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Thousands of students in Norfolk have been benefitting from a series of special training sessions aimed at steering young people away from criminality and gang exploitation.
The SOS+ Project was launched in the county in April 2019 and so far more than 3,951 pupils, parents and teachers have taken part in the initiative led by ex-offender and former boxer Earl Ling.
National charity St Giles received £89,028 under the Hidden Victims’ Fund and a further £87,737 under the Home Office’s Early Intervention Youth Fund to run the three-year project which aims to provide 120 preventative sessions to around 8,600 schoolchildren in Norfolk.
Intensive one to one support is also being offered for those deemed at high risk and awareness raising sessions delivered to parents and teachers.
The funding was secured via the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk (OPCCN) and since last April Earl and his team of peer advisors have visited 14 schools and pupil referral units and received positive feedback and responses from young people.
“The way he told us stories was interesting and engaging and I now know things that will help me stay away from gangs and avoid drug dealers.” Year 8 student
“He seemed genuine and he cared for us and our futures.” Year 9 student
“A lot of people think that you must have come from a broken home to get involved in criminality, but more and more young people getting involved come from leafy suburbia,” said Earl.
“Fortunately, I’ve been there and I can see the attraction of being ‘the bad man’ but it isn’t good when you get there. Constantly having to look over your shoulder and it wasn’t the police I was worried about, it was the other side.
“These sessions are about talking to young people about your lived experience. You need guys who have been there, done that and worn the t-shirt to talk to them about the consequences of their actions.
“You can’t walk away from things as easy as that, there are always consequences. Often one silly mistake can change your life forever.
“The work we have been doing with young people in Norfolk makes me glow with pride and encourages me further still to never allow complacency to creep in and up my game even more.
“I’m determined to help SOS+ Norfolk make a dent in the vile world of county lines and the exploitation of young people.”
Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Lorne Green, added: “My office is delighted to be working with St Giles in delivering such a vital project for the county – together we can make a real difference.
“The work of Earl and his team is crucial in helping young people see the real consequences of taking the wrong path in life.
“I want to safeguard our most vulnerable young people and give them the tools they need to make informed decisions for themselves on how they would like to spend their time positively.”
Nicky Park, Head of Prisons and Women’s Services at St Giles, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner and are very pleased with what has been achieved to date.
“By bringing the unique, credible insights of our staff who have lived experience of the criminal justice system, we can help prevent young people going down the same path.
“Raising awareness at this stage means we can prevent a lot of heartache and trauma further down the line, bringing benefits to individuals, their families and wider society.”
St Giles is an award-winning charity using expertise and real-life experiences to empower people who are not getting the help they need, held back by poverty, exploited, abused, dealing with mental health problems, caught up in crime or a combination of these issues.
Information on the other Norfolk projects funded through the Early Intervention Youth Fund can be found here.