ARTICLES Knife crime: do we have the power to cut it down?

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Knife crime: do we have the power to cut it down?

In September and October 2018 around 20 local people came together to tackle the question: ‘How can we as a community tackle rising levels of youth violence in Peckham?’

We heard a whole range of stories, both personal and professional, about the tragedy of knife crime affects us in Southwark, including family members affected and a spate of 4 murders in one estate.  We then discussed some of the causes of knife crime by dividing up the issue into personal, community, local politics and societal factors. We wanted to understand that the issue is multi-faceted and is caused by bigger problems, but that it was possible to narrow it down to smaller more tangible causes.  This helped us when thinking about the solutions – in the longer, medium and short term.

It was extremely beneficial to have the range of expertise in the room because ideas started to come out that we hadn’t anticipated.  One thing in particular was discussed at length: young people being excluded from school, and how these exclusions contributed to violence on the street.  People already started coming up with ideas of what we could do to prevent them both within schools and as a borough.

Who’s got the power?

Once we finished discussing causes and solutions we started to think about how we might go about making change.  We worked out our ‘power analysis’ of Southwark: this meant mapping out key people who may be able to make change on this issue, how much they care about the issue and how much power they have to do anything about it.  It was an interesting exercise as people with different knowledge of the issue were able to point out different key players until we had quite a full picture.

We started to look at how we could change the power dynamics, so that we could become more powerful to be able to influence decision makers.  We did this by mapping our power as separate institutions and then mapping our power when we joined forces and came together. It was a good exercise to teach one of our key principles: that you can build power through relationships with other people and other institutions.

The first workshop was very successful and in our evaluation people said they felt ‘inspired’ and ‘encouraged’ and they enjoyed the set up.  The main area for improvement was that we should have had young people themselves there.

Finding answers… from young people themselves

The second workshop went into more detail about the solutions and we discussed how you might take the solutions forward – what would it look like in practice?  People started to think about the solutions that interested them and we came up with some common themes and people signed up to the group that interested them.

Once again our reoccurring problem was that we didn’t have young people there (we thought this was because the workshops were in the evening, at an ‘adult space’ outside young people’s area).  In response we have started doing more work in schools around the issue of youth violence and are now running a listening campaign in four schools around knife crime and safety.

During this work in schools, the students go around to parents, teachers and other students to ask them ‘What makes you feel safe?’ and ‘What could make you feel safer?’ Once they ask these questions they start to look at emerging themes and will run a workshop in thinking about what would be a winnable campaign. For example, getting the police to commit to workshops with young people, making shops into safe havens or getting a zebra crossing outside the school. The most important thing is working with these young people so they can start to see the power they have to change things.

We wanted to document the different steps that the young people can take to make positive change in their area so we created a video, co directed, written and filmed by six young women about the community organising method, knife crime and safety.  It was an important and fun process for the young women who took part. They were able to fully understand the argument of community organising but also put their own twist on it and make it relevant to them and the issue of youth safety they are working on.

Where now?

Overall the workshops helped to engage new organisations, bring up some new potentially exciting campaigns and mapped out key players within Southwark around the issue of youth safety. It built relationships between all the different groups involved. And although we didn’t manage to have young people at the workshops, it was beneficial and interesting to pick up their ideas through the process of making the film.

The whole experience has added to the momentum of the campaign and has broadened it out to a multifaceted approach – which is important as it is a multifaceted and complex issue.  

As a result of the workshops, Surrey School (who are now running a listening campaign), Brandon Baptist Church and Camberwell Salvation Army are now involved in work on youth violence with Citizens.

Out of the solutions identified in the 2nd workshop, we are also focusing on tackling school exclusions, as this is where there was the most energy and interest, and we are in the process of setting up an exclusions actions team. The film will be used engage young people in schools across the borough in our youth violence campaigns.