An in-depth look at the work going on to tackle gang culture was given to delegates at an event focusing on violence in Essex.
The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex (PFCC) and the Essex Violence & Vulnerability Unit brought together partners to share ideas and best practise on tackling gangs, drugs and county lines in the county.
During the Perspectives on Violence Conference, delegates were invited to choose from a variety of Breakout Experiences to further enhance their knowledge of the issues faced and the work going on to combat them.
Workshops included –
Rapper and spoken word artist Quinton Green spent much of his youth on the peripheries of gangs and violence, falling victim to knife crime himself.
Today, he leads a music project which sees him talk to young people about his experiences. Having collaborated with popular artist Stormzy, he is able to reach disadvantaged youngsters and inspire them to express themselves through emotive language.
He told of his frustration at drill music inciting violence earning artists hundreds of thousands of pounds in music contracts.
He said: “I teach clean drill music. I give youngsters the instrumental and the production and allow them to say whatever is their truth. If they have seen guns and violence, they can talk about that, but they do not say they are going out to hurt someone.
“They might find it difficult to talk, but give them a piece of paper or a beat and they might be able to communicate.”
Of the conference, he said: “I feel it is a good opportunity to give people an insight into what’s happening on social media and the influences it’s having on young people. For me, it’s about gaining knowledge from others, learning from them and sharing my knowledge. I see myself as a middleman between the authorities and disaffected youngsters; I am a grown-up version of them.”
For James McLaughlin, probation officer, Quinton’s words are helping him to break through to young people at risk of getting into trouble. He runs Prison No Way in secondary schools in Braintree and Chelmsford.
He said: “We can come across a bit of bravado in class, but as soon as I put Quinton’s video on, I have everyone’s attention.
“Gang culture has been going on for so many years. If Essex is coming together to raise awareness and put in interventions, that is incredible. Every organisation works in isolation to a certain extent, but events like this mean we can link up and share ideas.”
Having given an emotional account of being groomed and trafficked at the age of 15 on the main stage of the conference, Joanna Bakare, of St Giles Trust, spoke more in-depth during her workshop about county lines. She now works with young people involved in gangs as a custody suite case worker.
She said: “The dynamics have changed with county lines and we have to keep on top of that.
“It is really important we work together as no one agency has all the answers. We can only reach the end goal if we work together.
“The conference has been fantastic; I have learnt a lot. It has been great to see so many people contribute.”
Braintree District Councillor Wendy Schmitt, chair of the Essex Police, Fire and Crime Panel for attended the Reaching Out in the Community workshop, having worked alongside St Giles Trust in the past.
She said: “Joanne’s story brought it home how incredibly powerful it is when someone has actually been there. People need to hear it from the horse’s mouth. It would be interesting to follow-up with the Trust as they have people who have been victims with the courage to tell it as it really is. That helps people to really understand the vile coercive nature of it.
“The networking opportunity from today is excellent; to feel you are not alone.”
Safeguarding programme DotCom introduces young people to cartoon friend Dot who shows them where to turn for help and teaches them to value themselves.
Having recently taken the programme from paper based to digital, founder Sharon Doughty is keen to get all schools in Essex on board.
She said: “DotCom teaches children how to speak up about issues which frighten or worry them. It gives them emotional vocabulary and life skills and teaches them about things such as knife crime and county lines.
“Today is a great opportunity to showcase the work we have been doing and to have time with chief officers.”
DotCom has been developed with children and teachers and is offered as a free resource to any organisation working with young people.
Holy Cross Catholic Primary School, in Thurrock, has helped to develop the DotCom project over the last 15 years. A group of pupils from the school attended the conference to share what Dot teaches them.
Heather Westrop, assistant headteacher, said: “We do DotCom lessons once a fortnight and as and when issues arise. It provides us with the resources and the children with the language.
“As a result, we have boys who leave us in Year 6 who can talk about their emotions. They can articulate and are not getting themselves into trouble.”
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