Youth work on wheels – Eden Bus
Youth crime, ASBOs, dispersal orders… problematic behaviour caused by groups of young people on the streets, particularly at night, is an issue for all our cities.
Until recently Greater Manchester was known as the ‘ASBO capital of the UK’ reflecting the high number of antisocial behaviour orders imposed across the city since they were introduced in 1999. Around half were imposed on youths under the age of 17.
But that’s beginning to change thanks in part to new partnerships between the police, communities, churches and organisations like The Message. Leading the way is the innovative Eden Bus project. Its two double decker buses show up weekly in some of Manchester’s toughest neighbourhoods, acting as a focus for long-term youth work, and a remedy for youth crime and antisocial behaviour.
Bus Project Manager Julie Mason explains: ‘On our estates in the city there are so many young people just hanging around, nothing to do, nowhere to go. At the same time, within our churches we’ve got hundreds of people who really care about the kids in their own communities. What the Eden Bus does is put the two together.’
Each bus is fitted out with hi-tech gadgets and games but more traditional games, including skipping, football and rounders, are just as popular: ‘We try to get kids involved in activities which cause them to chat to each other and interact with the adult volunteers on the bus’, adds Julie.
The Eden Bus team works in partnership with local churches who supply volunteers with a heart for local young people. Increasingly support is also being provided by police and local authorities who are beginning to see the bus as a powerful way of fighting nuisance behaviour and crime.
One partnership that has seen particular success over the last year is in the Limeside area of Oldham. There, local police turned to churches and third-sector organisations to help tackle problem behaviour among young people around Limeside.
In the autumn of 2009, neighbourhood police Inspector David Stopford began planning with local groups for a three-month dispersal order. But the approach was different from the beginning.
‘Dispersal orders are often initiated by the police on their own, without partners,’ Inspector Stopford told us. ‘It’s one tool in the toolbox to deal with young people acting in an antisocial manner. This is fine but what you can end up doing is simply moving a problem from A to B, and not really solving the root issues.’
‘What we tried to do this time is to work with partners to provide positive diversionary activities for young people. So it’s not just been about law enforcement, it’s been about providing good facilities for young people to go to, rather than hanging around on street corners.’
By the time the dispersal order began in December, several new initiatives for young people were in place, including the Eden Bus, strongly supported locally by New Life Church in Failsworth.
The partnership was a huge success. Inspector Stopford’s team saw a reduction of over 50% in calls about antisocial behaviour from the general public from December to March. Reports of associated crimes such as criminal damage and vehicle crime were also down. It’s a trend that he believes will continue:
‘It’s had a great impact. Right from the launch of the initiative in December, the young people have understood why we’re running this dispersal order and seen how groups of young people can be intimidating to other residents. They’ve also seen our motivation to put something on for them – facilities, initiatives, opportunities – and these things will continue even though the dispersal order has finished.’
The project has also succeeded in changing young people’s attitudes towards the police, their community and the church, believes Julie Mason:
‘We can certainly see a difference within the young people and the way they interact, both with us and the police. They were quite sceptical at first but that’s disappeared. They’re starting to come to the bus volunteers with issues and asking for support in the things they want to achieve in their lives. It’s a real testament to the people working on the project.
‘Barriers between young and older people in the community are beginning to break down. I’m delighted that the Eden Bus has played a part in that.’
To find out more about the Eden Bus project, visit www.message.org.uk/bus or call Julie Mason on 0161 946 2300.
This article first appeared in the Summer edition of Flow Magazine.