A new campaign is being launched to try and tackle a rise in street begging in Barnstaple.

The initiative, Spare Change or Real Change, is the work of North Devon and Torridge Community Safety Partnership (CSP), a multi-agency group that includes, among others, local councils and Devon and Cornwall Police.

The campaign urges Barnstaple’s residents and visitors not to hand out money to the town’s rough sleepers.

Instead, the initiative will provide suggestions on how the public can help, whether it is by donating to local charities or through volunteering.

Superintendent Toby Davies, chairman of the North Devon and Torridge CSP, said: “Partner agencies are working really hard to support people off the streets, and in many cases help them to address any underlying issues or substance addictions.

“We totally understand the public instinct to try and help, and giving spare change may seem like a kind act and an easy way to offer that help, but in truth it often does quite the opposite and can be used to fund those addictions, exacerbating the issue.

“This is not about stopping anyone from chatting to someone on the street who you feel would welcome that conversation, or getting someone a cup of tea; but if you want to meaningfully assist a rough sleeper, help us to offer them real change, not your spare change.”

Council, police and charity officers will be outside Green Lanes in Barnstaple on March 15 and 16 to chat to members of the public about the initiative.

The campaign is being backed by the mayor of Barnstaple, Councillor Ian Roome, and homelessness charity Freedom Community Alliance.

Councillor Roome urged the community to get behind Spare Change of Real Change.

“By the community coming together and supporting this campaign to make a real change, we can make sure that our most vulnerable residents have the support mechanisms they need.

“We want to offer rough sleepers as much support and help as we can in the face of very complex issues. Give your change to local homelessness charities instead and make a real change to the lives of rough sleepers.”

Freedom Community Alliance’s housing and homelessness manager, Phil Noall, said he believed the initiative had the potential to reduce street begging and the anti-social behaviour that can go with it.

He said: “It’s easy to assume that there is a lack of support services to assist rough sleepers when we see people begging on the High Street but this simply isn’t the case and sadly in our experience giving people money often prolongs their street homelessness.”