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Young people and police making "Marginal Gains": climbing fells, building relationships and changing police safeguarding practicePurpose The purpose of this paper is to describe a youth work model of participatory research practice which utilises a range of methods within non-traditional research settings, highlighting the importance of trust, risk-taking and the creation of mutually respectful and non-hierarchical relationships. The paper suggests that such methods enable the development of new insights into previously intractable challenges when working with adolescents needing a safeguarding response from professionals. Design/methodology/approach The paper reflects on the challenges and successes of a project which brought police officers and young people together to develop solutions to improving safeguarding responses to young people affected by sexual violence and related forms of harm in adolescence. In particular, this paper focuses on a residential held in October 2016 in the Lake District involving 7 officers and 15 young people. Findings Despite a number of ethical challenges throughout the project, this paper makes the case that potentially high-risk participatory research projects can be supported and managed by university research centres. However, for these to be successful, staff need to work in trauma-informed ways, and possess high-level expertise in group work facilitation. Transparency, honesty, constancy and a range of different and creative activities, including mental and physical challenges, all contributed to the success of the project. Originality/value By detailing the empirical steps taken to develop, support and realise this project, this paper advances a youth work model of participatory research practice, filling an important gap within the methodological literature on participatory work with young people affected by sexual violence.