I want Preston’s Youth Zone to set young people up for a good life, says ex-top cop who will be in charge

One of the highest-ranking former police officers in the country has been appointed chief executive of Preston’s forthcoming Youth Zone - and says the facility will provide the kind of opportunities that were denied to many of the young people he came across for the wrong reasons during the course of his career.
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Tim Jacques - who has spent the last six years in charge of UK counter-terrorism operations - told the Lancashire Post he hopes the venue will help its users live “lives that are good for them and good for society”.

Preston-born Tim says he also wants the long-awaited Youth Zone to show young Prestonians that society “cares enough” about them to provide all the things that will be on offer.

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It was the prospect of launching and running the facility when it opens opposite the bus station next year that persuaded him to retire from policing after a 37-year stint - most of it spent in Lancashire - having started out walking the beat of his home city.

Former senior police officer Tim Jacques says he can't think of a better job than being chief executive of Preston Youth Zone (images: Elephant Visual and Preston Youth Zone)Former senior police officer Tim Jacques says he can't think of a better job than being chief executive of Preston Youth Zone (images: Elephant Visual and Preston Youth Zone)
Former senior police officer Tim Jacques says he can't think of a better job than being chief executive of Preston Youth Zone (images: Elephant Visual and Preston Youth Zone)
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As a member of the embryonic Youth Zone’s board of trustees, Tim, who still lives in Preston, has been involved in the more than decade-long journey to realise the vision for the service - and says the chance to bring it to life was “too tantalising” to pass up.

“I'd visited youth zones and [seen] the fantastic work they're doing with young people and the opportunities and activities they offer them.

“I look back on my career…coming into contact with many young people who'd either found themselves in trouble or ended up harming somebody - and [they were] not bad people. They’re just people that didn't have the right opportunities - they had nothing to do, they ended up in the wrong crowd, they couldn't see a future [and] they didn't have the aspirations that they could have had, or the self-belief.

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“We want better opportunities and better outcomes for young people...and we hope that the Youth Zone will be part of enabling that.

“[The] most basic offer is a safe place to be and to meet friends [and make] new friends. Eighty-odd percent of young people who attend youth zones say they…feel happier [and] healthier - [and] they're just a good place for young people to be,” Tim explained.

However, the plan for Preston’s Youth Zone - like the 14 others across the country, including in Chorley - is to go far beyond the basics. A raft of sporting, musical, artistic and recreational activities will be on offer for young people aged between eight and 19 - and up to the age of 25 for those with additional needs.

Tim is also keen to champion the broader youth support and employability work that will take place at the venue and stresses that it will be a “collaborative effort” between the Youth Zone’s charity operator OnSide and local schools, the city council and existing youth organisations already operating in Preston.

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He knows that having one eye on the future will be key to making the Youth Zone a success, because of the speed at which young people’s tastes and interests - not to mention the technology they use - change nowadays. As an example, he cites how Blackburn’s Youth Zone - where he will be spending some time learning the ropes of the chief executive role - has introduced 3D printing to complement its more traditional arts and crafts offering.

However, he wants to reassure future users of the Preston facility that they will not have to rely on him personally having his finger on the pulse of the latest trends in order for the Youth Zone to deliver an attractive array of things to do.

“I would imagine [the young people] will usually be one step ahead of us…but that's where the youth workers come into play, because they are brilliant at understanding what young people want - [and] their needs [and] their frustrations.

“I'm not quite as young as I once was - I still think I'm young, but I know I’m not,” confesses Tim.

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Asked what he thinks young people will make of someone who was, until recently, a very senior police officer leading their new Youth Zone, he jokes, “I'm sure they won't want me too much involved” - but warns that he may occasionally commandeer one of the drum kits to indulge his longstanding passion for playing.

However, the ex-officer - who was a detective superintendent in Preston, before becoming Assistant Chief Constable for the Lancashire force and then Deputy Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard when he took on his counter-terror role - added:

“It’s not about me - the place is that big and there’ll be…many people in there helping and supporting [the members]. But I'll be present and just enjoy watching them do the incredible things they do.”