A South Shields charity has revealed the role it is playing in the North East’s largest ever police operation.
Bright Futures - which provides help and support to vulnerable young women and children - was commissioned by Northumbria Police to work as part of Operation Sanctuary.
In this time, we have educated over 15,000 young people over the force area around a range of issuesNicola Whalen
The operation reached a major landmark earlier this week when a total of 17 men and one woman were convicted of or admitted charges including rape, supplying drugs and inciting prostitution, in a series of trials at Newcastle Crown Court.
Bright Futures has been part of the operation since October 2015, leading on the delivery of education and prevention work to young people across Tyne and Wear.
Nicola Whalen, who alongside Helen Bowman is a managing director of the charity, said: “In this time, we have educated over 15,000 young people over the force area around a range of issues, including healthy relationships, online safety, grooming, sexual exploitation, modern day slavery, trafficking and substance misuse.
“We have supported victims throughout the police and court process and will continue to support them beyond this by providing opportunities for them to move forward from their traumatic experiences and live safe and healthy lives now and in the future.
“Operation Sanctuary has brought to the forefront the issue of sexual exploitation and the associated risks within our communities, and we are proud to be part of the multi-agency teams addressing this.
“We know that this is an ongoing concern and our central aim at Bright Futures is to provide young people with the skills and knowledge to be able to recognise the signs of grooming and exploitation and where to go for help and support.”
The charity has worked in schools in a range of ways, from delivering assemblies to all pupils, to smaller group sessions and one-on-one talks.
Helen said: “It has been fantastic for us to be involved with this, and very rewarding.
“We’re just a small charity, so to be asked was an honour.
“Northumbria Police approached us because they were aware of the work we do with vulnerable young people.
“We’ve learned a lot from the process, which we will share with other voluntary organisations.
“The work is still ongoing, because victims are still being identified.
“This set of trials may have come to a close, but our work is very much ongoing.”