Youth development charity sets it sight on city youngsters

Youngsters take part in ACNs Game On project in partnership with the University of Portsmouth and the New Theatre Royal
Youngsters take part in ACNs Game On project in partnership with the University of Portsmouth and the New Theatre Royal

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Since 2006, the Active Communities Network (ACN) has sought to improve the prospects for young people on an international level.

As a charity, its work sees thousands of youngsters from a variety of backgrounds unite in the heart of their respective communities every day – getting involved in grass roots sports and youth projects – all geared as a development gateway to help them excel and aim for a bright future.

While it has operated from bases in London, Manchester, Belfast and South Africa, its work branched out to Havant in 2014 – where ACN set up its Hampshire home at the Leigh Park Community Centre.

From here it has carried out a free scheme for local nine to 19-year-olds, the Big World Impact Programme, providing weekly sporting and cultural activities, educational training, youth forums and awareness-raising workshops which highlight and tackle the issues faced by the immediate community and its young population – including substance misuse, gangs, anti-social behaviour, domestic violence, knife crime and sexual exploitation.

In the past 16 months, ACN has spent more than 8,600 hours working with more than 200 young people in Havant on a weekly basis, who have gone on to earn more than 75 qualifications and in some cases full-time jobs, with the charity and beyond.

Now, says the organisation’s national partnerships manager, 49-year-old Julian Wadsworth, it hopes to bring the success it has achieved, under Havant programme manager Charlotte Bishop, to Portsmouth – following the initiative’s arrival in the Charles Dickens and St Thomas wards at the start of the spring.

Mr Wadsworth said: ‘We are in a time of austerity and it is vital there is an organisation like us that is open to all.

‘Portsmouth is very important to ACN’s strategy and offering outcomes for young people and the communities in which they live. Our free 48-week-a-year programme – which includes outreach work, safer communities workshops and sessions in dance, tennis, street cricket and high-diving, for example – is open to people from the ages of nine to 19, but some training opportunities are open for those up to 25.’

To get involved, young people can self-refer themselves through ACN representatives conducting outreach work in the community and at local schools, signing up to the many sporting activities it offers with a view to develop social prospects, confidence and employability. Others, including those who may be vulnerable or exhibit risk-taking behaviours, are referred to local programmes by neighbourhood policing teams.

But no matter how a young person finds the Active Communities Network, their place in its service is valued – with a chance to reap rewards for their attendance and the progress they make towards a positive outcome.

Mr Wadsworth said: ‘Overall, our prime responsibility is safeguarding children and young people – a duty of care that we take very seriously with regular staff training. Some of our participants who have demonstrated positive behaviour have been rewarded with some exciting trips and life experiences, including visits to the Wimbledon Championships and cricket and rugby matches.’

As it seeks to increase its impact on Portsmouth, where it currently works with about 150 young people each week through sport, ACN has established partnerships with local authorities – including Portsmouth City Council, Hampshire Constabulary and the county’s police and crime commissioner’s office – so it can take detailed referrals, build case studies of and assist young people in dealing with the pressures they face in their communities.

One increasing aspect of its operation is its so-called ‘county lines’ initiative, which in partnership with Hampshire Constabulary’s Operation Fortress, aims reduce the risk posed to local young people by mobile gangs – particularly in regards to drug-related violence.

However, as its city-based provision grows, it is ACN’s links with the University of Portsmouth, the Royal Navy, BH Live, Portsmouth Mediation Service and local theatres that enrich its programme with access to a host of cultural activities. Through its relationship with the University of Portsmouth, ACN offers the chance for students to get involved through volunteering, placements and paid work, all with a view to better the lives of young people and improve the communities in which they live.

To learn more about ACN, get involved or see its programme of activities in the area, visit www.activecommunities.org.uk/hampshire.

INSPECTOR ANDY CLINTON

In working to encourage a brighter future for young people, the Active Communities Network has worked closely with police – having a noticeable impact on community dynamics. Inspector Andy Clinton has seen the organisation’s work in Havant first-hand.

He said: ‘ACN is an established part of the Havant Community. The education, opportunities and experiences they provide for young people are first-class.

‘The very nature of neighbourhood policing helps us identify young people who may be tempted or coerced into criminal or anti-social behaviour. Can can use this opportunity to divert, educate and help these young people make better decisions and life choices. I’ve seen this work and know for some, it has been a catalyst for good in their lives.

‘Using sports as a means of education and confidence-building for young people, Can has a template that works. Expanding into Portsmouth is a natural step.

‘The diverse community of Portsmouth provides ACN with a captive audience to really target our future community population – promoting respect, empathy and a safer environment to grow up in.’

INSPECTOR LOUISE TESTER

Now, as the youth development charity seeks to broaden its horizons and have an impact on more young lives in Portsmouth, it has the full backing of Inspector Louise Tester.

Speaking about the changing face of the city and ACN’s place in it, she said: ‘ACN started work in the Charles Dickens and St Thomas wards at the start of the spring.

‘Local police officers have been dealing with increased levels of crime and anti-social behaviour and there was a definite need for increased support for individuals and their families of a diversionary nature.

‘Police will deal with criminal elements and work with partners to penalise those individuals committing crime, but ideally we want to prevent crimes and nuisance to individuals from occurring in the first place.

‘There are a number of referral options for individuals and their families and Can came up with a plan to compliment this.

‘They have worked closely with my team to identify and support young people as they have done for some time in Havant.

‘I am really happy to have them with us and I am confident we can expect a reduction in anti-social behaviour reports.’