Police put teenagers through their paces

“You see them turn up on the Monday like a rabbit in the headlights, and then they get on with the exercises and they are absolutely buzzing for it.”

The Lifemaps project started as an idea to tackle crime among youngsters across Staffordshire – and it has now grown into an award-winning programme which schools are queuing up to take part in.

With knife crime still an issue across the country and Staffordshire Police’s #DitchTheBlade campaign, organisers felt it was the perfect time to put the disappointment to losing this year’s courses to the coronavirus pandemic behind them and focus on helping young people at risk of offending in 2021.

In 2013, PC Sarah Griffiths – one of Staffordshire Police’s youth violence officers – got together with Ray Miller, the army’s engagement warrant officer with 11 Signals and the West Midlands Brigade.

They had previously come into contact through the Prince’s Trust-backed Burslem Project in Stoke, and were tasked with coming up with a new concept that would go further than just arresting young people on the streets, intercepting them before that point and showing them there was another way for their lives to go.

PC Griffiths, who joined Staffordshire Police in 2000, said: “We started with schools, looking into communities and trying to build bridges with them. We wanted to build up people’s trust in services and tackle the rise in knife crime and anti-social behaviour.

“We wanted to show there was something happening in these young people’s lives and they can do something positive to resolve problems. We wanted to show that policing is not just about making arrests and putting people in prison.”

Mr Miller, who has served in the military for 30 years, said the course was designed to meet the needs of both the army and the police. He said: “What did the army offer, and what did the police need? There was a select group of people the police wanted to help at the time, and we put the course together to do that.

Courage

“It aims to develop young people. Who are their positive and negative role models? It then uses the army’s core values to tackle this – discipline, courage, self-worth etc.”

Using the army’s Swynnerton Training Camp, Lifemaps hosts two five-day residential courses a year in April and October.

They craft a bespoke programme based on who that course’s intake of roughly 36 year 10 students are after receiving recommendations from schools and community-based services across the county.

It takes place during term-time with schools seeing it as beneficial so allowing their pupils to leave the classroom behind and pick up the new skills.

Mr Miller said: “We get them to try new things. It’s physically and mentally demanding. There’s room inspections at 6am. There’s physical drills. At one point we get them to stay in the woods for 24 hours.

“They come from varied backgrounds,” adds PC Griffiths.

“Some are excelling at school, but some might be struggling socially or behaviourally.

“We ask schools to decide who deserves this chance. Who is doing well at school, but who is doing badly?Some might be rewarded for excelling in class but others might not do so well in school but might excel on the Lifemaps course.

“It teaches leadership skills, physical and mental fitness. It also gets those students who are struggling mixing with those who are doing well in class and it might be the first time that has happened for them.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has put paid to both the 2020 courses, but it is hoped they will be able to run in 2021 and ready to take on their next cohort of 36 for April.

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