THE NUMBER of teenagers committing antisocial behaviour offences in Newport has dropped by nearly two thirds since the start of the year.

In January, the Island's police force stepped up patrols and targeted key areas in its Operation Varney initiative to tackle a surge in the number of incidents in the town centre.

Between January 4 and January 6, police arrested at least nine youths — some as young as 12 — for antisocial behaviour. The incidents included criminal damage, threatening behaviour, police obstruction and breaches of dispersal orders.

Police saw 23 incidents of youth related antisocial behaviour in December 2018 and 24 in January 2019. By February 2019, the figures had dropped to nine.

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Inspector Rob Abel said: "This is something we've been working on for some months now and we've got our process right.

"We've defined what we're doing in relation to the antisocial behaviour. We've got quite a lot in place with the council, parish council and Community Safety Partnership.

"But it's still ongoing — it's a long term project. It's a must that we carry on patrolling and keep up this work."

Acting Sgt Martin Egerton, who has been drafted in from Yarmouth for the operation, said: "The latest figures are a positive development, but our work to address antisocial behaviour in Newport will continue."

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What's changed?

Police have worked closely with Newport and Carisbrooke Parish Council, the Isle of Wight Council and independent projects over the past couple of months.

Chairman of the parish council, Geoff Brodie, said: "There's now so many levels in Newport where people are working together and I think that's great.

"I'm delighted the project to regenerate the town is on the rise. It's now this universal agreement, we can set aside disagreements of the past."

Cllr Brodie said the parish council was supporting independent projects in Newport, such as the youth cafe, financially.

He said: "As a parish council, we want to support activities for young people. We put a fair bit of money into supporting youth in the centre of town because we think it's the right thing to do.

"The Island is for everyone, and we do think about young people in Newport."

Projects in Newport, including two Isle of Wight Youth Offending Team initiatives, have also received a cash boost from the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

The team's Break 4 Change initiative received £10,000, and its Youth Crime Prevention programme was given a £23,600 grant.

Other projects to gain PCC funding include Age UK Isle of Wight's LGBTQI Hate Crime Support Project, the Revive Newport Youth Cafe and the South Wight Area Partnership.

Sgt Martin Egerton said the recent funding announcement from the office of the PCC would have a longer-term impact on reducing antisocial behaviour in the town centre.

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"For example, Revive Newport's youth cafe and youth workers will receive the funds to run a five day-a-week support service. This includes activities for young people, and youth workers operating in locations around the town centre."

One spearhead of the Shaping Newport project — an ongoing initiative to rejuvenate the town — is Cllr Julie Jones-Evans.

Cllr Jones-Evans said she was pleased with the steps made so far, in particular the way different organisations in the town had banded together, but stressed asking young people what they want was key.

"At the start of the year, we called a meeting of various people, such as the police, health services and parents. We all sat around the table and added our experiences and initiatives to the conversation.

"One good thing about us being strapped for cash is we work together and people pool money together.

"I think what's needed is a space for young people to hang out with their peers — but we want to hear from young people."

What do young people think?

'There's nothing to do' — that's the message from Island youngsters. There's nothing to do and nowhere to go with a lack of funds.

Abbie Smith, 17, of Newport, said: "When we were younger there was plenty to do, but once you become a teenager there's a limited amount of stuff to do.

"I think that's why there has been a rise in antisocial behaviour. Teenagers have to go to the mainland to do anything."

Another Newport teenager, Sophie Young, 18, said any services available for teenagers cost money and in general, teenagers did not want to pay out.

She said: "We can only go to beaches these days or go to someone's house."

However, Molly Williams, 17, said she did not think traditional ways of entertaining young people, such as youth clubs, would necessarily work for today's generation.

"I feel nowadays, young people are so much more interested in things they're not allowed to do rather than, say, a youth club.

"I'm not sure they would work. People are drawn to Newport because it's the space people head to go home to get the bus, but I'm not sure they would go to a youth club."

Chloe Beckly, 17, said other types of clubs, such as keeping up sports teams or creating clubs for video games and things young people are interested in, would help.

Chloe added: "Sports teams drop off when you get to a certain age and then aren't available again until you're an adult.

"I also think a lot of the people hanging around in the bus station have actually been excluded or isolated from school. More should be done to get those people into work or back to school."

The people on the ground

Despite the decrease in antisocial behaviour, Operation Varney officers patrolling Newport said, when tackling antisocial behaviour, they sometimes felt like babysitters.

Speaking to the County Press, PCSOs Matt Wheeler and Jo Vincent White said some young troublemakers had a ‘mob mentality’ and described such behaviour as ‘shameful’.

PCSO Wheeler said: “It’s perfectly normal for young people to hang around in town and it’s completely acceptable for them to look round shops, get some food and be with friends.

“But it’s gone too far. The young people we deal with are running through the shops, knocking stuff off shelves, intimidating staff and causing problems in public places.”

PCSO Vincent White said those gathering at McDonald’s and the bus station had nowhere else to go.

She said: “You sometimes feel as if you’re babysitting them. There’s a lack of youth clubs and places for these young people to go and be with friends.”

But, PSCO Vincent White stressed only a minority of young people behaved badly.

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The Isle of Wight Youth Trust also has extensive face time with the Island's young people.

Executive director of the trust, Mairead Healy, said she thought it was really important there were more efforts to provide safe spaces for young people.

"There have been continuous cuts to youth services over the years and that has had an effect on this kind of behaviour. Young people often say to us there are no safe spaces for them in Newport.

"It's really encouraging the parish council is taking those steps to provide them."

However, Ms Healy said it was really important not to tarnish all young people with the same brush.

She said: "It's only those one or two incidents. There's a danger we vilify all young people when some are behaving badly."

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