A former professional footballer who came through a troubled upbringing to realise his dream career is urging young people to ‘be the inspiration’ to their peers.
Liam Hearn, a forward whose career included spells with Grimsby Town and Mansfield Town, spoke out as part of a national campaign against knife crime, called Operation Sceptre.
The 37-year-old, who is now a youth development coach and the project lead for Trent Bridge Community Trust’s Positive Futures programme, is using his own background experience to mentor young people who others may have given up on - and help them get on the right path in life.
He today gave a message to any young people going through difficulties - urging them to question their choices and be a role model to others.
“Just always question why and look to the future. What is it you want from your life? And if it's something positive, then knives aren’t the way,” he said.
“Seek something better for yourself. Seek something better for your future, and also look after your friends and look after the people around you.
“You can be the role model. You can be the inspiration to your community, to society. And it comes from just making better choices and better decisions for yourself.”
Bulwell-born Liam said he often drew on his own experiences to relate to young people who are having a difficult time, as part of his role as project lead for the Positive Futures programme – which helps young people who are at risk of social exclusion.
The organisation, based at Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club’s world famous Trent Bridge ground, is one of many funded by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire to help prevent serious violence.
Liam said: “I grew up in a family of domestic violence and I came through that. I’ve been in the social system. I didn't have a great time at school, through people probably not understanding me in the system itself, but I managed to come out on top. I achieved my dream of becoming a professional footballer, which the majority of people told me I would never do.
“My life experiences through growing up in Bestwood, Top Valley and Bulwell, meant I've got to know a lot of people who are involved in various forms of life and various walks of life. And what it's taught me is there's no right or wrong way.
“I think as long as we're all trying to get to a destination and that destination is positive, we're going to have a few rocky moments but that journey can make us and it can help us affect people in a positive way and create stories and tales and inspirations.
“But if we don't have that support and we don't have those role models around us, it's very difficult to achieve that. And that's why I look at my job now and I'm able to do that because I can relate to a lot of situations a lot of young people are in, but I could also offer mentorship and also offer guidance and I'm just very fortunate enough to be in a position where I can affect people positively.”
Liam added that young people could often lose their direction in life when they are facing adverse experiences but it was important not to give up on them.
“I work with a young person who the school pretty much gave up on. They said that he will never change, he won't reform. But I could see something in there and I could understand that he was a really good kid. And he just meant well, he was just easily influenced,” he said.
“And through the work, the after-school club and the summer camps which we run, he's now absolutely thriving at school and he's doing so well.
“The teachers requested some feedback because he's a cared for young person and his current guardian, he's really pleased with his behaviour - and it's not all down to me. A huge proportion is down to himself, down to his family. He's got such a supportive family.
“But the work that we have all done collectively, it's been huge for this young person because now he's on the path that I think he needs to be on because he's very academically clever. He's such a polite young man. He just got lost, got lost in his direction of who he was. And we've managed to help him find that.
“And I think we're ready to pass him on now. And he’ll come away from our referral and our contact time will become more distant. But that's such a great thing. And then when I see him, hopefully in a few years if he achieves something really good for himself, which I think he will, it'll be great just to have that conversation and that reminder of what can happen in life if you don't meet the right people and you don't seek the right support.”
The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire, her Violence Reduction Unit, Nottinghamshire Police and other partners are supporting Operation Sceptre this week by putting the spotlight on some of the work they do all year round to prevent and respond to knife crime and support victims.
Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry said: “Liam is such an inspiration and the work he and his colleagues are doing at Trent Bridge Community Trust’s Positive Futures programme is really outstanding.
“I’d like to thank Liam for sharing his background story and it really does show that it is possible to succeed in life despite the challenges you may face.
“I’m sure many young people will look up to him and see similarities in their own lives, and hopefully come through them and become role models themselves.”