Essex Community Goals: Reaching out to young people through sport
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Two hundred young footballers from all over the county gathered in Great Baddow to take part in Essex Community Goals, a tournament organised by Essex Police.
Now in its third year, the 7-a-side competition gives youngsters from a wide range of backgrounds and footballing abilities the opportunity to get active and interact with the police in a fun and informal setting.
Organisers hope that by showing the youngsters that police officers are people too, they will feel confident to approach the police if they have a problem or need help in the future.
Every player who took part got a medal, goody bag and lunch, with profits from the tournament donated to Jaywick-based charity Sonny’s Army, which raises money for families with ill children.
Although the emphasis was very much on fun and taking part, trophies went to the Colchester United community team who won the competition for 13 and 14-year-olds, and Wilvale, who took the crown in the 15 and 16-year-old age group.
The tournament was supported by the Essex PFCC, Essex County Council, Active Essex, Essex Fire and Rescue and the East of England Ambulance Service.
The players were addressed by Chief Constable Ben-Julian Harrington before kick-off and guests of honour on the day included the Lord-Lieutenant and the High Sheriff of Essex.
T/Chief Inspector Kelly Thurston led the organisation of the event and explained why she believes it’s so important that policing continues to come up with innovative ways of building trust with young people.
She said: “We are there to break down barriers and engage with young people from all parts of the community on a level playing field. Through Essex Community Goals, they will hopefully see that police officers are more than just a uniform.
“This event has such a powerful impact as we deal with more than 200 young people and their friends and family members who come along to support them.
“It’s so important that we develop those relationships, especially with children whose parents perhaps can’t afford for them to join football or cricket clubs. They are the ones who might be in the park all day and don’t have the money to do anything else.
“We want to point them towards organisations like Active Essex, who run sports throughout the school holidays, and if they see police officers on the streets, we want them to feel confident to say hello rather than running in the opposite direction.”
T/Ch Insp Thurston added that young people today face challenges from new technology and it’s the job of her team to address misconceptions they may have about the police.
“The experience of young people today is different to that of previous generations. The influence of social media is huge, and they are often branded as hoody-wearing, scooter-riding kids hanging around on street corners and getting up to no good, but this isn’t the case.
“I know it’s not cool to be friendly to a police officer and children can be heavily influenced by their peers but if we don’t engage with them, society in ten years’ time could look very different.
“We ask for feedback from the children and their coaches and more than 50% of the players that attended said they’d never engage with the police if it wasn’t for Essex Community Goals, and it’s really changed their mindset.
“But even if just one child changes their mind, then it’s been worth it.”
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