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He said, 'When I have nothing, being part of the gang gives me something'.

January 13, 2023

Many years ago whilst serving as a police officer I was called to investigate a serious assault in a small, quiet village. The victim was a prominent member of the local community and the wider Bangladeshi community in London and had been specifically targeted. While interviewing one of the young suspects he turned to me and said that I could never understand what it was like to grow up in London with no prospects, no strong family support and feeling on the outside of society looking in. He explained to me that being part of a gang gave him a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose and a sense of community. He said when he had nothing, being part of the gang gave him something. He was 17 years old.  Those words have stayed with me. They gave me an insight into the strong bonds that bind young people in gangs, and the lengths they will go to, to be with people who give them the sense of being someone who matters. The child I spoke to was willing to inflict very serious harm on an innocent man who was unknown to him, and who was very lucky not to die that night. 

Fast forward 21 years and where is society? We are still facing the same challenges in tackling youth violence and knife crime. Yes, it’s a complex set of social factors that enable these problems, some of the young people are victims themselves of fear, coercion, exploitation and grooming; and yet here we are – knife crime is still endemic. It feels little progress has been made on a macro scale to make a sustainable change.

We read about the success stories, the hard work and commitment of individuals and community groups, the funding (and withdrawal of funding) and yet we barely go a day without reading about yet another tragedy brought around by knife crime. As a parent of two boys, one of whom lives in London, I worry about their safety. As a retired police officer, I have seen first-hand how tragedy can come calling without warning, and the legacy it leaves in families and the wider community. It is hard not to be affected by those experiences long after they have happened, and to always want to do more to protect the public from harm.  

In 2020 I was approached by the founder of imabi, Mark Balaam, who invited me to join his technology company on a mission to drive social change and increase social value through responsible technology. Having developed a digital platform and a range of mobile applications with features designed to improve access to support, guidance, messaging, reporting and safe havens, Mark’s vision is to make his technology accessible and available in any environment to empower and educate people so they can make better choices and feel confident to speak up. Now operating in schools, businesses and across the national rail network, imabi is at the start of its journey to truly make a difference, especially to young people. One of the reasons we are delighted to be partnered with Fighting Knife Crime London is the added value we believe we give to the work they are already doing helping all young people in London find  pathways to safety, and embracing the use of technology to achieve this.  

Schools adopting the imabi Inspire app are able to publish information and guidance to their pupils on any topic, from street safety to awareness of online grooming, county lines and exploitation. As well as information on wellbeing, active lifestyles and healthy relationships. Providing access to trusted information, and giving them a voice to report concerns 24/7 means we can make available really important information on a large scale in real time, and we start to educate and empower this generation of young people to become responsible, confident adults of the future. We know these are small steps, but they are important ones to take in transforming how young people access information and use technology responsibly to give them a voice. As a Deputy Head teacher of an inner city school said to me, ‘if we change one child’s life it has been worth it’. I agree, but let’s change more. 

Hayley Spedding - Operations Director at imabi, FCKL's new partner

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