A COMMUNITY centre in Bradford has been chosen to pilot a new Government scheme to raise awareness around child sexual exploitation in Roma Gypsy communities.

The Thornbury Centre, based in Leeds Old Road, Thornbury, will run the project which aims to improve the lives of people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

It will receive funding to work with Roma parents in the city to help them learn about grooming and child sexual exploitation, so they are better equipped to keep vulnerable teenagers within the Roma community safe from abuse.

The Bradford pilot is one of six projects working across the country with travelling communities, sharing £170,000 to run the project.

The Thornbury Centre has a strong track record working with Roma communities, stretching back nearly ten years.

Bradford was chosen from a pool of strong applications to run the pilot, alongside a scheme improving access to education for Roma children in Liverpool, and a project to improve health and wellbeing in West Sussex and Surrey.

In the recent Race Disparity Audit, children from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds were found to perform consistently poorer than other ethnic backgrounds, and people aged 65 and over have poorer health than many other groups.

Helen Speight, head of development at the Thornbury Centre, said: “This project is delivered in partnership with Barnardo’s whose DICE programme – support for parents of ‘at-risk’ children – is being tailored for our Roma parents.

“Dr Louise Comerford Boyes, psychology lecturer at the University of Bradford, will be supporting its evaluation.

“This is an opportunity to ensure that our Roma parents have the knowledge they need to recognize the signs of child sexual exploitation and help to prevent more young people being harmed.”

Nicholas Clews, chair of the Thornbury Centre Board and vicar of Thornbury, said: “This is a tribute to the hard work and depth of knowledge of our staff. We are very proud of what they have achieved.”

Lord Bourne, Minister for Communities, added: “We know that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups are some of the most vulnerable in our society and the Race Disparity Audit revealed some difficult truths.

“That’s why we are taking action to support these communities. This new programme will be an important first step towards a more community-based approach that will address some of the inequalities the communities face – whether by improving educational attainment or encouraging healthier lifestyles.”