VERU funding supports school play showing harsh reality of county lines
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A theatre production showing the harsh reality of county lines and child criminal exploitation is being delivered in Luton schools thanks to funding from Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU).
‘Out There’, written by the founder of local theatre company Next Generation Youth Theatre (NGYT), will be performed in nine schools within Luton. The play aims to highlight the dark and dangerous side of county lines activity, where young people are groomed into transporting illegal substances and other items across the country.
With backing from the Home Office, the VERU has funded more than 20 different community-based projects in Bedfordshire over the last year, in its bid to reduce violence and exploitation among young and vulnerable people.
The specialist unit aims to provide an early intervention approach to child criminal exploitation, by funding schemes that equip young people with the tools and experience they need to thrive and turn away from criminal activity.
The VERU team includes a number of youth intervention specialists (YIS) who offer one to one support to children and young people who have been or are at risk of being exploited. They also deliver presentations and workshops in schools across the county, speaking on their lived experiences and signposting students to support services.
“As a unit we have made incredible headway in not only highlighting the severity of violence and exploitation in our community, but also forming partnerships with groups that are ready to support us in tackling it,” said head of the unit, Lisa Robinson.
“Alongside this, our YIS team play a vital part in reaching young people that may never have contact with a community project or youth worker. Many exploited children don’t know they are being exploited and therefore won’t speak out about it.
“Through their outreach work, our YIS team are able to identify some of these individuals that go under the radar and get them the help they need.”
Devised by Luton-based theatre group NGYT, Out There is a 15-minute play featuring three characters portrayed by local actors Kiyanna Maragh, Hannah Kelly and Carl Connelly.
The piece focuses on ‘Ky’– a young girl desperate to help her best friend [Han] break away from the county lines lifestyle, after she was groomed by her older drug dealer boyfriend [Dean].
Originally written in 2018 by NGYT Founder David Lloyd, the play highlights common methods groomers use to entice vulnerable young people into carrying significant quantities of drugs undetected.
"I originally wrote this play four years ago, but as these gangs continue to develop new and more sophisticated ways of exploiting children, I knew I needed to make changes that better reflect the issues faced today,” said Mr Lloyd.
“Children reportedly as young as eight are being used to deliver drugs to some of society’s most dangerous criminals, in exchange for clothes, phones and money. It’s devastating because it doesn’t end there; over time, many of these young people will go on to experience extreme intimidation, including physical and sexual abuse.
“’Out There' is a hard-hitting spoken word theatre piece that we have produced with the aim to speak directly to young people, openly, honestly and most importantly, not in a patronising way.
“We want young people to engage with every aspect of the production and relate to the characters; notably identifying ways in which they can protect themselves and their friends, as well as knowing that they can speak out and get help from people and professionals around them.
“This play is about early prevention and offering an out. We are fully aware that it is not enough to simply say "don't get involved”. Our responsibility is to offer an alternative place of belonging and safety; as such all young people that watch the show will be gifted six weeks free at any NGYT session (Dance, Theatre, Writing, Musical Theatre).
“We are so grateful to The VERU for entrusting us and supporting our vision to help protect local vulnerable young people.”
Speaking on the project, Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye said; “It is crucial that we all do everything we can to engage with our young people about the dangers of county lines, the physical and emotional abuse that comes with it, as well as the long-term harms victims may face. This is why I very much welcome the commissioning by Bedfordshire's VERU of the 'Out There' theatre production.
“We will keep looking for effective ways to educate, engage and connect with our young people about how to keep safe.”
Find out more about the VERU’s work, including other community projects they have funded at Bedfordshire VERU.