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Unlocking the secret to engaging with young people

PCC Alison Hernandez reflects on Totnes Pride and highlights the difficulties of engaging with young people

A river of colour flowing through Totnes!
A river of colour flowing through Totnes!

Two weeks ago I spent a most enjoyable and informative afternoon celebrating diversity at Totnes Pride. It was a vibrant occasion, full of love and colour and not a little blatant exhibitionism.

It was the sixth Pride event that I and my team have attended in Devon and Cornwall during 2017 – Exeter, Newquay, Bideford, Plymouth, Exmouth have already celebrated diversity in glorious technicolour. I doubt if any other police area around the country has so many individual days where people can get together to celebrate their individuality with such joy. Each is an important occasion in our engagement ‘calendar’.

Not only does it give us the opportunity to stand alongside our police colleagues and speak about the issues that matter most to people from many communities, it also allows us to spend time chatting with the many different organisations which devote their existence to working with those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Many of those organisations are well known to the OPCC, in fact, many of them are members of the Victim Care Network or are commissioned to support and help victims. We meet with them across boardroom tables to talk about service delivery, commissioning and funding – but at events like Pride, when we are truly reminded of exactly why the work we do is so important, it is a great time to share ideas and allow the creativity of the day to inspire us.

One of the objectives I have set for my engagement team is to use these events to try to identify gaps in the engagement calendar, to find out which communities aren’t being supported in particular areas and to consider how we might be able to help to fill those gaps.

In the past year we have worked with police and partners to ensure the survival, and ability to flourish, of three Blue Light Days in Devon, Cornwall and Plymouth. We have joined forces with police diverse community teams and the Victim Care Unit to present a united front and share costs at many events. We are currently working with Plymouth Racial Equality Council to develop a Respect Festival in Plymouth – which I am pleased to say will take place at the Guildhall on Saturday 14 July 2018. We have provided some resource and funding to support National Hate Crime Awareness Week in Plymouth in October.

And now I am pleased to say, that as a result of a discussion at Totnes Pride, we are helping to fund and resource a ‘Pride-type’ event for young people, which we hope will be held in Torquay next February. Plans are at a very early stage but we are looking forward so much to helping our colleagues from the Intercom Trust to develop the idea. This will be a significant milestone in another wider piece of work being looked at in our office – how to engage with young people?

If you ask many engagement professionals they will say that young people are probably the most difficult group to reach and I read an article recently which might help explain why that is the case. In the research, a 50% fall in the rate of teenage pregnancies has been attributed to changes in how young people socialise with their peer groups. The research identifies that rates started to decline from around 2008 as young people moved away from nightly face to face contact to socialising via social media from home.

This might suggest that engaging with young people becomes easier – as we can use social media to talk to them. But the reality is that young people use social media on closed networks – engaging directly with their peers and friends – in ways that make it harder (not easier) to get messages to them. While this has clearly had a positive effect on teenage pregnancy it has made engaging those young people more difficult – how on earth do you find out what they are thinking if they choose only to engage with others within their peer group?

Many have tried and failed to find an answer and while we accept this is very challenging it is a challenge my team, led by the excellent young people who work within it, is determined to meet.

Some of the most significant projects taking place in Devon and Cornwall at the moment that my team are engaged with are:

- Providing specialist, bespoke help for Young Victims of Crime Service through the OPCC funded Victim Care Network
- Actively working with partners through the Police’s Children and Young People Steering Group to help coordinate improvement in the police’s relationship with young people
- Supporting, through funding, the four Youth Offending Teams that work across our two counties to stop young people from offending
- Seven engagement workshops have been held across Devon and Cornwall with young people at risk of being victims of crime through the Young Victims of Crime Service.

I am also pleased to be able to support and champion some of the excellent work that Devon and Cornwall Police is doing to engage with young people on the issue of sexting.  Their new online and paper resources on sexting for schools and professionals can be found at and a separate site provides information and advice directly for young people at

Alison Hernandez