“Community mentors saw my pain and helped me see life differently”

Young people at risk of violence and crime in Leicestershire have praised a community mentorship project for helping them to change course and improve their mental wellbeing.


Leicestershire’s Violence Reduction Network (VRN) provided funding worth almost £9,000 to Build Community Development Ltd as part of its Covid-19 Vulnerable Children’s Charity Funding which aims to help charities continue vital violence prevention work throughout the pandemic.


The grant has enabled the charity to roll out a programme of free, socially-distanced, football and ball mastery sessions to engage vulnerable young people, particularly those from BAME backgrounds, and to help develop their skills, capabilities and confidence.


Build also received funding worth almost £14k from Leicestershire PCC Lord Willy Bach’s Prevention Fund to deliver an Urban Mentor project that sees Community Outreach Workers patrolling the city and areas where young people come together to support them out of street life.


The outreach workers, who have lived experience and insight into street culture, are tasked with connecting with young people, particularly from within BAME communities where there are existing gaps in support, to listen to their concerns and worries and develop a rapport in order to provide advice and support on life choices.


One of those to receive help was a 17-year-old man who was initially nervous of any interaction but within a matter of days had opened up that he was involved in things he did not want to be involved in anymore.


The community mentor suggested meeting regularly to make the change happen over time and invited him to join a few activities to demonstrate his commitment. The aim was to remove the teenager from the environment he was in for a short time to ensure conversations with the mentor were not interrupted.


Since engaging with the scheme, the individual has now left the street job he had and has gained regular nine-to-five employment in a legitimate job.


He said: “When no one else saw my pain, Build recognised that I needed help. Maybe they were just in the right place at the right time, but regardless, I am grateful.


“Just having someone outside of my network to talk to without judgement was what I needed. They definitely helped me to see my life in a different way, a better way.”


Richard Gerald, Senior Youth Violence Practitioner at Build Community Development, said: “This type of work is necessary, and not only is it necessary, it is needed right now. Delivering the Urban Mentor project is something I feel extremely passionate about.


Being an access point for young people who need guidance, advice and someone to listen to has been more rewarding than I imagined. If I can help do my bit to support the rebuilding of a young person's life, I will.


“Having financial support from funders, in this case the OPCC and VRN, is vital for a sustainable mentor-based approach. It has allowed me to do what I do in a more structured way and pull in the support of young people allowing them to make money the legitimate way. Young people have to know they have other options besides crime.”


The Urban Mentor project is part of a series of initiatives funded by the PCC and VRN to help address the root causes of violence and prevent young people being caught up in a culture which can lead to involvement in crime and violence.


It aims to connect with approximately 80 young people over a 32-week period up to the end of March 2021.


Willy Bach said: “There is no greater endorsement for the vital work Build undertakes than the powerful testimony given by this teenager.


“The outreach workers have not only opened the doors to a brighter future but have created an outlet for these vulnerable teenagers to express their fears and worries and understand how they might escape the clutches of street life.


“Build and other charities like it play such an important role in our prevention work, reaching young people at a crucial moment in their lives where there is still time to change.”


Grace Strong, Director of the VRN, added: “Violence is a consequence of many causes, including a lack of opportunity, skills and employment.


“Build recruits passionate and determined outreach workers who have a real connection with the communities where they work. They have a shared experience, and this means they are more likely to be trusted and respected by the young people they support. These relationships make for a highly successful approach to preventing violence.


“This project’s work to develop young people’s confidence, aspiration, and capability is particularly welcome as is the team’s determination to find concrete alternatives to young people’s involvement in crime and violence. This is no easy task, particularly in the current environment. Nonetheless, I believe we can learn a great deal from the thinking and style that underpins Build’s approach”


So far, Build has delivered 15 football and fitness sessions across the Evington, Highfields and Belgrave areas of the city which have been attended by 60 different young people – many of whom have attended more than one session.


The sessions are attended by a community mentor who connects with the young people and supports any low level mental health or anxiety issues as well as offering a listening ear if they want to discuss any problems they are worried about raising with their parents.

Feedback from some of those involved in the sessions suggests the lockdown has impacted on young people’s mental health with many feeling emotionally imprisoned by the restrictions.


Some could not find anything to look forward to and others admitted to not liking engagement with too many support services. Many agreed having a physical outlet was positive for their wellbeing.


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