Delegates attending the 4th Commonwealth Conference on Youth Work made a visit yesterday to Reading’s Armoured Heart sculpture – a physical symbol for peace and hope created in part from blades handed in to knife amnesty bins across Reading and the rest of the Thames Valley. 

Partners responsible for the creation of the Amnesty Art project – including Reading Borough Council, the Violence Reduction Unit, Thames Valley Police, The Oracle shopping centre, the University of Reading and Berkshire Community Foundation – were all on hand to greet the delegation of young people and youth workers from across the Commonwealth. 

The welcome included speeches about the vision behind the Armoured Heart, and its symbolism in the centre of Reading, as a powerful message to counter knife crime and encourage young people to stay safe. 

Visiting delegates were made up of youth work practitioners, academics and policymakers from across the Commonwealth. They are in Reading for the 4th Commonwealth Conference on Youth Work, being held under the theme The Power of Youth Work: Forging a sustainable and peaceful common future.  

The event, which takes place from Monday 10 to Wednesday 12 July at the University of Reading – is hosted by the National Youth Agency (NYA), on behalf of the Commonwealth Secretariat, with the Commonwealth Alliance of Youth of Youth Workers’ Associations (CAWYA) and supported by the UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).  

The unveiling of the Armoured Heart sculpture in May was the launchpad and inspiration for a programme of outreach work to help educate Reading’s young people about knife crime and encourage them to make the right choices around knives. These include: 

  • New lesson plans and resources for schools across Reading to use, provided by the Violence Reduction Unit. These focus on drugs, violence and the risk of exploitation,   and a new package will be available to all schools in September helping young people to develop their own social skills, de-escalate conflict and manage difficult situations positively.  
  • Additional educational sessions at schools in Reading and the wider area to raise awareness of the risks and consequences of knife crime, delivered by Thames Valley Police Schools Officers. 
  • High visibility Thames Valley Police patrols across the town to keep communities safe  

Across Reading there are a wide range of other opportunities for young people to access support and positive activities, for example through football sessions with Reading FC, supportive mentoring with Starting Point, or counselling and advice from No.5. 

Cllr Karen Rowland, Lead Councillor for Environmental Services and Community Safety, said: 

“We are truly honoured Reading has been chosen to host this vitally important conference, and are pleased to welcome so many delegates from around the world to our vibrant and culturally diverse town; a place where young people and their voice in it are so important to the future prosperity of Reading.  

“Reading’s Armoured Heart is our symbol of hope that knife crime can be reduced and we want this visit to prompt those young delegates who are attending the conference to go home to their towns and cities and think about how they could undertake similar programmes that challenge the assumptions around serious violence and the risks of knife crime. 

“We need the community to continue to work together to challenge violence and keep everyone safe.  If anyone has any concerns about someone who may be carrying a weapon they can report this anonymously, no questions asked, via the website or by calling 0800 555 111.” 

Leigh Middleton, CEO of the National Youth Agency said: “Youth work changes lives, helps foster greater understanding and tolerance in communities and supports young people to make positive choices. The Armoured Heart acts as a symbol of hope for local communities affected by intolerance and I am very pleased to hear about the programme of community activities which is planned to promote community cohesion.   

“The role of youth work in supporting these strategies cannot be understated and we are here in Reading this week, to consider with peers from across the Commonwealth, how we, as youth workers, can forge stronger partnerships with local authority teams, health and other community partners to bring about positive change and improve the wellbeing and outcomes of our young people.”  

Kevin Jones, Head of Workforce and Professional Development at the National Youth Agency, said: “It is humbling to see the Armoured Heart and learn how local communities and young people are being engaged in finding solutions to foster greater understanding and making safer choices.  

Youth work, at its heart, is about enabling young people to have a voice in their communities and be engaged in decision-making about the issues that matter to them. This event is a salient reminder of why the NYA and our colleagues from across the Commonwealth are so committed to making youth work more accessible to young people and to ensuring that youth work is recognised as part of the solution to empowering people and helping to bring about more unified communities.” 

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