London community groups tackle violence with hope – can it work?

Journalist Ria chatterjee has repeatedly witnessed the consequences of crime on the streets of London. Here she examines what has been done to break cycles of violence and give young people meaning in their lives.


Going out the front door is risky. “They put their lives in danger just by walking on the road,” says Rosa. “If there’s a fight between two boys, if one of them doesn’t pull out a knife first, the other will.” It’s bad.

It is early 2018. A meditative silence blankets the Peckwater Estate in Camden. A sanctuary of flowers, cards, and candles grows in a small enclave that has two green metal benches and a table in the middle.

Three young men were killed in the area, in separate incidents, in as many days: Lewis Blackman, Sadiq Aadam Mohamed and Abdikarim Hassan.

Rosa’s cheeks are frozen and her body folds inward. She is a sixteen-year-old girl who protects herself from the freezing cold and the violence lurking in the outskirts of her reality.

His passion strikes me. She cares deeply and she wants to know who cares about her. Back in the newsroom, we call the Home Office for comment. Rosa challenged a government official to spend time on their estate.

Amber Rudd is Home Secretary. Three years and two Secretaries of State later, we still send email after email about severe youth violence, because those in mourning repeatedly ask me a question: why the government does he not do more?

Every city has its mask – for some residents it rarely falls, and for others it barely exists. Beyond the scrambling pre-theater dinners and stringed rooftop bars, London lies an intricate network of roads and tunnels; bridges and borders that connect and divide.

The city may seem small to young people who live under the threat of violence, and choosing a different route to school is a survival calculation in the same way that venturing into another borough is a fatal risk. .

These types of daily calculations sow fear and anxiety in the minds of young people who already feel that larger systems have left them to cope with monumental issues like poverty and racism.

I once anonymously interviewed a teenage boy (at his mother’s request) who had been stabbed and survived and was riding a couch to make sure the abusers didn’t catch him.

He was nervous and was constantly looking over his shoulder, essentially homeless. These are great feelings with great consequences.

In September 2018 I traveled to Chicago to better understand the city’s public health approach to tackling serious violence.

ITV News spent time in Chicago with the so-called “Violence Switches”

It should be noted that many primary care practitioners had, by this time, made the same journey years before; but after spending month after month sitting with different families and young people who felt abandoned and misunderstood, I wanted to better understand what the solutions looked like.

That year, the third-largest city in the United States saw the third consecutive annual drop in homicides, so what were they doing right?

For eight days we filmed with so-called violence interrupters hooking up with young people on the streets to intercept potential tragedies and offer emotional support; a tattoo artist who removes “gang” symbols from people who get out of prison and want to rebuild their lives; the Chicago Police Department who were conducting community surveys on improving the ‘Stop and Frisk’ protocol, and, given that Chicago is the birthplace of Drill music – we spent time deconstructing the narrative often harmful and mistaken that music leads a child to pick up a knife.

Ria Chatterjee with a Chicago Violence Switch

It quickly became clear that while the scale of the violence in Chicago and London differed, as did the weapons, the underlying causes were the same.

In early 2019, the Mayor’s Office set up the first-ever violence reduction unit in London and announced its commitment to the public health approach, a concept that puts addressing root causes at the heart of his concerns.

This is from their website: By working with people and organizations in communities where violence is prevalent, we try to understand the complex causes of violence and, by working together, prevent it from happening.

The London VRU has funded crucial projects such as ‘My Ends’, which gives grassroots organizations in hyper-local areas with high levels of violence the opportunity to take the lead in designing programs that can support women and men. youth.

Lib Peck (l) was appointed Director of the London Mayor’s Violence Reduction Unit in 2019

Addressing the impact of trauma is also important for breaking cycles of violence and the VRU has invested in projects that support local mental health organizations and wellness projects for parents, guardians and caregivers.

Where does “hope” fit into this story? It must be the first word on the front line, say those who are fed up with seeing the same problems unresolved decade after decade.

But what can a feeling do? I posed this question to members of the Hope Collective – a network of key organizations (including the Damilola Taylor Trust, the Metropolitan Police, National Youth Organizations and every UK VRU) which aims to ensure that “communities most vulnerable are ‘leveled’ and freed from poverty, violence and discrimination, above all they want to amplify the voices of young people.

The Hope Collective recently toured major cities across the UK to host ‘Hope Hack’ sessions: workshops, talks, performances and more to give young people a chance to express how they feel about violence and what can be done about it.

The website of the Collectif Espoir

Tyrell Davis-Douglin, 21, describes himself as a distributor of hope, he also chairs the youth management group for the Hope Collective. He tells me that the biggest theme of the Hope Hack Tour is the desire to access opportunities. This is what many vulnerable young people are asking for.

The Hope collective presented their mission statement to number 10 on Thursday, November 25, 2021 and the Prime Minister himself said in a speech “This is the way to solve the problem”.

Hope therefore seems to be synonymous with action. Right after the reception, I asked Ndidi Okezie – the CEO of UK Youth – if she trusted Boris Johnson’s words? She replied, “What’s the alternative? What do we tell young people if we have no hope? “

Over the years, I have spent time with countless small charities and organizations that devote most of their soul to youth work. It is a relentless and traumatic vocation (for many, re-traumatic) but also full of spirit, exceptional talent, laughter and love.

Excerpts from conversations remain with me. There was a time when Ebinehita Iyere (the founder of an organization called Milk Honey Bees which provides a safe space for young black women to heal and thrive) said, “A lot of these girls lose friends over and over again. weeks, months apart.

“No one is watching the fact that girls are mobilizing in these communities instead of healing.”

Ebinehita gives acres of her time and wisdom to help these young women discover their full potential, and there are hundreds of people like her across town trying to give young people a purpose and a place to feel. seen and loved.

There are those youth workers who use sports, music, art, philosophy, baking, theater, business (the list is endless) to encourage young people; and there are those who spend hours in classrooms and long nights on the streets keeping teens safe, teaching them the benefits of emotional intelligence and the value of bonding and loving connection. .

That morning in 2018, on the Peckwater Estate, Rosa buried her hands deep in her pockets and waited patiently while her friends also offered their opinions and thoughts.

She was vibrant and articulate and the air crackled with her energy. Finally, Rosa found her moment to speak: “Everyone has to come to the areas where we live and see what is really going on. I think they should live like us for a week and then they will understand – this is no joke.

This is actually not a joke about how we live and how we have to protect ourselves in life because no one else will do it for us.

Maria D. Ervin