VERU in View - June
Good morning everyone and thank you for taking the time to read the latest update from the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU). In very broad terms, I am writing with the VERU in a good place: our funding has been confirmed for a third year, we are on the brink of rolling out some really exciting work, further details of which can be found below, and I really feel like we are now embedded into the Bedfordshire response to tackling violence and exploitation. The next nine months for us will be all about putting the VERU into a sustainable model moving forward, as well as evidencing and evaluating the impact of our work.
On that note, I am thrilled to have seen the passionate support for the VERU from Bedfordshire’s new Police and Crime Commissioner, Festus Akinbusoye. Throughout his campaign he was clear about the value of prevention and early intervention in addressing the root causes of child criminal exploitation, and I am pleased to see that he is a true believer who has continued this narrative since taking office. He has already attended one of our team meetings and we are working really closely with him and his team, which I am confident will continue over the coming months. So welcome Commissioner and thank you for your support!
One of the key things we want to do in the VERU is empower communities and grassroots organisations to play their part in tackling serious youth violence. With that in mind, we have already used some of our funding from this year to support the continuation of some VERU-backed projects from last year, helping them to build capacity amidst the ongoing challenges of Covid-19. Two of these, the Mary Seacole barbering academy and Boxing Saves Lives, featured in a showcase of our work on BBC Look East a few weeks ago.
In terms of next year, we hope to make an announcement on our full slate of funding over the coming weeks. However, we have already supported the PCC in awarding £28,000 to a variety of projects to improve spaces for young people. This commissioning process had specific input from young people from Denbigh High School, Bedford Academy, and the Shefford-based Youth Involvement. Thank you to everyone who took part and more details are available on the PCC’s website.
The VERU also continues to play an active part in the national conversation on these issues. I was delighted to appear on the UK Youth ‘Are You Convinced’ podcast as a guest alongside former Met Police officer Leroy Logan, whose life story recently featured on the BBC’s Small Axe. Over the coming weeks I will also be speaking at a national conference for violence reduction units as well as at a research in practice conference, as we look to showcase the good work happening here in Bedfordshire.
Locally we are also continuing to build new and improve our existing relationships with different partners across the county. We are working really closely with Bedfordshire Police’s new Education and Diversion team, with a huge thank you in particular to PCSO Adam Harris for his collaboration with us. Work led by our data analyst Ade Abitoye to better coordinate data collected by lots of different organisations across Bedfordshire is also continuing to bear fruit, and I really hope to see even further progress over the coming months. Please get in touch with myself or Ade to discuss this project in more detail.
Finally, I like so many of you reading this felt a great deal of sadness at the death of 16-year-old Humza Hussain in Luton earlier this month. This heart breaking tragedy is something that we must all work together to ensure does not happen again, and our thoughts remain with his family and loved ones at this difficult time.
Head of the VERU
YIS Team update
It has been an extremely busy few weeks for our Youth Intervention Specialists, who continue to work directly with young people and families at risk of violence and exploitation.
As of May we have received 166 referrals since our service was set up little over a year ago, demonstrating the huge need there is for the YIS service.
We have also in recent weeks been delivering more work in schools, colleges and other education provision. Our offer to different education settings is something we are really looking to expand over the coming months, with projects like virtual assemblies, lesson plans and closer working with the Crimestoppers youth brand Fearless all in the pipeline.
One of our YIS team, Sheldon Thomas, is also continuing to work with Kimberley to develop projects with both healthcare providers and Bedford Prison. Further details of all of this work will be announced soon, but it all helps get these messages and awareness into the spaces which can have the most impact.
YIS Team coordinator
We have played a leading part in ensuring two teams from Luton will be entered into the Kick Off @ 3 football tournament in Bromley on 25 July. We chair the Kick Off @ 3 task and finish event planning group, made up of community members, former footballers, local coaches and managers, youth workers and the police.
Dee Bailey from our team will be continuing this brilliant work as we build towards the big event. Kick Off @ 3 is a shining example of how the power of sport can be used to engage positively with young people, and we will be there on the day to show out support alongside so many friends and colleagues.
This is just one of a number of events and campaigns happening over the coming month, which marks an unprecedented period of activity to raise awareness of child exploitation and its associated harm.
The next Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation (BAVEX) campaign will focus on raising awareness of the signs of child exploitation, among both parents and young people. This includes messages in the Mall in Luton, on platforms such as Spotify, Mumsnet and Snapchat, as well as a Facebook Live Q&A with our VERU YIS team on 22 July.
The VERU team plays a leading role in the BAVEX campaign alongside a whole range of other partners, and we are thrilled to be forming a key part of this awareness raising campaign.
Other events include:
– A series of community engagement events are taking place in Luton on 12, 13 and 14 July around serious youth violence, backed by the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and Luton Council
– A campaign by the national modern slavery charity Unseen is raising awareness of child exploitation
– Online webinars by the St Giles Trust charity for parents and carers in Bedfordshire are taking place on 30 June and 8 July. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
– The Luton News and Dunstable Gazette have also launched their ‘Bin Your Blade’ campaign to raise awareness about knife crime. The PCC and the chairman of our oversight board signed a public letter supporting the campaign this week, which you can read here.
All of this activity will hopefully raise awareness of child exploitation and equip our communities with the knowledge they need to recognise it and take steps to try and stop it from happening. We at the VERU wholeheartedly endorse all of this work and will support it in whatever way we can.