Two volunteers at Sunderland’s Youth Offending Service (YOS) will retire at the end of this month after more than 10 years each of volunteering.
Brenda Day and Keith Younghusband began serving at Sunderland Magistrates Court in 1988 and after 20 years’ both went on to volunteer as YOS Community Panel Members.
Brenda, from East Herrington, who turns 80 next year is widowed and previously worked as a librarian, said: “I have volunteered ever since I was 19 and involved in Girl Guiding, I also volunteered at the former Trustee of Volunteers Bureau.”
Brenda continues: “I am someone who wants my community to be better and things like anti-social behaviour are not acceptable. Community panels aim to ensure that young offenders take responsibility for their behaviour.
“I’m proud to have been able to support hundreds of young people from all sorts of backgrounds with the chance to take a different path.”
Keith, from Silksworth, is aged 66 and previously enjoyed a career as a legal adviser within Sunderland Magistrates Court, said: “I decided to volunteer because over the years I’ve seen young people going through courts for all sorts of reasons.
“Everyone can make a mistake and everyone deserves a second chance. During Community Panel we construct a contract that is individual to each young person and one that they will work towards. You listen to what the young person has to say and make recommendations to YOS that will help the young person to succeed.”
Sunderland YOS is part of children’s services and is managed by Together for Children.
Linda Mason, Operations Manager at Together for Children, explains: “When courts make a Referral Order for a first-time young offender to a Community Panel, the panel consider how an offence occurred and what can be done to prevent further offending.
“The panel work with the young offender, their family or carers and the victim to draw up a contract that includes an element of restorative justice combined with a programme of support to address factors that led to the offence, for example drug and alcohol work or education support.
“The young person is expected to complete the agreed activities in their Order, if they fail to comply or they re-offend during the period of the Order, they will be returned to Court for sentencing.”
Community Panels were introduced to the UK youth justice system in April 2002 with restorative justice being a key factor that sees young offenders contribute to community projects. This means the community benefits and the young offender is given the chance to make amends to their victim.
In Sunderland community projects have been undertaken across the city and have ranged from painting cannons in Mowbray Park, to painting signage and fencing near Roker marina, tidying up a derelict allotment and growing vegetables that have been donated to Bethany Church soul kitchen to be used in meals for the homeless.
In recent years there has been a significant reduction in the percentage of youth reoffending and both Brenda and Keith assert that it is relatively rare for a young person to breach the agreements made within their community panel contract. In fact during 2017/18 93% of young people with a community panel contract in the Sunderland area fulfilled their contract.
Every Community Panel is made up of two to three members of the local community and a member of Youth Offending Service staff.
Linda says: “Our Youth Offending Service has a dedicated team of 12 local people that volunteer as community panel members.
“On behalf of TfC and the local community I want to thank Brenda and Keith for dedicating hundreds of hours of service.”
Volunteers, who receive a range of training, must commit to 12 months’ service and around two hours of their time each month.
Anyone wishing to find out more about volunteering should visit the youth offending section of www.togetherforchildren.org.uk/children-and-young-people