Oxford City Council has received £50,000 from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley to tackle knife crime and child drug exploitation in Oxford.
The funding will enable the City Council’s Youth Ambition Team to engage young people at risk of exploitation or becoming involved in knife crime and guide them towards education, employment through activities such as music, art or sport.
The aim of the pilot project is to engage young people with the local community around them, increase school attendance and reduce expulsions, and reduce the likelihood that young people become involved in knife crime or drug dealing.
The Youth Ambition Team will work with Oxford secondary schools, alongside detached youth work in the communities, to engage at-risk young people, and then work with education, employment, cultural and leisure providers to link the young people with the opportunities and activities available to them.
The work will particularly seek to support those young people who have been excluded from school or are on reduced timetables.
Over recent years organised crime groups from large metropolitan centres, such as London and Birmingham, have groomed and coerced – often using threats, violence and intimidation – young people from Oxford into becoming drug runners or drug dealers. This form of drug dealing model is known as County Lines.
A National Crime Agency report into County Lines found that children across the UK, sometimes as young as 12, were exploited by organised crime groups because they are less likely to be known to police and more likely to receive lenient sentences if caught.
The Youth Ambition Team’s work will focus on two areas:
- School engagement: Youth workers will go into secondary schools and carry out a non-formal educational programme about the dangers of knife crime with at-risk young people. The programme – which could include art, music or sport – will be catered to the interests of the young people. The team has the capacity to work within the five city secondary schools.
- Detached youth work: Detached youth workers will engage with young people in their neighbourhoods and, based on their personal interests, guide them towards the opportunities that are available to them in the local area, including education, employment, cultural and leisure activities.
The Youth Ambition Team will work closely with providers – including community and voluntary groups, local charities, and educational, employment, music, art and sport groups – to find activities that will interest each of the young people.
The young people will also be offered one-to-one advice and guidance by the Youth Ambition Team. Where needed, the team will also refer the young people to specialist support services in Oxford.
The £50,000 will fund the project as a pilot for 12 months, and the hope is to work with around 60 young people a month during that time. The programme will start next month (April).
The money was awarded by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner as part of £800,000 to 14 organisations across the Thames Valley to deliver projects to tackle youth violence, knife crime and exploitation.
In November the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner was awarded £822,000 from the Home Office Early Intervention Fund and is now leading on rolling out a programme of activities across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
Oxford City Council’s Youth Ambition Team, which has won awards and received National Youth Agency Accreditation last year, already works with young people aged 10 to 21 years old across Oxford, including through youth work in schools, youth clubs, detached youth work, and holiday activities. Between 2013 and 2017, the team’s work helped more than 25,000 young people.
The team also provides £240,000 of grant funding every year to local community and voluntary groups to support young people in Oxford and provide holiday activities.
Meanwhile, the City Council and Thames Valley Police have also trained community forums and neighbourhood groups to inform them about knife crime and County Lines drug dealing so they can spot the signs of exploitation and report them to the relevant authorities.
Oxford City Council, in partnership with Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council, launched the Oxford Public Spaces Drugs Taskforce six months ago as a direct response to rising concerns from residents about open drug dealing and drug taking in the city.
The seven-strong taskforce targets three areas of the city at a time and carries out bespoke activity to make it harder to deal or use drugs in the area. This could include patrols of the area, clearing foliage to improve sightlines, improving street lighting, or installing security measures such as CCTV cameras.
County Lines drug dealers, as well as exploiting young people, also exploit vulnerable adults by taking over their homes to use as a base to store and distribute drugs. This practice is known as ‘cuckooing’.
The City Council, Thames Valley Police, Oxfordshire County Council and other support services are working closely to protect vulnerable people from cuckooing, including through closure orders and injunctions to protect vulnerable residents.
Councillor Tom Hayes, Executive Board Member for a Safer and Greener Environment, said: “We will only stop stabbings and save more young lives if we deal with why people carry knives in the first place. Your home, your neighbourhood and your local services make you who you are, especially in your childhood. When young people feel unsafe, excluded and at odds with society, an injustice has been committed that needs fixing.
“I welcome this extra funding – it will start to take on the exclusion and social inequality that’s leading our young people to pick up a knife. Oxford needs to move beyond the blade and end the drugs slavery facing children. I hope that this programme will start to do just that and build on the great work of our recently launched Drugs Taskforce.”
Matthew Barber Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner said: “I am delighted to award funding to Oxford City Council’s Youth Ambition as part of our Early Intervention Youth Fund programme.
“Given the recent increase in knife crime, we need to look at what more we can do to protect young people from violence and exploitation and how we can work even more closely in partnership with both statutory and community organisations to try to reverse this trend.
“Intervention and prevention programmes are increasingly important in working with young people to identify those at risk before they become involved in crime. Organisations like Youth Ambition which are experienced in working with disadvantaged young people, and have an extensive partner network across Oxford, will be key in delivering this and I look forward to seeing the difference this funding can make.”