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Supporting young people to move away from drugs and crime in Bristol

Youth sits on sofa talking to a mentor who is sat in a chair

Avon and Somerset Police are working in partnership with The St Giles Trust to support and divert young people in Bristol away from drugs and crime and towards a better future.

Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council were awarded Home Office funding in 2021 as part of Project ADDER (Addiction, Diversion, Disruption, Enforcement and Recovery), which aims to reduce drug related crime and harm in the city. Some of this funding has gone to the St Giles Trust whose mentors have supported 35 young people during the first year of the scheme, and all have shown positive changes in their behaviour and attitude.

The St Giles Trust supports young people who may be involved in or are likely to become involved in drugs, County Lines and other criminality. They engage children with specially-trained mentors who have lived experience of the situations children find themselves in, and who can connect with them in a way that other professionals often can’t.

St Giles Trust mentor Stuart says: “Engaging positively with the young people is so important. The key thing is that you are there as someone they can trust, so that they can be guided to make positive choices for their future. The support we provide is tailored to meet each young person’s specific needs. Our work equips them with the knowledge, tools and awareness to stay safe.

“A common theme amongst our young people is they feel like their voices aren’t being heard or they are not being listened to. By creating a safe space to listen without any judgment, enables me to understand, explore and offer support tailored to the individual’s needs.”

Young people who are at risk of criminal exploitation or harm from drugs, whether because they are not currently in education, or because of the people they associate with, are referred into the mentoring service through schools and the Violence Reduction Unit Safer Options. They must consent to taking part before they are assigned a mentor.

Detective Chief Inspector Larisa Hunt who manages the partnership with The St Giles Trust on behalf of Avon and Somerset Police said: “Our partnership with the St Giles Trust allows us to reach young people who are distrustful of the police and other figures of authority.

“Although the figure of 35 young people supported over the past year doesn’t sound huge, that is 35 young people who may have had very different outcomes and opportunities had we not been able to intensively engage with them in this way.

“The St Giles Trust mentors really do work magic. They take a child centred approach and address other needs these young people have which may be contributing to them becoming mixed up in drugs or other crime, such as issues with their education, family support, relationships or mental health.

“The partnership we have with The St Giles Trust is a perfect example of what Project ADDER is all about, taking a holistic, multiagency approach to divert young people away from the criminal justice system, which reduces harm and saves the taxpayer money in the long run.

“I’m very excited to see how many young people we can support through this approach as we move into the next year of funding for Project ADDER.”

What young people say

Danni, a young person who have been on the programme said: “I feel like I’m in a better place since I started the sessions. I was smoking weed and involved in stealing and carrying knives. Working with the mentor, we’ve covered the dangers of grooming and involvement in County Lines. My mentor has been there to support me as I’ve moved on – I really trust them.”

What parents say

One parent whose child has been on the scheme said: “My son was getting into a lot of trouble and being influenced by older people. The work he has done with his mentor has been working wonders. He now understands the danger of the streets and what grooming and gangs can look like before being in it too deep.

“My son has become more positive in his outlook on life, he has been able to open up more about his feelings. Working with St Giles has been a godsend and I wish there was more like for our children in Bristol.”

What schools say

Rob Dickins, SENDCo of North Star 240, a school for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and students with social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH) in Bristol said: “Our mentor Jacob has built strong rapports with our students very quickly. Having someone who is relatable and real with them is having an impact. Over time, we hope that his continued work will support the students in making positive decisions when at those crossroads of good and bad choices.”

St Giles Trust is a social justice charity helping people held back by poverty, exploited, abused, dealing with addiction or mental health problems, caught up in crime or a combination of these issues and others. They show people there is a way to build a better future – for themselves and those they care about – and help them create this through support, advice and training. Between 2020-2021, they helped over 1,000 young people at risk of involvement in gangs and serious violence.