Thursday, April 13, 2006

Gun battle's a victory for the peacekeepers

THE first attempt was such a huge success that the teenagers were keen to return to the use of guns to settle their differences – soft pellet BB guns, that is.

But this was no warfare, It was a team-building exercise involving opposing groups of "goths" and "chavs".

Earlier this week, they swapped their distinctive clothes for combats to take part in a friendship-fostering day of army warfare.

The youngsters were put into mixed teams and battled it out in an army-style event where they use plastic "Airsoft" pellets in organised wargames.

The event follows two similar days last year, when city centre street wardens thought up the scheme after a series of violent clashes in Cathedral Square.

Complaints were pouring in about youngsters drinking alcohol, violence, vandalism and litter, and when the youths began firing ball bearing guns at each other it was the final straw.

In October, street wardens took a group of 20 youngsters to tear around a secret location in Cambridgeshire, firing pot-shots at each other in a bid to build bridges between the groups.

The day was hailed a huge success, and reports of trouble have been on the decline since – leading to the latest event being arranged.

Phillip Makepeace, city centre manager for the city council, added: "This scheme was the brainchild of the city's street wardens and its success is down to their hard work and initiative.

"By interacting with groups of young people we can make the city centre a safer and more attractive place for everybody."

The unique scheme has attracted national and international interest as it encourages a sense of respect among young people, as well as drawing out leadership qualities and teaching a sense of responsibility.

Steve Mayes, street warden supervisor for the city council, said: "One added value for the street wardens is they get to know many of the youngsters' first names and vice versa, which is of great help when the city wardens have to challenge bad behaviour in the city centre.

"Many of the youngsters can then help the wardens to resolve issues by applying peer pressure."

The sessions will be paid for by the youngsters themselves, but will be subsidised by airsoft company Freefire Zone.

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