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Lancashire Police spotlight child grooming in new theatre resource

Associate director Alex Summers. (s)
Associate director Alex Summers. (s)
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Lancashire Police are using the power of theatre to highlight the dangers of child grooming.

Joining forces with Lancaster’s award-winning Dukes Theatre, officers are funding a new project which will reveal the heartache endured by victims of sexual exploitation.

Alex Summers. (s)

Alex Summers. (s)

The characters and scenarios might be fictional but for many children across the county the abuse is a reality.

Leading the fight is PC Martin Midgley, who said: "Grooming and sexual exploitation are on the rise and if we try to do something on our own as a police service it becomes difficult.

"Drama projects are different to what we'd normally do, so we're hoping this will be more effective in reaching young people."

The Dukes Theatre's Centre for Creative Learning is devising a free and story-based resource exploring the topics of choice and consent, healthy relationships, abusive behaviours and online safety to help teachers and youth workers educate pupils about the risks of child sexual exploitation.

Leading the three-year project is associate director Alex Summers (33), who said: "We've worked with police officers, social workers and health professionals who all have amazing skills - they've been really generous in opening their doors to us and sharing their expertise," he said.

"Child sexual exploitation is a far-reaching issue but people tend to think only of gangs and drugs."

But there are many subtler, low-level scenarios which might escalate into abuse, he added.

Writer Mary Cooper has also been enlisted to conduct interviews in schools and safeguarding hubs to produce stories, characters and situations which can then be discussed by young people with their friends, parents, teachers or other authorities.

The project will involve around 200 people, include case studies, staff training and workshops, and will be offered to all youth organisations and primary and secondary schools in Lancashire.

It will build on the vital work of Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner, who set up Nest Lancashire to provide support for young victims.

Now he is using his Community Safety Fund to support the theatre project and ultimately help to cut the problem at its root.

Mr Grunshaw said: "I am committed to doing everything we can to stop people from falling victim to this type of crime in the first place.

"Education is key to ensuring our children and young people are aware of the signs of exploitation and can recognise potentially dangerous situations."

The Duke's new resource will form a key part of a toolkit designed by Mr Grunshaw's department to help raise awareness in schools across the county of abuse.

For Alex, it will also allow youngsters to harness the healing forces of theatre.

"It's brilliant for raising self-esteem," he said.

"All kinds of creative outlets are excellent for improving mental health and providing a release from the pressures of exams and academia.

"Theatre makes people feel proud of themselves, strengthens relationships between peers and raises aspirations.

"So while it's a distressing topic, it's an honour to have the police and crime commissioner behind us, as it means we can go further afield and engage more children.

"We hope young people will take ownership of the project and become more resilient to predatory behaviour."

Put in other words, it's a matter of preventing any parents from ever hearing about the "saviour" who promised their child the world, but instead brought them nothing but pain.

Anyone with concerns about child sexual exploitation can contact police on 101.

Or for more information about the Duke's project contact Louise Bryning on 01524 598509 or send an email to lbryning@dukes-lancaster.org