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Boy, 11, known to cops trades anti-social behavior for football at Newcastle United Foundation UK News

An 11-year-old boy has had his life transformed by a scheme that aims to deter young people from crime, including knife crime.

Two years ago, Bobby came to the attention of the police due to antisocial behavior. The youngster, from Newcastle, was destroying property, smashing windows, knocking on people’s doors and running away.

While still in elementary school, the force referred him to the YOLO program, run by the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU). It aims to keep young people aged 8-14 away from violence through football and one-on-one mentoring.

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Bobby, who is completing his mentorship at NUCASTLE, home of the Newcastle United Foundation, has now turned his life around. Instead of causing mischief in the streets, he now spends his free time kicking a ball on the rooftop pitch.

His mum Christine told Chronicle Live: “It’s been great. Bobby loves it and it’s peace of mind for me. I know he’s safe and I know he’s being taken care of. He does things he loves and it’s great for him.

“Before, he involved himself in anti-social behaviour. I found it difficult because he doesn’t have his father and he’s been through a lot. I didn’t know how far it would go. I don’t didn’t want Bobby going down that route.

“Bobby has learned to read and write, it’s fantastic. He gets a lot of help and I really appreciate that. They keep them busy all the time, he plays games and football. It took him away from everything that happens in the big, bad world.”

When asked what he thought of the YOLO program, Bobby replied, “It’s good – I’m learning how to stay out of trouble.”

Bobby's mum Christine is thrilled with his progress
Bobby’s mum Christine is thrilled with his progress

YOLO was founded in 2018 by VRU Northumbria, which is funded by the Home Office, in partnership with Northumbria Police, Newcastle and Sunderland Football Foundations. It aims to identify the underlying causes of disturbing or embarrassing behaviors.

Young people are referred to the program by Education, Social Services and Northumbria Police. Each young person is assigned a mentor with whom they work individually.

They can take part in football training sessions on the rooftop, which overlooks St James’s Park, and they can use VR headsets. Helmets are used to recreate knife crime scenarios and develop decision-making skills in a safe environment.

Bobby is one of more than 250 young people who have benefited from the program so far. Almost half (48%) of participants’ families also received support.

YOLO Coordinator Jacqueline Critchley
YOLO Coordinator Jacqueline Critchley

YOLO coordinator Jacqueline Critchley said: “We run a series of intervention sessions specific to the needs of the young person. This can be knife crime, anger management, establishing relationships or resilience, in the hope that this will spur them to positive behavior change.

“A lot of young people are referred for circumstances that are completely out of their control and we like to give them hope that they can have a bright future and work towards an opportunity that comes their way.

“We’ve been doing this now for three years and we’re seeing a range of young people who have made a big change or a small change. We’re seeing people like Bobby who learned to read through this program. We have young people who didn’t have used to go to school on Mondays and now they do.

“The youngsters react very well. We use Newcastle United to engage them and because we’re going to see them in tracksuits the levels of engagement are much higher.”

In recent years, concerns have been raised about knife crime and this is an offense whose agenda aims to keep young people away. Just last week three teenagers were charged with the murder of Nathaniel Wardle, 43, in Wallsend, North Tyneside.

Steven Hulme, Director of VRU
Steven Hulme, Director of VRU

VRU director Steven Hulme said: “It is really important to intervene because unfortunately one murder is one murder too many in our area, there are many victims involved in one murder. In the North East , we don’t have the same challenge as some of the metropolitan areas but we have to be a step ahead, we have to show these young people and intervene.

“Bobby did a great job, that’s a real credit. It just goes to show that extra support helps show the qualities Bobby has always had.”

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