Project which is helping town's youngsters flourish is an award winner

Mayor Scott Meikle, PCSO Michelle Burr, Olivia Ward and Temporary Chief Inspector Lee Blakelock with their award.
Mayor Scott Meikle, PCSO Michelle Burr, Olivia Ward and Temporary Chief Inspector Lee Blakelock with their award.

A team who are championing the next generation and keeping them out of trouble through a garden, a celebration of achievements and more has been hailed for its work.

Police officers from across Durham Constabulary have been honoured at an annual award ceremony for their work which has looked at resolving issues of concern for neighbourhoods.

The community garden has helped transform an area of parkland which was previously damaged by vandals.

The community garden has helped transform an area of parkland which was previously damaged by vandals.

Twelve of the best problem-oriented policing projects were showcased at the force’s POP Conference at The Durham Centre in Belmont, with Peterlee's crowned the overall winner by judge Gloria Laycock, a professor in Crime Science at University College London.

The winners with the project Cultivating Change were: Temporary Chief Inspector Lee Blakelock, Police Community Support Officer Michelle Burr, Peterlee Town Mayor Scott Meikle and Olivia Ward, 16.

The team created the Young Heroes event, which honours people under 18 who have done something positive, produced the Peterlee Community Garden and secured £70,000 worth of funding from Peterlee Town Council for sustainable youth provision.

The monthly Young Heroes award teases out inspirational stories from the community with nominations coming from schools, parents and police and the winner is presented with a trophy, certificate and gift voucher by the neighbourhood inspector.

A funday held at the garden brought together the community during the summer.

A funday held at the garden brought together the community during the summer.

Read more: Good deeds lead to awards as town celebrates its young achievers

PCSO Burr said: “The overall aim is to show the wider community that young people are creative, inspirational and brave.”

A community garden has also been created in Woodhouse Park with land which was donated by Peterlee Town Council and work funded by Durham County Council.

PCSO Burr said: “This garden is about giving young people something they can be proud of and take responsibility for, which is our way of bringing the community together around something really positive.”

Peterlee Town Mayor Scott Meikle and PCSO Michelle Burr at the garden.

Peterlee Town Mayor Scott Meikle and PCSO Michelle Burr at the garden.

Young people from Groundwork North East, local schools, residents associations and other groups are given care of their own flower beds and vegetable patches.

Related: Parkland once wrecked by yobs flourishes as community garden

The crops are grown, harvested and donated to food banks and care homes in the Peterlee area. Holme House Prison also donate plants to support the continuation of the scheme.

PCSO Burr added: “People laughed at us when we said we wanted to create the garden to combat anti-social behaviour but it works.

Inside the awards celebration before the event kicked off.

Inside the awards celebration before the event kicked off.

"We debated whether to leave the gates open on a night and we did and since then we have only had one act of vandalism.

"I managed to find out who it was; four lads from Peterlee and I got them to do a litter pick. Last week one of the youngsters brought us a bird box for the garden.

"It’s a full-circle approach.”

The team has also set up a youth club in the town centre with two hour sessions on Thursday and Fridays every week which includes an hours’ worth of engagement about topics such as alcohol, smoking and sexual health and an hours’ worth of free time.

This is ran by Groundwork North East.

Olivia is one of the youngsters who has benefited from the police’s work.

She was part of the pilot scheme, Sliding Doors, which facilitates work experience for youngsters from East Durham College, in a joint partnership between the police and the county council.

PCSO Burr said: “It helps disengaged pupils gain work experience at Peterlee Leisure Centre as well as gaining an NVQ in construction.

"It’s about changing patterns of behaviour and giving them transferable skills.

"Olivia won’t mind me saying that she was one of the worst behaved before our intervention and now she has turned her life around and I am so proud of her.

“We are arguably good at enforcement but it’s about more than that, it’s about engagement and education running alongside that.

"The three E’s.”

Olivia said: “I used to be really naughty and Michelle came along and helped us through loads.

"She got me work experience with Durham County Council and her and Scott, the mayor, got me an apprenticeship with Gleeson Homes.

"A teacher said that I would never get a job and I’d be on the dole.

"I rang them last week and told them I’d got a job.”

Olivia will also be awarded a ‘young heroes award’ after helping PCSO Burr with two 16-year-old girls who had taken ecstasy in the town centre last month.

Olivia and her friend, Courtney Roberts, who will also be awarded, brought one of the girls to the youth club to be looked safely with PCSO Burr while response cops searched for the second girl who had ran away.

PSCO Burr said: “Olivia is a prime example of why we started this and I am so pleased that she was able to be with us to accept the award.

“We were all was amazed, astonished and thrilled that we won.

"We wanted to put Peterlee on map for all right reasons and bridge the gap between the police and the public and promote the positives of young people instead of the negatives with an overall aim of reducing anti-social behaviour.

“I want to say a huge thank you to Peterlee Town Council and the mayor Scott Meikle, as well as other town councillors who have been involved in all of this from start.

"Thanks to Durham County Council for facilitating the community garden and being involved in the Sliding Doors project.

“Our neighbourhood team has always said ‘If we don’t try, we’ll never achieve’ and I think in this instance we have.

"That’s the ‘Durham Difference.’”

Chief Constable Mike Barton said: “We are proud to embed problem solving as the core element of how we think about making a change to the way society works, the way crime operates, how victims can look after themselves and communities can thrive.

“From about 50 initiatives, twelve of those projects were selected to be at our conference.

“The winners, ‘Cultivating Change’ is a far-sighted, multi-faceted idea where they are doing so many things, not least challenging people who are on the cusp of criminality to take a second look at their anti-social behaviour.

“Hearty congratulations to everyone involved. I am proud of the enthusiasm, tenacity and analytical prowess of these people.

"There’s some fantastic thinking going on in the organisation which improves the lives of the people living in County Durham and Darlington.”

Other projects championed through the POP event included:

*Durham City's 12 Streets, which is working to drive down burglaries of student homes

*Detective Sergeant Martin Wilson, Jon Hudson and Jonathan Green, from the North East Regional Cyber Crime Unit and Ian Batty, Waterstons, who have worked to fill the gaps exploited by online criminals

*Chester-le-Street Activity Week; Durham City's Sergeant Kay Howarth and PCSO Rebecca Carey, who worked to improve the issues connected to the Durham University Champagne Society's ball

*Syria to Gilesgate, where Pc Paul Blair and PCSO Andrea Hodgson worked with a Syrian family who had moved to Durham

*Sergeant Mike Sammut, PCSO Sam Stephenson, Kelly Presch and Deborah Hatfield of Durham County Council, which looked at the work of the Vulnerability Intervention Pathway to help adults with longstanding difficulties, vulnerabilities and entrenched patterns of behaviour.