Chicken and council collab keeps kids from crime

Youngsters aged between 14 and 17 are supported through the No More Youth service

Youngsters aged between 14 and 17 are supported through the No More Youth service, and are placed into education or work opportunities, like at Chicken George - Credit: Simon Philbert

A partnership between Stevenage Borough Council and a locally well-renowned food chain has made positive waves in the community.

The 'Wingman Project' - a collaboration between the council and Chicken George in Hitchin - has helped find employment for four young people who have found themselves engaging in antisocial and criminal behaviour.

Si Philbert, from SBC's brand new youth branch of the No More Service, hopes that other businesses will adopt a similar scheme to Chicken George's Wingman Project off the back of its continuing success.

Si's experience over the last two years has seen him working with those involved in county lines, enforced drug dealing, modern-day slavery and serious youth violence across Stevenage and North Herts.

Si's partnership with Chicken George's owner Chris Cheah has meant that four individuals - who found themselves with limited options - had education and work-based avenues to pursue.

Si told the Comet: "I would like to get this story heard to try to encourage other local business to come on board and hopefully create other preventative youth projects.

"There are only so many positions available at Chicken George, and I think something like this will help the youths in the community.

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"Also, the organisations that get involved will be seen to be actively trying to make a difference to the community."

And making a difference, whether that be to individuals or the wider community, is something that Chris articulates is at the heart of this project.

"These kids - some of them have got some troubles, have been in gangs - no one would give them a chance," he said.

"I took on a couple of guys and they really flourished. A couple didn't do so well, but the others that did, they loved it and they just wanted that chance to work, and hopefully they'll get a good work ethic here."

Chris added that not only will employment opportunities boost the work ethic of these young individuals, but they'll learn invaluable life skills; and at the end of the day, get paid for it, too!

"They get the same opportunities as a normal person here. They get paid the same, they get treated the same.

"I noticed a lot of them are not going back to their gangs on their days off. They're socialising with the staff here; they're going out for drinks, they're going out to other restaurants to try food or they come here and we throw a staff party!"

Anastasia Constantinides, who also works with the No More Service, explained how the youth element of the programme - although in its infancy - has grown to help a wider range of people, and continues to show promise.

"It works really well. Our service is completely client-led, and we are very much advocates for those people, both young and older, in whatever they want to do and their journey of change.

"It's one-to-one, they can have daily contact, they can have monthly contact - it's completely up to them and what they want their support plan to look like.

"Everyone's got their own issues - one person's drug or alcohol addiction will look completely different to another's, so we're flexible in that sense."

Anastasia explained that although the service is based at Stevenage and embedded within the borough council, the service covers the entire county, with team members like Si working with individuals in different locales.

The duo hopes that other businesses will adopt a similar model to the successful Wingman Project at Chicken George.

Si said: "My aim is to get this out and around the area and surrounding boroughs of Stevenage, Letchworth, Royston - and reach out to different organisations who feel they may have some sort of capacity to help some of the young people in the area, and provide some sort of help to the community."

Anastasia added: "I really want to appeal to the many barber shops in Stevenage, the hairdressers...these kids want apprenticeships, they want to learn a skill that they can take forward, as opposed to a qualification. That's quite a big theme," she said, adding that skills, crafts and trades with immediate results or products help encourage these youngsters.

"We have quite a big focus on localism, so why not support the pre-existing businesses, but there'll also be benefits from that, too?"

Those who wish to set up similar programmes can contact Si directly at simon.philbert@stevenage.gov.uk or on 01438 242360.

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