New sports schemes tackles menace of drugs gangs

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A programme to give disadvantaged young people in Flintshire the chance to play sport has received a £10,000 boost from a special fund of cash confiscated from criminals in North Wales.

The grant is to combat the threat of County Lines in Flintshire which sees vulnerable youngsters recruited by big city gangs to traffic drugs across North Wales.

In 18 months the Flintshire project has seen over 4,000 attendances at the sessions run nine times a week, 39 weeks a year at six venues across the county by Aura Wales, the former Flintshire County Council Leisure and Libraries department.

Aura, a not for profit community enterprise company, has run those services from Deeside Leisure Centre for the past 18 months and already its Flintshire Community Engagement Programme can point to significant decreases in arson and other offences in the areas where it operates.

The grant comes from a special fund distributed by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones from a pot which this year totals a record £61,901.

The award to Aura is one of two major dedicated to fighting the County Lines menace which involves drugs gangs from major cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham exploiting  vulnerable children and young people in North Wales.

Young people are being coerced, groomed and threatened with violence to take part in illegal activity across the region.

The Your Community, Your Choice initiative is also supported by the North Wales Police and Community Trust (PACT) which is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year.

The money for the awards came partly from money seized by the courts through the Proceeds of Crime Act with the rest from the Police Commissioner’s Fund.

Each of the region’s six counties have up to £2,500 apiece for two groups with £5,000 each for two organisations that operate in three or more counties.

In addition this year, thanks to additional funding from the police and crime commissioner and North Wales Police, there are two new grants of £10,000 designed to tackle the emerging menace of County Lines..

Around 15,000 votes were cast in an online poll to decide which of the community schemes received support, with the cheque presentation to 19 successful applicants at North Wales Police headquarters in Colwyn Bay.

Dan Williams, Aura’s School and Community Sports Co-ordinator, said: “We have been putting on free evening sports sessions for young people to help engage young people and educate them about the life choices and current issues which may pose a threat to them.

“We have been working with our partners in North Wales Police and in the Youth Justice Service to reach young people who could benefit from these activities.

“We also use them as an opportunity to signpost advice and services which are available to them to help keep them out of trouble and we encourage local Police Community Support Officers to call in to meet the young people.

“To reward them we have provided extra activities such as visits to Freedome trampoline park in Ellesmere Port and to an Everton match at Goodison Park.

“So far the majority of those taking part have been boys aged from 11 to 18 and the sports involved have included football, basketball, rugby, wheeled sports, ice skating but we are looking to reach out more to girls and to provide alternative sessions such as beauty therapy.”

The sessions have been run in Saltney, Mold, Flint, Hawarden, Holywell and Hope and Aura are also hoping to roll the programme out to other areas of the county.

Dan Williams added: “A lot of these young people can’t afford to join mainstream clubs and this programme provides an outlet for them.

“We’re very grateful to the Police and Crime Commissioner for providing this funding which is massively import in allowing us to continue and develop this service.”

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, who jointly presented the awards with new Assistant Chief Constable Sacha Hatchett, said: “I am delighted that my Your Community Your Choice fund continues to support community projects across north Wales for a seventh consecutive year.

“This unique fund allows our communities to decide which projects should get financial support through our on-line voting system and the response has seen almost 15,000 members of the public vote for a total of 30 projects.

“These projects help to support my Police and Crime Plan whose purpose is to ensure that North Wales Police is paying specific attention to those points which have been identified as crucial by the public, me and indeed by the force itself.

“Many of you will be aware of the recent Third Sector consultation that I carried out  which has resulted in an update to my priorities to include the ways in which we address emerging trends including Organised Crime and the exploitation of vulnerable people.

“As part of this I aim to ensure that a clear focus continues around county lines crimes – a particularly vicious form of criminality that exploits young vulnerable people into a life of crime which is extremely dangerous and violent and from which there is little escape.

“I am delighted to see that a number of your applications aim to address this issue and support our young people.

“Community groups are vital to the citizens of north Wales, and in helping to ensure that our communities continue to be some of the safest places to live, work and visit in the UK.”

Sacha Hatchett said: “This money includes cash from assets seized from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act. This is a particularly vital message as through the professionalism of North Wales Police Officers and with the support of the Courts, we are able to hit the criminals where it hurts – in their pockets.

“In the seven years we have made Your Community Your Choice funding available to local community groups we have recovered over £3 million in cash and assets.

“Our communities continue to play a part in this success with local intelligence information given to our officers that help us to bring these criminals to justice.

“Approximately £700,000 of these recovered monies has come back to North Wales Police from the Home Office and we are able to utilise part of this to support schemes such as ‘Your Community Your Choice’.

“It sends a really positive message that money taken from the pockets of criminals is being recycled. This is turning bad money into good that’s being used for a constructive purpose.”