Open House forum tackles subjects of knife crime and county lines
A strategy for steering young people away from violence must include more sensible public funding, corporate responsibilty and positive role models.
That was the conclusion of the first Open House forum hosted by the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star on Thursday.
The first in a series of public discussions focussed on knife crime and county lines drug-dealing.
Serious crime involving knives increased by 44% in Suffolk between September 2018 and 2019 to a total of 285 offences.
With that amounting to one more offence a week and making up 3% of serious crime, Suffolk police Superintendent Kerry Cutler urged care to be taken to avoid setting a tone of fear.
"I have a real concern about creating a fear of knife crime which leads to people picking up a knife," she said.
"Not all of these offences will be committed in the street, or by young people."
Supt Cutler said every sector represented at the Open House event had been affected by cuts to funding in the last decade, during which time, 'county lines' drugs distribution had given rise to sophisticated, addiction-fed supply and demand market.
Police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore said areas of deprivation had been hit worst by cuts to youth services.
"We need to try harder, or we're writing off a whole generation," he added.
"We get stuffed left, right and centre in Suffolk.
"We've to scrap and battle, and we'd be in a worse place if not for the voluntary and third sector."
Mr Passmore called for more initiatives like last year's Youth Intervention Fund, which used contributions from the public sector, businesses and private donors to benefit 13 organisations in its first wave of grants.
"I'm convinced we can turn a corner if we do more like that," he said.
Ipswich youth worker Terry Charles said a 'production line' of positive role models was required to turn young people away from destructive lifestyles.
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"If there are problems in the home with young people not being brought to task, those problems spill onto the streets," he said.
"If I hadn't had that respectful fear when growing up, I'd be in prison, or dead.
"I feel we've given a lot of power to young people. They no longer have that respectful fear of authority. But guess who they do have it for - the groomers.
"I worked for Making Tracks (the now closed young people's project in Ipswich), which had centres with positive male role models in areas where we've seen problems since their closure.
"We need a production line of young talented people to become the next role models."
Phanuel Mutumburi, business and operations director for Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE), which collaborates with police and young people via the Stop and Search Reference Group and Rules of Engagement project, said: "While I agree there's some truth to saying we've given too much power to young people, it's also true that cuts came about because there wasn't a youth voice to defend services. The counter argument to them being given too much power is that they weren't given enough to fight cuts.
"For many young people coming from working class or poor backgrounds, it's difficult to see a pathway to success and providing for their families.
"Work by our local agencies is brilliant, but what we're not seeing as much of is work by those running our businesses.
"We are often contacted by big companies offering opportunities for young people to work in London. I wonder why we have massive local employers which are not participating in these conversations. It should be part of corporate responsibility."
David-Ross Bowie, of Access Community Trust, said co-operation with young people was critical, adding: "There has been a massive disconnect between those running services and those who need them. They need to believe their community can offer them something.
"We have to get people on board by earning their respect."
But Earl Ling, caseworker for St Giles Trust, which delivers early intervention work with young people, said an older generation of people had more to offer young people than they gave themselves credit for.
"We've got lost in transition between generations," he said.
"In talking to young offenders and children in schools, their best relationships are often the ones they have with their grandparents."
Future Open House events are planned in April and May, covering traffic problems in Ipswich and loneliness in Suffolk.
To find out more and register to attend, visit eventbrite.com/o/archant-open-house-29276165599
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