Hundreds of teenagers have attended conferences organised by Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye this week as part of a major drive to raise awareness about issues like knife crime and violence against women and girls.
Nearly 300 year nine students attended the events which were delivered in partnership with agencies such as Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Unit (VERU) and the Safer Streets programme.
Held at venues in each local authority area, students heard from a number of guest speakers and took part in talks and workshops to help them understand the impact their actions and choices can have on the rest of their life, while giving them the opportunity to be part of the solution in reducing crime in Bedfordshire.
Sessions included a live theatre performance from educational theatre group Performance in Education, who delivered a thought-provoking play about sexual violence and how young people can call out such behaviour.
Mr Akinbusoye said: “I am delighted to have hosted a successful youth conference for the second year in a row and with even more students in attendance.
“I am a firm believer of identifying and utilising teachable moments. This now annual youth conference is a platform I want to use to ensure our young people are inspired to make sound choices, informed on the risks and consequences of their decisions, but also empowered to make those decisions for themselves.
“A new element I have introduced this year is a focus on sexual abuse and harassment and what it means to be an active bystander. Our young people are the future of our society, therefore it’s imperative that we address this prevalent issue early and head on, supporting our aim to stamp out this behaviour in our communities.”
Local partners and organisations engaged with young people, sharing their real-life, lived experience and delivering educational talks to encourage young people to consider healthy choices away from crime.
This included Michelle Crook, founder and director of alternative education provider Reactiv8, who discussed the rise of mental health challenges, choosing positive influences and steps young people can take to achieve their goals.
Young people also heard from the VERU’s Youth Intervention Specialist team including Roseann Taylor, who shared her experience following the death of her 18-year-old son Azaan Kaleem, who was stabbed to death in Luton in 2018.
She has since established a career in educating young people on the risks of carrying a blade and supporting those affected by gang activity to make positive life choices.
“Sadly, AJ’s story isn’t unique, but I believe that is why many young people connect with elements of his journey,” said Ms Taylor.
“Young people across our county are faced with pressures and social expectations that we as adults never had to experience in our younger years. What is important here, and what I cherish most about my role in the VERU, is the focus on early intervention, and this event is an example of that too.
“This conference provided the VERU and other partners the opportunity to engage with nearly 300 young minds, and hopefully impart some knowledge and advice that will see them go on to be positive and impactful members of society.”
To conclude the day’s sessions, students were welcomed to write notes of hope and takeaways from the conference.
A year nine student from Stockwood Park Academy School said afterwards: “It’s brought up a lot for me, I think we need to raise more awareness about this in schools and tell people that violence isn’t the only way.”