A NEW initiative aimed at tackling anti-social behaviour by providing games for young people in a town centre car park has been launched in Peterlee.

Nearly 50 youths joined the first Street Games session in Asda’s lower ground car park, at the Castle Dene Shopping Centre, which has become a hotspot for problems in recent years.

PCSO Michelle Burr, of Peterlee Police, who kick-started the initiative, said: “The weather may have been poor, but it didn’t stop young people coming out in force. For an opening night it was impressive and we are hoping to build on that.

“They were impeccably behaved and exuded positivity in a community where they very often face criticism. They were a shining example to Peterlee."

She added: “We are arguably good at enforcement but for me it is all around looking at education and engagement running alongside enforcement.”

Castle Dene Shopping Centre will host sports sessions for ten to 16-year-olds in the car park, every Tuesday evening, in the drive to create positive change in young people in the area.

The initiative follows on from the success of other local schemes that engage troubled youths such as the Groundwork Youth Provision, Peterlee Community Garden and the Sliding Door Project.

The activities will be largely led by young people who attend the Groundwork Youth Provision, who are aged 14 and above, and have been trained as sports activators.

PCSO Burr said: “We believe sport has a critical part to play in addressing the issues faced by those living in the poorest communities.

“We want this project to be led by young people and for them to take ownership of it, with the support of our staff, and completely make it their own.

“Sport teaches key skills such as teamwork, understanding and self-discipline, brings people together, creates pride in a community, breaks down social boundaries, and inspires people to make a difference in their own lives and for others.

“We are confident these sessions can empower young people to kick-start a cycle of positive change that echoes throughout their entire community.”

The project has been funded for the next 13 weeks by County Durham Housing Group and is being delivered by Groundwork North East. It is supported by Durham Constabulary, Peterlee Town Council, Castle Dene Shopping Centre, McDonald’s, ASDA and StreetGames.

The StreetGames network delivers Doorstep Sport initiatives throughout the country, working together to change sport, change lives, and change communities. McDonald’s and ASDA will be providing free, healthy drinks and snacks for those who attend.

Groundwork North East youth performance lead,  Joanne Holloway, said: “We already deliver youth provision in the Peterlee area and it has been a huge success – we’ve reduced anti-social behaviour.

“And that is why we were approached. It’s really fantastic that they recognise what we are doing in the community and reaching out for more support for the young people.”

Castle Dene centre manager Suzanne Chaney said: “It is fantastic that Castle Dene has been chosen to host the StreetGames as the centre has become a hotspot for anti-social behaviour in recent years.

“Young people tend to spend their evenings hanging around the centre with nothing to do but cause trouble, so we thought why not try and engage them with something positive.

“The aim of Peterlee Street Games is to help make our community healthier, safer and more successful through the power of sport, and the car park is undercover so we can run the activities come rain or shine.”

The sessions are free to attend and will run until May 7, with the hopes of continuing even further if the initiative is successful and funding can be secured.