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In 2020 over 600 young people took part in the Violence and Vulnerability Unit’s listening project, which was to help determine future priorities and work areas for the VVU.

Their feedback gave us a few main points for consideration and action:

  • The majority of young people told us that youth violence is an issue in their local area
  • The top concerns for young people regarding personal safety was being stabbed and the threat of gangs
  • Young people felt unsafe where street lighting was poor, and when they were alone
  • Young people overwhelmingly said they want more places to meet up that are; safe, sociable, open for longer, and have various affordable and fun activities with trusted leaders

The findings of the listening project paved the way for a six month long detached youth work project (Sept 2020 to Feb 2021), which aimed to provide detached youth work and safe activities for vulnerable young people in Essex, Southend and Thurrock. This also included young people who would have previously accessed local youth and sports clubs but were unable to due to the pandemic.

The project targeted those aged 10 to 14yrs old who may have been at risk of exposure to youth violence and gang activity because of their situation, locality or place that they choose to gather.

The project was delivered by local organisations with experience of youth work (Home Start Colchester, Teen Talk Harwich, Essex YMCA, Bar N Bus, Southend YMCA and The Red Balloon Foundation). Project management was provided by Essex Boys and Girls Clubs and project oversight and responsibility from ECVYS. Five districts participated with projects running in areas of Basildon, Colchester, Southend, Tendring and Thurrock.

The project had two deliberate strands for effective positive intervention – outreach work and detached youth work – but with Covid restrictions in place it proved impossible to deliver outreach work and so the focus shifted to detached work.

The youth workers based themselves in areas of the community where young people already “hang out”. They set up sports and physical activities that young people could just turn up and join in with.  In this safe environment, the youth workers could offer support and advice, determined through conversation. They quickly became a trusted presence and were viewed as positive role models.

As well as providing young people with positive activities and trusted adults to talk to, the project has facilitated conversations about knife crime and safety, helped young people think about their education and mental health, and in some cases been able to sign post to other support services including forming positive links between young people and the local police. Young people also boosted their physical activity and welcomed the safe space to interact with their peers.

n the six month of delivery 2324 young people engaged with the detached youth workers and 241 youth work sessions were delivered across the five districts.

The project has been seen as a resounding success and a positive way to engage with young people in their spaces and their neighbourhoods. As a result, the VVU and Active Essex have committed to providing funding for a further 12 months which will see the project expanded to include areas of Harlow and Chelmsford.

Examples of the detached youth work undertaken included:

Bar’n’Bus worked with Brave Arts, and with Southend United Football Club, to deliver some outreach sessions which included football training and graffiti art. The young people engaged well with the activities.  Workers encountered a wide range of young people including Joe (pseudonym). Joe was expelled permanently from school last year, and is not under local authority watch. He mentioned that he would like support to get him studying again, and that his dream is to become a plumber but he has no support from parents.

Engaging with the detached workers was a positive experience for Joe, as the detached workers were able to offer him support and positive advice that he hadn’t received from elsewhere.

Detached workers from Homestart Colchester and YMCA Essex regularly spoke to a 13-year-old girl, who often gets excluded from school. She has begun to realise that exclusion will have a negative impact on her future. Workers have helped her identify that one of the reasons she behaves like this is so as she is thought of as “cool”. Following the conversations, she has begun to change her behaviour and think before she reacts.

In Golf Green, a group of boys aged between 11-12 years old spoke to the detached workers about knife crime. Workers used this as an opportunity to talk about safety & also signposted them to people/organisations who they could talk to if they were worried. They also handed out bike spoke reflectors to make it easier for them to be seen in the darker evenings.

The Red Balloon Foundation began working with the young people on the Garrison estate in September 2020; many of whom had concerns about a lack of activities in their local community for them to engage in. Several of the park facilities had been burnt on the Garrison Estate, so there was nowhere really for the young people to engage in active play.

In response to the young people’s concerns, the Outreach Team brought rackets and tennis nets and arranged some organised tennis games weekly. The Outreach Team have undertaken the Tennis Activator Training developed for community projects, so were able to introduce the young people to various tennis games for them to play. The interest grew within the estate and the numbers of young people who got involved increased weekly.

Red Balloon Foundation used this engagement as an opportunity to speak to young people, parents and carers about their needs and how these needs could be met.