Cheshire Constabulary has come up with a new way of tackling knife crime and anti-social behaviour – through youth football.
The force has organised a seven-a-side football tournament at the Halton Stadium in Widnes for 160 youngsters aged 13 to 16 as part of its multi-faceted approach to keeping communities safe.
Teams from each of the constabulary’s eight Local Policing Units (LPUs) – Chester, Crewe, Ellesmere Port, Macclesfield, Northwich, Runcorn, Warrington and Widnes – will take part in the charity fundraising event on Saturday 13 April.
Fez Khan from Runcorn Police hopes getting children involved in sport will be a step forward to keeping youngsters out of trouble: "Certainly Halton has suffered in the last 12-18 months with an increase in knife and violent crime, which came to a head with the murder of a young lad - Eddie O'Rourke.
"So this is really topical at the minute for us, with youth engagement and tackling knife crime."
It has been organised by the Runcorn LPU as part of the national KickOff@3 initiative with the aim of engaging with youngsters as part of the ongoing fight against knife crime and anti-social behaviour, and all of the money raised from the tournament will go to local charities Halton Haven Hospice and Young Addaction Halton.
Michael Wallis from the Met Police created the scheme with the hopes of youngsters stepping away from knife crime and creating more trust in the force: "It's about changing that narrative, at this time there's a lot of negativity around young people.
"We wanted to give them something positive and to bring the community together. The football is actually just a very small piece of what's going on and what we do."
The inaugural tournament, which starts at 12 noon, will feature a team of 13 to 14-year-olds and 15 to 16-year-olds from each of Cheshire’s LPU areas.
All the participants will receive a medal and goody bag and the winning team in each age group will go on to represent Cheshire in the national KickOff@3 final in London in July.
A host of Cheshire Constabulary’s partner agencies will be supporting the regional tournament at the home of Widnes Vikings RLFC, and there will be an informal ‘chill out and refreshment area’ set up for the players to enjoy during their downtime between matches.
Chief Inspector Sarah Heath, of Runcorn LPU, said: “With an alarming rise in knife crime involving young people an increasing concern across the country, preventative measures are more important than ever.
“Young people roaming the streets of a weekend and on weeknights need appealing alternative ways to spend their time.
“The KickOff@3 tournament will not only give 160 youngsters aged 13 to 16 from across Cheshire a fun and healthy activity to enjoy but it will also present us with an opportunity to have an informal chat with them about knife crime and anti-social behaviour and educate them on the dangers and the importance of keeping themselves safe and out of trouble from the police.”
Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Paul Barker, who has been helping to organise the tournament, added: “The event is a massive engagement opportunity, giving us a chance to engender positive opinions of the police within the 13 to 16 years age group.
“We will be giving out information and advice during the day in the hope of discouraging young people from engaging in knife crime and other criminal and anti-social activities.
“We want to help and encourage young people to make good decisions at an age when youths are often susceptible to peer pressure and falling into bad habits and casual criminality.
“The fact that the event will enable us to raise a significant amount of money for two worthwhile local charities is the icing on the cake.”
Each team taking part has paid a £25 entrance fee. The money raised from this and from Cheshire Constabulary’s internal auction of signed memorability that has been donated to the force will go to Halton Haven Hospice and Young Addaction Halton.
Based in Murdishaw in Runcorn, the hospice provides palliative care through a range of services to individuals and support for their families in Widnes, Runcorn and surrounding areas.
Operating from the Grangeway Community and Youth Centre in Runcorn, Young Addaction Halton provides a specialist service for people aged 10 to 25 to tackle drug and alcohol misuse.