London’s new mayor, Boris Johnson, has made it his first priority to tackle violence and antisocial behaviour by young people. Emphasising this strategy, his first appointment, just days after winning the election, was to make Ray Lewis, director of Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy, his deputy mayor for young people.
Johnson also plans to set up a mayoral fund with money raised from big business to help voluntary groups run clubs, to divert young people from the temptation of crime. He has already extolled the character-building virtues of boxing.
The mayor’s focus on unruly young people may have been a winner at the ballot box, but will it actually help solve the problem? Community Care sought the views of professionals and organisations that work closely with young people.
Uanu Seshmi, director of the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation, which performs pastoral work with children excluded from school in Peckham:
“Let’s see what he does. I don’t believe getting someone from the narrow stream of people working in the field for so long will work. We need a new approach. Ray Lewis has got a certain approach, but my thing is, at the end of it, this isn’t touching young people’s respect.
“I think they are approaching it from the wrong way. They think you can throw resources at extra-curricular activities, but you need to get people to understand why they are doing what they are doing. They need to be challenged in a place with community that fosters positive care. You can talk as much as you want about extra-curricular activities, but they need care.”
Matt Calvert, founder of Prospex, which undertakes detached youth work in north King’s Cross and was visited by Johnson and Conservative leader David Cameron during the election campaign:
“We’re grassroots organisations and we create relationships with young people and that’s important. Unless you have got that relationship, what you have is non-existent. He’s very keen on grassroots organisations doing the deed. You can have as many people in ivory towers as you want, but you need people on the ground.
“He’s a very personable person. You can’t fault his heart. He was impressed with the creativity we have here, and he’s very keen to find creative solutions to problems that have been there for generations. I don’t think one man can change the world, but one man with good people around him can. That’s a good leader.
“I wrote to Ken Livingstone and he point-blank refused to visit. He said it wasn’t his remit. I don’t think he was particularly interested in what was going on in London. I think it’s high time that grassroots organisations are recognised for the work they are doing.”
Adeline Iziren, former trainer at Nang Magazine, one of Tower Hamlets’ anti-crime initiatives:
“I think this is great. Boris Johnson wants to tackle gun crime and knife crime. Ray works with people who could be victims and perpetrators of crime. He’s a good person.
“They need to talk to victims of gangs. They will have to get their hands dirty, and ask people what they need. Children want guidance, and the office needs to talk to them properly and meet them. The young people would be touched that someone in that position wants to talk to them.
“A lot of young people are positive and want to channel that properly. A lot of older people want to help, too. But this situation is unprecedented – young people killing other young people. With Ken, it wasn’t something he addressed. With Boris, it’s his top priority.”
Elizabeth Balgobin, chief executive of the London Voluntary Service Council, a coalition of voluntary and community groups:
“I’m pleased he’s appointed someone from the sector. It’s not out of keeping with what he was saying at the hustings. I think he will quickly find there will need to be a range of measures, and this is but one.
“I have written to the mayor to talk about how he plans to go forward with his manifesto. More funding from the private sector is always going to be welcome, as long as it isn’t to the detriment of state funding. I think what he’s doing is that he will be able to direct the money much more directly than money from the government, which comes with strings attached.
“Ken had just got to the point of launching a mayoral fund for youth work, with the biggest part of the fund going to the boroughs and £5m earmarked for the voluntary sector. I hope that remains in place.”
Will Hodson, project co-ordinator of the London Boxing Academy in Tottenham:
“Here, boxing is a very useful tool, but it’s only part of a wider curriculum. What can be done obviously depends on the students, the time, creating an atmosphere of people looking after themselves.
“It breeds a lot of discipline and rubs off on the kids. Like all 14-year-olds, they think they’re invincible. To see a 21-stone boxer who is just muscle smashing a bag shows them they can get beaten. Sport works, but boxing has a few extra lessons.
“You can’t just throw money at boxing clubs, you need experienced guys. Ray Lewis gets this. I’d like to see him encouraging local people to help with local projects. I think people are aware of gang problems but feel a bit useless. They need to bring together people on the front line and the people with the money.”
A youth project manager in London:
“I think there’s not a lot of anything substantial there. It’s just extending weekend boot camps, but it would be staffed by volunteers, and you need to force people to go – young people aren’t just going to give up their weekends. I think it’s poorly planned.
“With zero tolerance, you are just criminalising young people, putting them in a very negative light. It’s back to having a punitive law-and-order approach.
“I would like to have seen more of what’s been going on – a more holistic approach. I’m a big believer that young people should be involved voluntarily. When you force young people into situations, they respond very badly. There’s nothing even following agreed good practice in this.”