A project aiming to reduce knife crime has been launched after a gym owner set up a scheme to help steer young people away from crime.
After police rejected Jay Atkins's bid to install a knife amnesty bin, he joined forces with Maidstone Borough Council to work on a scheme to encourage youngsters away from the streets.
Jay, who runs Core The Gym in King Street, Maidstone, was left disappointed when police rejected his request to host a bin where knives could be deposited over concerns about potential safety and reputation risks associated with the move.
The programme, called Core 2, now has the backing of the council to address issues to quell the scourge of violent crime.
Using exercise as the focus, the scheme will run between the end of school hours and the late evening, as an alternative to youth and after school clubs for children aged 12 to 16.
The long term goal of the initiative is to provide fitness qualifications which could lead to placement and employment opportunities for young people who may have limited options.
The 47-year-old said: "Despite the reservations from Kent Police, MBC have been incredibly forward-thinking and they’ve suggested we work on a radical new project together.
"This will be a ground-breaking initiative to engage those on the cusp of risk, both victims and perpetrators.
"The council approached us and suggested we work on a project together whereby we look to engage teenagers and young adults into exercise, while providing a safe haven in the lost hours after school through to the evening.
"We have a long term aim of setting up specific gyms for those in our target demographic.
"We recognise this isn’t a quick fix but it’s a proactive step to addressing antisocial behaviour in those who would’ve normally fallen through the cracks.
"We’ve even discussed potentially looking at providing fitness qualifications to help those who engage fully with the project enabling them to gain future employment.
"It’s the most promising step yet, we’re a small business that’s trying to make a difference in the community we serve, but having the council's support, expertise and access to their resources will mean we can really make a difference.
"We have been overwhelmed by their proactivity and receptiveness.
"This is the first of this type of project – just imagine if it gained momentum and was rolled out nationally, the volume of young lives we could positively impact and save. It could be a real dream come true moment."
Core The Gym will provide the initial financial and physical resources to start up the project, however Jay says he appreciates any help provided.
Jay added: "We owe that to the community that have supported us for years.
"Long term we will be looking for a venue, further council support, local business support, crowdfunding and private finance however that’s a long way off.
"This is a long term project and one that will be refined over time and ultimately be results driven.
"I’m as excited as the first day we opened the doors of Core, we're well positioned to run this and now we just need to prove it can work."
The move comes as a response to the rising levels of knife crime and anti social behaviour in the town.
In August 2019 Andre Bent was fatally stabbed following a brawl outside a MoStack concert at the former Gallery bar in Maidstone town centre.
In April, an 18-year-old from Maidstone, was flown to King's College Hospital after being stabbed outside the KFC restaurant in Week Street.
Last month, a man in his 20s was stabbed in the late evening in Park Wood play area off Bicknor Road.
And just this month, two men were sentenced after a "ferocious" stabbing attack outside the Century Club in the town centre last July.
Cllr Lottie Parfitt-Reid, lead member for communities and public engagement at MBC said it is an issue the council is desperate to tackle following the creation of a task force to cut down crime in the town – the first of its kind in Kent.
She said: "This exciting initiative is a brilliant example of a collaboration between the public and private sector working together to not only make our streets safer for residents but providing support and help to youngsters.
"Giving them the chance to make positive changes to not only improve their physical and mental health but create opportunities to reach their potential away from violence and crime."
Martyn Jeynes, community and strategic partnership manager and MBC’s lead of the new Town Centre Task Force, said: "I read about Jay’s commitment to tackle youth violence and saw in his passion an opportunity to approach this from a different angle, providing even greater potential to reach and support more young people.
"Young people growing up today face so many challenges and we know that one of the best ways to support them is to provide them with safe spaces where they can meet their peers and be supported by responsible adults.
"We work closely with KCC’s Youth Services team and I had no doubt that we could find a way to support Jay in his ambition.
"What’s fantastic about Core 2, is that not only will it help to support vulnerable young people into activities that divert them away from risk, but it has that longer term ambition of providing all young people with a safe place they can call their own.
"Initiatives like this show how, in partnership, forward thinking businesses can be part of the solution too.
"Any businesses who want to support this or other initiatives that give our young people safe places to grow and or get support shouldn’t be afraid to get in touch.
"We can all make a difference and protect their futures too."