A NEW project aimed at persuading youngsters to turn away from knife crime will encourage them to train in mixed martial arts.

The team behind the six-week Knives Down Gloves Up programme claims this sort of intervention scheme is the first of its kind.

Starting in February, 10 young people identified by Swindon police as vulnerable or prone to being involved in knife crime will begin a course at Grange Leisure and Community Centre in Stratton.

They will be taught self-defence, discipline, life skills and healthy eating advice while hopefully growing in confidence and wanting to make better decisions to change their lives.

Grange Leisure’s senior fitness and sports development officer Gary Turland designed the scheme. He said: “About a year ago, I saw a young man who could not have been more than 14 years old pull a knife on someone and it really shocked me.

“Then I heard more stories about knife crime and how young people are often involved, it seemed to be escalating and I wanted to do something about it.

“I decided to use my contacts as a mixed martial arts promoter and my job role offering community outreach projects in Stratton to set up this scheme.

“I’ve heard of similar projects for boxing but never for MMA, it became a passion project and I hope it makes a difference. My daughter said she knew of boys at her school who carried knives, which really made the issue hit home and I hope this scheme is a good deterrent.

“This has taken a long time to get off the ground but if it goes well, I could carry out it in other parts of the town and maybe the rest of the county.”

Gracie Barra Jiu Jitsu and Scorpion Kickboxing Gym staff will help teach in the training camp partly funded by Stratton St Margaret Parish Council.

Mr Turland began working on plans for the scheme after speaking to schoolchildren at an anti-knife rally held in Swindon earlier this year.

Young people told the Adver that they knew people who carried knives and were in gangs. In July, figures revealed that knife crime in Wiltshire had risen for the sixth year in a row.

Wiltshire Police have held knife amnesties where those in possession of a blade can drop them off at a police station without fear of arrest.

Gary added: “If we can make a difference before it’s too late and set these young people on the right path, that’s ideal.

“These young people come from tough backgrounds and don’t always get the right food and nutrients, so each session will end with a good meal.

“I’m very grateful to the parish council for their support and welcome any other organisation who wants to get involved.”