Young people speak out on youth violence

Students from Leyton Sixth Form College are leading the way in tackling crime, reports James Cracknell

Students from Leyton Sixth Form College

Sayeed Ahmed, Chloe Pirotta, and Nouf Abdulqadar, have been campaigning for more action to tackle youth violence in Waltham Forest

Students praised for taking action over youth violence have hit out at cuts to provision for young people in Waltham Forest.

The Leyton Sixth Form College (LSC) pupils led efforts this year to establish a local youth violence commission, presenting community leaders with a list of demands and arranging meetings with Waltham Forest Council and the Metropolitan Police.

Speaking to Waltham Forest Echo shortly after receiving a ‘Young Londoner’ award at City Hall for their efforts to tackle crime, the LSC students hit out at cuts made to youth provision.

Sayeed Ahmed, 17, said: “I was involved in a programme with Active Change Foundation, looking at grooming and local issues, but it has now been shut down. It helped me with my public speaking and other things that you don’t always get to learn at school.

“It is disappointing because a lot of young people won’t have that opportunity to get involved and learn these skills.”

Chloe Pirotta, 17, said: “It is easy for young people if they are good at academic subjects but if you are better at art or other things it is more difficult to get the support you need. When there are budget cuts it’s always the vocational courses that are the ones to go first. We need more help.”

Last year the group from LSC conducted a ‘listening campaign’ to collect the views of staff and fellow students on issues around crime and youth violence. They subsequently drew up a list of demands for the council that were presented at the Waltham Forest Accountability Assembly, organised by Waltham Forest Citizens, during the run-up to this year’s local election.

One of the demands was the establishment of a local youth violence commission, comprised of civic representatives alongside young people, which is now hearing evidence and will publish a report with a list of recommendations next year. Another demand is that at least 30% of the funding provided as part of London Borough of Culture 2019 is allocated to projects benefiting young people.

Sayeed said: “We are holding the council to account and making sure tackling youth violence is one of their top priorities. We have been meeting them at the town hall.

“I feel it is a step in the right direction. Once all of the actions get implemented I think it will make a difference.”

Reasons for increasing youth violence, the students have argued, include school exclusions; traumatic home experiences; declining trust in authority; involvement with gangs; and lack of job opportunities.

Aaron Adikwu, 17, said: “Committing crimes is easier than it was before. They do it to earn respect.”

Students at LSC are also currently working on a drama production, XplusY, based around the pressure felt by young men to conform. One of those involved is Blaize, who is studying for a diploma in arts. He said: “It talks about masculinity, how there are certain social standards that men have to live up to, and about male psychology.”

Sayeed added: “I think a lot of young people don’t realise they can make a difference. It is important that we understand this is an essential issue for us and it is our story to tell.”

Young victims of violence in Waltham Forest this year include 20-year-old Joseph William-Torres, fatally shot in Essex Close in March; 16-year-old Amaan Shakoor, fatally shot in Markhouse Road in April, and 19-year-old Guled Farah, fatally shot in Vallentin Road in September.

London Assembly Member Jennette Arnold said: “It has been extremely concerning to see the rise in violent crime in Waltham Forest, and across London. However, in the face of tragedy, our local community has always pulled together to try and find a way to heal and move forward to tackle the underlying causes.

“We should be immensely proud of these students who are leading the way locally when it comes to ensuring the views and concerns of their peers towards violent crime are heard by those in power.

“I am looking forward to seeing their work replicated in other schools across the borough.”