Crawley Kicks brings young people, aged 9-19, from all over the town to play in football tournaments on Friday nights.
One of the young people, aged 15, said: “There was a lack of recreational area in Crawley that wasn’t taken up by the bad people.
“This programme takes people away from that, for free and I tell other kids at my school to come too.”
Another, aged 14, added. “There is a lot of violence, gang violence and drinking and drugs.
Not everybody that goes down that path can get out of it, but here they give us the mental awareness to get out of it. If you find something else to do, it eventually gets better.”
They are also educated on the dangers of knife crime and the consequences of offending.
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne visited Crawley Kick on Friday.
She said:“For me, this is a massively important scheme that offers a much needed deterrent for young people in Crawley.
“Speaking to the coaches, it is clear that there is a growing threat to young people being targeted by organised crime groups, carrying knives, taking drugs etc.
“This programme gives children something to do on a Friday night and keeps them off the streets.
“To me, that is always money well spent.”
She added: “Here they can come together, with no judgement or peer pressure and learn vital lessons in the consequences of getting involved in criminality.
“They show each other respect and the coaches have taught them an immense amount of discipline already.
“These are young people who choose to be here on a Friday night and it shows - they have fun. Initiatives like this one are the reason that I will continue to fund and support community safety projects across Sussex.”
Darren Ford , community development manager at Crawley Kicks, said one of the young people became a victim of knife crime and narrowly escaped serious injury last year.
He added: “These types of incidents not only have an effect on the victim and their family, but also on the local community and the young people attending the project.
It has been communicated to us by local project partners and the young people that knife crime is a growing concern alongside anti-social behaviour amongst youths. What we offer here is a fun, educative alternative.
“Just tonight we have 50 young people voluntarily coming together to play football and listen to our lessons on anti-knife crime.
“We are raising awareness, giving young people something to do in the evenings so they stay clear of trouble and don’t get themselves seriously hurt.”