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Knife crime: why a localised approach is key to tackling Britain’s forgotten epidemic

Close-up of someone holding a Catch22 Gangs and Violence Reduction Services booklet. They are pointing towards a statistic on the page.

In a new blog, Catch22 Senior Operations Manager for Gangs and Violence Reduction Services, Joe Raby, considers what is needed to tackle knife crime in our communities, and the support that diversionary activities (like those delivered by Catch22) can provide. A version of this article was first published in Fighting Knife Crime London.

The tragic events of the last few weeks have once again brought the issue of knife crime high onto the public and media’s agenda– and strengthened resolve to tackle what is often referred to as an epidemic.

Without doubt, the numbers are startling:

  • In the year ending March 2021 as published by the ONS there were around 41,000 incidents involving a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales (excluding Greater Manchester Police Force). This was 15% lower than in 2019/20 and 27% higher than in 2010/11.
  • Although there has been improvement in recording practices since 2018/19, there has still been a steady rise.
  • A £130.5 million package of support to tackle serious violence, murder and knife crime was announced in March 2021 which highlights the continued concern of knife crime and how this can destroy lives, families, and communities.

Not a singular issue

Firstly, it it important to note that knife crime is not a singular issue and support, prevention and rehabilitation services need to have a localised response to knife crime, considering a range of different risk factors. Although you could have an overarching model to help reduce knife crime, such as a 1-2-1 mentoring service, it is important for the staff team to be relatable and know the area and community of those they are working with. For example, there are distinct differences between London, the West Midlands and Manchester – so a uniform approach is highly unlikely to work.

Understanding the environment

Contextual safeguarding, as developed by Dr Carlene Firmin, is an approach to understanding and responding to significant harm experienced by young people, beyond their families. One key aspect of this is partnerships with the community, for example shop keepers, bus drivers, teachers, and retail workers, and the importance of a community response to help safeguard young people.

These partnerships help address the underlying causes and not just the effects of safeguarding issues, i.e. these partners can use their influence to ensure harmful situations are reduced. An example of contextual safeguarding provision in practice could look like this:

“A taxi driver has noticed that a particular alleyway outside a popular park young people congregate is dimly lit and not easily visible from the road, the taxi driver reports this to the council, and they add some lighting.”

As the taxi driver regularly drives that route, they have noticed a potential risk which might have been missed by other people.

Diversionary activities

Finally, diversionary activities for young people and young adults are another important factor in the reduction of knife crime as this can create a sense of belonging, help individuals learn a new skill, and develop social skills. In turn, this can help support an exit plan for young people moving away from gang affiliation and associated violence. It can provide positive trusted role models for young people, to promote safe disclosures and information sharing, if they are concerned about something going on in their local area. This could be grooming, an emergence of gang associated activities, or thinking about carrying a knife for protection or alternatively, knowing someone who has already started to carry a knife.

It is important to note here, that these diversionary activities should be accessible to young people, taking into account cost, location and timing. These opportunities and interventions need to be created with the voice of the community to ensure that they are localised and meet the target audience.

Catch22’s Straight Up programme is a programme for people aged 16-30 in Birmingham and Solihull who are associated with or at risk of involvement in gang culture. We provide:

  • bespoke one-to-one support: creating personalised action plan to identify practical solutions and support change,
  • activities, advocacy, and engagement: exploring interests and hobbies, and advocating on participants’ behalf to access financial support, and
  • employability support: identifying suitable courses, gaining access to a bank account and making arrangements for work placements and employer visits.

Our Creating Opportunities Forum programme is another example of a programme designed to support young people at risk of falling into crime to access training and job opportunities – and help them.

Localised, person-centered approach

The points mentioned above are not an exhaustive list, but are just some areas of focus that can help with the reduction of knife crime and associated violence. However, the most important point to reiterate is that all interventions need to be localised, person centred and involve the voice of the community to make sure they are holistic and dynamic, considering the continual changes in risk factors.