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On the streets to keep Doncaster's youngsters out of trouble

In a park hidden away on a Doncaster estate, there is a game of rounders going on.

The day before it was zorb football - youngsters running around inside inflated plastic balls while trying to move a football around. Other days on the same week will see archery and fencing.

Youngsters taking part in Epic's activities in Doncaster

Youngsters taking part in Epic's activities in Doncaster

There is a gentle drizzle coming down, and there are only three youngsters - but that does not stop Chris Lambert and his team.

They are part of a group called Epic - and they are in Edlington for six months to help alleviate concerns over antisocial behaviour.

To do that, they are spending time running activities and talks which they hope will raise the aspirations of any youngsters who could be at risk of getting involved in crime or antisocial behavour. And English morning drizzle will not stop them.

When the Free Press arrived, there were three youngsters taking part. During the session there was a steady increase, with Chris calling across to youngsters as they arrived, making it easy for them to come across and get involved. His group is called the Team on the Streets.

Today the activity was rounders. It varies from day to day, but the common theme is events which are not widely pursued. But for Chris and his team, the plan is that they will engage with the youngsters and help them steer clear of crime. It is not just those deemed 'at risk' who are invited - they are open to all youngsters.

Chris said: "We are usually doing activities that children may not have tried before. For instance, most children know if they're good at football and it may put some off. This way everyone is on a level playing field.

"Even if it's heavy rain, even if only one youngster turns up, we'll be here and we'll do activities.

"I Love my job - I get paid to help young people realise their potential.

"We're here because Edlington has been seen as as an area where young people are saying they want more to do. There is a lot of antisocial behaviour going on. We feel it is our responsibility to come and try to help young people and raise their aspirations."

Edlington has seen problems over the last year. High profile community meetings have been held for residents to voice their concerns to police. The South Yorkshire force has, in turn raised its profile in the former pit village with an increased community policing presence.

In the streets near the rec, which is behind Church Road, there are signs of tough times, with a number of boarded up properties.

Since Epic was set up nearly two years ago, it has run similar projects in Stainforth and Edlington; both areas saw reports of antisocial behaviour by youngsters fall after their programmes. But the organisation says they are trying to make sure that they leave a legacy when they move on.

Epic are in Edlington at least until May, but may move onto another area after that.

Plans are being made to try to make sure that any achievements are continued.

"We want to find local people who can continue the work when we leave," said Chris. "We want to leave a legacy that will continue. We have people who can train volunteers up in sports leadership."

The scheme has moved to Edlington because there have been problems with antisocial behaviour. The idea is to show youngsters there are other things they can do, and engage with them.

The people who run it distance themselves from the police - they are not involved in the scheme. Epic has its routes in Doncaster Children's Services, the organisation which was recently classed as 'good' by Ofsted

And their work is not limited to school holidays in the park. They are running after school clubs too, and more activities will be running the Easter holidays. There are also plans for talks in schools on the consequences of getting involved in crime, and the doors it can close in later life.

"We're here to help people make positive decision," said Chris. "Making bad decisions can close doors and affect their future.

"We will talk about antisocial behaviour, and ask how people would feel about it, and how their grandparents would feel about it if it affected them.

"We think we've had clear success stories, and we're learning more as we go along,"

Marcus Isman-Egal, who manages the project, believes it is having an impact. He says the number of youngsters entering the criminal justice system has fallen by 49 per cent since they started.

He said for the future, the organisation was also planning events around Sport Relief, and a proposed 'summer university' of activities around the borough.

He said: "Doncaster was one of the worst performing areas in the country for antisocial behaviour. We were set up to help tackle that and make sure that children and young people had something to do. We also do talks showing crime has consequences., such as Think First and Think Forward.

"What we do is there for all the community."