Norfolk chief calls on faith groups to work with Police
Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey has called on faith groups across Norwich to join together with the Police to help to tackle issues such as addiction, homelessness and child criminal exploitation. Keith Morris reports.
Speaking at a meeting of around 50 leaders from different faiths across Norwich on Tuesday (November 26), he said: “For me today is around understanding and challenging ourselves and our organisations and asking ‘is there a way we can come together to tackle what I perceive to be some of the greatest challenges we face as a city and county’. At the forefront of that will be how we can support some of the most vulnerable and needy people in our communities.
“This is about the chance to make a fundamental difference to a group of people who I believe we all care passionately about, because their lives should mean something.
“If we can start working together for a common cause in one or two small things, then who knows where we might be able to take this initiative,” he said.
“It is a conversation about coming up with a series of shared objectives, shared thoughts, shared ideas. I am not looking for miracles but for small steps and ways in which we might come to work together. Across the whole of Norfolk, and in Norwich in particular, I know there are some incredibly passionate, compassionate and highly motivated and driven individuals and organisations.”
Speaking at the first meeting of Faith and Police Together, at Soul Church in Norwich, the Chief Constable said: “There is a significant challenge for the city around homelessness. Whenever you go into the city you see people who, quite clearly, are living in the most awful conditions, who are probably suffering from both poor mental health and poor physical health.
“That issue is inextricably linked to addiction. The price of heroin and cocaine has never been as cheap and its purity has never been as high. An 80% pure bag of cocaine can be bought for £10. We talk about there being 2,000 addicts in the county – I think we can conservatively double that and the numbers are growing. Far too many people are becoming dependant on those drugs and lead chaotic lives and children are growing up amongst that chaos.
“At the heart of child criminal exploitation are a group of terribly vulnerable children. They are being exploited in sexual exploitation, being trafficked or be it in terms of the transportation of drugs into the county, sometimes children aged only 8 or 9. It is impacting every town and city in the country and Norwich is no exception.
“Across Norfolk, you are more likely to be the victim of a serious sexual offence than to have your house burgled – and that should worry us,” said the Chief.
Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk, Lady Philippa Dannatt, told the meeting: “I think this is a wonderful initiative. These issues affect us all and they are happening here in our city under our noses.
“Together we will make a difference and when we ask ‘what can I do?’ there is one thing that comes to mind. We are all here because we have faith and we can all pray for our Police force – they really need it as they are at the forefront of some of the most harrowing situations that anyone could ever meet. Let’s build relationships, let’s build ideas let’s work together but let us also take away a commitment to pray for our Police who do so much to keep us safe.”
Insp Mike Austin then spoke about the night-time economy, the challenges faced and the potential opportunities for a closer working relationship – especially in Norwich on Friday and Saturday nights.
Maria Pratt from St Martin’s Housing Trust spoke about the issue of homelessness and the success of the inter-agency Pathways initiative in helping to produce positive outcomes for many people. She also spoke about the need for the many groups who provide food and support in this area of concern to co-ordinate their work more closely to improve outcomes for the homeless.
Sally Hughes, Public Health Manager from Norfolk County Council, gave some stark statistics to the audience, including an estimated 4,400 drug users in the county, 9,200 dependant drinkers, 6,146 hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions and 51 deaths from drug use per annum.
Det Insp Dave McCormack and Daniel Wilson from Children’s Service then explained how Child Criminal Exploitation was linked to County Lines where dealers from London send runners, who are often vulnerable young people, on trains to cities such as Norwich to sell heroin, crack and cocaine to anyone who will buy it.
The meeting was arranged by Norfolk Police Inspector Marie Reavey who has spent the last year leading a national initiative, called Faith and Police Together, aimed at encouraging better partnership working between the Police and faith communities.
Marie said: “The result is a tookit with useful information and practical guidance around the areas of addiction, youth violence and loneliness. It includes many organisations, ideas and projects that can inspire and support faith communities to set up a project in partnership with the police and other statutory agencies.
Click here to download the Faith Communities Guide to Engaging with Police Toolkit
Outside the meeting, Marie, who is also the National Chair of the Christian Police Association, said: “Please pray that Norwich would become a flagship example, the quick easy wins that make a difference will be identified and longer term solutions and partnerships will be forged.
Opportunity was then given for faith leaders to discuss with Police representatives the issues, their existing work and things that could be done to make a real difference.
At the end the Chief Constable made a commitment for Insp Reavey to continue working on the project and to reconvene a follow-up meeting in March to explore the next steps.
Pictured top, Chief Constable Simon Bailey addresses faith leaders at Soul Church in Norwich and, above, faith leaders and Police discuss working together.