An innovative mentoring scheme is having dramatic results in tackling knife crime by helping to turn around troubled young people while they are under arrest in  police custody.

After being arrested Shamel, 22, met Palace for Life Foundation coach Aaron Johnson in Croydon Custody Suite as part of the Metropolitan Police programme, DIVERT. 

At a audience including Crystal Palace Football Club manager Roy Hodgeson, Shamel described Aaron as a “Super Hero” who had helped turn his life around and that he is now training to be a football coach on the FA Level 1 programme and has ambitions to become a PE teacher and open his own youth club.

His story was one of a handful of inspiring stories of how the Foundation has helped young people including at  the Salvation Army in Thornton Heath.

Ed Warner, chair of the Foundation, appealed for additional funding to grow the scheme which he said 46 out of 50 young men who received one-to-one mentoring in the Foundation’s Breaking the Cycle scheme had not re-offended. Several have gone on to find jobs, two in the Crystal Palace club shop.

 Mr Warner said: “We can grow this programme, we would like to help 500, not 50. The only constraints are resources. We are enormously grateful to everyone who is funding the programme, like the Premier League and William Wates Memorial Trust, but with more support we could do even more to give young boys self-esteem and divert them from a life of crime.”

The Palace for Life Foundation has a £2.6m budget, employing 50 full-time and 50 part-time members of staff. It receives 40 per cent of its funding from the Premier League and Crystal Palace Football Club, but demand for its services are increasing.

 Palace player Wilf Zaha  (pictured right) joined the Foundation’s Premier League Kicks session at the Legacy Youth Zone last week to celebrate a commitment from the Premier League to fund the community programme for another three years.

The Palace star, who grew up in Thornton Heath and attended Kicks sessions with the Foundation during his teenage years said: “Kicks was a big part of my childhood, it gave me somewhere to play football near my house so when I wasn’t training with Palace I always had somewhere else to go and practice my skills with my friends. It’s good to know it’s continuing and growing and that more young people in Croydon will get that same chance.”

Aimed at eight-to-18-year-olds, Kicks engages young people in positive activities while also addressing topics covering everything from equality and inclusion to youth violence. Aaron said of Zaha’s involvement in the programme: “They see someone come from that kind of environment, at a time when he was growing up there was a lot of anti-social behaviour going on and he obviously managed to be disciplined enough to stay away from that kind of lifestyle.

“Young people seeing that, if anything it empowers them to try and do the same and try and kind of replicate what Wilf has done. Obviously, naturally they may not be a star play in the Premier League, but at least if they’re out of trouble they will be disciplined enough to stay away from that kind of lifestyle.”

Mr Hodgson (pictured left with Angel) O’Dwyer said: “It makes me proud to be part of the football club. Football players don’t always get the credit they deserve, but it’s great that the Palace for Life Foundation draws on the support of the players and they play an important role in its work by going into schools and inspiring young people.”

Angel, who has become a Foundation coach after being helped during a vulnerable stage in her life, said: “Knife crime is happening on our doorsteps. Our programme, Premier League Kicks, gives them a place to go, takes them off the streets, teaches them about living a healthy lifestyle and re-introduces them to education. The Foundation helps a lot of people who thought they had been given up on”.