28 January 2020
London Youth has been involved with the London Violence Reduction Unit since it was first established in 2018 by the Mayor to coordinate a public health approach to violence in London. Since October 2019, our Chief Executive Rosemary Watt-Wyness and a young person from our network have also had seats on the Partnership Reference Group (PRG), the unit’s board chaired by the Mayor. You can find board papers for previous meetings here.
We are there to ensure that the conversation on violence in London includes young voices. We see community youth organisations as a vital part of the response to rising serious violence and that our members’ needs and expertise must be heard.
Shanelle from Dare London, our youth advisory board, attended a meeting of the PRG with Rosemary on 21st January at City Hall. Read her thoughts on attending below.
What were your initial thoughts about the meeting?
I don’t think I was too concerned, but I guess I was shy about it. But it was better than I thought it would be. When we got there, there were a lot of chairs in the room, so I guess not everyone came. I remember at first thinking there was going to be way more people than I thought it would be. It was quite packed with chairs!
Did it change your understanding of how London works or how politics works?
It made me realise that I didn’t know everything that they’re doing to work with young people and communities. It was good to just see the kind of things that they talk about and what direction are they going with it. I think that was at least a bit reassuring: to see that they’re trying to work with different community groups and different young people, and do different things with them to get some help.
Do you come away from this meeting feeling more positive about violence in London than you did beforehand?
It was interesting that they started the meeting by naming everybody who had been murdered in London since the last meeting. I didn’t think that they would do that to be honest and I think that it was nice.
It shows that violence is something that’s continuous. I think in the long term these types of meetings are a positive thing. I’m not entirely sure about in the short term though, but that’s just because you might not see the change straight away.
What did you want to get across to the Mayor?
Rosemary and I spoke about how there should be more employment and educational opportunities in London for young people who are at risk of violence, but specifically for young black boys and men who are involved in violence.
I would say we need more targeted programmes, specifically programmes to help young people start their own business or to get back into work, especially if they’ve been imprisoned. Especially for those who’ve been in prison, it’s harder to get help. Having young people start their own thing will help reduce high re-offending rates. It would probably be better if they were able to work for themselves and be self-sufficient, rather than have to rely on a job that might not take them where they want to go and away from a life of crime.
Was there anything that you felt was missing from the conversation?
I said to the meeting with Rosemary that all of the young people were missing from the conversation, because there was no young people there apart from two young women that were in the corner at the back taking notes. They said that they were meant to be representing young people but they didn’t really say anything. I think they were working so you’re not going to want to say certain things when you’re in a work situation anyway.
How could young people be more meaningfully involved?
I guess just making them actually involved in decision making. Not like how it usually is, everybody just meeting with some young people, and then taking what they like from it. Instead, actually making young people plan and being involved in co-production because it’s ultimately them who it will affect. Not even just young people in general, but actually young people who are affected because they’re the ones who need it. I just feel like it should be young people who are actually affected by violence in those meetings.
Can you reflect a little bit on your journey to being in a room like that?
My journey to that room? I’d say youth work to some extent, studying, voluntary work, just so many different things really. My interest in politics, which I got from studying at college and at uni, and then I think my interest in youth work came from me realising that I didn’t want to be involved in politics in exactly the same way that I thought I had initially. Just my experiences of working with young people or just being a young person drove me to want to be in that room.
What would be your advice to young people looking to make change in London?
I would actually just say go for it even if it sounds cliché. One thing that I’ve realised is a lot of time people want to do stuff or to try different things, but they feel like they don’t know how, they don’t know where to go, or they don’t have the support.
I feel like when you put yourself out there – whether it’s as a volunteer or different thing that you do – it all adds up. Then, when you need it the most, it will be there and you’ll be able to do the things that you do want to do. But, if you don’t try, then you won’t reach there in the first place.
What do youth organisations need to learn from meetings like this?
Representation. Just actually listening to people; I’ll say young people because that’s what the meeting was about, but really it’s all people.
Violence is just actually really pervasive. Especially when you sit through a meeting like that and it runs over by an hour, where they’re just talking about death and trauma and things like that, it’s a really pervasive issue. That’s why I would think most importantly the meeting was good. But, at the same time, it was literally all older white people. Older white people who work in politics but have no link to the situation.
There needs to be more spaces like this but for the actual people that are affected by violence. Like death cafes, where you can basically speak about death and it’s nice. They need to have open and safe spaces for people to discuss the issues and how they are affected. Not just to try and solve it, but just as a way to hold space.