VERU in View - special edition

Hello and thank you for taking the time to read what will be a much briefer VERU in View than usual!

I wanted to reach out after one of the most rewarding weeks I can remember as head of the VERU.

Many of you may have attended our ‘Exploitation through the lens of parents’ conference on Thursday. Exactly 200 people attended what was one of the most powerful and impactful conferences I have ever been to.

Guest speakers with personal experience of gangs, knife crime and exploitation joined experts in the field to address guests at the conference.

Many attendees were left in tears as a result of heartfelt talks by the likes of our very own Roseann Taylor, whose son Azaan Kaleem was stabbed to death in Luton in March 2018. Roseann now works for our Youth Intervention Specialist (YIS) team, which works with young people and families affected by things like knife crime, county lines and child criminal exploitation.

Fellow YIS team members Draz Bjelobaba and Sheldon Thomas gave talks about their lived experience of violence and exploitation, while the conference also heard from a father whose daughter was the victim of child sexual exploitation.

Other guest speakers included the National Working Group Exploitation Response Unit, SPACE, Link to Change, FACES, criminal barrister Stephen Akinsanya, former Scottish VRU member Graham Goulden and High Sherriff of Bedfordshire Susan Lousada, while Bedfordshire Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Sharn Basra opened the event. Thank you to all of you for your powerful and emotive contributions.

One conference attendee said: “Thank you so very much for allowing me to join the conference this morning. I have listened all day and taken a considerable amount of learning and thought provoking questions away with me.

“This was exceptional, and the speakers were truly open and honest with their own life experiences. I would definitely want to be informed of other conferences as the presentations, presenters and organisation of the conference was of a very high standard.”

Another added: “Thank you so much for the opportunity to attend as a parent. I would also like to thank all that arranged for this conference to happen. I will take so much away with me today. Such powerful and moving speakers.”

The event was also described as “amazing”, “inspiring”, “powerful” and “emotional” by guests at the conference on social media.

I cannot thank Lisa Robinson, our exploitation lead, and Tasha Case, our YIS team coordinator, enough for all their hard work in pulling together Thursday’s event. They are both tireless in their commitment to protecting young people from violence and exploitation and I am incredibly lucky to have them in the VERU.

Sophie Adams from Safeguarding Bedfordshire also played a key role in organising the conference and ensuring things went smoothly on the day, so a huge thank you to her as well, as well as Julie Allen, Rosie Ballman and Candice Chitolie, who all played a part in the superb comms advertising and promoting the event.

No single agency or organisation can protect young people in Bedfordshire by working on their own. Raising awareness among our communities and professionals like teachers and healthcare workers is a key part of our vision to tackle violence and exploitation.

Empowering our communities to play their part is absolutely crucial and I hope we can continue this work as we enter our third year. We have made enormous progress – but there is so much more for us to do.

We will continue our momentum on this moving forward. We are building our VERU Village as a one stop shop for prevention and early intervention to help potential victims of violence and exploitation – you can see how this has progressed so far on our VERU website. If you want to find out more or feature in part of the village, please get in touch.

We are looking at promoting intergenerational voices through our VERU Youth Voices project and our Parents Panel, while our sister project Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation (BAVEX) will be launching an awareness campaign aimed at parents over the coming weeks.

This all leads me onto some more excellent news from last week.  The VERU Oversight Board approved our plans for the VERU for next year, which will now be submitted for approval to the Home Office and hopefully pave the way for another £880,000 to come into Bedfordshire to continue our work for at least another year.

I am really grateful for all the help and support from all of our partners across Bedfordshire, who have been vital to the success we have achieved. We will be announcing further details about these plans for next year in due course.

We are so thankful for everybody’s ongoing support. Please keep supporting us and if you are ever interested in finding out more about our work, the projects we support or how to get involved, please contact our team through our website.

Kimberley Lamb

Head of the VERU

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