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A vision for sport and reducing crime in Avon and Somerset

A leading candidate to be Avon and Somerset’s next Police and Crime Commissioner has outlined his vision for sport’s central role in reducing offending across the region.

Jonathan Smith was previously Chief Executive of the PCC’s office under current incumbent Sue Mountstevens before resigning recently in order to stand for election as an independent candidate when she leaves the role in May.

With a passion for sport (he is a qualified football coach and Bristol City season ticket holder) and a background in law and the Police Commissioner’s office – the body that oversees the police force – he understands the potential of collaboration between the two. If elected, he will be in a position to convert that potential into tangible impact.

“Three years ago, I attended an event organised by a local charity who work in the area of preventing reoffending. I met a prison leaver who I noticed looked exceptionally fit and healthy. I asked him what made the difference for him and he said the charity were able to offer him a free gym membership.

“It brought structure and balance to his life, helped him get through his drug problem and was truly transformative. Everyone’s experience is different, obviously, but he was offered an opportunity and it changed his life. It seems a relatively easy thing to do, and has such a positive impact.”

That charity’s partnership with a gym is something John wants to expand upon, by harnessing the collective power of the community departments and foundations of the region’s top professional sports clubs, namely Bristol City, Bristol Rovers, Yeovil Town, Bristol Bears, Bath Rugby and Somerset and Gloucestershire County Cricket Clubs.

“What I would love to do is work much more closely with the big sports clubs in our area, and local charity WESPORT, to offer preventative and rehabilitation opportunities to those in or on the fringes of the criminal justice system,” he explains.

“In recent years we’ve done a lot of work setting up Violence Reduction Units in Avon, giving opportunities to pupils on the edge of exclusion from school who are susceptible to drugs, county lines and gang activity.

“They would all hero worship these guys [from local professional clubs]. Getting our big local clubs involved would be amazing and has the potential to be really transformative.”

John has worked closely with Zoe Short, the deputy governor of Bristol Prison, on programmes aimed at stopping the revolving door of persistent reoffending. These involved a multi-agency team based in the prison focusing on behaviour change post-release. “That would be a really good place to start with sport-based interventions,” he comments.

John met Alliance of Sport Chief Executive James Mapstone recently and James pledged his support for the PCC candidate’s vision and partnership-based approach.

“I feel there’s a lot of resonance with James’s vision of what he wants the Alliance of Sport to achieve nationally and internationally.” said John. “I’m very happy to work with the Alliance of Sport, WESPORT and others and to ensure whatever we do fits into a wider scheme.

“To have the biggest impact it feels, without losing the motivation of the individuals involved in it, that if we could collaborate, coordinate and systematise it so that it was more readily and widely available, that would be very much at the heart of what I’m trying to do, if elected.”

James added: “The Alliance of Sport pledges its full support to John’s candidacy for the PCC position in the upcoming elections. His vision for bringing people together in partnership to use the power of sport to reduce offending and reoffending is one we are fully aligned with, and one we hope to actualise and support locally.”