Tucked away amongst the hustle and bustle of Birmingham city centre is a dedicated team of individuals intent on supporting young people involved in – or at the risk of – criminal activity.
The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner-backed Jonah’s Project Interception Hub was first established in Handsworth in 2017 but, since June 2023, has relocated to the heart of the city centre.
There’s currently around 40 young people, aged between 11 and 25, that check in with manager Natalie Wilks and her team, with each youngster having recently been arrested, involved in a voluntary interview, bailed or released from police custody.
“We’ve got kids coming to us pending investigation for pretty much anything from firearms charges to drugs charges,” explains Natalie. “We also work with those who have been arrested for anti-social behaviour, theft and common assault and have been referred to us by relevant West Midlands Police custody suites.”
Natalie, originally from Northfield, explains how confidence plays a big issue for those who continually get sucked into a life of crime, while support could be lacking at school or at home.
“These kids have got so much free time on their hands,” she adds. “And what we provide is a safe place for positive reflection. We say to these kids, the door’s here, someone’s always going to be here. If you’re passing or you’ve got nothing to do, drop up here. In the main, they probably see us once a week, for 1-2 hours.”
Last week, one of Natalie’s referrals landed a weekend job, attended a basketball session while also enrolled back at college, proving that the safe space at Jonah’s Project – and the support and guidance – is working.
“It’s that relatability and time we’re giving them,” Natalie adds. “It’s not about saying, ‘You’ve got six weeks to change your life,’ it doesn’t work like that. It’s about providing young people with relevant support and empowerment to enable them to make a positive change – and for them to be the best version of themselves.
“We do this by making sure that we engage and build positive relationships. For us, the benefit is we’re an all-black team and have lived the experience.
“So the message is this: we’re here and we want to help young people channel their energy in the right way.”
The Jonah’s Project has received £125,000-worth of funding thanks to the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner and the Violence Reduction Partnership. The scheme supports those living in one of Birmingham’s six impact areas; Northfield and Kings Norton, Erdington, Sparkhill and Sparkbrook, City Centre, Bordesley Green and Lozells and East Handsworth.
As well as offering support and guidance to “turn negative situations into positive life lessons”, the Jonah’s Project Interception Hub has recently installed a music studio offering young people free sessions to express their creativity.
There’s also a games room, gym, kitchen and chill-out space, as well as a formal clothes rack for those needing smart clothes for an upcoming interview.
Commenting on the work to transform the lives of young people, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, Simon Foster, said: “Having something or someone to turn to can often be the difference when it comes to young people making the right or wrong decisions.
“It’s fantastic to see Natalie and her team at the Jonah’s Project giving their time to help so many individuals who are at the risk of being involved in crime. We want to see young, talented people thrive in Birmingham and to channel their energy into making a real success out of their lives, whether that’s through music, sports or by gaining a career in something they’re passionate about.
“I’m now looking forward to seeing the valuable progress Jonah’s Project Interception Hub will make in Birmingham for the year ahead – and the difference it’ll continue to make to the lives of so many young people thanks to our financial support.”
Staff at West Midlands Police custody suites can continue to refer young people to Jonah’s Project Interception Hub for support and guidance. You can email direct to [email protected]. For more details about Jonah’s Project in Birmingham, visit their website: www.jpinterceptionhub.co.uk.
Photo at the top of this page courtesy of Jonah’s Project Interception Hub featuring some members of staff at a training eventBack to News Archive