A new mentorship project has launched in Nottinghamshire to help young people in custody turn their lives around and break free from gangs and violence.
The county’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) has funded the ‘U Turn’ custody intervention scheme over the next 21 months to support young people aged 16 to 26 to make a fresh start.
The project, delivered by The Inspire & Achieve Foundation, a Nottinghamshire charity, sees two full-time mentors operating out of both Nottingham’s Bridewell and Mansfield’s custody suites. The mentors support young people who have been arrested, help them overcome their barriers, and put them on the path to a new life.
The mentors, who have lived experience of the problems facing the young people, encourage participants to take part in positive diversionary activities such as going to the gym, making new friends, going on training courses, self-reflecting and chatting while walking, or action planning over a coffee. Mentors are able to build up a rapport, establish trust, and provide much needed advice and support on a range of issues such as housing, budgeting, substance misuse, mental health, healthy relationships, employment options and education.
The scheme launched in January and is already supporting 15 young people including a gang member who, as a result of the U-Turn programme, progressed into formal education within two weeks of the intervention starting.
Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping, who is Chair of the VRU’s Board, visited Mansfield Police Station today (Friday 13th March) to meet the new mentors and find out more about their work.
He said: “This project is still in its infancy but already we are seeing astonishing results with young people beginning to believe in themselves and their capabilities and considering what their life could look like without crime.
“The absence of positive role models plays such a huge factor in many of these young people’s lives but it is never too late to intervene and help change the way they view the world and themselves. The success in this project lies in having credible, trusted mentors who have been in the shoes of these young people and have come out the other side.
“As specialist partners, the VRU team is delighted to bring this model to Nottinghamshire following its success in London. We’ve come together to create these kinds of opportunities so that young people no longer see a series of closed doors, and are judged on their potential not their past. We are looking forward to seeing how the project progresses over the months ahead.”
Nottinghamshire Police Chief Constable Craig Guildford said: "Breaking the cycle of violence can be extremely hard for young people, especially if they feel doors have been closed on them.
"This mentorship project puts them in contact with people who have been in their shoes and turned their lives around and gives them access to the opportunities they may need to make a fresh start.
"It is a really worthwhile intervention that could prevent further violence on the streets of Nottinghamshire by helping people overcome barriers to a more positive lifestyle."
Pippa Carter, Director of The Inspire and Achieve Foundation, which has an excellent track record of supporting young people at risk of crime, said the project was independent of the police and took a holistic approach.
“Our mentors understand the real barriers these young people are facing, as they have lived through similar experiences themselves. This enables them to instantly connect with the young people, and more importantly gives the young people hope that they too will be able to re-build their lives and find a positive future,” she said.
“Believing in them is so important, many of the young people have never had anybody believe in them or have faith in them before and that really affects their mental health.
“If you look behind the façade you can see that their self-esteem is at rock bottom and they cannot see a way out of the cycle they are caught up in. If you’re told you’re nothing for the first 17 years of your life you generally tend to believe it and never aspire to be anything more.
“Combine a lack of positive role models, ever increasing peer pressure fuelled by the rise of social media, and a fear of failure and it’s a dangerous mix for society. The majority of young people we work with have pretty horrendous background stories with recurring themes of poverty, neglect, abuse, exclusion and being in care. They have already dealt with a lot in their young lives.
“We try to balance out the negativity in their lives, help them find coping mechanisms, supporting them with their mental health, building their resilience, helping them find a route out, and providing them with an open and safe environment to talk. We want to bring out the best in them and celebrate their qualities.”
The scheme is flexible, with no strict offence criteria for referral, and mentors will try and help anyone in the age range who is not in education, employment and training and needs their support.
Although initial contact will normally be made by the U Turn mentors when an individual is in custody, referrals can also be made if a mentor has not been able to see someone during their time in custody.
The Inspire and Achieve Foundation also provide other mentoring provision and programmes and can make internal referrals for young people who do not end up being charged.
The VRU was set up in September last year and brings together different organisations including police, local government, health, community leaders and other key partners to prevent serious violence by understanding its root causes.
The VRU has adopted a public health approach which means that violence is treated in a similar way to a disease by addressing the underlying causes to achieve longer-term recovery.
“It’s great to see the Police and the VRU paving the way for this initiative and working in such a positive and integrated way with charities like ours, and that they recognise the value that lived experience mentors can bring. The public health approach is exactly right and what is needed.” said Pippa.
“They need guidance, support and role models to help them cope with their past, fight any addictions, step away from peer pressure and gain the hope and confidence they need to find the way out.
“We try to provide them with all of that, and help them access the support services that they need in the capacity of a professional friend.
“The programme is already having a positive influence on the young people with some attending training programmes, starting to look for work, and accessing the support services they need.”
Sallie Blair - 01283 821012