Incidents of ASB in Wallsend reduced by almost 50 per cent in four months when North Tyneside Council and the neighbourhood policing team set out to engage with young residents more effectively through outreach, early intervention and a new drop-in centre.
The local context
In 2019 the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Northumbria, Kim McGuinness, set up a Violence Reduction Unit. As well as leading partnership work across the Northumbria area around issues such as early intervention and youth diversion, the unit provides funding to organisations and projects that use a public health approach to reduce crime and ASB.
North Tyneside Council was among the organisations to receive PCC funding in 2019/20, with a grant of £130,000 to steer teenagers away from involvement in ASB and crime. There was a particular focus on the town of Wallsend and its large residential area of Howdon, which have high levels of deprivation. Wallsend has a rich history – the name refers to its location at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall, the edge of the Roman Empire.
Listening to young people
Half of the grant (£65,000) was used to convert unused space in a council customer contact centre in Wallsend into a base for local police, youth workers and community protection officers to work from. The neighbourhood policing team moved here from their headquarters on the outskirts of town. The new base has enabled more effective multi-agency working to prevent and deal with ASB and crime.
The other half of the funding is being channelled into projects to reduce youth-related crime and ASB. Using the name ‘Project Vita’, this work stream has engagement with young people at its heart. The team now provides more out-of-hours and weekend outreach support in the community. For the first six weeks this outreach included asking young people what provision they would like to see in the town.
Outreach also provides a chance to identify vulnerable young people, ensuring timely referral to the Early Help team. Where ASB, alcohol or drug use are identified there is immediate follow-up with a visit to the family home the next day, linking the family into early and preventative support from relevant partners.
Young people said they didn’t want a traditional youth club but needed a dry, warm place to go, with wi-fi, where they could feel safe and listen to music without being moved on. Space was identified at the Denby Centre in Howdon, a building housing some council services. A drop-in facility staffed by youth workers was created on Thursday, Friday and some Saturday evenings. About 70 young people used this facility each evening, with an age range between eight and 16.
Impact and outcomes
Within four months, ASB in Wallsend had reduced by 47.8 per cent. The drop-in sessions stopped when the first COVID-19 lockdown began, although outreach and referrals started again later in 2020. For this reason, and because incidents of ASB in the lockdown periods were likely to be lower anyway, it was difficult to measure the effectiveness of this work for the next year or so.
Richie Mitchell, Community and Public Space Protection Manager at North Tyneside Council, said: “We had great feedback from local residents in Wallsend, particularly when the centre was open. It really showed what old-fashioned youth development work and policing can do, with a focus on prevention, early intervention and addressing the root causes of involvement in ASB.”
Councillor Carole Burdis, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Engagement, said the success of the initiative so far was testament to the hard work and dedication of the community protection staff, the police and other community partners.
“North Tyneside remains one of the safest places in the country to live. We maintain that by working constructively with young people – helping them to understand the consequence of their actions and to make more positive decisions in future.”
Project Vita was originally funded for three months from the start of 2020 but is still going strong. The original funding was stretched (partly because of reduced activity during lockdown periods) and further funding has been secured within the council.
By engaging young people in conversations about what they need, providing a safe place for them to gather and intervening early when this is required, the partners have been successful in diverting vulnerable young people away from ASB, supporting them to fulfil their potential and helping local residents to feel safer.
Both North Tyneside Council and the police are now bringing elements of Project Vita into their day-to-day work. There are plans to re-open the drop-in centre on Thursday and Friday nights. On Saturdays a new operation will begin, with a council community support officer and a police officer using a CCTV van to visit places where young people gather – to engage with them and provide a sense of safety, as well as looking out for trouble.
This will take the work borough-wide rather than just focusing on Wallsend and Howdon. ASB here is seasonal, with more incidents in the coastal locations in the summer and inland in the winter, so it makes sense to use this flexible ‘rolling’ provision – with flexibility on the days of the week, as well as the locations visited.
- People often design the services they think young people want, rather than what they actually want – so effective engagement was critical in getting these positive results.
- The world moves quickly, and what young people may have needed 10 years ago is not what will work for them now.
- Young people will take ownership and responsibility for something if they are trusted.
- Young people don’t always feel safe from their peers, and hanging around in larger groups can help them feel safer – they don’t realise that large groups can look intimidating to other residents.