Good morning and thank you for taking the time to read our latest update from the Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU). It is an incredibly exciting time for us as we start to execute plans and projects that we believe can make a real difference to our communities.
This includes two projects that I am particularly excited about. Our Phoenix project is a flagship programme working alongside HMP Bedford and the Young Enterprise charity to educate young people in the prison and help break the cycle of reoffending.
Of the 400 or so residents at HMP Bedford at any one time, typically around a quarter will be under 25 and the majority will only be at the prison for a short time. With the right help and support we know that many of these young people have the passion and talent to take a different path and turn their lives around. I am so grateful to the support of HMP Bedford for this pioneering approach, with this project the first of its kind in the county.
We are also indebted to Dr David Kirby, ED physician and Deputy Medical Director at Bedfordshire Hospitals, for his help with another of our projects. Myself, Sheldon Thomas, the director of Gangsline, and our Youth Intervention Specialists (YIS) are working with Dr Kirby on an education and awareness programme for consultants at our county’s hospitals around violence and trauma. Dr Kirby has been a tremendous friend and ally to the VERU since the very beginning, while we are working with the county’s health settings on other projects such as around data and intelligence, more details of which are included below.
Working alongside Police and Crime Commissioner Kathryn Holloway and her team, we have also secured further Home Office funding for a series of charities to support their work during the pandemic. Further details of these projects are available below. The PCC is also currently accepting further bids for grant funding for projects in offender management, support for drug and alcohol dependency and in early intervention programmes which will support the VERU’s work.
All applicants are advised to contact our team, who can provide information to outline what the unit is currently doing and where bids would be most welcome. This is for projects starting in April. Would-be bidders for grants should email email@example.com for further details.
These projects, the full range of interventions outlined below, the work of our YIS team and the ongoing coordination efforts by other VERU staff are all initiatives that I am incredibly proud of. I believe all of this is making Bedfordshire a safer place for our young people and helping us all come up with a more effective and sustainable approach to tackling violence and exploitation, which I know so many of us are working tirelessly to do.
A further £74,000 is being invested into community projects after a successful bid for funding from the Home Office. This takes the total investment into community projects by the VERU this year to more than £150,000, with projects now underway across the county. A full list of these interventions is included below and we would encourage our partners to tap into these projects if you believe any young people you are working with could benefit from their assistance. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Micro charities projects
Postcode Sports - £10,000
The project will fund a series of football, boxing and basketball tournaments to bring young people together. It will aim to get young people from all of the different estates in Luton to participate in these activities.
Vehicle for Change - £10,000
The purpose of the programme is to extend an existing programme already working in partnership with the MAGPan to the wider community. This will extend the project to cover more people potentially involved in serious violence and gang exploitation who are not yet part of the MAGPan process.
Boxing Saves Lives - £9,125
The initiative will use the sport of boxing as a crime prevention strategy that improves physical and mental health of its participants. It will utilise the strengths of discipline, respect, integrity and self-worth to empower young people to make positive life changing choices. The project will be delivered in the community and in schools, being open to children living in different areas and having multiple needs.
Mastroe Entrepreneurship with SAP (ESAP) - £10,000
Will provide entrepreneurship and business processes training to 24 Bedford based young people from ethnic minority backgrounds over the course of two sessions each for 10 weeks. Students will receive mentoring, support and discussions around behaviour change, as well as help with CV writing, interview skills and finding a job.
Mary Seacole Housing Association - £15,000
Mary Seacole believes the best way to engage young people is to provide relatable and transferable skills around the subject matter that motivates the individuals to achieve their own goals. They are currently running a pilot programme which looks to explore the discrepancies young people have around criminal behaviour and exploitation compared to the realities, whilst teaching them a new relatable and transferable skill set. This will be achieved through a barbering pilot project, which will support a group of residents through an eight week programme of informal training, where they will learn the skill of barbering. This will be supported by the use of an interactive resource, which will have the functionality to provide up to date, accurate links directly to the support services necessary to address the types of exploitation faced by young people in Bedfordshire. The app will allow the participant to views choices around areas of criminality and exploitation, and explore the various outcomes both positive and negative a personal choice can make. These sessions will be supported by staff and a qualified barber.
Bedfordshire Police Partnership Trust - £12,595
This funding will pay towards a support worker who can go into homes during the pandemic when a domestic abuse notification is received. The support worker will be able to support the family with making the home secure and offer valuable support to the children within the family.
CHUMS - £8,000
This service will provide mental health support to children and young people.
Pathways to Success – Diverse FM – £10,000
Run by Diverse FM’s community team, this Luton-based outreach project will involve a weekly drop in session offering young people access to information, support and peer mentoring. As part of the development of this service, Diverse FM will offer employability skills, media skills development and recreational activities, with a view to building skills and encouraging positive life choices by the young people that take part. A radio advert for the programme is attached to this email, with this and a video about the project due to be circulated on our social media channels over the next few weeks.
Uprising – One Stop Advice – £10,000
This project will offer parental classes which build skills and resilience. Its focus will be to provide a service whereby parents, guardians and carers are mentored to increase their ability to put measures in place to manage boundaries and protect their children from exploitation. This project will particularly focus on building resilience within parents who, due to a lack of confidence and knowledge, would benefit from support.
Challenging behaviour parenting workshops – Counselling Wellbeing Foundation – £10,000
The foundation will work with parents whose own lives have been impacted by social environmental factors, leading to issues such as substance abuse or criminal offending. This project will work to improve family relationships and long-term outcomes for the children.
Baby Faces – FACES – £10,000
The project will support people in the transitional stages of becoming parents and offer them tools and coping strategies to prevent and heal adverse childhood experiences (ACES).
Prison Me No Way – Oakbank School – £1,500
This coeducational special school in Leighton Buzzard will run presentations to more than 100 students by Prison Me No Way, an agency which helps students via presentations from ex-prisoners who have turned their lives around. Workshops will be specifically tailored to cover county lines, gangs, drugs and violence. This programme will reach those students who are already involved in gang related behaviour and act as an early intervention for those who are vulnerable to being groomed to become involved in this type of lifestyle.
Community spaces projects
Ampthill Town Council - An outreach programme which will engage with young people in the town, replicating a scheme which has run successfully in Flitwick.
Luton Council - Will support the purchase of floodlights for the multi-use games area at the Hart Hill Community Centre.
Luton Council - Active sports equipment purchased for People’s Park in High Town.
Potton Town Council- VERU will help fund a youth club run by Groundworks in the town for one night a week.
Sandy Town Council - The funding will contribute towards the construction of a gym trail across the town, starting in Sunderland Road.
Shefford Town Council - Will improve the security of the council’s youth hub, which was established last year with the help of previous VERU funding.
Staploe Parish Council - Money will pay for utilities connections to two converted shipping containers, allowing them to be brought back into use by local groups.
Toddington Parish Council - Improved security around the cemetery and allotment, as well as sports equipment and a permanent fixed base for a table tennis table.
Our YIS team boasts a range of experience and expertise among its team of specialist practitioners working with young people at risk of criminal exploitation and their families.
The YIS team is doing great work, with one young person who had previously been refusing to engage with statutory services having successfully worked with one of our YIS specialists, to the point that he was given pupil of the week on his return to college after the summer holidays. This story reflects many other successes achieved by the YIS team, which include an improvement in behaviour and enrolling into college courses.
YIS team leader Tasha Case is working with the Mary Seacole housing association to deliver diversion workshops for young people accessing their services as well as training for other professionals working in this sector. Extensive work is also going on with parents, including a forthcoming online webinar and an exploitation through the eyes of parents conference to be led by the VERU’s exploitation lead Lisa Robinson. Other forthcoming projects include the launch of our VERU Village partnership network as well as a dedicated VERU YIS YouTube channel.
VERU staff are doing an extraordinary amount of work to coordinate the different agencies and efforts to combat exploitation. Our analyst team of Adewale Abitoye and Benita Branagan have led the development of the data and intelligence group, with analysts from the police, local authorities and health all working together around the same table to combine their statistics and get a definitive picture of violence and exploitation here in Bedfordshire.
Ade and Benita have also been working with our exploitation lead Lisa Robinson and giving presentations at a variety of different boards around the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Strategy and Strategic Needs Assessment. Lisa is also leading on multi-agency training around child exploitation for practitioners, with six digital sessions across the county throughout November. A flyer is attached for further information.
Work is also well underway to launch Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation, which is being led by our comms department. This wider project will focus on all aspects of exploitation by organised crime. As well as a flagship video and other social media assets, this project will also include monthly briefings, a dedicated website and targeted campaigns around areas such as child sexual exploitation, the sex industry and homelessness.
Messages from our partners
St Giles Trust is commissioned by Central Bedfordshire Council to work with a number of their young people. They are holding a series of webinars in November aimed at parents to raise awareness around county lines, drugs and knife crime. More information in the attached flyer.