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The most at-risk young people in Thurrock have been given one to one mentoring to steer them away from gangs and violence.
Thurrock Council enlisted the help of the St Giles Trust charity to use lived experiences as a way of empowering young people to avoid being exploited or groomed.
They worked with 20 students at Olive Academy, an alternative provision academy which provides a broad curriculum to a diverse group of young people.
The school caters for young people and children who have experienced difficulty in learning for a variety of reasons, as well as offering support to students in mainstream schools who are experiencing difficulties and are at risk of exclusion.
The SOS Project set about raising awareness of the risks of gang related activity to students.
The work received £15,000 funding as part of the Violence and Vulnerability Programme established by the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) and partners across Essex. The programme funds projects to reduce the risk of young and vulnerable people being groomed into a life of crime and help those affected by gangs to take the steps to leave.
The early intervention project saw students take part in group sessions – including looking at the psychological impact of prison – and one to one mentoring and parents invited to the school to learn more.
Headteacher Collette Hunnisett said:
“From the initial staff training day set up with the St Giles Trust team, we knew the project was going to have a powerful impact on our young people.
“The programme was intense and informative, but in a way that was engaging and included every young person at the academy.
“For some, it unlocked some thought-provoking, life-changing moments and for others the information they needed to keep themselves safe.
“The attendance of our young people increased when the St Giles Team were in school and more young people opened up to counselling opportunities. In addition, the sessions aimed at parents and other adults were well attended and allowed us to be able to initiate difficult conversations regarding the safeguarding of their children.
“I would fully recommend this provision for every school environment as this first-hand knowledge is critical in supporting, protecting and developing our ever-changing communities”
Michelle Cunningham, Thurrock Community Safety Partnership manager, said:
“We are delighted the St Giles Trust and Olive Academy have embraced this project and provided an opportunity for some of our most vulnerable young people to have the opportunity to engage with others who have found themselves in similar situations, but have been able to turn their lives around.
“This opportunity clearly is having a far greater impact than statutory services could ever provide.”
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, added:
“Tackling serious violence and protecting young and vulnerable people are both key priorities in my Police and Crime Plan. We are working hard in Essex to tackle violence in our communities and are well ahead of other areas of the country. We have already created a Violence and Vulnerability Unit, have invested in a range of activities for young people at risk and strengthened our enforcement activities. We are investing in activities and interventions that stop the vulnerable being drawn into a life of crime and help those already involved to exit gangs safely.”