Tackling violence and the exploitation of children and other vulnerable people in Bedfordshire is absolutely crucial work that no person, group or organisation can solve on their own.
That is why the county’s new Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) is potentially so pioneering and important.
With £880,000 of funding for the new unit from the Home Office, the VERU has the financial backing as well as the energy and will of people across the county to succeed.
It will see different agencies across Bedfordshire adopting a real
Kimberley Lamb (right) with Dr Angela Herbert MBE, co-chair of the Violent Crime Prevention Board
partnership approach alongside our communities to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our county.
The rise in so-called criminal exploitation by organised crime groups, especially those involved in county drugs lines, is one of the biggest drivers of violence in our county.
This toxic mix of vulnerability, drugs, modern slavery and organised crime affects people from all walks of life, with the same network of gangs and offenders linked to everything from gun and knife crime to child sexual exploitation.
I am delighted and humbled to have been appointed to lead such a significant project, which has the potential to transform lives.
I believe my background across the public sector, social enterprises and community projects makes me an ideal figurehead to drive forward the VERU’s work.
I have worked for more than two decades at managerial levels in both the education and criminal justice sectors, having started out in financial and legal firms.
I am moving across from the Signpost Victims Hub, where I have led Bedfordshire Police’s work around victim services and early intervention.
I have worked with young people through the Luton Youth Offending Service, and was the area manager for the Young Enterprise Charity in Bedfordshire for four years.
As part of this work we created a pioneering programme whereby the charity worked with young people in pupil referral units, schools and a local homeless hostel, ensuring their expertise helped those from areas of deprivation.
Success stories from this project were recognised at both regional and national level.
In terms of community projects, I have played a leading role in the county’s stop and search scrutiny panel, and I am currently a school governor and lay member of our local safeguarding children’s board.
I am also vice chair of a local charity that specialised in programmes for those experiencing drug and/or alcohol dependency, specifically tackling adolescent antisocial behaviour linked to gangs and knife crime.
This summer I was also appointed as a Champion for the Violent Crime Prevention Board.
Yet my personal story could have been so different. I came from a disadvantaged background and was fortunate enough to have the right interventions and opportunities to get to where I am today.
I want young people in Bedfordshire to be able to access that same pathway to turn their lives around.
We will relentlessly target the root causes of violence and exploitation by providing interventions and opportunities for those at risk.
We will also invest in the right causes, with the VERU due to make a six-figure sum available for grassroots projects that can divert young people away from crime and violence.
This is an absolutely key part of my vision for the VERU.
I want to empower grassroots organisations across the county, and be cutting edge and innovative with who we partner with, particularly working with those who can engage with hard to reach communities.
Simultaneously, I want to ensure that the VERU utilises the existing services and structures that are already in place, coordinating work that is already going on in this area and ensuring we are dealing with these issues in the most effective way possible for the longer term.
This includes supporting work being led by our three local authorities to move towards an exploitation model in April.
We will also invest in a youth support worker service, who will do outreach work with young people at risk of being involved in gangs.
In terms of structure, the VERU will have four key pillars of work: partnerships, services, community and data capture, to ensure everything we do is targeted and based on evidence.
The VERU will be scrutinised by an oversight group made up of partners such as the police, local authorities and pupil referral units.
The unit will be different from other ‘virtual’ VERUs in the country in that it will be a physical unit, and we are the only ones nationally to introduce the ‘E’ specifically around targeting exploitation.
This is just one way in which Bedfordshire plans on standing out from other VRUs across the country. This spirit of innovation will run through everything we do, and I cannot wait to get started.