KNIFE crime is not a particularly new problem, and nor is it unique to Essex.

In the mid-2000s, for example, the city which the World Health Organisation dubbed “the murder capital of Europe” was Glasgow, owing to the exponentially high number of knife crimes and homicides which were committed in the city month after month, year after year.

Although Essex’s history thankfully is far less chequered, the huge rise in the number of knife and bladed article offences from 2018 to 2022 has necessitated a new approach by the authorities.

In that four-year period, knife crime shot up by 128 per cent – from 2,362 in 2018, to 5,396 in 2022.

This was followed, mercifully, by a 12 percent fall in 2023.

But for all the justified concern – and often outrage – about the statistics, knife crime is not solely a police problem, and nor is it incumbent on the justice system to stamp out the issue on its own.

Whilst it us up to police to make arrests and for courts to deliver the punishment, so much of the prevention starts in schools.

That’s where Aileen Wilson, the education specialist intervention manager for Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, comes in.

Mrs Wilson is responsible for overseeing both the police and fire service’s approach to providing specialised education into different establishments across the county – no easy task given the size of Essex and the diversity of its population.

Gazette: Targeted – schools in high risk areas are most likely to receive specialist education sessions Targeted – schools in high risk areas are most likely to receive specialist education sessions (Image: Newsquest)

The challenge is complicated by the fact that the way young people learn and understand information is changing all the time, and it is down to the educators to keep up.

That means ensuring the key messages about knife crime remain relevant and hard hitting, all whilst the education adapts to modern ways of learning.

In short, it all sounds rather complicated, but the core messaging about knife crime – that it ruins many more lives than just that of the victim – remains the same.

Mrs Wilson explains education about knives starts with youngsters from the age of 11, even if it is a case of teaching children that sharp objects belong in the kitchen drawer.

She said: “Knife crime education starts at year six, though we have had requests to start addressing that at a younger age.

“That’s why we have very specific age groups – we look at our data and we look at the priorities for each.”

Scare tactics, however, are a no-go area, and all the knife crime education content is approved by child psychologists long before pictures and videos hit the PowerPoint scheme in the school assembly hall.

She said: “We review the content and send it off to a child psychologist, and they age rate it for us and give us advice – we don’t go in and traumatise kids.

“We can prepare young people and parents – it’s all approved before we go into schools."

And when it comes to approaching schools themselves, it is not, Mrs Wilson says, a difficult sell; by contrast, it is broadly welcomed.

“A lot of schools are very pro-active in making sure our young people stay safe,” she said, whilst going onto explain how, although the messages on knife crime are the same, the way those messages are delivered change all the time.

“In the past, it’s been a case of ‘this is how it happens, these are the consequences’.

“Now, we are far more focused on the ripple effect and the impact that occurs with it – knife crime is not always affecting just the victim and the perpetrator.”

Selecting schools, Mrs Wilson says, is the result of a data driven process – hardly a surprise given technology is pretty much at the forefront of almost every sector and every industry.

“We use data from police, not so we can target where there are high numbers of incidents, but where there are high risks.

“We have determinants that say, 'this is an area where we could see these kinds of crimes'.

“It’s not to say, ‘this is where there is a knife incident’ – it’s about trying to promote the programme and promote it in the community rather than say it is a school problem.”

But how exactly are the repercussions of knife crime being conveyed?

Put simply, images of stab wound injuries, though hard hitting, do not do the job, Mrs Wilson said.

“Shock tactics don’t always work – that’s proven.

“How do you get the seriousness of this across without turning them off the message?

“It’s about getting young people to engage in the thinking and come to their own realisations of things.

Gazette: Falling – knife crime in Essex is falling, although in Colchester it is still 94 per cent higher than it was five years agoFalling – knife crime in Essex is falling, although in Colchester it is still 94 per cent higher than it was five years ago (Image: Newsquest)

“Shoving gruesome images in front of them won’t provide that understanding of the risks.”

She continued: “Young people are more likely to take risks without realising – we talk that through with them as well.

“Often the penny drops through people making decisions, rather than us saying, ‘this is what is going to happen if you carry a knife’.

“As much as someone will say we need to be hard hitting, the stories are often the things they don’t forget.

“We want the realisation and the understanding of risk to stick with them.”

The way that is done is through the power of storytelling – genuine stories that tell of real-life victims and perpetrators whose lives have been changed irreparably by knife crime.

Mrs Wilson continued: “In terms of putting the message across, stories are a fantastic way.

“We have videos created by different charities we use, and they really help people to engage with the issue – it needs to be a lived experience being shared they can relate to.

“Real people, real experiences – that’s what resonates a lot with our older audiences.”