Sport and serious youth violence – the state of play across the UK
Sport’s role in combating the serious youth violence epidemic was thrown into the spotlight by the recent announcement of Sadiq Khan’s Steering Group to address the issue in London. But it also posed a question – what about the rest of the UK?
Although London faces severe and growing issues with gang and drug-related violence, there is evidence that problems are escalating just as quickly in regional towns and cities.
The rate of knife crime offences in places like Manchester, Slough, Liverpool and Blackpool is rising even more sharply than in many London Boroughs. Stats show most offences are committed on young people by young people.
Front-line practitioners within the Alliance of Sport in Criminal Justice’s Community of Practice deliver sport-based programmes to tackle offending across most regions of Britain. Many tell us that violence has become an increasing issue among their participants. Some have already adapted their practices to specifically target violence and related issues such as county lines and gangs. We picked their brains about levels of youth violence in their regions, and what action is being taken to address this complex issue.
Alliance of Sport member Marcellus Baz BME works in Nottingham, rated one of the top 25 most dangerous places for serious knife crime in England and Wales. His organisations, Switch Up CIC and the Nottingham School of Boxing, work with around 800 young people from communities affected by crime and violence. They use boxing, mentoring, counselling and education to impact on young people’s criminal behaviour and mental health.
Partnerships with the local authority, the police, Home Office, Sport England and local businesses who provide mentoring, work experience, apprenticeships and employment opportunities are “absolutely vital,” says Marcellus.
“Our team is seeing more disillusioned young people than ever before and it’s not just to do with violent behaviour but with issues affecting their mental health too,” says Marcellus. “It’s about too few positive role models which leads to a lack of direction, confidence and self-belief which makes it easier for them to be groomed into a life of crime.
“The combination of safe, inclusive, trusting environment, mentoring and positive role models… alongside the discipline and team support of sport, particularly boxing, is incredibly powerful to help young people discharge anger and aggression and receive vital support to deal with truama that many have experenced.”
Newport in Gwent, South Wales, has been allocated Serious Organised Crime funding by the Home Office to tackle issues of serious violence, principally drug- and gang-related. Part of that funding has gone to Newport Live, an Alliance of Sport ‘Community of Practice’ member, who deliver sport-based interventions through local Friday Night Projects and workshops in schools. Crucially, these are delivered by local people with lived experience of crime.
“The programmes are designed around the young people and what they want,” says Newport Live’s Sports Development Officer, Leigh Williams. “We have found that activity is engaged in more if it is delivered within the communities the young people are from, with someone they know.”
Leigh added: “Over the past two or three years I have seen serious youth violence and violence grow within the Newport area. Young people are being influenced more regularly by older people within the community who are exploiting them through drug running and having them carry out attacks or retaliation attacks on other individuals or groups within the community.”
Tanayah Sam is hugely knowledgeable about the problems of serious violence in Birmingham, both through his own lived experience and his work with at-risk young people in the city’s schools.
“Youth violence has increased in my opinion,” he says. “There seems to be knife crime and violence everywhere but that’s because there is a greater coverage of it through social media and music. It’s popular culture now for kids to be rapping about violence, shooting, stabbing and bragging about selling drugs.
“What’s worse is that rural kids are now aspiring to, and looking up to, urban gang culture. They imitate their language, behaviour and what they’re wearing. Drill music and rap music that talks constantly about violence and drug dealing is what is popular. Corporate clothing brands and music labels are effectively backing street violence and making money from glamorising and promoting gang culture.
“I’ve seen middle-class kids in places like Banbury, Leamington Spa and Bournemouth who are raised in homes that bring in income of £35k plus per annum, yet they are going to school aspiring to be the drug dealers. Unfortunately one or two of these kids quickly find out how dangerous that lifestyle is through being stabbed.
“My organisation, TSA Projects, engages young people through sport and education with the aim of raising awareness and deglamourising the crime culture which is so lauded nowadays. We deliver programmes in secondary schools and in the community, working from early intervention to support through desistance. We have some great examples of change from some of our service users, but it’s not enough and we all have a role to play to help our youth.”
Kathryn Mudge, Development Manager (Communities) at Yorkshire Sport is responsible for the Big Brother Burngreave project In Sheffield. The project’s huge success in engaging local people in sport comes from it being entirely led by local people. They identify need, organise activities, training and funding in what is a hugely diverse and deprived area, where youth violence is prevalent.
“My frustration with the knife crime and violence discussion is the suggestion that young people are doing it because they are bored. That’s just not the reality in my experience,” says Kathryn. “The majority of the youth violence can be followed back to some sort of disagreement over the selling of drugs.
“They [interventions] must be locally led. If outsiders come in and enforce it upon people in an area, it won’t work. It needs to be the genuine will of the people who, for example, are sick of a certain street being a no-go area. The young people need to drive that. Without that, you won’t get anywhere near the same sort of impact.
“Sport is undoubtedly very powerful but by itself it is not the saviour. It is the perfect mechanism to get people together and achieve positive things. It is the vehicle that gets you access to young people to have conversations, create leaders, offer role models, a positive environment and all manner of support.”
Read more on how the power of sport is helping to tackle serious youth violence across the UK: