Funding boost to tackle gang culture in the South West

A pioneering project that helped bring down an emerging culture of gangs and violence in young people in South Devon will continue its good work thanks to a £900,000 investment by the Chief Constable and Police and Crime Commissioner. This is the first of a series of prevention programmes being supported by the new Prevention of Serious Violence initiative.

The Turning Corners Project was a government-funded scheme that ended earlier this year but had a big impact in South Devon. The project focused on diverting young people away from a life of crime at an early age by intercepting vulnerable youths and getting them involved with a wide range of diversionary activities and sports led by specialist youth workers.

The multi-agency scheme, which sees young people referred by organisations such as the police, schools and social services, has been successfully operated in Teignbridge and the South Hams by the South Devon and Dartmoor Community Safety Partnership.

The project was instrumental in cutting crime in Newton Abbot last year where a group of up to 30 young people were at serious risk of becoming involved in gangs, drug dealing and violence.

Devon and Cornwall Police issued adult and youth civil gang injunctions against 11 individuals, meaning they were unable to visit certain places, meet with certain people or act in a threatening way over social media.

A year in to the project, prior to the coronavirus [disease] pandemic, crime figures for Newton Abbot showed a 4.2% reduction in violence with injury, 15.8% reduction in robbery, 9.8% reduction in criminal damage, 12.4% reduction in public order offences and 19.5% reduction in possession of weapons.

It was the first time a piece of civil legislation had been used to address gang related behaviour in the region and, such was the success of the project, a new scheme to continue that work is being funded for four years by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in partnership with the Chief Constable as part of their commitment to preventing serious violence.

£225,000 a year for the next four years (£900,000 in total) has been allocated so Turning Corners can continue with key elements of the project and protect and deter those who have the potential to get involved in violent and anti-social culture at an early stage. It is the first project that has been funded by the community’s council tax investment to prevent serious violence and it’s hoped the scheme will be replicated across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Commissioner Hernandez said: “I’m delighted that this project has been such a success and that those involved can now continue with their fantastic work.

‘Phase two of the scheme will build on the evidence and learning from the initial Turning Corners project around early intervention, maintaining trusted relationships, strengthening knowledge and understanding across multi-agency partnerships.

‘The aim is to scale this project up and reach into other geographic areas with young people suffering from community disconnection and stop them turning their hand to criminal activity.

‘Most people ask me ‘what are we doing about our young people’ who they can see frequently in their community getting into trouble. Our community sometimes feels helpless and frustrated to take action, but this scheme will reassure everyone that we are doing all we can to turn young people’s lives around.

‘We can offer parent support to improve their confidence in dealing with their children at home and take enforcement action as necessary to enhance discipline.

‘We are committed to reducing violent crime in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and projects like this, which have a proven track record of success, give the young people of our region the best chance of a life away from crime.”

On the announcement of the successful funding bid, Cllr Martin Wrigley, Teignbridge District Council’s Executive Lead for Safer Communities, said: “We’re tremendously proud and pleased that this pioneering project has been funded for a further four years, allowing us to develop and extend this already successful work. The Turning Corners programme will continue to focus on some of our most vulnerable and marginalised young people, who are at the greatest risk of exploitation and abuse, or from falling into a cycle of crime and risky behaviour.

‘This funding will enable us to build on the positive outcomes we have seen through the initial pilot to help these young people build positive relationships, meaningful activities and make good life choices.

‘The impact of this project is potentially huge; reducing the demand on hard pressed resources as well as the impact on the criminal justice system, and giving young people better life chances and prospects for their future.”

South Hams District Council’s Community Safety Partnership Representative, Cllr Tom Holway, said: “It is excellent news that the Community Safety Partnership has received £225,000 per year for the next four years in recognition of the amazing results achieved so far. Working in partnership with other statutory agencies, this money for the Turning Corners Project will be used across the South Hams. It will continue to reduce the risk of young people becoming involved in violence, anti-social behaviour and crime through early intervention and prevention.”

CASE STUDY

One parent got involved with the Turning Corners initiative when they realised their own children were involved with gangs and on a path to serious criminal activity. The parent, who has asked to remain anonymous, helped set up regular parent support groups which will continue to be supported over the next four years.

The parent says early intervention with young people at risk of gang related crime is key. “As parents we have to do what we can. Otherwise they would end up dead. I’ve seen numerous fights with weapons, videos of people getting beaten up just for the fun of it. They were like packs of wolves; it was like twelve on one.

‘It’s important we acknowledge what’s going on. People think it’s just sleepy old Devon, but we do have these problems. I thought my kid was like any other, just going out to town – but then we were informed what had been going on and that police had been watching them for a year. As parents, you don’t know until it’s too late. It needs to be dealt with sooner, before it’s too late and they are out of control.”

The parent said they had seen WhatsApp group chats that included young people from Devon as well as people from Birmingham and London who they did not know.

They said: “There’s got to be a reason why these people want to add the Newton Abbot kids to a WhatsApp group. Money, drugs, easy targets – that’s what it is. Hopefully if parents are aware of these things and how to spot the signs, they can keep an eye on their kids and what they’re doing – why they’re wearing new trainers or how they’ve got money.

‘If we’re going to get a grip on this we need to start getting to them younger. There are year 7’s going round with older gang members. It’s better to invest small sums of money now to tackle this, it will save lives in the long run.”

Laura White

Author: Laura White

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