International attention on crime project

Shaun Lowthorpe A groundbreaking Norfolk project to cut crime and yobbish behaviour is attracting international attention and could offer a blueprint for other parts of this country.

Shaun Lowthorpe

A groundbreaking Norfolk project to cut crime and yobbish behaviour is attracting international attention and could offer a blueprint for other parts of this country.

Broadland District Council teamed up with UEA to produce a detailed look at what offences are committed in the area and by whom.

The findings of the £100,000 Stairway scheme spawned a range of projects which could all help tackle yob behaviour from addressing bullying, the loss of a parent, race and sexuality issues, to the design of neighbourhoods.

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In one project, 50 youngsters in seven schools across the district were referred for one-to-one sessions with workers from Norfolk charity the Benjamin Foundation's Time 4 You service because they were crying all the time, going through bereavement or the loss of a parent through family separation, or had issues around friendship and anger management.

Sessions have also been held at Broadland Training Services to help families deal effectively with disputes and planners have also looked at how the design of neighbourhoods could be improved.

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Two new 'restorative justice' projects aimed at giving commun-ities a say how low-level offenders should pay for their crimes are also in the pipeline.

Now the Stairway scheme is attracting interest from abroad. UEA researchers have already addressed a conference in Sydney about the restorative justice project, while later this month Broadland council leader Simon Woodbridge will be addressing a conference in Verona about the Stairway scheme.

Mr Woodbridge said the authority, which will discuss the scheme at a cabinet meeting on Monday, was delighted with its success and the recognition it is gaining.

"One of the common elements that ran through the research was family breakdown, isolation and bullying," he said. "It's when you get a combination of these factors coming together that you get the highest chance of offending behaviour.

"What the research turned around and said is that there are some organisations out there that can help to identify and address some of the issues these youngsters have. We can already see this is having a tangible impact.

"The overriding driver for this has been the local economy - if we have got crime and disorder and youngsters spending their time smashing and grabbing, that's no good to anybody."

The Norfolk and Norwich Race Equality Council is also being asked to raise awareness of difference among youngsters from weight to skin colour to sexuality.

"Why should we exclude somebody just because they are black or fat or whatever," Mr Woodbridge added.

He said the hope was the council cash would act as seed corn to get schemes off the ground - which will then attract funding once their success has been demonstrated.

Sharon Matthews, from the Benjamin Foundation, said the project had enthused teachers and was attracting interest from other parts of the county.

"It's heartbreaking what some of the kids are going through, but heart-warming to think we can do something about it," she said. "We are seeing some good results very quickly and getting good feedback from teachers. Often a six-year-old doesn't need counselling, it's about saying 'when you get angry do this instead' - they just need that practical advice.

"It's the kids who don't have the decision-making framework who are going to get into difficulties later on and more likely to get led into vandalising the village hall when they are older.

"There's no quick fix - the work we are doing is with five and six year olds and we are not going to know whether it's worked for another 10 years," she said.

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