A YOUTH worker has been hired in a bid by a Swindon parish council to tackle anti-social behaviour in Pinehurst and Penhill.

The areas have been among those hit by what police have described an emerging gang culture. The groups, which are loosely affiliated to Penhill or Pinehurst, have been linked to knife violence, drug dealing and thefts of motorcycles and bicycles.

Aaron Webb, who ran a youth service in Penhill before his job was axed, said he would be working with youngsters from around nine-years-old.

“You open them up to the bigger picture,” he added. “If they want to follow their cousin, say, who’s a drug dealer, they’ll always be looking over their shoulder. It’s about offering them a positive role model to see that there are other jobs out there, where you’re not a drug dealer, you can earn money or you can live your life in a positive way.

“Not every young person’s going to pick the right path to walk down. But if you can change some young people’s lives, then I think you’ve done your job and you’ve had a positive impact on the area.”

As well as visiting schools and working directly with groups of young people, Aaron also plans to run cooking and healthy eating sessions at the Pinetrees Centre for youngsters whose main meal could be a cone of chips.

Youth services have been the preserve of Swindon Borough Council. However Central Swindon North Parish Council clerk Andy Reeves said provision for young people was now very limited: “The borough aren’t able to do it. They’re focussed on their statutory obligations and anything that’s non-statutory is classed as a nice to have. The world keeps turning and residents’ expectations continue.

“As a parish council, we’re doing what we can, but it’s a very limited resource we have.”

Parish minutes show the council has pledged £17,500 for the youth worker post this year, with £35,000 included in the budget from 2018/19. Longer term, the council would be looking for grant funding.

Aaron suggested youth workers’ success could be their Achilles heel. Schemes were set up in response to perceived problems, he said: “The anti-social behaviour goes down, everything’s hunky dory, then it rockets again when the services close.

“There’s a lot of money being spent in the area, but until now there’s no money spent on youth service. Hopefully, that’s something we will turn around and people won’t be scared to walk to the shops or open their windows.”

Pinehurst and Penhill children’s centres closed in 2016. The borough employed health visitors to support families in their own homes. A project, Fresh Moves, was started with funding from the police and crime commissioner in 2014 to work with children aged 10 to 19, but has since appeared to have closed.

ENERGY drinks could be helping to fuel anti-social behaviour in Penhill and Pinehurst.

Youth worker Aaron Webb said youngsters were sometimes buying cheap caffeinated drinks instead of bottled water, because the prices were so low, then turning to tobacco in a bid to calm themselves down.

He told the Swindon Advertiser: “They get these energy drinks for say 30p, whereas a healthier drink like a bottle of water might be 80p.

“They’ll tend to buy these unhealthy drinks, get a massive sugar rush and need something to calm them back down so they take up smoking.

“That could then maybe cause an addiction to smoking, then onto drugs.

“It starts at the bottom, but I’ve noticed it having a knock-on effect.

“I used to work with one young person who’d need a cigarette to calm himself down because he’d be shaking so much. He’d have about three or four cans before he’d come into school today. That would be his breakfast.”

Some parents were sending their children out of the house in the morning with a few pounds to buy their food and drink for the day, he said.

Central Swindon North Parish Council, which funds Aaron’s role, has previously worked with the owners of Pinehurst One Stop to make the caffeinated drinks less readily available to young people through, for example, moving displays of the drinks.

Ministers have proposed a ban on selling energy drinks to children, with the government currently considering the results of a consultation on the plans. Many shops have already opted to stop selling the energy drinks, such as Monster and Red Bull brands, to under-16s.