MORE than £160,000 in funding has been granted to a range of projects to improve lives in the North East thanks to Round 5 of Police Commissioner, Kim McGuinness’ Operation Payback fund.

The fund is made up of money that has been seized through successful police action across the region and is now being shared among a range of community-focused projects to help fund everything from football pitches to new security systems.

On the anniversary of the death of promising young footballer Tomasz Oleszak, who was tragically killed in a knife attack, his former club, Gateshead Cleveland Hall, have secured £3,600 to begin the development of a new 4G football pitch in his memory.

Other groups who have received funding to support new facilities, repair CCTV, roll out youth diversionary activities or kick-start community projects include: Ashington Rugby Cricket Club, High Spen Social Action, Sunderland’s Halo Project, and Holding Hands North East.

This Summer, Northumbria Police revealed that jail terms totalling more than 150 years have been handed down to criminals involved in serious and organised crime in the region in just six months. Drugs, cash, and Proceeds of Crime confiscation orders with a value of almost £1.4 million had also been obtained during this time.

It’s money from successful police action fighting crime like this that is now being reinvested into grass root causes through Operation Payback.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, said:

“There’s no better use for cash seized from crime than channelling it right back into our communities – particularly areas that need it most or where we are wanting to clampdown on things like anti-social behaviour. It’s about presenting kids with the chance to do things they want to do, keeping them entertained or even making sure they are fed and feel supported in life.

“There are such worthwhile projects on the list – the new football pitch in memory of Tomasz being one of them club, this community, has been incredible in how it has come together in the aftermath of Tomasz’s death. When I was at the memorial football match for Tomasz, as well as the outpouring of grief, there was such a warm, supportive atmosphere among everyone there – so many people care and want to make a difference.

“We owe it to him, to put all our effort into stopping kids carrying knives, stopping this devastation happening again. By investing in communities and creating opportunities for local kids I really hope we can have a positive impact on young lives in the area.”

Kim added:

“There are a lot of cash strapped organisations out there and Operation Payback is stripping cash out of the hands of criminals and handing it over to so many grass root cases that matter. It’s thanks to some great police work that I am in the position to do this.

“This has been Round 5 of the fund, which since its launch has given more than £1million pounds back to local communities. This time, we really have been inundated with applications from worthwhile causes – from holiday activities for families struggling, to support work with kids already getting caught up in the criminal justice system. I only wish we could fund them all. To me it’s a clear indicator of how hard so many of our region’s youth projects and community groups are finding things at the moment. Government cuts are being made left, right and centre and yet people’s outgoings are getting higher and higher. There is a real fight for funding that should be more readily available. I’m glad Operation Payback can help some.”

Andrew Watling, Club Leader at Gateshead Cleveland Hall CA, said: “We are so grateful for the support of the PCC’s office to help provide a base for the beginning of our project.

“Losing Tomasz remains the most painful blow imaginable for a community club such as ours. He was a shining light and the nature of his death struck all of us extremely hard.

“There is no place for the carrying of knives and we can’t think of any better way to celebrate his life and his legacy than by building a new facility in his memory.

“We aim for the new pitch to be a safe space for children and young people in Gateshead to enjoy sport. It will also be a monument to his time with us and a reminder for decades to come to the local community of the futility of knife crime.”

A full list of beneficiaries throughout the Northumbria Police force area can be found HERE.