Police and youth leaders behind Bedfordshire’s new Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) have unveiled their plans to Home Office visitors after an £880,000 grant to help them end youth violence in the county.
Roseann Taylor, whose son Azaan Kaleem was stabbed to death in Luton last year, was among those to give presentations to Government officials on Wednesday as part of a visit organised by the new VERU partnership team.
The VERU is creating a network of different agencies, projects and community groups to tackle the root causes of violence to put an end to young people being exploited into committing crime, carrying knives and becoming involved in gangs.
The officials were given a tour of the A&E department at Luton & Dunstable Hospital, where they were told about the impact of gun and knife crime on their services.
They also heard from a young person who has accessed a number of services in the county voicing what young people themselves would like to see made available to help others who are at risk.
Crime Commissioner Kathryn Holloway and Bedfordshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Sebire, the national police lead for serious youth violence, also gave presentations during Wednesday’s event.
The £880,000 fund to create the VERU has been awarded by the Home Office to the PCC and is run by her office. ACC Sebire takes responsibility for police involvement with the unit and its set up.
The PCC told the Home Office team: “What makes Bedfordshire different is that we genuinely had all the ducks in a row with partners who just needed the funding to release staff and come together to look at the problem of serious youth violence as one of exploitation of young people, grooming them into gangs and creating fear which drives many to carry knives.
"The Youth Offending Service have been talking about this for almost two years and the lead of the VERU, Kimberley Lamb, and I have been talking about the impact of adverse childhood experiences on those who are 10 and under for longer. We now have the chance to address this thanks to your funding and we couldn’t be more grateful."
ACC Sebire said : “It's fantastic to see months of hard work and planning starting to come to fruition.
"We have a really ambitious vision for our VERU and I know professionals and grassroots groups across Bedfordshire are all pulling together to make it a success.
“I really believe this is the key vehicle through which we can have a transformative impact on the lives of our young people, reduce violence and prevent them from being criminally exploited.”
The PCC and Assistant Chief Constable were joined by key partners involved in the VERU, with representatives explaining the work they are doing in this area and how the VERU can help.
This included the Luton Youth Offending Service, Bedford Community Safety Partnership, Mary Seacole Housing Association, a public health specialist and alternative education providers.
The PCC told an official who asked how long VERUs would need to be funded before they became ‘business as usual’: “The genuine answer is at least 25 years as only by funding this work for a generation until the next children have been born will you know whether it has been able to break the cycle of violence."
The Bedfordshire VERU is one of 18 similar units being funded by the Home Office across the country. Bedfordshire’s is the only one to have the word ‘exploitation’ in its title and to make this a feature of its approach since victims and offenders are a constantly inter-changeable group among young people involved in serious violence.
The Home Office is awarding some £400,000 to approximately 35 different projects across the county which can divert young people away from criminality. These projects will be delivered by both statutory agencies as well as community groups.
Full details of these projects will be announced in the coming weeks, once the grants have been finalised.
The VERU will also be delivering its own work, creating a long term and sustainable system to address and respond to these issues.
Kimberley Lamb, head of the VERU, said: “I was really pleased to showcase all the fantastic work of the VERU and our partners to the Home Office.
"I truly believe that the VERU is on the cusp of starting something genuinely transformational for the lives of young people across the county. The hard work starts now though and I really hope that everyone can support us over the coming months.”