It was with great delight I attended the Aurora Youth Development Programme award ceremony at West Midlands HQ. Having covered this programme in Criminal Law & Justice Weekly, I was invited to see the programme in action. Three weeks ago, I met with the team headed up by Adrian Lydon in Cumbria. A trip to Cumbria is a bi-annual and residential event that forms part of the programme. It is quite clear the dedication of operational fire officers who work tirelessly with groups of young adults over a 10-12 month period.
I have covered previously in CL&J how the guillotine of the government has affected The Fire Service across the board. However, seeing The Aurora Programme in action has made me certain that without this vital service to the community of West Midlands, there would certainly be 150 young adults out there who would have little to concentrate on. This is not a charity nor is it a newly funded CRC company that is wrapped up in the world of funding rounds from NOMS. It is well respected and has fire service industry standards with vital risk assessments in place. The wider trust from people for The Fire Service is vast. Who doesn’t trust a fire officer? As a service, they surely are at the top of the list in polls.
So, after being strapped into a harness by chaps who looked like they knew a thing or two, I ventured up the side of a quarry in Borrowdale, Cumbria. I was swinging my safety helmet with all the courage of a woman who has seen a side or seven of life. My dog was at the bottom of the quarry looking at me pleadingly as I left him in safe hands of the instructors who would be greeting me at the end of what could only be described as a piece of knicker elastic. Apparently, I was going to zoom down this wire and the test runs made it look oh so easy.
Now, I don’t how many of you have been on the side of a quarry that is at least 120 feet high. Standing at the top of 120 feet and seeing young uns zoom down the knicker elastic effortlessly is one thing. The same young uns telling me, “Tracey, once you have done it, you will want to do it 100’s of times again” is not the most reassuring draft of statements I have ever come across. Two of the group’s participants were still up there and deals were struck if I threw, yes, threw myself onto the knicker elastic and skidaddled down said elastic into the safe hands of instructors at the bottom of the quarry. Talk about panic? Panic and I had a conversation and panic won. Well, at least for 45 seconds before I found myself attached to a hair clip (seriously, I have bigger hair clips than the grip which was attaching me to the knicker elastic) and PUSHED off the quarry side. Coops, one of the instructors, shouted “You’ve written about worse things than this” Ah, yes, words are cheap Coops, words are cheap.
As luck had it, the knicker elastic held. I ended up in the safe hands of “Wes” (finding a fire officer with a proper name is hard but here was Wes waiting to catch me) who instructed me to let go of hair grip, release one hand from somewhere and throw back a lever and get down. Eventually the words from our Wes “This has never happened before” and I was dangling as I fumbled with hair grip, knicker elastic and was suspended in mid air for 45 seconds at least. Thinking about the unattractiveness of it all is enough to make me shudder.
Exciting or wot??? But, spending time with the young adults and the team who welcomed made it all so much worth while. These young adults have suffered in that they are excluded from education or come from the CJS. There are no airs or graces and the dedication of this team moved me so much. Freddie the chocolate brown Labrador was bouncy and alert. He also had a part to play and my old Grandpa of a Labrador had a great time. Freddie is used to these trips and has been trained to round up the ones who drift behind the group. Freddie watches that all the group in intact and only when he is satisfied is Ade, one of group’s founders, allowed to continue.
It was with great pleasure I was asked to address the parents, Chief Superintendent Jo Smallwood, Chief Fire Officer Phil Loach, Cllor John Edwards, the Chair of West Midlands Fire Authority, Sue and who this programme was all about, the young adults at the award ceremony this last Monday evening at West Midlands HQ. I spoke with parents who openly told me how Aurora had given them their child back and how much better life is at home, proud parents who had previously despaired.
It is great programmes like this which are few and far between. People are people, yet the programme reunites families, enables children who are excluded from school to achieve something rather than be lost in a system that still, in the 21st century, loses its young. This programme has been developed from the heart and soul of The Fire Service and challenges behaviours as opposed to who those young adults truly are. With investment and time from the team who give up their own family time to work with these young people, what emerges is the product with which I was proud to be a part of. The award ceremony which gave young people the chance to swell with pride over their achievements. We talk often about how proud we are of our children, imagine staring adversity in the face and tackling some of the highest fells this country has, camping out and getting drenched each day. Of course the knicker elastic activity is fun and is known as a zipwire, nevertheless, this is a programme that deserves a wider audience. Yet somehow doesn’t need one. The results speak for themselves. Parents having their children back from the CJS, reintegrated into society and young adults who are determined to avoid trouble.
The current state of the CJS, with the Offender Rehabilitation Bill should take a leaf out of the Aurora programme and look at what currently works. The Aurora Youth Development Programme does.
Thank you, Aurora for pushing me off a 120 ft quarry side, but thank you for the great work you do. Tirelessly and aimlessly to bring us young adults we can be proud of and who are our next generation.
To Adrian, Sue and the team. Superb and thank you for welcoming me to share in this wonderful programme.