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PSNI youth project is honoured with award

By Donna Deeney

A project designed to break down barriers between police and young people has been Highly Commended in the Children's Commissioner’s Participation Awards.

Street Talk, in partnership with the Playhouse International Culture Arts Network in Londonderry, sought to establish better understanding of anti-social behaviour and sectarianism concerns.

Almost 50 young people who were deemed “at risk” of offending from across the North West area took part in the three-month project which at one stage had police officers learning how to create impressive graffiti art. The project, which was initially planned as a one-off, has been so successful it is hoped that funding will become available so that it will be repeated and extended. Elaine Ford from the Playhouse said: “I am delighted that Street Talk has been Highly Commended by the commissioner.

“This demonstrates the power of using the arts to build relationships between PSNI officers and youth, at the same time as addressing issues highlighted by the young people.

“Street Talk was awarded this title because of the fantastic, open and visionary young people, youth leaders and Neighbourhood Officers who were fully committed to the project, well done to all.

“We hope to build upon the success of the project through future work.”

Among the PSNI officers based at Strand Road who were involved with the project was Sergeant Sam Young. He said: “To win the award is overwhelming but working with the young people from across the north west was a privilege from start to finish and I dedicate this award to them.

“This project was a success because of their participation.

“We set out to achieve better communication with the kids, so they could approach us to discuss the issues that matter most to them and the project achieved this and more. It broke down perceptions and barriers and we were able to learn from the young people, which was very important to us.”

One of the projects which brought together young people from a loyalist estate in Magherafelt and their peers from a Catholic estate in Derry was a graffiti art piece called Hope, which especially impressed the Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie during a visit to the Playhouse.

She said: “I was struck when I visited by the quality of the work of the young people on display. It was really excellent.

“Research has identified that children and young people can have very different experiences of the police, depending where they live and this project has provided the opportunity for police officers and young people to work directly with each other to share experiences, break down barriers and create greater understanding.

“This has been a very positive initiative which has changed perceptions both on the part of police officers and young people — and I would want to add my congratulations to all concerned.”

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