Good morning everyone and thank you for taking the time to read what will be our final VERU in View of 2020. It has been a truly extraordinary and challenging year, but one where the VERU team and our supporters can be enormously proud of what they have achieved.
A year ago, our Youth Intervention Specialist (YIS) team did not exist. Since launching in February, this truly innovative and pioneering service has received more than 120 referrals to work with young people and their families in Bedfordshire at risk of criminal exploitation.
Our five YIS team members led by Tasha Case are currently working with just under 90 people. I continue to receive emails almost daily from these families as well as other professionals praising the impact of their work, which has had a profound and direct impact on some of the most vulnerable and at-risk people across Bedfordshire to this sort of exploitation.
These individual stories are incredibly powerful. The work of Roseann Taylor to support the family of the victim of an attempted murder was praised for providing “a precious support that could not be provided by other professionals, with an approach which is so valuable”.
In another case study, YIS team member Sheldon Thomas was working with a young person earlier this year, who unfortunately ended up in prison. However, the young person in question has reached out through the prison’s governor to Sheldon and has asked him directly for help to turn his life around.
We are really lucky to have the support of Draz from Embrace and all her expertise, while our newest YIS team member Demi Hopper is making fantastic inroads working with education providers across the county.
These interventions are remarkable and genuinely life changing. The YIS team is a unique service among violence reduction units nationally, drawing on both professional and lived experience which gives them credibility with the exact communities we are trying to serve. The impact this team has had in less than 12 months has been incredible and we are extremely lucky to have this service in the county.
These results would not be possible without the support of other agencies and professionals working with and trusting the YIS team. There are always challenges when a new service comes along, but the way the YIS team has been embraced by so many of you has been enormously important and helped us achieve so much.
We continue to grow our network of supporters and talk to people about our work. In December alone, I have spoken at the annual meeting of the regional branch of Soroptimist International, a global volunteer movement whose core mission is to work on grassroots projects that help women and girls achieve their individual and collective potential, as well as a contextual safeguarding conference organised by the University of Bedfordshire’s school of applied social studies.
This month our team has also briefed MPs, councillors and community leaders in Luton about the work of the VERU. Whenever we go and speak at these events the response we get is overwhelmingly positive; everybody wants to buy into and support the work of the VERU and what we are trying to achieve, and it is only with this support that we are able to have the success we have had to date.
It takes a village to achieve the real and lasting change we all want in our communities, and we are definitely in a good position to utilise our communities and networks to improve our work and impact moving forward, which will be done in a large part by our #VERUVillage project – more details on that below.
I want to close by thanking you all again for your support for the VERU, and wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season.
Head of the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit
Launching our VERU Village
Community engagement has been a cornerstone of our work at the VERU. We have built good followings on social media, spoken at dozens of partnership and community meetings and also keep people up to date through this newsletter. The way we do community engagement has been recognised by the Home Office, and I am one of the leads for VRUs nationally in this area.
A key part of what we want to do in this space is build on that community spirit and cohesiveness. We are so lucky to have the support and goodwill of so many people, groups and organisations across Bedfordshire – not just ones we have funded, but also services which do invaluable work in our communities and support our overarching aims of combatting violence and exploitation. This is without mentioning the work and support in this area from communities themselves.
We want to achieve this through our VERU Village – a community and youth led network of services and products which can help people with concerns around criminal exploitation. The plan will be to group these services into broad groups such as VERU Leisure, VERU Familiy and VERU Inclusion – which can provide a one-stop shop for people who are seeking help, support or activities to take part in.
We will also be looking to team the VERU Village with some dedicated comms products such as VERU Youth Voices, fortnightly podcasts and radio broadcasts featuring the voices of young people talking about issues around violence and exploitation and what we can do to help. This will be teamed with online training and workshops specifically targeted at young people.
This exciting project will be the culmination of a longstanding vision for our VERU and we really look forward to launching it early in the new year. If you want further information or to get involved please email firstname.lastname@example.org
We would also ask our partners to start using the #VERUVillage hashtag on their social media channels, as we start to spread the word about this campaign and get people bought into it across the county.
Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation
We are proud to support the work of this multi-agency comms programme, which has been led by our exploitation lead Lisa Robinson alongside our head of communications and engagement Jon Vale. They have both worked very hard to pull together lots of different boards, projects and partnership groups into one coordinated programme of work to raise awareness about lots of interlinked aspects of violence, exploitation and organised crime.
Due to launch early in the spring, the project will include a professional video product telling the story of different victims, specifically of county lines and child criminal exploitation, homelessness and criminal exploitation, child sexual exploitation, cuckooing and criminal exploitation, modern slavery and labour exploitation, and commercial sexual exploitation. You can view a basic draft of the video here.
This is just one part of a series of communications products that will form part of that campaign. It will also include:
• A series of guidance documents which have been designed around both adult exploitation and child exploitation. Working particularly closely with the Luton Safeguarding Adults Board, these documents are a comprehensive collection of practical working documents which can be used by front line professionals and staff across Bedfordshire. We will be launching these documents formally early in 2021. Thank you to Link to Change, our three local authorities and the young people themselves for their help on this project.
• A new website with lots of helpful resources and information on all the different types of exploitation, as well as outlining where people can get help.
• An artistic infographic and mural which has been designed by artist Daniel Weatheritt, with input from young people here in Bedfordshire. The plan will be to display this in high visibility sites across the county early in the new year. A huge thank you to Gemma, Steph, Shelley, Claire, Dovydas, Billie, Holly-Ann, Muaz and the young people from Bedford Borough Youth Cabinet for their thoughts and input into the design.
• Monthly newsletters will be created for professionals outlining the current picture of exploitation in Bedfordshire, advising frontline staff on emerging trends in the county and reminding people how to report concerns through official channels.
• A series of targeted campaigns at specific audiences at risk of exploitation. This will include YouTube and online gaming advertising looking to reach 13 to 17 year olds with messaging about sexual exploitation, as well as designing materials to reach Romanian and other eastern European communities.
An enormous amount of work has already gone into the project to get it to this stage, which has funding and support from statutory and voluntary agencies across Bedfordshire. We are really looking forward to supporting the launch of this campaign and hope it can add to the transformative work being done in this area by so many of you.
Save the date for our parent conference
We have now agreed the date for our first ever VERU Parents Virtual Conference! The event is scheduled to take place on Thursday 25 February. Plans are underway in terms of topics and guest speakers – for more information or to get involved please email email@example.com
Update from our analysts
Our pioneering Data & Intelligence Group on Violence and Exploitation Reduction in Bedfordshire (DIGVERB), which was set up by our senior analyst Ade Abitoye, brings together analysts and data specialists from different public services across the county. The group has been discussing what work to focus on initially and an initial mapping of the areas of priorities for various agencies highlighted that the most common interest is focused on child exploitation.
Coupled with asks from executive and strategic groups and boards across the system, the group has decided to jointly work on a child exploitation strategic needs assessment. There was a debate around whether to focus only on CSE (Child Sexual Exploitation), partly because of certain limitations regarding time and other factors, or all child exploitation – the latter was unanimously agreed. A task and finish group has been set up to deliver this work. Again, for more information or to get involved please email firstname.lastname@example.org