County lines writing contest

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Pastor Lorraine Jones-Burrell

Brixton’s Pastor Lorraine Jones-Burrell, CEO of the Dwayne Simpson Foundation, will be one of the judges of a competition to raise awareness of crime.

She will join children’s author and knife crime campaigner Christina Gabbitas to ask young people to write a poem or song to highlight the dangers of carrying knives and being exploited by county lines drug gangs.

The first prize is worth £200.

Christina Gabbitas is an honorary member of the council of the children’s charity NSPCC and a 2023 Coronation Champion – an official award celebrating the contribution of volunteers who give their time to a variety of causes.

She has spent years working with police forces, schools and other agencies educating young people, teachers, parents and carers about the devastating consequences of carrying knives.

She also explains how to spot the signs of grooming and exploitation which can lead to young people becoming coerced by gangs to transport and sell drugs.

They can become trapped by falling into debt with their exploiters, who often use threats and violence to control them and force them to do more work, a practice known as debt bondage.

County lines gangs are usually part of larger organised crime groups from major cities which move into towns and rural areas across county borders and groom young people to transport, store and deal drugs on their behalf.

The gangs may also take over the homes of vulnerable adults to store drugs – known as “cuckooing”.

“I have sadly experienced the horror of losing my son Dwayne Simpson to knife crime in 2014,” said Pastor Jones-Burrell.

“The impact shattered my heart and family. Youth violence and child exploitation has sadly grown in numbers.

“It’s truly a miracle when a victim survives and is able to rehabilitate and heal.

“Christina’s initiative to educate our youth is saving lives. Her knowledge and spirit bringing emergency services and youth organisations to work together better is exceptional.

“Young people deserve to thrive in happiness and flourish through their inspirations.

“This dynamic competition through creative writing is both rewarding and educational.

“I was overwhelmed when I was approached to be a judge. It will be hard as every child is a winner, but most of all what will be created will be a lasting legacy.

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Christina Gabbitas

Christina Gabbitas said: “Since I began my work on the issue of county lines I have spoken to many people who have had first-hand experience of how criminals exploit our young people.

“I have spoken to parents who are in desperation after seeing their child trapped by these gangs.

“It’s vital that we get the message across early and raise awareness with young people of how they can become trapped, and how what may seem like a friendship at first, quickly escalates into something more sinister which can take their life down a destructive path.”

The competition follows publication of Trapped in County Lines an animated story and video by Christina commissioned by North Yorkshire Police.

It sees a fatality from a stabbing, with a child going missing at the end.

The competition asks young people to write a poem or song to highlight the dangers of county lines exploitation.

There are two age groups; 12 to 16 and 17 to 21.

The closing date is 30 June 2024. Entries should be sent to info@christinagabbitas.com

In the email state your name, age, school or university, and the title of your poem or song.

The prizes: £200 vouchers for a store of your choice for the overall winner: 2nd place £100, 3rd place £50.00.

The top 50 poems/songs will be published in a book. All participants selected will receive a free copy with proceeds from further copies donated to NSPCC Childline.

Entries will be considered by a panel of 45 judges from all corners of the UK, including poets, police personnel, young people, and people with lived experience of county lines.

“We’re keen to see young people get creative with what is an important topic that everyone should be aware of,” said Christina.

“Your words have the power to make a difference. Let’s use poetry and songs as a tool for change and raise awareness about these crucial issues.”

More information at trappedincountylines.co.uk/competition

Dwayne Simpson Foundation

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