This month, Spotlight talks to Andrew Steven, a Westminster resident who has been working closely with P2P to help educate local parents and children about the dangers of gang crime.
Following an incident in which his son was attacked by a gang of youths, Andrew gained first-hand experience of the dangers of gang culture. His response, other than the obvious shock, was to try and understand this culture and understand the issues behind it so that the community can try and work together to tackle it.
Like most parents, Andrew had heard media reports of gang culture and was vaguely aware of its existence on the streets of west London, but had no idea of the severity of the problem. “When teenagers are frightened to cross the street or go to certain shops, you realise that this culture of territorialism severely restricts their movement – and that can’t be healthy.”
Having grown up locally, Andrew is shocked and disturbed by how much things have changed in the last 10-15 years. “In my day, we all grew up together in one community – it didn’t matter if you were from Westminster, the Grove or Harrow Road. We all ran around together and we all hung out together. Yes, we had the odd beef from time to time, but mostly we all ended up being friends as we were all from similar backgrounds and had lots in common.”
This sense of community is what is now lacking, according to Andrew as the so-called ‘postcode wars’ are driving youths away from one another and creating false boundaries. “What worries me most is the level of hatred that these kids have towards someone they don’t even know. It has spiralled out of control and as a community we need to confront the issue as it won’t just go away on its own.”
Despite these fears, Andrew remains positive in his outlook towards today’s youth and is confident that this trend can be reversed. Although he acknowledges there is no single solution to the problem, there are things that can be done to improve the situation.
The first thing is for parents and children to understand the drivers behind it, he says. “Parents need to be aware of the psychological, educational and social drivers behind this. Also, begin to understand the outside influences affecting their children – music, video games, social media.” This encourages dialogue between parents and children and helps establish a set of values.
Accessibility to education and training is another key factor as opportunities to get youngsters engaged in positive and constructive activities that mean they don’t need to seek out status and fulfilment within a gang environment.
Finally, he says, that the government must do its bit with a stronger judicial system. “Until we have a situation where the perpetrators fear either the police or sentencing it is going to be difficult to stop this violence escalating.”
Andrew insists that most young people he meets are entirely approachable, intelligent and articulate on a one-on-one basis.
“A group of teenagers does not necessarily constitute a gang. Just as in any other walk of life, there will be some trouble-makers in there, but the majority of them will be good kids.” He adds that adults can do their bit by refusing to stereotype youngsters.
Although Pathways to Progress (P2P) is primarily a youth mentoring project, the ways we can extract the best out of our young people often involves engaging the wider community, starting with their family.
All too often, some parents still expect to find a youth programme, drop their child off at a youth club and expect it to work wonders. This approach is something of a lottery. Maybe the programme will work and maybe it won’t.
However at P2P, we prefer an approach where we work together to get the best out of your child. This requires engagement with parents.
An old African proverb states “It takes a village to raise a child” is one we often like to quote. In order for a child to reach his/her potential, they need the support of a whole community. If parents are not involved in the work that P2P try to do with their children, then the impact of the programme on the young person will also be limited. We have had some phenomenal results over the years and in most cases the successful candidates have had parents who have engaged, especially as the child goes through adolescence.
For the past two years, there has been rising tensions between young people in Ladbroke Grove and Westminster. Young people in Ladbroke Grove would talk about it all the time. As tensions increased we realised it was necessary to increase our efforts to work with Ladbroke Grove parents. The Westminster parents became wise to the issues and were proactive in working to the benefit of their children and parents in Ladbroke Grove also began to respond. This prompted our regular series of parents’ sessions for both Westminster parents and Ladbroke Grove parents. We felt it was essential that parents understand the world in which their children operate and are able to speak with their children about these real dangers.
We at P2P are aware that the only way in which social upheaval can be prevented is when the community, led by the parents and concerned adults, begin to make steps to make the community the way they want it to be. With the founding of the parents group G2G (Generation 2 Generation) we hope this is just the start.