How Lambeth is offering a way out of gangs

In February, one year after 15-year-old Billy Cox was shot dead in his Clapham bedroom, Lambeth published an action plan to tackle gang violence. It is the result of collaborative working between the council, police, employment services and several other agencies in the Safer Lambeth Partnership, and focuses on working together.

Lambeth’s children’s services director John Readman says that existing programmes had not solved the problem by themselves.  We’re not absolutely clear about what’s missing, but the range of projects and initiatives aren’t giving the holistic approach to tackling it. They’re making good interventions with exit work, but we need a whole borough perspective on this. It’s about early intervention, targeting young people who are at risk at the earliest stage.”

The plan includes more money for core youth services that will allow youth clubs to open for longer, alongside support for families at risk of gangs, and training to improve employability.

It complements existing initiatives in the borough, including Phoenix, a diversionary programme aimed at around 50 young people most at risk from gangs; and Breaking Barriers, designed to build positive relationships between opposing gangs.

The X-it programme, which is designed to get people out of violence, is being expanded across the whole borough under the action plan. It was set up by Julia Wolton after the gang-style execution of 21-year-old Adrian Marriott in 2004.

“I knew a lot of young people involved, they started to express their concerns about what was happening on their estates,” says Julia.

“The programme is about building up their self-esteem and their confidence in themselves. This is a programme that shows them that they do have options. It progresses them through, building up their sense of identity, culture and self-esteem, with a focus on goal-setting.”

X-it is very tightly targeted on helping people out of gangs, but Wolton says that to stop people joining them in the first place needs much more money to be put into tackling the underlying poverty. “If they don’t dare to dream and think about what they could achieve, then things like school exclusions, a lack of decent role models all combine to make it difficult to escape from.”

Readman says a new apprenticeship scheme to get more young people working with the council will help to reach the council’s target of 70% employment by 2012. And it is being backed up with a lot of money: in total, an extra £1.7m is being directed into youth services in the next two years by the council, as well as £300,000 from the Working Neighbourhood Fund (the successor to the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund), and other government grants.

To really get the plan to work, Readman says that engaging with the public has been essential. “It is early days, but we said to the community as a partnership that we are not going to let this lie, and we want your views. I think it’s that kind of sense of shared responsibility.”

The collaborative approach has been extended beyond the borough, through the Five Boroughs Alliance with Lewisham, Croydon, Greenwich and Southwark, which provides another forum to share intelligence and best practice.

The effect of the different programmes in action has been a reduction in serious crime of 20% over a year, and a 13% rise in the number of people feeling safe in the borough.

” X-it programme at

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