Dedicated office space in thesociety's main store is regularly used by officers on the beat.
Pictured Police officers are pictured outside the store with Home Office Minister Hazel Blears and David Pettitt, the Co-operative Group's Head of Loss Prevention.