Sporting names across the city back community initiative.
Schools pupils across West Yorkshire are receiving an education into the consequences of serious violence, thanks to a project led by the Leeds United Foundation.
An exclusive film has been created to target youngsters during the current lockdown, containing personal messages from top sports personalities, including Leeds United captain Liam Cooper and Leeds United Women's captain Bridie Hannon, as well as those who have suffered at the hands of violent crime.
Funded through the West Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), the film urges young people to make ‘Positive Choices’, encouraging them to take the right path in their lives.
Delivered among the county’s schools in a series of sessions, it covers a number of important issues including knife crime, drugs, gang affiliation, and negative relationships.
Director of the West Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) Chief Superintendent Jackie Marsh said: “The fact that so many big names in the world of sport have lent their support to this project, is a real reflection of the paramount importance attached to this subject.
“It is crucial that we all stand up to this behaviour and guide young people in our communities to make positive life choices, which divert away from the potential for violent crime.
“The high-profile stars contained in this video will undoubtedly have an influential role in achieving this. Likewise, the individuals who have shared their own ‘lived experience’ of violent crime are an invaluable source of learning for our young people.
“The virtual approach we have adopted has allowed the project to continue during the Covid-19 pandemic, having initially begun with physical sessions in schools. It is really pleasing to now see this work starting to bear its fruits in spite of the challenges we are all facing through the ongoing pandemic.”
Steve Hartley, Violence Reduction and Positive Choices Project Lead at the Leeds United Foundation. added: “Positive Choices is a very powerful and thought-provoking programme, whereby we are able to work alongside the Violence Reduction Unit, West Yorkshire Police, HM Prison Service and a number of other organisations, partner agencies and individuals to deliver important messages to students that in some cases could help change their lives.
“The sessions we deliver in high schools throughout West Yorkshire, cover serious topics such as the dangers of knife crime, gang affiliation and child criminal exploitation. By using guest speakers who are able to talk about their own life experiences and describe how making negative choices has impacted their lives and those around them, we have been able to engage with hard-to-reach young people who often struggle to make the right decisions.
“Our main aim is to help these youngsters make positive choices, creating positive pathways for their future. This would be impossible without the ongoing support of local organisations, dynamic guest speakers and role models. Together they help to inspire the students and give them the motivation they need to understand the consequences of their actions."
Feedback from pupils during the initial sessions already suggest that the project is making a difference and helping young people to determine their own future:
“It taught me what decisions I should make, and I need to get on with my own decisions and how they will affect me, everyone can change no matter what.”
“We enjoyed hearing about life experiences from people who have actually lived through them. It was practical and fun. Even if there was an emotional story, they learnt from it and showed resilience. We liked how they talked with us, without judgement. They were themselves.”
“Don’t get involved with gangs, family over friends, there are always consequences and it’s never too late to change your life.”
“I enjoyed learning about knife crime and putting myself in other people’s shoes.”
“Make good choices, some friends do not take you anywhere so be careful of your associates. It is never too late to change.”
For more information on the Positive Choices initiative, please contact Steve.Hartley@leedsunited.com.