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'We shouldn't be surprised when children in Norwich are driven to gangs and drugs,' says charity boss

PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:54 19 April 2019

Lorraine Bliss, chief executive of the St Edmund's Society in Norwich. Picture: ARCHANT

Lorraine Bliss, chief executive of the St Edmund's Society in Norwich. Picture: ARCHANT

Archant Norfolk 2017

"We shouldn't be surprised when children in Norwich are driven to gangs and drugs".

That is the view of the boss of an influential Norwich charity as she raised concerns that organisations trying to help them are overlooked for financial support.

Lorraine Bliss, chief executive of the St Edmund's Society, said a theme was emerging of education institutions which help disadvantaged children being ignored when it came to investment.

She felt that, despite Norwich being recognised by the government as a social mobility “cold spot” – where children from deprived backgrounds are less likely to progress out of deprivation – “very little money” was being targeted to help more vulnerable children.

The St Edmund's Society provides alternative education provision for children who have struggled in mainstream schools, including those who have special educational needs or are more at risk of being drawn into criminal activity. It is involved in the Norwich Opportunity Area scheme, which aims to improve the education and life chances of disadvantaged young people.

But in a letter to the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Ms Bliss, who has been made an MBE for her services to young people, said there was a danger of “creating simply elitist programmes for the most able where others feel completely and utterly left behind”.

She added: “When they do, can we be really surprised that they find themselves gravitating into gang cultures and drugs when they see and receive almost not help and no future?”

It follows news that the New Anglia LEP is giving a £6.1m grant to City College Norwich to help it build a state-of-the-art digital technology hub.

While Ms Bliss said the investment was commendable, “one also has to recognise that for every young person with the qualities to undertake such a challenge there is at least another who has achieved precious little in general education”.

A spokesman for the New Anglia LEP said: “Driving inclusion and skills is a priority theme of the Economic Strategy for Norfolk and Suffolk, and a key ambition for New Anglia LEP.

“The New Anglia Youth Pledge is our commitment to help every young person in our two counties into work, training or continued education.

“The LEP is a partner in delivering the Norwich and Ipswich Opportunity Area programmes, which are improving social mobility through work to reduce school exclusions, improve early years language skills and connect more young people with work environments.”

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