How virtual reality could help teenagers grasp the consequences of carrying knives

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper took part in the virtual reality experience which presents the viewer with a confrontation in a park. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees/Round Midnight

A virtual reality experience which confronts young people with the potentially deadly consequences of carrying a knife could be used to tackle the issue.

The interactive film gives people the chance to explore a situation using a virtual reality (VR) headset, making decisions which have varying consequences.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper took part in the experience at the latest meeting of the North East Knife Crime Taskforce, a forum organised by The Northern Echo newspaper.

Describing the VR experience as "powerful", she said: "It's real. It's like you're there, sitting in the park with these teenagers, talking to them about what's happening and what they're worrying about.

"You can see how easy it can be for teenagers to get on the wrong tracks if there's not the support and the opportunities for them and that's why we need action."

Yvette Cooper had the chance to try the virtual reality experience while attending a meeting of the North East Knife Crime Taskforce.

She added: "Knife crime has become an epidemic and that is deeply damaging for our young people and our communities.

"We need stronger action on the law, on online knives and on gangs but we also need stronger prevention work with our young people to give our young people their future back."

Round Midnight Ltd, the creative arts company behind the 11-minute video, said they had already seen some success.

Chief executive Claire Downes said: "VR is young people's tech. They see a headset and it's interesting, it's something they understand and relate to. It's something they respect so I think it's a way of engaging young people on a really genuine level.

"It's not a worksheet or a powerpoint presentation - it's an interactive real world VR experience where the young people in it are recognisable to the young people taking part. They engage with it and understand it and recognise those young people as their peers."

She added: "It's used in a preventative space, with young people not involved in criminality.

"For them, it's about understanding what the possible consequences of carrying a knife can be.

"We're not demonising every young person saying every young person carries a knife but it's about them understanding the consequences of actions and for them to feel it in an emotive way."

The task force brings together people including families who have lost loved ones to knife crime, MPs, police and other agencies in the hope of reducing crime rates.

Alison Madgin is among those campaigning for changes to try and reduce knife crime. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Alison Madgin, whose 18-year-old daughter Samantha was stabbed and killed in 2007, is among those who has been taking part in the forum.

"It's very important," she said. "You can't do it on your own. Everyone has to work together. It's the only way it's going to work."

She added: "Until changes are made it will stay the same, or get worse."

Connor Brown and Samantha Madgin both lost their lives to knife attacks. Credit: Family photos

Tanya and Simon Brown, from Sunderland, set up the Connor Brown Foundation following the killing of their son in 2019.

Simon said: "The more voices we have as a collective, the louder we get and the more people sit up and listen to the point we're trying to make - it's not ok to carry a knife or use a knife. It has to stop.

Tanya added: "I definitely think we've achieved something. we've got more, higher profile people in the room now with politicians and local MPs. People are sitting up and taking notice of us families. We know what's needed."

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