The Big Society in action

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MUM of two Zoemarie Sheldon is determind to break what she sees as a vicious cycle of benefits, drink and drugs that could threaten the future of some young people in Gedney.

Zoemarie (33), of Main Road, says the young people of the village have no youth club or other associations that might occupy their spare time, and adds: “From communicating with residents in the community, there is a problem of very low income. Not many people have jobs and depression kicks in. It’s been an eye-opener really.

“Gedney has given me a home to start my family and I feel someone has to do something because the circle is going to keep going round and round. I think if you get stuck in that road of benefits and drink and drugs it is very hard to get off it and if you haven’t got positive influences around you are not going to get out of it. Just to spend time with positive adults can make such a difference.”

Residents’ association Nxt Generation Gedney was begun two years ago, initially with the aim of revamping the local park. However, Zoemarie says doing that made her realise “there was a lot more need in the community than just the park” and a youth group now runs alongside it.

Zoemarie, who is chairman of Nxt Generation, and a team of volunteers have been holding free events at the local park, such as festivals, fairs and Christmas parties.

The community responded with enthusiasm, which was all Zoemarie needed to apply for and successfully get funding from the Police Property Act Fund, a pot of money from the sale of stolen goods or lost property.

Lincolnshire Police community safety officer Gill Finn explained the money did not come from confiscated alcohol or drugs. She said all liquids had to be tested at the laboratory at Police headquarters before being destroyed and drugs were incinerated, again at Lincoln, after being held in secure storage during the time they were being used as evidence in a criminal case.

The contents of the property store changes on a daily basis and police will appeal for owners of some things, such as items of historical value. However, to avoid a “free for all” members of the public need to provide proof of ownership.

Things seized as part of a criminal investigation or handed in to the police have to be held in the property office for six months before going to local auction and the proceeds are then added to the Police Property Act Fund.

Gill added: “It’s not just property, because sometimes cash is handed in, and after six months has elapsed that goes into the fund. What I do is manage a grant fund whereby local charitable causes or clubs can apply for money and use it for community safety or crime reduction projects.”

In Lincolnshire, the funds received fluctuate between £15,000 and £25,000 a year and that is distributed back into the community on a daily basis. Some of the other organisations to benefit in the south of the county include Agape Foodbank in Spalding, to provide volunteers with fluorescent jackets so they are more visible when out in the community, and Pinchbeck Parish Council, which used the money to provide a summer holiday skate park to help distract youngsters from anti-social behaviour.

Nxt Generation received £260 from the police fund for youth activities although members are also prepared to help themselves. For instance, a car boot sale they organised raised enough money to allow a group of teenagers to record a World Cup song, England Till We Die, which was sold to raise cash for community funds.

Zoemarie hopes this evidence of community support will be sufficient to persuade the district council, which owns the park, to allow Nxt Generation to lease it from them. What is absolutely clear to Zoemarie though is that projects such as the recording have helped to build confidence in teenagers who previously had little hope.

“There is nothing for the kids to do and there is not much work,” said Zoemarie, who works as a children’s entertainer. “I have got teenagers volunteering for me because even though they are not getting paid they are gaining skills they would normally get at work. Their confidence is building. I was working from the age of 13 and that does so much for your self-esteem and gets you on the right track, but it’s much harder for the younger generation.

“It’s been an amazing journey really and I have actually become a parish councillor to try and get more done in the community.”