Sunderland students help crime victims by becoming volunteers

Studies in Victim Support. From left Neighbourhood co-ordinator Paul Mullholland, student Bethany Hellawell, Deputy leader of Sunderland City Council Cllr Harry Trueman, student Kayley Walker, Neighbourhood Sergeant Phil Smailes and Principal Policy Officer Michelle Coates
Studies in Victim Support. From left Neighbourhood co-ordinator Paul Mullholland, student Bethany Hellawell, Deputy leader of Sunderland City Council Cllr Harry Trueman, student Kayley Walker, Neighbourhood Sergeant Phil Smailes and Principal Policy Officer Michelle Coates

Students have been learning more about the effects of crime and anti-social behaviour on victims by becoming volunteers in communities where they live.

The pilot project, led by Sunderland City Council and supported by Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Bird, recruited three students from Sunderland and Northumbria universities to be trained by community safety partners to become Anti-Social Behaviour Victim Volunteers.

Studies in Victim Support. From left student Bethany Hellawell, Neighbourhood co-ordinator Paul Mullholland,, Deputy leader of Sunderland Ciy Council Cllr Harry Trueman, Neighbourhood Sergeant Phil Smailes, Principal Policy Officer Michelle Coates and student  Kayley Walker

Studies in Victim Support. From left student Bethany Hellawell, Neighbourhood co-ordinator Paul Mullholland,, Deputy leader of Sunderland Ciy Council Cllr Harry Trueman, Neighbourhood Sergeant Phil Smailes, Principal Policy Officer Michelle Coates and student Kayley Walker

The trained volunteers will complement the work of the local authority’s anti-social behaviour team, by providing practical and friendly support over the phone or in person to low and medium risk victims.

All are full-time students studying Criminology, Social Work (MA) and Psychology who were recruited after a stringent selection process that included application, interview as well as references and DBS checks.

After completing a induction programme in which they shadowed Sunderland City Council’s Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) officers and their neighbourhood policing colleagues, they met with people who work in this field they went through an intensive training programme which included;

- Safeguarding

Studies in Victim Support. From left students Bethany Hellawell and Kayley Walker.  Back from left Neighbourhood co-ordinator Paul Mullholland,, Deputy leader of Sunderland Ciy Council Cllr Harry Trueman, Neighbourhood Sergeant Phil Smailes and Principal Policy Officer Michelle Coates

Studies in Victim Support. From left students Bethany Hellawell and Kayley Walker. Back from left Neighbourhood co-ordinator Paul Mullholland,, Deputy leader of Sunderland Ciy Council Cllr Harry Trueman, Neighbourhood Sergeant Phil Smailes and Principal Policy Officer Michelle Coates

- Confidentiality and Trust

- Basic counselling and listening skills

- Equality and Diversity

All three, Emma Bontempi, 32, from Sunderland, studying Criminology at Sunderland University, Bethany Hellawell, 21, from Whitby, studying psychology at Northumbria University and Kayley Walker, 31, from South Shields, studying an MA in Social Work at Sunderland have now completed their training.

Chairman of the Safer Sunderland Partnership and deputy leader of Sunderland City Council Councillor Harry Trueman said: “We are absolutely committed to protecting people from harm and supporting victims and witnesses - and this new group of people is another way to help.

“By becoming part of the process to help victims as volunteers, our three academics will be able to draw upon their experiences when they become qualified practitioners and better understand the emotional and social needs of those affected by crime and anti-social behaviour.”

Bethany said: “I became a volunteer because I thought it was important to properly understand a job in the criminal justice system before applying for one after university, academic work prepares you for some things but not the kind of understanding you gain from hands-on participation.

“After completing my third year I hope to continue on doing a master’s degree in forensic psychology to eventually become a psychologist within the prison service.”

Kayley added: “Through the training provided I have enhanced my communication skills and also had the opportunity to shadow various professionals who deal with anti-social behaviour on a daily basis, this opportunity has highlighted that anti-social behaviour can have a huge impact on the victims lives and I hope that by volunteering I can be an empathetic ear and help them to get through their experience.”