A powerful image of a black teenager, eyes downcast and his bare arm criss-crossed with knife scars, is among the striking images in a photographic exhibition about the UK’s gangland culture.
The photograph of ex-gang member Jean Claude Dagrou, who was scarred during a fight between rival south London gangs in his late teens, is part of Another Lost Child, which opened at the Photofusion Gallery in Brixton, south London, earlier this month. Read about it in Saba Salman’s Society Guardian piece today.
With age, so it’s said, comes wisdom. While I’m not sure this is always true, I do know that with age also comes a creeping inability to know what it’s really like to be a young person today. This is particularly maddening, most under-24s will tell you, when they hear themselves and their issues being aired in the public arena by politicians, policymakers and commentators twice their age.
Working on a special youth edition of Society Guardian, the overriding feeling shared by the young writers involved was one of frustration at the stereotypical view of young people (and if this sounds like a plaintive teenage whine of “no one understands us”, it wasn’t; their complaints about misrepresentation were more valid than that).
So it’s not surprising that in three years of campaigning and going to conferences, seminars and workshops on youth crime, activist Eliza Reberio, 17, says she feels “the research findings and the observations made did not always convey the reality… nothing that was being done or said was making the changes that were required”.
Which is why Reberio and her young peers at the London-based anti-violence campaign Lives Not Knives are planning a youth-led conference, aptly titled Putting the Record Straight, which they want to hold at the end of March.
Reberio explains: “We think it is time that the young people of London had their chance to speak and in fact put the record straight to significant policy makers and make sure not only that their voices are heard, but the right changes are made.” LNK sends peer mentors into schools to share experiences of gang culture and reduce its appeal.
Eliza Reberio explains the aims behind her Lives Not Knives campaign
The government recently announced £18m for tackling knife crime and gun and gang culture following a report into the issue by former EastEnders actor Brooke Kinsella. Kinsella, whose 16-year-old brother, Ben, was stabbed to death in 2008, was appointed as a government adviser on knife crime last year.
Compared to the high-profile Kinsella launch – welcome as it is – Reberio’s has a more grassroots feel to it. She launched LNK in 2007 at the age of 14 because, as she explains, “the toll of teenagers being stabbed due to youth crime and gang culture made an impact on me and others around me.” Expelled from her school for disruptive behaviour, Reberio realised that she was accepting knife crime as nothing out of the ordinary: “I heard about friends being stabbed and I thought it was normal..I would get texts saying someone had been stabbed the night before and I wasn’t shocked. Then I looked at my friends’ little brothers and sisters waking up to those texts and I wanted to change things.”
Printing and selling t-shirts emblazoned with the words “lives not knives” to family and friends, Reberio used the proceeds of the sale to hold a DJ night in her hometown of Croydon, south London, “for youth to have fun without violence” attended by 150 young people.
The campaign mushroomed and corporate donations lead to a booklet written and drawn by young people, depicting their experiences of knife violence and gang culture – thousands of copies were distributed to Croydon schools. LNK now has a 20-strong team of mentors including those who have either lost a friend, been a victim or perpetrator of violent crime or are ex-gang members. Reberio has just won a Diana Award for her work and the project is part-funded by Croydon council, which has made her a local ambassador.
Last year, the young campaigner was picked to feature in the Channel 4 project, Battlefront, which follows a group of 14-21-year-olds as they turn their issues into campaigns.
Now, Reberio’s plan with the youth conference is to work with other community youth led organisations and show organisations such as the police, youth justice staff, politicians, policy makers, adults, parents and teachers “how life really is for young people on the streets of London, how youth violence is affecting our lives and the real changes that need to be made to make London a safer place for young people”.
The young campaigers are now looking for a central London venue and help with everything from organising the event to identifying contacts – young people as well as youth-related organisations – who might benefit from the event.
Anyone who can help or advise should email Reberio firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message on this page.
There is something of a gaping reality chasm between the vision of the big society and its fruition, not to mention growing accusations that the concept is a smokescreen for cuts. The chasm between vision and fruition might be narrowed by better and stronger mechanisms for civic service – or simply more hours in the day, as big society tsar Nat Wei recently demonstrated.
However, one scheme that has slowly and steadily supported and facilitated volunteers to promote an activity – in this case, adult learning – is the Community Learning Champions project. The drive, a joint partnership between NIACE (the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education), WEA, lifelong learning organsiation unionlearn and education consultants Martin Yarnit Associates, involves people who become active in their community by promoting the value of learning to others.
Launched in August 2009 , the three-year £3m Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) funded scheme ends in March (but of course!) but its ripple effect has been felt at a community level by hundreds of people. More than 1,000 champions should be registered by the end of next month and, if NIACE estimates are right and each champion encourages an average 30 people into learning, 30,000 individuals should be helped into learning as a result.
Champions promote learning among their friends, neighbours, relatives, or workmates; they are trusted as they speak from experience and act as role models to encourage others to take up new skills.
Homeless charity St Mungo’s – which of course has huge concerns about funding cuts – used the Community Learning Champions scheme last year to recruit up to 30 homeless volunteers to become learning champions.
The volunteers, recruited through the charity’s client representative group Outside In which managed the project, encouraged others get involved in learning, anything from gym classes to art workshops.
In the film here, St Mungo’s service user Richard talks about his love of soaking up new knowledge and the difference you can make thanks to a non-classroom learning environment. As he says: “All the time I was homeless, on drugs, this is the sort of thing I always had in my head that when I eventually sorted my life out, it’s the sort of thing I wanted to be doing.”
Aiming to crack two of the public sector’s greatest challenges – homelessness and the Neet issue – is daunting enough. Doing so with a multi-agency partnership spanning the sectors of local government, charity, education and housing makes the task even more ambitious. Read more about the scheme in Banbury in my Guardian Public article today.
Alex Scott, a 20-year-old psychology undergraduate at Surrey University, is spending a year with youth volunteering programme City Year London. The project, launched in September, involves 18-25-year-olds spending time in London primary schools, mentoring and supporting those younger than themselves. It is based on a successful American model of civic duty that began in 1988.
I’m sure everyone is weary of hearing how they can make a difference. We may tire of saying that you’ve changed the world by holding the door open for the person behind you or by bundling loose change into the upturned hat of a homeless person. True, being generally polite and selfless to one another is an honourable feat, but I’m writing about an organisation that requires a little, no, a lot more, commitment.
I’m a team leader for an organisation called City Year, which has emigrated from the USA after establishing itself in 20 other locations before reaching London, England, and it aims to have the same success that it has achieved across the Atlantic.
This year, City Year London has called together a diverse team of over 60 young people to volunteer a year of service with the agenda of making a real difference to the communities it reaches.
Primary schools in Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets were signed up to receive a group of 18–25 year old full-time volunteers in their school to act as role models and mentors in the key stage two (seven to 11 year olds) classes. As Team Leader for the Towerbrook team based in Sebright Primary School in Hackney, I lead a group of nine volunteers who are there from when the first child arrives in the morning, to when the last child leaves when school ends. The team take part in after school clubs, breakfast clubs, spend time in the playground and lunch hall every day and are a constant presence in the classrooms; often targeting children that teachers identify as needing extra support that may have not always been able to receive.
But as amazing as this may sound, the volunteers that City Year accepts through a strict interviewing process aren’t superheroes, no matter how they may look in their uniform red jackets and Timberland boots. Full time volunteering isn’t easy; and City Year asks a lot of its ‘corps members’. Expenses are offered for up to £100 per week and there is the opportunity to receive a Citizens Service Award of up to £1000 upon graduating the year of service, but that £100 can only get you so far and the early starts and late finishes definitely adds a few premature wrinkles. So why do it?
I heard about City Year through an advertisement on a placement website, having searched for year long placements in London with the aim of taking a year out of my University studies to work in a professional setting. I was offered the role of Team Leader, and although I approached it with trepidation, I have been able to see the developments that my team have made first hand. Sebright Primary School has welcomed us with patient and trusting arms, allowing us to take real responsibility over our effect in the school.
First thing in the morning, the volunteers run exercise routines known as physical training with the children in an attempt to combat lateness. During the school day, each volunteer has been assigned the task of daily supported reading for Key Stage One children, and a select few have the responsibility of improving the phonic skills of students who require that extra bit of guidance so that they don’t get left behind. The volunteers have taken on the task of an after school club as well, a sort of ‘citizenship’ session where the children who attend are taught skills and acquire knowledge that will help them both in and outside the school setting.
What has impressed me the most, however, is how well integrated the volunteers now are with the children at the school. It doesn’t seem to matter how early they have to wake up or how late they get to leave, each volunteer will always have a swarm of children around them at playtimes, and will never be too tired to join them in a game or listen to their stories for the week. I will only be in my position as team leader for a year, then I will return to university, but I have high expectations for all that City Year hopes to achieve based on how my team have performed thus far.
My time so far with City Year has made me a more confident and self assured person, but more importantly, it has taken a chip from my cynicism and shown me that through spirit, discipline, purpose and pride, anyone can hope to make a difference to the world around them.
It is Saturday morning and 13-year-old James Hope is desperate to get to his activity club. His dad, Jim, reaches for his coat, but James is frustrated at having to wait. He stomps off to the car and waits silently, brows furrowed.
This scene takes place most Saturdays but rather than tiring of what other parents might regard as a mild teenage strop, Jim and his wife, Alison, celebrate it. James has autism and they are grateful that their son not only has a regular weekend activity but that he is keen to get to it.
It is a simple act that speaks volumes about the barriers that have been broken; a young Roma boy hands a flower to the play worker he had been so challenging towards just two weeks ago.
The scene took place in August at a groundbreaking playscheme run by social enterprise the Big Life group which encouraged Roma children aged 7-11 to mix with their local Manchester counterparts.
As Europe’s largest ethnic minority, the 12m-strong Roma population might be dispersed across the EU, but it is unified in the discrimination routinely faced by its people. From being moved on from traveller sites to outright repatriation, Roma families live in poverty and are reluctant to contact statuary services fear being moved on or suffer harassment.
Negative perceptions of the Roma community in Manchester along with an increase in the number of Roma people wanting to sell The Big Issue in the North led to the launch of the Big Life group summer play scheme (Big Life owns the Big Issue in the North). Open to all children living in the Longsight area of Manchester, it aimed to break down barriers between the communities and reduce the perceived or actual nuisance behaviour over the summer.
The scheme was publicised through leaflets given out during the social enterprise’s family support sessions and through local children’s centres. Word of mouth also encouraged Roma children to access the project.
The scheme, jointly funded by Manchester city council and The Big Issue in the North Trust, did not charge participants and 60 children registered across the month-long scheme with a total of 30 per session. Take up was even; 52 % Roma registrations and 48% from other communities.
Project leader Daniel Achim recalls that the scheme got off to a shaky start: “At the beginning all children seemed to be rather slow to action the requests of the play workers. The children were testing the boundaries and the workers had to repeat the same information over and over again in order to get a result.”
Yet, as Achim says, by the end of the playscheme there was a major transformation in the behaviour of the children in terms of respect and politeness to staff. “In a safe and welcoming environment where they were not discriminated against children learned to relax around each other, they learned to share play equipment, they learned to wait their turn.”
While entrenched attitudes towards those who are different can be hard to shatter, the Big Life playscheme shows how to break down barriers through play. Any mutual suspicion was soon overcome. Encouraging integration through play and from an early age is starting to reap rewards.
As Achim says, often the tensions tended to be between children from the same backgrounds: “Sometimes it is easy to see differences between communities – when really it is just kids being kids.”
When, where, why and how much were you last really happy? It’s important, because the government plans to spend £2m on measuring our happiness.
For me, it was 2pm last Saturday in a checkout queue in Sainsbury’s, Ringwood, Hampshire. The standout moment of happiness was thanks to my youngest sister, who has Fragile X syndrome, and the charity Camphill. As for how happy I was (forgive the veering into Tom Cruise-esque sofa-jumping territory), it was a pure, punch-the-air-feelgood that catapulted my stomach upwards and made me want to hug my fellow shoppers.
While I avoid supermarkets on Saturdays – they are the next rung down on the ladder of hell from a weekend family trip to Ikea – I would join that checkout queue every week if it made me as happy as I was a few days ago.
So, happiness policy wonks, here’s one way to spread the love.
It’s Saturday and I’m visiting my 21-year-old sister, Raana, at the Camphill Lantern Community in Ringwood which she moved to in September from a Camphill college in Wadhurst, East Sussex. The Lantern is an adult community for the learning disabled which aims to foster greater independence in those who live and work there. Supported by staff and volunteers, Raana enjoys life in a shared house, is proud of her work in the shop and of her new skills in the bakery, has joined a local gym and is planning her Christmas shopping in Bournemouth.
Saturday is her shopping day so we’re at the supermarket. I’m impressed that my crowd-hating sister ducks and dives through bodies and baskets like a retail pro while I’m all at sea in an unfamiliar store. My sister’s enthusiasm and confidence hint at what is to follow…
We queue and, as her shopping is scanned, I remember she needs to top up her phone card and buy stamps. From ordering in restaurants to buying train tickets, communication with strangers has always been tricky so, like the rest of my family, I’ve become used to speaking up for her. We usually encourage her to make a stab at speaking for herself but, with the queue snaking behind us, for practical as well as historical reasons, I launch into support-mode autopilot: “And can we have…”
But suddenly my sister pierces the air with: “Can I have some stamps please?’ and I’m left gawping while an unprecedented exchange takes place:
Checkout girl: “Of course – what sort?”
Me (eyes wide as you’d like the checkout aisle to be): “…….!”
My sister: “Book of 12, first class please.”
Checkout girl: “Anything else?”
My sister (nonchalant, in control, ignoring my beaming face): “Yes, a top up on my phone card please.”
Checkout girl: “That’s it?”
My sister: “Yes, I’m paying on a card.”
Me: (grinning, restraining a high five, elbowing Tom off Oprah’s sofa): “RAANA! YOU’VE DONE YOUR OWN SHOPPING!”
Checkout girl and my sister look at me. I feel silly, but very happy.
My sister was clear, confident, polite and – and here’s the thing – her behaviour would have appeared to most people to be entirely unremarkable. She fitted in.
It’s the little things in life that matter – running errands might not be your idea of achievement, but for my sister, making a shopping list or paying for something herself reflects her growing independence. She is benefitting from the holistic approach to social care and education that she has enjoyed since the age of 16, when we first came across the Camphill movement.
“You’ve not replied to emails this week,” I say later. “I’m very busy!” she replies, indignantly. Raana is sometimes too busy working, learning and socialising to contact us – this is a sign of independence and security because when stressed, she bombards us with texts (my sister is phone-phobic, but I hope one day to have a telephone conversation with her). For the first time, she shares some common ground with her mainstream peers – the “too busy to phone home” line is not dissimilar to the one I’ve peddled since I was her age.
But the spending squeeze threatens to undermine the support provided by organisations like Camphill because the councils which fund those who live there will be reluctant to keep footing the bill. Local government bureaucracy and money wrangles along with government cuts to councils are huge threats to disability organisations.
To return to the happiness survey, the correlation between happiness and strong welfare and social support is well-documented. For example, as social policy professor Alan Walker notes, ‘social quality’ is key to measuring happiness; he defines social quality as how much people are able to participate in society under conditions that enhance their individual potential and wellbeing. Social quality is commonly used in European social policy and, says Walker, the essential foundations of social happiness include health care, housing, employment-related benefits and additional forms of social assistance.
Money alone won’t ever make you happy, but taking it away from social support, and from those who need it most, not only adversely affects their well-being, but that of others around them. And what’s more, the support my sister and her peers receive today unlocks their potential, enabling them to play their part in society tomorrow.
I’m sure the £2m plan to measure the nation’s happiness will include complex statistical science and a multitude of boxes to tick but I quite like this rather more simple equation:
Vulnerable person + resources x specialised support = happiness
For me, it was an eclectic yet potent combination of Wonder Woman, Kate Adie, Blue Peter’s Janet Ellis and Margot Fonteyn. Although I’ve yet to perform an arabesque while reporting from the frontline and deflecting bullets armed with nothing but golden bracelets and a roll of sticky backed plastic, I did at least pick some interesting female role models when I was growing up.
While it’s unfair to say that today’s girls and young women only dream of becoming reality tv stars, pop singers or footballers’ arm candy, it’s usually the case that the most successful women in the public eye tend to be very famous, very rich and very thin.
Campaigners at Pink Stinks are doing much to champion real, strong female role models who are “inspirational, important, ground-breaking and motivating” and today a new drive is launched to ensure that younger generations also have a range of professional female figures to look up to.
The business group everywoman has created the Modern Muse drive to inspire and engage the female business leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow by showcasing successful women in business. Although the majority are women in business and the private sector, there are – admirably – several powerful female role models from the public sector such as former Nurse of the Year Grace Vanterpool and Gill Evans, one of the country’s most senior policewomen.
Karen Gill, co-founder everywoman says: “Younger women today tend to have a strong focus on celebrity role models and we want them to be exposed to a much broader canvas, to women who have built businesses or are working in major organisations, whose lives are equally glamorous in very many ways.”
Modern Muse project aims to reach a million young women and girls over the next three years, to inspire and motivate them to look at business careers and entrepreneurship. The project will showcase stories of real women “whose experiences encompass ambition, passion, success and failure; showing that business is fulfilling and can also be fun and rewarding”. Many of the Muses will speak at community events and in schools, with the aim of nurturing female talent and encouraging women to start, own, run and grow companies.
Grace Vanterpool says: “Some of the role models that young women aspire to can be linked to their cultural or ethnic background and parental influences. Many young women in African Caribbean community aspire to become professional ‘divas’ and mothers – we seem to be less focused on getting involved in business. This may be due to the fact that there are not many successful business women who could become mentors to women from the African Caribbean community, and also to promote the benefits of setting and running a business.”
Vanterpool got involved with Modern Muse she wants her experience to inspire other women “to be the best that they can become”. She recalls, for example, that among the most patronising comments she’s had over the years are those that downplay her role. “Comments such as I am “only a nurse “, brought on by the perception that doctors who are predominantly male are usually the ones seen in senior leadership roles like mine.”
Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Gill Evans says her motto is “it is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.” She adds: “I feel passionate about inspiring the next generation of young women and girls to succeed whether it be in business or the public sector. I recall a number of times that I just needed to talk or run an idea past someone but couldn’t for fear of being seen as weak. I think that it is important that we continue to encourage young women and girls at every opportunity that they can reach their goals/aspiration regardless of their career choice.”
Modern Muse is launched with the publication of a book and a photographic exhibition by Mary McCartney. The book and exhibition focus on 100 inspirational female entrepreneurs and business women, personifying the ‘Modern Muse’.
Gemma Eadsforth, 25, was in care from 15 to 18. Now a married mother of one, she lives in the North West and has been a LILAC (Leading Improvements for Looked After Children) assessor since January. LILAC is project funded by the Big Lottery Fund and hosted by the charity A National Voice which ensures looked-after children and young people are involved in decisions about their care and in the practices of the services that look after them. Here, Gemma explains how those who have experience of care assess how well services involve their looked after young people, deliver participation and LILAC standards of care.
The aims of LILAC (Leading Improvements for Looked After Children) are to make sure that young people are receiving the right care that they deserve and that they’re listened to by the professionals. We want to make sure that the service is listening to the young people’s views about what they want to change in the care system and be able to chase that up so the young people feel like what they say matters and the young people have a better experience.
I was in care from the age of 15 to 18. My experience was positive but some people have different experiences where they don’t feel like their voice is being heard.
I got involved in LILAC because I wanted to make sure that the young people who are coming into the care system or are already in the care system understand what their rights are and their voices are heard by their social workers or carers.
The simple things to me from my experience was when we wanted to have some sweets or chocolate we had to ask a member of staff to open the cupboard as they had locked it because we all used to eat it in one day, well not everyone but some people did. But if you were in your own home you wouldn’t have to ask and you wouldn’t have locks on cupboards. They say ‘treat it as your own home, make yourself at home’, but how can you when you have bars on your window or locks on doors? It made me feel like it was a secure unit, that it wasn’t home, that I wasn’t trusted and sometimes like it was a punishment for something I hadn’t done.
Some young people don’t like talking to their social workers or carers about what they want to change or anything that is going on with them that they are not happy with as they haven’t had the experience that they have of being in care, so the main reason I got involved in doing this was because I’ve had the experience of being in care and can relate what they are going through so, I feel like I would be the one who they could talk to.
By being involved in LILAC you get to see what is going on in different local authorities and how they run things. Also get to meet young people who are either care leavers or still in care. The main rewarding thing about being in LILAC is real achievement for me and my team to show that not every young person who is/been in care is a bad person or not able to achieve anything because they have been in care as the media only cover the negative never the positive.
In a recent assessment I was impressed by the facilities that were available but disappointed by the lack of involvement that young people had.
We have seven standards to assess on. The main things to have in a care setting are to make sure young people are listened to, to have a voice and be heard. Being corporate parents, would you treat your own children like this?
Every time we do an assessment we always do feedback to let them know how they did or what they need to do and offer our support if they need it. Because we assess on the seven standards they need to get all seven before they get the full LILAC stamp to say that they have been ‘LILAC-ed’ so when the inpection body Ofsted comes round, they can say that young assessors have been here and done assessment on our local authority and we have passed their standards.
If I had one wish for the government to improve things for children in care I’d ask them to try and remove the stigma about being in care. Make it more positive so young people don’t feel like they’re to blame for being taken into care.