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Between October 2021 and February 2022, the VVU commissioned Essex Council of Voluntary Youth Services (ECVYS) to run two listening projects. The projects were to gather both the views of young people and the views of the community on how safe they feel in Essex (especially around gangs & knife crime).This year the youth voices project took part through detached youth workers and youth centre settings in the seven priority areas for Essex (Colchester, Tendring, Chelmsford, Basildon, Harlow, Thurrock and Southend).

These areas are known to the VVU as having the highest levels of youth violence and are areas that the VVU are working hard to see positive change in. This was then replicated with community groups and outreach work to capture the views of the community. Listening took place at social groups, coffee mornings, libraries, churches etc.

In total more than 1100 people took part in both projects, keen to share their views and affect change in their communities.

In both projects knife crime is the top concern. Young people told us knife crime and getting stabbed worries them, plus drugs and drug use are a growing concern. The community listening project agreed that knife crime is the biggest concern about youth violence and vulnerability. Other issues such as gang violence, drugs, anti-social behaviour, being a victim of crime, lack of police enforcement and not enough positive activities for young people being available were also highlighted as issues that could impact negatively on young people and their communities.

For young people there are clear differences in concerns at a local level, according to where the young people live, for example, in Harwich the young people didn’t mention knives at all, but are very worried about ‘assault’. The young people in Harlow are mostly worried about drugs, and Basildon young people are the only ones that mentioned poverty/ social inequality as an issue.

While young people say they feel safe when out with friends they are less likely to feel safe when alone or after dark. In order to feel safe, they want more safe spaces – spaces inside that are warm and welcoming, comfortable and affordable, and spaces outside that are sheltered and well-lit. These spaces need to be open for longer, have access to early help and trusted adults such as community youth workers that they can talk and confide in, with plenty of activities like football and trips to get involved in.

The views of the community mirror those of the young people. One in 4 people feel unsafe when out in their community due to poor lighting, large groups of people and a lack of police presence. However, the community recognise that young people need more safe, accessible places to go.

Those involved in the community listening project agreed that working together is the way to improve things and encourage positive change. Communities want a holistic approach to address youth violence and look to improve behaviour.

The VVU will now share both reports with our partners and look at how we can take positive action to address the issues raised. We want to use these findings to influence future work and activity. You can view both reports at