Serious youth violence – seeking answers for Angell Town

Jedidah Onchere, Community Development Coordinator for Big Local Impact, writes:

When a resident from Angell Town rang me to ask what Big Local Impact was doing about the safety of their children on the estate, I felt completely defeated, as I did not have an answer.  When a second one and a third one did the same, I felt crushed. And then the young man I have been working with got stabbed and I felt completely devastated.

When the local MP, Helen Hayes, organised a meeting for the Angell Town community to discuss violent youth crime, I knew that the message is filtering through to the right people. So on Saturday 25 May at St John’s Primary School, we attended this meeting led by the MP and the local councillors.

Also present were Lib Peck (remember her? She used to be the leader of Lambeth Council. Now she leads London’s new Violence Reduction Unit), and the chair of the school who is also the vicar of the church and the chair of Big Local Impact, Canon Rosemarie Mallett. You might recall that only last month Canon Rosemarie organised a very successful day of prayer for mothers affected by youth crime. She had the right credentials to open this Saturday meeting.

Employing the inclusivity and diversity modus operandi she cleverly translated the opening prayer into a meditative experience – the audience was of mixed backgrounds. Then she asked us to build a tree of names of children who had lost their lives through violent crime.

Everyone knew one or more children. A councillor knew one who had died barely a hundred metres from his doorstep.  I knew Simon Plummer, who lost his life in his own home at the hands of his young brother who had joined a gang. On that fateful day, I had been waiting to review Simon’s work at two o’clock and he had failed to show up, which was unlike him. At three o’clock his friend ran into the office to ask, “Have you heard what happened to Simon? He’s dead! He died at 1pm, just as he was preparing to come for a meeting with you guys”. I’ll never forget Simon. It etches in your heart – the name I mean. So I wrote it on the tree.

Group discussions turned out stories that we are now familiar with – early intervention, school system, policy change, more funds, and so on. What was really touching was the emotional articulation of the residents of Angell Town.  They described the fear that rips through the community, the wish to move away from it all, the helpless feeling of abandonment and isolation, the “nobody cares” sentiments.  Painful, really painful.

In the end, there were promises of some of the VRU funds being diverted to deprived areas like Angell Town, King’s College Hospital talking of support for trauma (and asking to work with Big Local Impact), Redthread throwing in their expertise (and asking to work with Big Local Impact) and the councillors promising to do their best (and you’ve guessed it – asking to work with Big Local Impact).

Who has the answer to violent youth crime? If you do know a person, please take me there. One woman who has lived through grief of losing her son said the last concluding words:

“… STOP talking and listen to us. Just listen.”  If we were listening, we didn’t hear it because we will be attending another meeting to talk again about the same thing and come up with the same conversations.

Perhaps the community has the answers we are looking for.  Who knows?