Suzanne recently attended The Clewer Initiative’s Breaking County Lines course to boost her knowledge of county lines and how children can be prevented from getting drawn into criminal gangs.
What is your role and where are you based?
My name is Suzanne and since January 2020, I have been a community pioneer, based at the Winn Gardens Estate in Sheffield. I am responsible for caring for and supporting the 375 households who live on the estate. I am employed by a nearby church, St John the Baptist, Owlerton and Zest, a Sheffield-based charity. Winn Gardens Estate was built in the mid-1960s - 65 per cent of residents are White British and 35 per cent are from other nations. There are 16 different nationalities on the estate and some people speak no English.
What is an average day like for you?
My role consists of a lot of trouble shooting and safeguarding issues. I never know what each day will entail until the phone rings. Sometimes I am helping with the re-settlement of victims of domestic abuse, sometimes I am linking up children with statutory agencies, sometimes I liaise with the local housing officer at Sheffield City Council to resolve issues with accommodation or get broken kitchen appliances fixed.
How have you begun to build relationships within the community?
Since I’ve moved on to the estate, I have connected with around 80 - 90 children and young people through our detached youth nights and 75 - 80 households via our foodbank and clothing recycle project. The foodbank clothing bank runs every Thursday morning at our local Tenants’ and Residents’ Association office. As I both live and work within the same community, I have spent quite a lot of time connecting with the children and young people from the estate by being a presence in the common places they hang out such as the basketball courts and the playing fields. At these times, I have very much been led by the young people's agenda and spent most nights just chatting to young people and offering them hot chocolate and snacks. This sort of detached youthwork is the only thing that has been possible when COVID-19 restrictions have forbidden indoor gatherings. It has been a wonderful way to start forming relationships with local families. Most days, there are 8-12 kids waiting on my doorstep when I go out or come back from somewhere. The children love meeting my dog, Poppy – she has been a wonderful asset. Everyone knows her and is drawn to her! Wonderfully, we have had people queuing to come to our community church on a Sunday.
Have you run any initiatives in response to Covid?
During Covid, we created food packs and daily activities for families so that they had healthy holiday provision. During May half term, 83 children from the Estate received our holiday packs and attended some of our organised events such as a treasure hunt and pizza making evening. These sorts of initiatives are just the beginning of us trying to build community on the estate.
In addition to providing the food / activity packs during the school holidays, we also provided a variety of educational and fun activity packs for families during January - March 2021 (3rd lockdown). More than 75 families took part and each week we set a challenge to create something from the activity packs which they were then asked to post on our "Lockdown Challenge Pack WhatsApp Group". Each week we provided a prize for the most inventive creations. This not only allowed relationships to be built with the church but also within the community as each household interacted through the WhatsApp comments / videos etc.
What was your knowledge of County Lines before attending The Clewer Initiative’s Breaking County Lines course?
I knew a little bit about County Lines, but I wanted to deepen my knowledge of the issue, now that I am living on the Estate. I wanted to know about the latest drugs on the market, what they look like and their slang names so that I understand the lingo when talking to young people. There are a couple of ex-offenders on the estate and I try to keep an eye on their activity to see if any children are being groomed or cuckooed.
On the Breaking County Lines course, there is a big emphasis on Community Resilience and how the strengthening of communities can prevent county lines from thriving. What is your experience of building community resilience in Sheffield?
Building relationships and strengthening community is at the heart of my mission on the Winn Gardens Estate. There can be a bit of a divide between those who have lived on the estate for decades and those who have arrived more recently. How we bridge that divide is very challenging. It is early days, and some people are frightened as there are some big characters on the estate. I feel I have discovered a big iceberg of need and I am beginning to chip away at it but I am not coming along to solve everything myself. I am committed to helping build the community so that the community can stand and work together to protect its own young people.
Suzanne’s detached youthwork is a great example of how churches and individuals can work at a grassroots level to strengthen community and therefore play a part in breaking down county lines. To find out more about Community Resilience, visit https://www.theclewerinitiative.org/breaking-county-lines-online