Powerful anti-gang message for 30 Northamptonshire schoolchildren
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A powerful event took place at Sessions House court room in Northampton today (Friday, October 4) to deliver a strong message to 30 young people about the consequences of violent behaviour and gang affiliation.
The high profile, two-hour event was produced by CIRV, The Community Initiative to Reduce Violence. This pioneering scheme has been operating successfully in the county since February 2019 and is designed to reduce gang violence by working with young people to show them the consequences of violent crime - while showing them an alternative pathway through mentoring, support, job opportunities and other change programs.
A diverse range of speakers shared often very personal and painful stories about how they had been directly affected by gangs, drugs, weapons and violence, describing the misery they can cause.
The event was opened by HM Coroner Anne Pember and included speeches and motivational talks from Stuart Lawrence, the brother of London murder victim Stephen Lawrence, spoken word artist Quinton Green, James, an ex-gang member from Glasgow and surgeon Dr Ahmed Ghazzali who gave a stark warning about the likely consequences of gang involvement. A panel of experts included Chief Constable Nick Adderley, Police Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) Stephen Mold and Dr Will Graham from Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit.
World famous DJ Lisa Lashes School of Music presented a powerful video created especially for CIRV by the Northampton-based project.
James now works as a Development Officer for the Glasgow Violence Reduction Unit and urged the children present not to choose the life he once did, stressing there was no happy ending to gang involvement: “Gangs devastate lives and the ripple effects of gang-related incidents wreck whole communities. I’m here because I care about you and I urge you take the help and support available to you – take the exit route to a better life.”
Jeff Gonsalves, a community leader from Wellingborough, spoke for the local community and told the audience: “I am supporting today’s event because I know it will make a difference. People in my community are afraid because they know young people are arming themselves with weapons before they leave the house. The CIRV project gets to the root cause of this by looking at the person behind the knife and working with them to steer them down a better pathway. This can only make our communities safer.”
Chief Superintendent Mick Stamper made it very clear that if anybody did choose a life of crime, then his officers would pursue them, catch them and put them before a court. He said: “If you choose to be in a gang, you have to get lucky every single day to avoid being caught. My officers only have to get lucky once, which they will, and at that point the only future you can look forward to is most likely being locked up in a small prison cell.”
Chief Constable Nick Adderley added: "CIRV is a twin-track approach - we do all we can to prevent people from getting involved in gangs in the first place but if they choose not to take the olive branch, then the full force of the law will be upon them.
“However, we want to stop people getting involved in the first place and that is what today’s event is all about. CIRV has been a massive success story which is using proven methodology and early intervention to make sure we prevent young people from getting involved in gangs as early as we possibly can.”
PFCC Stephen Mold and his team, supported by Northamptonshire Police, tendered a bid to the Home Office Serious Youth Violence Early Intervention Fund and were awarded £627,000 to support the programme.
Mr Mold said: "We have to up our game in the way we deal with gang violence and CIRV has put in place a new and evidenced approach that is tailored to the needs of this county.
"The threat that gang-related crime causes to every community is much too significant for us to simply do what we have always done. We have to find new ways to tackle gangs and to intervene early with people who are at risk of becoming involved or who are already involved, and do whatever we can to encourage and support them to change.
"This is a key area of work that we have to get right if we are to make sure that Northamptonshire is safer in the future."
More about CIRV
Gang intervention programme CIRV has seen huge reductions in gang violence in Cincinnati, Boston and Glasgow. Since it was launched in Northamptonshire in February 2019, the team has taken over 600 referrals from agencies across the county relating to people who are either on the periphery of gang involvement or already immersed in gang-related activity. Such has been the success of the programme so far, this county has been referenced as delivering national best practice in violence prevention and the team have been invited to present at the international conference for law enforcement and public health later this month.
Anyone can refer into CIRV - whether that be someone who needs help themselves to get out of ‘gang life’ or someone who is concerned about someone they know.
One of the key tools CIRV uses to communicate the consequences of violent behaviour to those people involved in or at risk of becoming involved in a gang is the ‘Self-Referral Session’ seen today, delivered in a court room and involving a number of people including police officers, doctors who treat serious injuries, ex-gang members and family members of gang members who have been killed. The session is designed to show young people the negative consequences of the life they are currently leading and encourage them to live free of violence and drugs.
Further key messages delivered to young people by CIRV
Gang life might look glamorous and financially promising to a lot of people but the reality is far different. Is it really worth constantly looking over your shoulder, facing long lengths inside prison and wondering if today is the day you look down the barrel of a gun?
Gang members are often exploited by those higher up in the chain that get them to deal drugs and take all the risks.
Some people feel they’re in too deep to reach out but CIRV is designed to work with individuals to help them choose a better path than the one they are currently on.