Project makes a splash as youth offending plummets

A CHURCH-BACKED project in Craigmillar has led to a 74 per cent drop in youth offending.

Young people skipping school, having problems at home or getting involved in low-level misbehaviour are referred by the police to the Make It Happen project, run by CrossReach, the social care arm of the Church of Scotland, and the Capital City Partnership.

The youngsters are then linked with projects where they can develop their interests, from fitness to motorbikes.

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In the first 12 months staff worked with 23 people aged between ten and 18, and police reported a 65 per cent reduction in antisocial behaviour and a 74 per cent fall in offending.

Co-ordinator Glenn Liddall said the project worked closely with the police.

"It's a simple scenario - a bunch of young people at a loose end. If they go unsupported, in two or three years the police won't just be moving them on, they'll be arresting them and the young people could be heading for jail.

"Our worker will meet them and try to build up a relationship and find out what they are into. We get them involved in things which make better use of their time.

"The east of Edinburgh is awash with different projects, but often young people don't find them. Our worker has done a great job in liking them up."

Mr Liddall said the project helped build self-esteem and self-confidence among young people, which in turn allowed them to make better choices.

Project worker Mark Simcock said: "The focus is not on what they have done, it's on the young person and how they are getting on. We've only had two people out of 30 or so who have said they did not want to be involved any more."

He said he offered one-to-one support, arranged for the youngsters to go on programmes which included white water rafting and mountain biking, and introduced them to projects such as one near Dalkeith fixing motorbikes and another in Leith organising outdoor activities.

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Craigmillar police inspector Cameron Chapman said: "This type of early intervention work has the potential to provide long-term success and it is clear that Mark's work has made a positive difference to the lives of these children and young people."

However, the funding for Make It Happen, which came through the Scottish Government's Fairer Scotland Fund, has now come to an end and the project is looking at various trusts to find the 30,000 a year needed to keep it going.

Mr Liddall said: "At the moment we work only in Craigmillar, but we would love to do similar work centred on Wester Hailes, Broomhouse and Sighthill."

The Kirk's CrossReach convener the Reverend Syd Graham said: "The Make It Happen pilot clearly demonstrates that it is worth investing in the nation's young people and services like this."Whilst CrossReach is committed to the principle of early intervention this will only materialise as funders and policy makers embrace it."

'This has given me a place to talk about what's in my head'

James, 13, was excluded from school in May last year and one day a week sees a tutor for English and maths, but felt bored and frustrated, spending most of the rest of his time playing computer games.

After being put in touch with Make It Happen, he now attends cage fighting training three times a week, which he says allows him to deal with his frustration by giving him discipline and focus.

Recently, James completed his Fairbridge course in outdoor activities which he really enjoyed because it allowed him to do things he had never done before. He asked for extra school work that he could do during the week and has now been given a place at a school which offers behavioural support.

He said: "I was just bored, playing computer games. This has given me a place to talk about what's in my head and give me focus."

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Another success story is Ellie, 14, who came to the attention of the police for assaulting someone.

She was not engaging with school, often skipping lessons altogether and getting into trouble with the teachers.

To start with, Ellie did not want to get involved with Make It Happen but eventually she wanted to find out more and after a while decided to apply for a hairdressing college place.

Ellie is now regularly attending school and her college placement. She applied for a work experience placement and has had no further incidents with the police. Ellie said: "I don't know what to say other than that my behaviour and attitude are better."