Empire in Edmonton Canada

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In November 2023 a small team from Empire Fighting Chance visited the city of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. This was part of our efforts to identify successful solutions to tackling youth violence from across the world that we could adopt in our home city of Bristol.

We were invited and hosted by REACH Edmonton (REACH), an organisation which is coordinating Edmonton’s efforts to create a safer city. We were connected to REACH through our participation in Peace in our Cities (PiOC), a global network of cities and organisations working to reduce and prevent urban violence. PiOC generously funded our visit and two members of their team joined us.

Multiple cities from across the world, and especially in North America, have established a body that coordinates their efforts to reduce violence. These are often called an ‘Office of Violence Prevention’ (OVP). REACH is held up as a model of best practice for an OVP.

The main purpose of our visit was to understand whether and how Bristol could benefit from an OVP to tackle youth violence in Bristol. We also wanted to share with the Edmonton our own approaches to reducing violence.

During five jam-packed days we had meetings with REACH’s staff, visited organisations working to improve community safety and wellbeing, participated in workshops to exchange learning and met with REACH’s key stakeholders such as Edmonton’s Mayor and Chief of Police.

Lessons from Edmonton

Our visit to Edmonton could turn out to become a pivotal moment in our history. What we heard and saw reaffirmed our belief that an independent coordinating body could play a vital role in Bristol’s efforts to reduce youth violence and gave us insights for how it could operate. Our visit also confirmed that our work with young people is ready to be shared with other cities outside of the UK. Below we share the key things that we took from our visit.

Lesson One: There are significant benefits for having an organisation like REACH dedicated to coordinating a city’s efforts to tackle violence. REACH was born out of a belief that the only way for Edmonton to make significant progress was through the city working together and recognition that collaboration can be challenging. Reach’s neutrality means it can help organisations navigate their way through different missions, values, ways of working and personalities to find common ground. Collaboration also requires considerable resources and expertise; things REACH brings to the table.

Lesson Two: A coordinating body like REACH can perform several powerful roles in a city to reduce violence. During the week we saw how REACH wore several hats. Reach is a:

  • mobiliser that holds and communicates a shared, city-wide vision and strategy to create a safer Edmonton.
    researcher that seeks to understand the scale of issues and their underlying causes.
  • innovator who incubates new collaborative initiatives to prevent crime and violence.
  • coordinator who is the glue that holds together multiple safety and crime prevention initiatives across the city.
  • capacity builder who provides training and support to strengthen organisations, so they are better equipped to do their work.
  • advocator who uses its position to amplify to decision makers the issues facing the city and champions the organisation tackling them.

Lesson Three: Great things happen when organisations and people work effectively together. REACH’s impact was evident in the multiple successful initiatives that it was coordinating, such as WrapEd, a collaboration between six organisations to provide wraparound support to young people engaged in gangs. We heard how the various collaborations had generated profound benefits for Edmonton’s citizens. Among other things, more individuals were being supported with better quality services.

Lesson Four: The success that REACH was having was built upon several key ingredients, including:

  • a clear mandate for its work. REACH was seen as the right organisation to coordinate the city’s efforts to create a safer city.
  • a neutral position. REACH’s only agenda was fostering collaboration to make Edmonton a safer city. It even set itself up as a limited company rather than a charity so it could not compete with others for funding.
  • a deep understanding of current and emerging issues faced by Edmonton and how institutions functioned and interacted.
  • investment in relationship building. REACH recognised that the success of its work was dependent on the quality of relationships it held with its partners.
  • an outstanding team. Everyone we met at REACH was committed to the mission, knowledgeable about the issues and passionate about the power of collaboration.

Lesson Five: Strong leadership is of significant importance to a coordinating body like REACH. It is challenging to bring a city together to address the complex and polarising issue of crime and violence. The leader needs several superpowers. As we followed REACH’s CEO Jan Fox around the city, we saw several of these in action. We were most impressed with Jan’s energy and commitment and her talent to effectively engage with very different people from frontline workers and people from the communities to CEOs and politicians.

Lesson Six: We learnt that Empire’s work could support Edmonton’s efforts to reduce youth violence. During the week we presented our work to multiple organisations. We received very positive feedback, with the general consensus being that our work could fill a gap in provision in Edmonton. Several organisations expressed an interest in adapting our work.

Turning learning into action

In the morning of our first day back in the office we received an email from REACH’s CEO to inform us that several organisations had expressed a desire to deliver our work in Edmonton. We’re meeting with organisations online in December to take things forward.

In the afternoon, we met with Bristol’s Director of Public Health to share our learning from Edmonton. We were asked to present a solution for a coordinating body that could help reduce youth violence in East and Central Bristol. This would be independent of Empire. We’ll be using what we learned in Edmonton together with insights from further consultations with the community.

Our visit to Edmonton has the potential to take our impact to another level through inspiring systematic change in Bristol and sharing our work with our first city outside of the UK. We thank the REACH team for providing us with such an incredible opportunity, and Peace in Our Cities for making the experience possible.