A project to get kids to play football outside a South Bristol supermarket to help reduce anti-social behaviour there is being hailed a success. The initiative was set up at car park of the Morrisons store in Hartcliffe, which has seen varying but persistent levels of anti-social behaviour in the Symes Avenue precinct for years.

But now, Bristol City’s Robins Foundation are hoping a joint initiative with the council, police and the store itself might be helping to solve the problem, after early indications showed incidents and complaints of trouble in the area are down 60 per cent this year so far.

The idea is a simple one - the Robins Foundation set up proper football sessions where anyone can just turn up and play for free, right where kids had been gathering and getting into mischief. Backed by the kudos of the Bristol City brand, the pilot scheme that started in January is being hailed an early success by police and store bosses, who are being called to deal with issues far less often now.

Read next: Plans for another huge student development set to be approved next week

Read more: Tears and heartbreak as escaped cows trash South Bristol cemetery

James Edwards, the chief development officer from the Robins Foundation, said the key was bringing the football to the young people where they are, rather than putting a session on somewhere else and hoping they turn up. “We also have to think outside of the box,” said James.

“It’s no good running a session down the road and hoping the young people attend, we need to address the issue in the location where it is happening. With the right resources, creativity, and people, there are countless ways we can deliver the game. We shouldn’t limit football opportunities to expensive 4G pitches.

“Our staff will not only deliver great football sessions, they will use it as an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with the young people to understand their frustrations and needs for the area,” he added.

“This is a joint police initiative supported by Bristol City Council and Morrisons. We all witness the great work the police do on the ground, and I think this is a great opportunity to applaud the police, especially PS Jeffery of Avon and Somerset for identifying the need for positive provision and acknowledging that if we want change to happen, everybody needs to play their part,” he added.

Local police have noticed the difference already. Rich Jeffery is the Neighbourhood Sergeant for Hartcliffe and said giving the young people stuff to do is the answer. “By providing young people with more activities to take part in, we can improve their quality of life as well as those of the communities they live in,” he said.

“The reduction in anti-social behaviour levels in Hartcliffe since the free football initiative began is extremely promising and I’d like to thank the Robins Foundation as well as Bristol City Council and Morrisons their commitment to supporting young people in the area,” he added.

The issues with anti-social behaviour (ASB) around Symes Avenue and the Morrisons store are well-documented, and kept the police busy. “While it is often seen as a low-level crime, ASB can have significant impact on neighbourhoods, reducing people’s sense of community, impacting their mental health and hitting the economic productivity of local businesses,” said Sgt Jeffery.

“It can also have a significant impact on young people, with potential unseen consequences for their future,” he added. The initiative has been funded by a range of sources, with Morrisons, the police and the council all chipping in.

Morrisons' head of security Steve Baxter said it is working. “Ourselves and the Morrisons Foundation are proud to be able to contribute and play host to this important, local initiative led by the Robins Foundation and Avon and Somerset Police community team which is having a positive impact with the young people within our area,” he said.

The Morrisons store in Hartcliffe, Bristol
The Morrisons store in Hartcliffe, Bristol

The football sessions haven't completely eradicated the problems overnight - there were multiple calls to the police just last month when a gang of youths terrorised shoppers and retail staff by throwing eggs and stones and running amok in Peterson Square and Symes Avenue.

But generally local residents said they have felt safer going to the shops - and credit the impromptu football sessions for that. “I have noticed it because, when I have gone to the shops, I feel safer when I see all the kids playing football in the carpark, rather than standing in gangs in the doorway of Morrisons,” said one local resident, Pat.

Long-time resident Sarah added: “I‘ve seen a change in the dynamics of the area around Morrisons since the start of the football sessions. There’s less trouble happening, it’s a great opportunity for the young people to get involved in something productive.”