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Saving young lives: Don't crash or burn

EDUCATION: Estella Edwards with Professor Steve Garner

THE UK’s first ever conference outlining links between youth unemployment, accidental house fires and car crashes is being held in Birmingham next month, hosted by the West Midlands Fire Service.

The multi-agency project has been led by the Future Melting Pot, (TFMP) a West Midlands-based community interest company that aims to build brighter futures for young people through education, training and employment.

The aim of the conference being held at Birmingham City University (BCU) on Friday 2 June, is to present the unique findings of TFMP’s study and to develop possible solutions which in turn could save lives and save money.

Estella Edwards, of TFMP explained:

“Existing research shows that there is a relationship between socioeconomic status and accidental domestic fires. There is also a link between road traffic collisions and socioeconomic status.

“However, because different agencies such as police, the fire service and local authorities focus on different problems, the specifics of these three sets of data have never before been looked at together.”

Professor Steve Garner, head of Criminology and Sociology at BCU’s School of Social Sciences, who is working with Edwards, told The Voice:

“I’m interested in this because some years ago when I worked at Aston University we worked on a project about socioeconomic deprivation in different parts of Birmingham.

“West Midlands Fire Service sent someone to a conference where they showed me a map of the highest incidences of house fires – it was almost exactly the same map as the socioeconomic indicators. The most frequent house fires happened in the areas with the weakest socioeconomic performances, which made me think there was a really interesting correlation there.

“Sadly, at the time I didn’t have the chance to research this properly, so when Estella rang me up and asked me if I was interested in looking at this research I jumped at the chance. We now also have road traffic collision data and a map of those, which are also quite similar to the other two maps.

“Different organisations collect this data, but they don’t often get the chance or the time to put their data together. The police have the road accident figures which they share with the local authority; house fires is West Midlands Fire Service, and unemployment indicators are local authority as well.

“So what we’re doing with this is linking agencies that don’t always have the opportunity to get linked and do research. It’s what we call added value in a research project because it brings together organisations and data that aren’t usually brought together.

“This is a pilot that includes only three areas of Birmingham due to a shoestring budget but what we’re hoping to do is draw out enough information to start developing messages on how to reduce the number of road accidents along with reducing the number of accidental house fires.

“And hopefully, because there are organisations involved that are interested in youth unemployment, we also hope to reduce this too through the young people themselves – the 16 to 24 year-olds – who can spread these safety messages among their peers.

“Existing public health safety messages are often quite ineffective, particularly with younger people, so we want them to talk to each other through a format they are all interested in, such as social media.

Edwards added:

“There will be movers and shakers of different agencies at the conference, so for me there will also be the opportunity to look at organisational thinking in terms of leadership because there needs to be, I guess, that wider thought process of why this data correlates, and in terms of coming up with a solution that is thought through. I hope this will lead to more specific preventative frameworks. It’s a very exciting project.

“Our ultimate aim is to provide the data that can be used in a series of initiatives aimed at conveying messages about the behaviour that increases the risk of road accidents and house fires.

“In Phase 2 young people will be heavily involved in developing campaigns aimed at educating their peers about these risks. As educators, young people will be able to gain employability skills, whilst directly informing safety strategies.

“We want to initiate some joined up thinking to change young people’s mind-sets towards road and fire safety.”

ROSPA – the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents is also interested in the research findings. Other organisations such as Natwest, Central Motorway Police, Talent Match, which works with young people, and the Office of the West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner, are all backing the conference.

The all-day conference, which carries the logo: 'Saving young lives - don’t crash or burn', will be opened by Phil Loach, West Midlands Service Chief Fire Officer.

It is estimated that in addition to the human costs, a fire-related death in Birmingham costs the community £1.6 million, while the city’s annual road accident costs stand at £176 million.

TFMP also has figures for those killed and seriously injured from the three pilot sites being researched between November 2015 and November 2016: Hodge Hill had 107 serious accidents, Sheldon 18, and Elmdon 23.

For further details on the conference email: estella.edwards@wmfs.net

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