Phoenix young offenders project saved

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SUNDERLAND City Council has pledged to continue its support for a pioneering youth scheme facing an uncertain future due to fire service cuts.

The Phoenix Project, based at Sunderland Central Fire Station, has slashed teenage offending rates across Wearside and won countless awards.

But its long-term future was thrown into doubt earlier this year after the decision to axe the station as part of multi-million-pound cuts.

A review of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s diversionary activities, including the Phoenix Project, has just been completed, with fire bosses recommending that the initiative be retained.

However, the review goes on to state that “any cessation of funding should lead to the cessation of the programme”.

The project is run in conjunction with Sunderland Youth Offending Service, and it today pledged to continue funding it.

Councillor Pat Smith, the council’s portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “We recognise all the good work that the Phoenix Project has achieved and continue to support it wherever possible.

“It is funded in partnership with other agencies, and there is no change to the contribution from the youth offending service this year.

“The project is one of a number across the city which provide young people with opportunity and access to positive activities, which contribute to Sunderland having one of the lowest youth reoffending rates in the country.”

The scheme works with youngsters aged 11 to 17, giving offenders and truants a chance to spend time with firefighters and learn about the risks of arson.

They also learn about first aid and team-working, as well as addressing antisocial behaviour.

A high percentage of those who complete the four-day course do not go on to offend again, with many opting to enrol in further education.

The brigade’s review clearly states that should external funding for the Phoenix Project be cut, it would no longer be able to offer the scheme.

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Joy Brindle said: “The fire authority has had to deal with very large budget cuts, with another £8.8m to find over the next three years, and it can only deliver activities like the Phoenix Project if partners are prepared to continue funding them.

“We are very pleased that Sunderland Youth Offending Service has committed to funding for this year, and we hope that other partners will make similar commitments to ensure these activities can continue.”

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