A PRISON cell set up in a former church has helped youth workers connect with young people about the realities of committing crime.

The Mary Magdalene CiC was founded in 2016 and, somewhat symbolically, it guides boys back onto the right path and shows them what they could do with their lives.

From helping lads use boxing as an outlet through the 'Confession' programme, talks with police officers and breaking the cycle of crime for ex-offenders, youth worker Sharat Hussain has spent the last five years creating life-changing projects - including the installation of a prison cell to show what it is really like to be behind bars.

WATCH: Documentary on how drugs, knives and peer pressure affect Bradford teenagers

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:  Sharat Hussain next to the mock up prison cell

But when Covid-19 hit the UK, it was impossible to be prepared for the impact it would have on the community.

Reflecting on a year of helping young people cope during the pandemic, he warned that many are "suffering".

Groups who exploit young people, particularly teenage boys, and recruit them for county lines drug crime took advantage of the quiet streets while mental health has been severely affected.

In the past 12 months, he has witnessed a rise in isolation and depression, young people sharing personal images and 'sexting', domestic violence and family disputes.

Meanwhile the loss of loved ones due to Covid-19 and restrictions around funerals meant many were not able to grieve properly.

Sharat told the Telegraph & Argus: "The lockdown at first, we didn’t know what it was in terms of the pandemic. Nobody knew exactly what it meant. In the first instance people were thinking it was just a hoax.

"The young people we deal with they’re suffering more now.

"All these things were massively affecting the young people. They had no school. They had no exams to do.

"We did also have young people experiment with drugs.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

"Young people started to get more involved with county lines. A lot of people were recruited to deliver the drugs. It was bringing some income generation. We were trying to get that information out in terms of people getting involved.

"It was difficult. We had to keep going."

Sharat said the pandemic saw the creation of partnership working with West Yorkshire Police, the Home Office, BD7's Khidmat Centre and more.

It also saw a campaign launched between Sharat and Khidmat's Sofia Buncy calling for tougher laws on the sale of Nitrous Oxide.

Sharat said: "I think I've learnt a lot, as a father, as someone that works in the community, as someone that works in the prisons. There's more people out there that don't come forward to ask for help because they think it's embarrassing. They think it's not right to ask for help.

"We were able to reach out and say it's ok to go to a food bank. There's nothing to be ashamed of.

"Don't think people will look down on you. We're here for you 24/7.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Youth worker and prison mentor Sharat Hussain

"We do a lot of Covid messaging which I think is really important."

Sharat put young people at the forefront of the messaging to deliver it in a way that better targeted their generation as well as making better use of the centre's social media platforms.

"We stepped up our game," he said.

"We had a lot of positive activities on social media. We had some difficult conversations with young people about issues.

"Everyone wanted to take part in our programmes. We created a 'dad’s and lad’s' programme. They are spending more time with their children, they’ve never experienced that before. The absent fathers bonded with their children.

"We've done this with partners, this was all about joint working."