AN award-winning fire safety course is changing the lives of young people in Sunderland.
The Phoenix Project has earned its good name by using the role of a firefighter to boost the confidence of troubled youths, while making them aware of the consequences tied to anti-social behaviour.
The course was the first of its kind when it was developed in April 2000 by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) and Sunderland Youth Offending Service (YOS).
And, since its launch, local councils across the country have picked up the idea and replicated its success.
Recently, the Sunderland project scooped up another national award – this time for Partnership and Collaboration – beating eight regional finalists including DHL and Barclays UK Retail Bank.
Watch manager John Ord has worked as a frontline fire fighter for 27 years, and has spent 10 years in fire prevention education.
He said: “Schools in Sunderland are aware of the Phoenix Project, and over the years it has been well received by young people.
“It has the reputation that if you’re offered this opportunity, you don’t turn it down.”
The five-day work experience course runs 15 times a year for young people aged between 11 and 17 who have previously offended, or may be at risk of offending.
It combines practical activities with classroom work, where pupils learn general fire safety information and discuss the impact of anti-social behaviour and hoax calls.
Some of the hands-on work includes putting on fire kit, running out a hose and learning techniques to search in dark and unfamiliar surroundings.
Pupils also learn the value of team work and valuable social and practical skills, which could lead to better employment opportunities.
John said: “Working together is a major theme of the course. We’re trying to get young people to understand that there’s a different direction they can take.
“I tell them on the first day, I don’t care why you’re here. I don’t need to know what you’ve done. What matters now is what you do while you’re here.”
The rewards for each pupil have proved to be personal, as well as social.
John said that many young people leave the course with more self-confidence and display more maturity than they had previously.
One former student who says her life has changed as a result of the project is 18-year-old Hannah Scorer, from Silksworth.
When she was 13 she began hanging around with a rough crowd and getting into trouble with the police.
She was also suffering from a strained relationship with her parents, which is now on the mend. She said: “I got drunk and disorderly. I was picked up by police when I tried to run away from home.
“I was a bit of a tearaway then. I had it in my head that while I was there, I was going to really terrorise them.” But it wasn’t long before she changed her mind.
She said: “I knew after that first course I didn’t want to go back down that road. John said to me, ‘you know Hannah, you’re worth more than this’.
“It sounds stupid, but they’re all like my friends now. I can ring if I need advice or anything at all and they’re just so helpful and supportive.”
Hannah has since gone on to work as a chef and a hairdresser, and now lives with her sister in Pallion.
When John joined the project four years ago he recognised a need for more support for students who finished the Phoenix course successfully.
He has since been involved in the development of two follow-up courses which are only open to young people who have stayed out of trouble. John said: “The aim is to get young people to not offend for 12 months, that 12 months is very crucial. The YOS has found that if a young person does not offend for 12 months, they adopt a preference to not offend. What we found was 72 per cent of young people that came through this programme don’t reoffend in the next 12 months.”
The two-day Respect course began in 2007, and runs six times a year at the Phoenix course centre in Sunderland.
This course is only open to students who have gone through Phoenix and have stayed out of trouble for three months. Students have the opportunity to learn about first aid, knife and weapons awareness, and how to use a fire extinguisher.
Once completed, they have the option to take the three-day Advanced course if they remain incident-free for a further six months.
The Advanced course, introduced after funding was secured in 2009, consists of a day of revision from the first two courses, followed by a two-day stay at the Broomley Grange Outdoor Activity Centre in Northumberland.
John said his experience with the project has shown that the majority of young people can be influenced to change their behaviour given the right support and guidance.
By spacing the courses out, former Phoenix students gain the satisfaction of knowing they have earned their place.
Young people who make it through the Advanced stage have stayed out of trouble for nine months, giving them a fighting chance to make it through that first crucial year.
Anyone who would like more information should log on to www.twfire.gov.uk/community/phoenix