Staff from the School of Art, Design and Performance are taking part in a Hampshire initiative to tackle child criminal exploitation (CCE), in partnership with Active Communities Network.

Dr Catherine McNamara (Head of School of Art, Design and Performance) leads the project, working with Dr Erika Hughes (Course Leader, BA (Hons) Drama and Performance) and University of Portsmouth-based lead artist Ian Nicholson to raise awareness of CCE, County Lines, gangs and youth violence. Funding is provided by the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner.

The project team includes artists, practitioners, students, academics, and professionals in policing, safeguarding and youth offending. To highlight the risks of CCE, the School of Art, Design and Performance's participants are designing and developing an interactive digital story – an online form of 'choose your own adventure'. It was initially to be used in June and July this year for interactive workshops with young people in Portsmouth schools, as well as for parents and carers from the local community.

Working with such a variety of stakeholders is critical. The project builds and exchanges knowledge iteratively, and in multiple directions, to create a resource to meet all partners' needs in the overall objective. For example, it's enabled undergraduate drama, theatre and performance students to connect with it in structured and specific ways.

“The challenges of continuing with this kind of work during the pandemic are significant," explains Dr Catherine McNamara. "We're developing and building the story, finding new ways to draw on professional, specialised knowledge of case work and the lived experiences of young people who have been groomed. This takes longer as people are juggling new priorities and the pressures of front line work, but it's possible.

"The bigger challenge is to decide whether to adapt to the constraints the pandemic creates and find new ways to enable young people to experience the interactive story, or to wait; to wait for a time when we can visit schools and work directly with children to talk about this issue when, like everyone, we do not know when that will be. The work must be trauma-informed, and the conversations with young people must be ethical and responsible. Adapting to a less interpersonal mode of interacting is not a simple decision to make. This is the point we are at with this project as we look ahead to a new school year. Children are still being exploited and drawn into harmful situations and work to safeguard young people must also continue.”

The threat from county lines drug dealing continues to present a significant risk to vulnerable children and adults living within Hampshire, despite the current Covid-19 restrictions the country finds itself in.
Chief Inspector Mark Lynch, Hampshire Constabulary