YOUNG offenders are set to pit their football skills against Essex Police officers in a bid to steer them away from knife crime and involvement in drug gangs.

Essex Police, the Southend Community Safety Team and Southend Youth Offending Service will go head-to-head with young offenders during a community football match at Chase High School in Southend next month.

Organisers say the main aim of the match is to show young people the police and community safety teams are approachable and human and they can engage with them.

Luke Goodchild, case manager for the Southend Youth Offending Service, is behind the scheme.

He said: “I decided to organise a community relations football event to change the way young people perceive the police and to show they are normal people who are only doing trying to do their jobs.

“I also thought by including the community safety team we would be able to build strong working relationships with these young people and offer advice and support to them.

“The aim of the event is to break the barriers that exist between the police, and these young people so that they feel that they can talk to us about any problems they may have or if they need any help or guidance.”

Mr Goodchild added: “Insp Ian Hughes and Simon Ford, Southend’s public protection manager, have both given their full support to the event and have agreed to put together a team consisting of police and community safety officers to play against a team of youth offenders and their workers.”

Insp Hughes said it was important to maintain engagement with young people. He said: “This doesn’t always need to be in a formal environment and from experience positive change can often come from the unlikeliest situations. Showing officers are human too and they are far more than just a uniform may lead to a change of a young person’s perception of policing and in turn could influence future decisions they may make.

“This is a great opportunity, and thank you to the Southend Community Safety Partnership for funding it.”

Councillor Martin Terry, from Southend Council, added: “Aside from being a good opportunity for some team bonding, it will hopefully help us break down some perceptions of what the community safety team are on patrol to do. They are there to keep everyone safe and well by providing a uniformed presence in our High Streets.

“Hopefully the football tournament will help the community safety team build relationships with the young people playing, so we can work with them in the future.” A group of young offenders aged from 15 to 17 who are currently on court orders will be given the opportunity to play.