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Helping young people in Chelmsford turn their lives around

A father who turned to a life of crime after growing up without positive role models is giving other young people the chance of a bright future, thanks to funding from the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, Roger Hirst.

Gavin McKenna went down a negative path having grown up in London without a stable home life or good people to guide him.

Now a husband and father and in his 30s, Gavin is devoting his life to ensuring young people are able to access all the support they need to avoid crime and build positive lives.

He said: “I made really bad choices. Now I am older, with my own family, I understand it was the lack of guidance that got me where I ended up. I was not a bad boy, I was just scared. There had been no role model, no guidance. I did what I did to survive.

“I didn’t kill anyone; I didn’t go to prison. But, the only consistent in my life was the police. Before that, there had never been any care or concern for me as a vulnerable child.”

Turning his life around by sharing his story to discourage others from following his path, he set up Building Lives Project in Essex.

Building Lives Project supports vulnerable young people at risk of crime, serious violence and criminal exploitation.

The Community Interest Company offers one to one mentoring sessions and life skills coaching from its brand-new hub, The Base, in Chelmsford.

The Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, contributed £9,875 to Building Lives Project in the form of a crime and disorder reduction grant from the 2020-2021 Community Safety Development Fund to open The Base.

The new centre gives young people a safe space to gather regularly with role models and mentors, to relax and engage in positive activities which keep them off of the streets and away from trouble.

They can learn household skills such as painting and DIY, use the TV, laptops – for schoolwork, CV writing and job hunting – and games console and play table tennis, pool, the keyboard and electric guitar.

Gavin, operations manager, said: “So many young people are caught up in the blaze. We want to be a service well positioned to direct people out. We want them to make something of themselves and to build a life without crime or exploitation.

“Some young people come to us and haven’t eaten. They haven’t been shown how to paint a wall. They have never played a PlayStation. One young man said to me ‘I know how to use a knife, but not a pool cue’.”

Of the PFCC funding, Gavin said: “It has made a major, major difference. Without this funding, we would not have the building. Without the building, there is nothing to offer.

“The PFCC has given us the safe space. Young people now know they have a safe space to come to. It has changed many lives already.

“I have got so much gratitude. When you are an organisation that lives off of funding, you can have dreams and have vision, but you are at the mercy of others saying ‘yes’.

“This has allowed me to fulfil my dream and desire. I do what I do because I care and I want to make a difference; I want to see young people’s lives transformed and to be able to offer them that safe space.”

Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner said: “Cracking down on drug driven violence and gangs, whilst protecting the vulnerable people these gangs prey on is a key priority for me in my Police and Crime Plan.

“Investing in projects like this and supporting the work Gavin is doing through the Building Lives Project, is a great way of keeping our young people away from crime by intervening early to help steer them towards a successful life course. The Building Lives project does important work in Chelmsford and I am pleased to be able to support them and help them give our young people a brighter future.”


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PFCC for Essex, Kelvedon Park, London Road, Rivenhall, Witham, Essex, CM8 3HB
01245 291600

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