“ We have got to analyse what is going wrong here. Is it a general state of British society? The night London gangs brought murder to a club. And I think it isn’t. It is about a specific problem within a specific criminal culture to do with guns and gangs.” Tony Blair
“ Surely no one imagines we can stop crimes like this simply with better policing or better gun control? The problem lies within families and communities — and so does the solution.” David Cameron
The need for a sustainable premises to host youth activities in communities experiencing high levels of anti-social behaviour and gang membership is paramount.
The Camberwell Synergy Centre (2005-9) was located idirectly opposite Archbishop Michael Ramsey College, a secondary school with serious problems with gang / gun culture and anti-social behaviour. A 15 year old pupil at the College, for example, became a fatal victim of gang related gun crime and local residents complained that the school children were “out of control” and called for the school to be closed . Young people in Camberwell are greatly affected by south London’s ‘Brixton versus Peckham’ gang conflict, as Camberwell borders these two regions. The Camberwell Synergy Centre in Farmers Road was ess than 100 metres from the border of Southwark and Lambeth.
Underlying the urgent need to tackle antisocial behaviour and the influence of gang culture in the lives of local young people are issues of low self esteem, boredom and a lack of facilities and activities to divert young people from anti-social and criminal lifestyles. There is a considerable need for increased skills, health related intervention and constructive social and recreational activities to rebuild the wellbeing of young people and improve their relations with the community at large. There is currently a significant lack of local facilities to provide vital activities and services to divert these at risk young people away from antisocial and destructive lifestyles and to foster the confidence, increased skills and life chances necessary to promote their personal and professional development.
The need for services and facilities for local young people is urgent; 80% of street crime in Southwark is committed by people under 20 years of age and according to Blink, Southwark is the UK’s ‘school exclusion’ capital. The issue of burgeoning gang related gun crime in south London has recently been covered in most of the UK’s major press, with three well publicised gang related gun fatalities taking place in the region earlier this year, all involved young people. Operation Trident suggests the age of gun bearing criminals is falling with people as young as 14 found carrying guns.
According to Met Police figures there were 266 gun crimes and five homicides in Southwark in the 12 months up to December 2006 and in neighbouring Lambeth, there were 239 gun crimes and 15 killings over the same period.
The Synergy Centre’s relationship with the local school, Archbishop Michael Ramsey College revealed the dramatic effect that the local ‘Brixton versus Peckham’ gang war has on the self esteem and life choices of young people. AMR was the first school in the UK to have its own on-site police officer and it took in excess of 8 police officers to patrol the immediate area surrounding the college to insure public order is maintained.
In April 2006, The Synergy Centre, in partnership with Groundwork Southwark , the Southwark Youth Service, the Camberwell Youth Forum, the Peckham Youth Forum and the Hub (a multi-media training facility in Peckham) held a youth-led music and multi-media arts showcase event at the Centre. Young people were actively involved in all aspects of planning and running the event and over 200 local young people attended. However, the event had to be closed early due to disorder outside the venue, including a number of gun-shots and robberies resulting in armed police being called. Subsequent consultations with the local police force discussed the possibility that future events held at the Centre would attract a negative element who would create crime and disorder. However, recognising that a shortage of facilities and events for young people contributed to the culture of anti-social behaviour and criminality that was becoming so prevalent in the area, to prevent such activities being organised on the grounds that they would attract young people engaged in such negative lifestyles would be to perpetuate the vicious circle. The conclusion of these consultations was that future events were necessary and that the police would protect them from disruption.
In January 2007, the Synergy Centre met with the ‘leadership team’ of senior teachers at AMR to discuss issues relating to the needs of local young people and how best to organise projects to meet these needs. During this meeting, Mark Morral, headteacher of AMR, spoke of how the personal development of their students was an issue of vital importance as behavioural problems often prevented students from engaging with a culture of learning. He also spoke of how one of the dominant concerns of the school in fostering the personal development of students was ‘how to support students to enable them to prevent the peer group from running their lives.” Mr Morral and his staff responded very favourably to the proposal to develop informal education projects out of school hours based at the Synergy Centre to complement the formal education during school time.
In March 2007, The Synergy Centre ran a pilot ‘Millennium Development Goals Project’ collaboration with the British Youth Council and the College, in which 40 students spent a day discussing issues relating to development in Africa and in their home community. The project clearly revealed that local young people overwhelmingly identified gun and gang culture as the main concern in their lives, affecting their ability to feel positive and empowered in their local community. The shooting of AMR student, Michael Dosunmu, in February 2007 draws attention to the tragic implications of local gang culture.
The Metropolitan Police have indicated underlying issues which contribute to this climate of gang culture; in 2001 800 teenagers were asked why they or their friends might not go to school, or why they might get involved in criminal activity or antisocial behaviour. They gave three answers: ‘a shortage of information on local activities, boredom, and a complete lack of recognition.’
What Young People Want
In 2002, the Southwark Youth Council commissioned a series of different surveys and consultations to enable children and young people to focus on specific issues they were concerned about. The largest of these was a survey of just over 600 10-16 year olds conducted (Youth PSA Survey Nov 02 – Jan 03). This showed that their top three concerns were:
a lack of things for children and young people to do
problems of young people hanging around, and
high crime rate and not feeling safe.
Other Concerns included :
Something to do such as a youth project where they can learn new skills, how to communicate with others, meet new people, make more friends.
Places to spend time with friends without having to take part in specific activities.
More trips to places such as the Houses of Parliament.
A new experience – many are bored with what is currently available.
Employ more youth workers – and make sure they are accessible.
Better promotion of what activities are currently available.
To be able to participate in more multicultural events, to celebrate the diversity of our community.
Information and support
To feel informed about local services, new facilities and activities available.
More feedback following activities that do make a positive contribution.
Have a say
To be able to have a say in the planning of local facilities or activities.
To be heard by youth councils, school councils and government.
Young people to be treated equally and not as fools.
Adults to meet more young people and communicate in their language and on their ‘turf’.
Extended schools – they like the idea of having activities before and after school, but the activities need to be different from school.
Parents, carers, families and older people
More positive role models in the lives of young people from a variety of backgrounds and doing a variety of jobs.
Make things happen
To see that their suggestions are being implemented.
To have more volunteering opportunities and to better promote the benefits of volunteering.
To recognise that helping in the home is as important as helping in the community.