What can we all do to help tackle rising knife crime?

St Giles Trust caseworker Earl Ling speaks at the Open House knife crime and county lines discussion

St Giles Trust caseworker Earl Ling speaks at the Open House knife crime and county lines discussion. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

Editor David Powles looks at the problem of knife crime in Norfolk.

Detective Superintendent Andrew Coller speaks at the Open House knife crime and county lines discuss

Detective Superintendent Andrew Coller speaks at the Open House knife crime and county lines discussion. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

We're trialling something a little bit different in 2020.

For decade upon decade our primary job has been to go where the news goes, report the debate, let people analyse and then move onto the next issue.

However, we are always assessing the role we play in the community and we believe that it's time we took a little bit more of a lead, shape the debate, host it and inspire people to want to be part of it. It's time we truly led from the front in terms of the issues that matter to the people of Norfolk.

As part of this, we are hosting a series of public conversations, both within our head office in Norwich and at locations around the region, on those key subjects that affect your lives.

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I'm writing this column on the back of the very first of those discussions, on the issue of rising knife crime in Norfolk, its links to the problem of County Lines and how we can try to improve the current situation.

It made for a fascinating hour-long sold-out debate, attended by around 30 people from varying walks of life. There were reformed criminals now putting something back into the community, Norfolk Police, youth workers, councillors and interested members of the public.

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What was clear very early on is there is definitely a growing concern around knife-related incidents, in Norwich mainly, but also beyond. The main focus of those concerns were centred upon young people.

We heard talk of an increasing number of youngsters being lured into criminal activity with the promise of making large sums of cash for doing little more than deliver a package. Those people at the top of the drugs chain were able to sell a glamorous lifestyle which that person may otherwise feel is unobtainable in their lives.

One youth worker asked why a teenager would want to undergo a YTS scheme for £70-a-week when they're being promised four times that in one single day?

Other factors included austerity and widespread cuts to youth and mental health services and a sense of fear that others may be carrying a weapon, so you have to as well.

In many ways identifying the problem and the causes was the easy part - the ways to put it right less so.

A key task, many agreed, was to provide young people with different role models in their lives. There was a feeling many of the most vulnerable lack someone to show them a different path.

We heard from Earl Ling, a former criminal who has now turned his life around and goes into Norfolk's schools to talk about his own experience and how he wished he'd done things differently. It seems obvious to me we need more of these types of characters to do the same all over Norfolk.

While there was general agreement this is a problem police cannot 'arrest the county' out of, the police recognised there was a need to disrupt those cuckooing the vulnerable, rather than go for the low hanging fruit - those at the bottom of the supply chain.

And the key point for me was that as a community we have to take the lead if there is going to be real change.

As I've said before around the problem of mental ill health, if we can no longer rely on the state to provide the funds needed to tackle this growing problem, we need a community-led approach.

Many of those at risk of falling into crime, drugs and potentially deciding to carry a knife, need alternative options and opportunities to help them stay on the right track. That can include more role models, better facilities to take up their time, access to more sports and community groups, greater education and job opportunities.

These are things we can all think about and decide if there's a positive role we can play.

* Our next event takes place this Friday at Open Norwich, in Bank Plain and is a series of sessions and debates around mental health. OpenUp at Open is completely free to attend, even if you can only spare an hour or two. For more information visit our website.

Meanwhile, our next Open House debate is on the subject of The Future of Norwich City Centre and is at 10am in Prospect House, on Rouen Road, Norwich, on Tuesday, April 7. Full details of how to sign up will be out soon.

If you have any ideas for debates you'd like to see please drop me an email at david.powles@archant.co.uk.

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