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Volunteers help to move young people away from crime

News   •   Jun 27, 2020 09:00 BST

[Commissioner Cressida Dick meeting some of the Divert team earlier this year]

A group of Met volunteers are playing an integral role in helping to move young people in London away from crime and onto better things. 

The Met’s Divert programme works with young people who are brought into custody to help them away from crime and violence and into employment, education and training.

Since October 2018, the team – which includes six full time staff and three volunteers – has worked with more than 1,000 18-25 year olds, with just over 500 finding employment, education and training. 

The programme is overseen by Chief Inspector Jack Rowlands, who said the custody environment is not simply seen as a place of detention.

Chief Inspector Rowlands, continued: “Custody is also a space for opportunity, a potential turning point for young people, and our volunteers are fully invested in that idea.

“Getting the right volunteers is important and we couldn’t ask for more from the three we have on our team. It is hard to put their dedication into words. They are by no means a separate arm to the Divert team but embedded at the centre of it and I know that without them we wouldn’t be where we are today.

“Tackling violence remains a priority for the Met, and it is only through working together alongside our communities that lasting change can occur. This preventative approach to violence is just as important to us as our enforcement role, which is why we are committed to the Divert programme.”

The volunteers – Manuel Mascarenhas, Alexandra Stroia and Zélia Edwards – work within the custody suites and are there to meet any young people arrested to discuss their aspirations and aims for the future and explain what the programme can offer.

If they wish to engage with any of the options, the volunteer will refer them to the relevant agency to move forwards.

The referral is by no means the end of the volunteers work, and they continue to have a close relationship with the young person to ensure they get the ongoing support they need. 

Their dedication often sees them going above and beyond, including taking them to interviews or arranging childcare so they can get there.

Despite the recent pandemic restrictions making face-to-face interactions with those in custody more difficult, the volunteers have continued to play their part by speaking to those young people arrested over the phone and referring them to partner organisations remotely.

The lockdown period has also been used to re-connect with individuals previously involved with the scheme, including calls to check they have the support they need should they have been furloughed or encountered other problems as a result of Covid-19.

Manuel Mascarenhas, who has volunteered with Divert for three years, said: “With 40 years’ experience in the travel industry, much of it spent guiding and mentoring young adults in their lives and careers, I was keen to find a volunteering role that would be of benefit to this group.

“I also wanted a role from which I would learn and develop new skill sets by working with a diverse peer group, establishing partnerships that would support the ‘cause’.

“Working on this programme has exceeded all my expectations – I work with a wonderful close-knit team that has just one purpose; to help the 18-25 year olds turn their backs on crime and find a new purpose in life with training, employment and renewed confidence and self-esteem.”

Zélia Edwards, who works at Brixton, said the Met had a lot to offer for anyone thinking about volunteering. “Make sure you research the area you want to make a contribution to before you apply,” she said.

“I had already been working in custody and courts but this, with Divert, allows me to really help young adults who pass through the criminal justice system. With mentoring, advice and guidance, they can go on to do things that they thought they would never be capable of and we all celebrate their achievements.”

Alexandra Stroia, who is based at Bethnal Green, added: “Becoming a Met volunteer was one of the best decisions in my life – knowing that I and my colleagues are leading young people towards a safer life is amazing and brings me a lot of happiness.”

Nick Darvill, Divert’s head of operations, said: “Divert is currently running within six of the Met’s custody suites and the work of the volunteers is invaluable.

“These individuals are undoubtedly invested in this role and we work hard to ensure we provide them with the right level of training for the job and to aid their own personal development.

“I echo Jack in saying that their dedication is second to none and the fantastic results they have had working closely with the rest of the team speak for themselves.”

If people are worried that a family member or friend might be involved in criminality or vulnerable to people who may be violent, visit KnifeFree or the NSPCC websites for help and advice. You might be able to help them find a way-out.

Passing on information to organisations such as Crimestoppers or Fearless can not only help after a crime or incident, but vitally stop something from happening. Fearless is part of the Crimestoppers charity. Both are 100 per cent anonymous and totally independent of the police. They never ask your name, they cannot trace your call or any electronic device such as your phone or computer and no one ever knows that you’ve passed on information.