Charity wings of two of the region’s biggest football clubs are putting traditional rivalries aside to team up with The Northern Echo’s pioneering taskforce to tackle knife crime.

The Newcastle United Foundation and Sunderland’s Foundation of Light have joined the North East Knife Crime Taskforce with the shared goal of steering young people away from street violence.

The Northern Echo’s highly commended campaign was launched during spate of tragic teenage murders in the region and aims to address the root causes of the problem.

The Northern Echo: Jordan Wragg, senior project coordinator for youth violence at Newcastle United Foundation, said: “Being part of The Northern Echo’s North East Knife Crime Taskforce reinforces our foundation’s commitment to reducing knife crime through positive interventions and education for children and teenagers across the region.

“Working together with the Foundation of Light and North East partners brought together by the Taskforce is key to empowering more young people to make positive choices for themselves and our communities affected by knife crime.”

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The Northern Echo: At the latest taskforce meeting at County Hall in Durham on Thursday Jordan told members about the foundation’s YOLO Early Intervention programme, which is funded the Northumbria Violence Reduction Unit.

The 20-week programme of one-to-one mentorship supports children and teenagers aged ten to 16 by referral only, working on the understanding that the young person is believed to have been caught carrying weapons.

The programme begins with building rapport with the young person, followed by weekly sessions to educate the individual with sessions including law and consequences, community awareness, health and relationships.

The exit strategy of the programme signposts young people to further support, including free-to-access community sessions with the foundation based at the charity’s community hub, NUCASTLE, five minutes’ walk from St James’ Park.

Jordan said 70 per cent of participants on the YOLO programme have not been arrested since and all agree it has helped them to feel safer and to make better decisions.

The Northern Echo: Jordan said the power to the Newcastle badge was key to breaking down barriers with young people.

He said: “Through our YOLO programme, we go into schools wearing Newcastle United kit and young people see we aren’t a teacher, parent, police or someone they may not currently have healthy relationships with.

“We use this hook to build rapport with one-to-one mentorship leading to weekly intervention work around law and consequences, resilience, community awareness and more.

“YOLO has an influential impact on young people.”

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The taskforce, set up last June, bring together campaigning mothers of murder victims, police politicians, teachers, youth workers and community groups to pool their resources.

It has already led to young people across the region using immersive VR technology to learn about the dangers of carrying weapons and this is now being rolled out further.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the forum should become a blueprint for the way organisations work together in other parts of the country and the campaign has shaped Labour’s policies regarding knife crime.    

The Northern Echo: Lee Crosby, the Foundation of Light's Head of Community and Youth Engagement added: "The North East Knife Crime Taskforce is a real collaborative effort dedicated to combating knife crime and keeping our communities safe. 

"It’s really positive to see the impact the programme is having across the region, reducing incidents of knife related violence through prevention and intervention initiatives facilitated by both football club community organisations and the Northumbria Violence Reduction Unit."

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo: Gavin Foster, the editor of the Northern Echo, who chairs the regular taskforce meetings, said it was great to have the support of both foundations.

He said: “Jordan and Lee talked passionately about the incredible work they do in steering young people away from a life of crime and violence in our communities.

“Taskforce members were interested to hear about how they use football to engage young people at risk and can encourage them to make more positive choices.

“The group is made up of people from all different backgrounds who have the shared goal of reducing the risk of knife crime.

“We all benefit hugely from making these personal connections with each other and by working together we are making a real difference in educating our young people.”