Vulnerable young people are being enticed off the streets and away from potential trouble with the launch of a free youth club in Southend.
Teens N Toast Club runs every Tuesday for young people aged 11 to 16 at YMCA Community School in Southend.
The club was set up after members of the youth independent advisory group (IAG) requested funding to be spent on giving young people in Southend a positive place to go.
The club, which started in January, is operated with IAG members working in collaboration with the police, council and YMCA staff.
The work received £3000 funding as part of the Violence and Vulnerability Programme established by the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) and partners across Essex.
The programme funds projects to reduce the risk of young and vulnerable people being groomed into a life of crime and help those affected by gangs to take the steps to leave.
One of Essex Police’s Children and Young Person’s Officers, PC Rob Kirk, from the Southend community policing team, said: “The members of the youth IAG felt Southend lacked facilities for young people. There are clubs in Leigh and Shoebury, but not so much in the heart of Southend.
“We have been able to secure the YMCA Community School free of charge. As it is a school, we can use their facilities to put on sports such as football, basketball and tennis. We have invested in board games and have an Xbox – we have a lot of facilities for young people to use.
“We have a core group of people coming along each week, but want to double the numbers. Ideally, we are looking to attract people from vulnerable backgrounds, but if the club takes young people off of the streets and prevents them from becoming vulnerable, that is great. Any young people are welcome to come along to the group.”
The YMCA is signing young people up to its leadership programme and, when club numbers increase, the club will begin to offer extras, such as football and boxing coaching.
PC Kirk said: “We are seeing young people’s social skills and self-confidence certainly improving.
“Without the youth club, some would be on the streets, while others would be just sitting around at home doing nothing or on their video games.”
Alex Bridge, from Southend Council’s adolescent intervention and prevention team, said: “This project is an amazing pilot initiated by an inspirational group of young people with collaboration between local services, each contributing staff and facilities to make this possible.
“Providing positive services to teenagers is essential within any community and this will hopefully be a model that could be replicated across the borough if it continues to be successful.”
Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “Tackling serious violence and protecting young and vulnerable people are both key priorities in my Police and Crime Plan. We are working hard in Essex to tackle violence in our communities and are well ahead of other areas of the country.
“We have already created a Violence and Vulnerability Unit, have invested in a range of activities for young people at risk and strengthened our enforcement activities.
“We are investing in activities and interventions that stop the vulnerable being drawn into a life of crime and help those already involved to exit gangs safely.”
Councillor Anne Jones, Southend’s cabinet member for children and learning, said: “Having a range of activities outside school, and introducing young people to positive role models is another way we are working in Southend, to help keep children from being targeted by gangs.
“This is all about giving young people a place to socialise safely, and people to talk to if they need help or advice.
“Teens N Toast is a shining example of what can happen when several organisations and a number of passionate people come together to make a difference.
“I would urge any teens currently socialising out and about, to come along to Teens N Toast and give it a try.”