This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 16/10/2017.
Lives Not Knives provides young people guidance as knife crime surges
With official figures showing that knife-related violence is on the rise in London and England as a whole, one group is taking to Croydon’s schools and beyond with a bold message.
Lives Not Knives started as simple words on a T-shirt in 2007 created by then-14-year-old Eliza Rebeiro. Soon, the organization began to plan youth events at a time when Eliza said she saw the effects of knife violence on the community.
Today, Lives Not Knives impacts young people on a far larger scale, and dozens of examples of the t-shirt with block letters which started it all can be found in their sprawling West Croydon location.
“There are often no adults to show them that they have a different choice to make”
MP for Croydon Central Sarah Jones has recently been vocal on the issue of knife crime, launching an all-party parliamentary group focused on the issue.
Jones says young people choose to carry knives for several different reasons, including as a status symbol, because of fear, and a feeling that they have to do so.
“They’re making these choices because there are often no adults to show them that they have a different choice to make”, Jones said.
Social services can help by finding mentors
Jones said this help can take place in a number of different contexts, including in schooling, in policing, and mental health services, all of which, she says, have seen large cuts “across the board”.
“We have to make sure that we are investing properly in mental health services, schooling and policing”, Jones said.
Jones also says that it is important that there are social services available to help youth finding mentors who can help them through difficult situations. Most of all, Jones says, there is an importance in showing young people that there are educational and employment-related opportunities that can help them go down a far better path in life than that of crime.
“If adults aren’t intervening in their kids’ lives, then social media is filling that void”
Jones called for a revaluation of social media, specifically Facebook and Google, to address the “negative imagery” that was appearing on those platforms, including videos inciting people to violence.
“If adults aren’t intervening in their kids’ lives, then social media is filling that void”, Jones said.
Jack Kew is a youth work mentor at Lives Not Knives, who he has been working with since 2014. He is also a lifelong resident of Croydon, which has him left him feeling deeply connected to the community.
One of the issues is just how easy it is to obtain a blade
Kew describes Lives not Knives’ work as preventative, educating the community, primarily young people, about the effects that carrying a knife can have on their lives.
“We originally started campaigning to get young people aware of the effects of carrying a knife, as well as the effects of knife crime”, Kew said.
One of the issues is just how easy it is to obtain a blade to carry.
“They feel that by carrying a knife, they’re protecting themselves”
“Young people tend to carry knives because they are very easy to get hold of”, Kew said. “Anyone can just take a knife from the kitchen drawer.”
Kew says that many younger people carry knives because of self-perceived personal safety-the belief that arming himself will protect themselves.
“They feel that by carrying a knife, they’re protecting themselves”, Kew said.
There is no explicit safety attained by carrying a knife
What many are not aware of, he says, is that there is no explicit safety attained by carrying a knife; according to statistics you are less safe, for reasons including the risk of your own knife being used against you.
“It’s more dangerous for you to be carrying a knife than to not carry one”, Kew said.
Lives Not Knive ventures to schools across Croydon (and occasionally outside of it), using their anti-knife violence platform to attempt to make a difference in young people’s lives through presentations in what Kew calls “roadshows”.
Lives Not Knives uses facts and statistics to turn young people off of knives
Kew says that they mainly work with Year 6 pupils, before young people go into primary school, as part of their measures of preventive actions.
“We think that’s quite a turning point in those young people’s lives”, Kew said. “At that stage, before they go on to secondary, it’s quite a big jump.”
Lives Not Knives uses facts and statistics to turn young people off of their interest in carrying a knife in the future. They speak about the violence the weapons can result in, as well as the amount of knives found in Croydon town centre.
The goal of the program is to get at least 140 of the young people on the right track, guiding them toward education
Kew was eager to bring up Lives Not Knives new Aspire Higher program, which he says they were able to begin due to government funding they came into in January. The program involves members of Lives not Knives working with more than two hundred young people who at are at-risk of becoming involved in violence or serious problems.
The goal of the program is to get at least 140 of the young people on the right track, guiding them toward education, post-16-training, apprenticeships, or employment through personal goal-based coaching.
Although acknowledging there are gang-related knife incidents, Kew disputed the notion that knife crime is completely connected to poverty levels in and around Croydon.
Knife crime can affect anyone
“A lot of people try to pin things like this on certain groups”, Kew said. “It isn’t always linked to gangs. Knife crime can affect anyone.”
Kew said violence often results from simple disputes that get far out of hand very quickly, sometimes as simple as inadvertently bumping into another person.
“One person could just have an issue with another person, and could just take it that step too far”, Kew said. “And someone ends up being stabbed.”
“People are going to cross paths, and there’s going to be conflict”
He said many incidents are simply a result of Croydon being a place many different young people are passing.
“People are going to cross paths, and there’s going to be conflict”, Kew said. “That’s why within Croydon town centre, it’s a very high rate within this area, because it’s densely populated and there’d so many people passing through.
Ultimately, Kew says that while Lives Not Knives can’t eliminate the issue entirely from the front pages, they just want to guide young people on the right path.
“We’re trying to give them the best possible chances that we can”, Kew said. “You can’t force someone to want to work with you. You can only give the best support and advice that you can give someone.”