With knife crime on the rise in the capital, there is a need, now more than ever, for an effective approach to youth violence prevention. Youth violence continues to be a complex and prevalent issue facing our communities as well as the nation, therefore, an issue that no organisation or sector can tackle alone.
There is significant evidence that community coalitions which use local data to understand problems and inform preventative action are effective in addressing youth violence. Recognising this, the Foundation has spent years building partnerships across East London with councils, GP surgeries, as well as independent organisations dedicated to methods of prevention and intervention in order to tackle youth violence.
For the past two years, we have been proud to partner with Her Honour Judge Sarah Munro KC, Senior Circuit Judge at The Central Criminal Court, and for the first time this year with Sheriff Bronek Masojada to host a roundtable discussion at the iconic Old Bailey. Focusing on tackling the growing rates of youth violence and anti-social behaviour, the event brought together a sector-diverse group of organisations and leaders, providing a platform to collaboratively explore solutions, share knowledge, identify root causes, and hopefully reduce the numbers of young people involved in gang crime.
In a broader sense, leveraging the influence of football and the iconic West Ham United badge, along with its enduring presence as a cornerstone in the East London communities it serves. Over the past 10 years we have grown the Foundation’s position in our community, and we now hold a comprehensive role which allows us to confidently deliver primary prevention programmes to young people at risk of engaging in criminal activity. In other words, preventing violence before it happens, through interventions that target key risk factors for violence perpetration and experiences.
Although delivery is wide ranging and spans over 35 initiatives, hosted in safe and accessible spaces across East London and Essex, there are a variety with a sharpened focus on combatting these serious issues. As part of this we have established comprehensive strategies which promote youth voice, social cohesion and emotional growth, skills development and empowerment: underpinned by our core aim of being a service which supports individuals, groups and communities to fulfil their potential.
Working with partners across the borough, the Foundation takes a multidimensional approach to provide hundreds of young people at risk of antisocial behaviour with the tools, networks and opportunities to improve their lives. Our diverse team of mentors, comprising of individuals hailing from the same areas as the participants, take a young person centred approach enabling them to develop aspirations and build strong relationships.
I’ve captured our influence within some examples below.
Our workforce’s commitment to a personalised approach is exemplified in the Advantage mentoring programme. As a nationwide initiative involving community organisations from various football club community organisations and their local NHS Trusts across the country, Advantage addresses and mitigates health inequalities through social prescribing. At the Foundation, mentors offer weekly support for mental health and emotional wellbeing of 14 to 21-year-olds. The programme plays a fundamental role in re-establishing aspirations and a sense of connection, overcoming barriers faced by individuals seeking traditional forms of mental health support, including challenges related to ethnicity, stigma, age, and gender.
Similarly, the WHU Foundation’s Jigsaw programme targets young people between the ages of 10 to 18 who are at risk of involvement with gangs, as a result of being disengaged in school, or facing the risk of expulsion. Capitalising on the power of football and the West Ham identity, the Foundation delivers an outcome-focused programme that identifies participants’ assets and positive attributes while simultaneously mitigating their risk factors. Through dedicated mentoring sessions and consistent communication with social workers, the Foundation guides their individuals towards achieving their goals.
Primary Care Network pilot
A groundbreaking project which concentrates on youth violence reduction is the Primary Care Network pilot, offering support for 11-18-year-olds at risk, by taking a public health approach in partnership with the NHS. Through the scheme, a WHU Foundation Youth Mentor supports a network of seven GP practices in Newham, working closely with health and social care professionals, to identify young people at risk of involvement in knife crime, implementing tailored preventative measures through dedicated mentoring support.
Dr Farzana Hussain, GP principal at The Project Surgery and Primary Care Network Clinical Director for Newham Central 1, has been invaluable in helping us to drive this initiative and her knowledge and experience is significant. As for the need, Dr Hussain has explained: “We know teenagers do not attend GP practices much, so it can be quite challenging to engage young people in Newham to come forward. Luckily through our partnership with the West Ham United Foundation, we work with their specialist young persons’ link worker who has really connected with our young people and can direct them to various activities tailored to their needs, which include signposting them to tennis lessons or football and basketball practice and giving them personal mentors.”
During the 22/23 season, 38 people have been referred with 18 sustaining engagement and 75% reporting positive changes of behaviour.
Referral routes vary from high-risk areas to those personally affected by incidents involving family or friends, and individuals at risk due to social circumstances such as expulsion from school. We also get referrals from Newham Youth Justice and other entities and so we have to have an extremely diligent and robust set up which recognises that each situation and needs is different which helps us to adapt our response accordingly.
Premier League Kicks
Funded by the Premier League’s Charitable Fund, Premier League Kicks stands out as a project which exemplifies the comprehensive approach in the realm of youth violence prevention. Operating across seven locations, spanning Barking & Dagenham, Havering, Tower Hamlets, and Newham – including our main site in Beckton, PL Kicks offers eight to 18-year-olds free weekly football sessions. Essentially, it’s a way of connecting with young people and give them a sense of community belonging by offering them a safe space to make social connections, stay physically active and therefore improve their mental health. However, Kicks does not limit itself to delivery on the pitch, it also takes an education-based approach. Thanks to its network of partners, the Foundation’s Kicks programme regularly delivers educational workshops focusing on employability, lifestyle, sustainability and security. Through its longstanding relationship with the police, the programme has also been able to deliver sessions every school term with the local authorities and young people alerting them of criminal trends in the area and ways to stay safe.
Whilst our efforts, networks and provision are constantly progressing, the challenges facing individuals, groups and communities continues to grow. Therefore, we must consider what we can do differently to have an even bigger impact than we are already having. This may require working in different ways and having uncomfortable conversations; however, we understand that it is critical if we want to instigate real change. As part of this process, I have been pleased to see that representatives we are working with across all sectors generally share this feeling and willingness to explore trends, further collaborative working and help to tackle these issues with more scale.
West Ham Foundation CEO