A new strategy which aims to prevent young people from getting involved in gangs and street conflict has been launched. Bristol City Council has worked alongside a range of partners, including Avon and Somerset Police, Bristol Youth Offending Team, and Catch 22 to produce a new plan to direct young people away from gangs and provide an alternative route where they can feel safe and realise their full potential.
The strategy aims to actively identify those most ‘at risk’ of being drawn into gang violence and crime, as well as offering clear routes out of gang behaviour.
Gangs and street conflict have been identified as issues that are having a negative impact on many neighbourhoods and communities across Bristol. Councillor Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for the Safer Bristol Partnership, said: “Street conflict and involvement in gang activity can affect any young person, from any family, in any neighbourhood. However, we must not be blind to the fact that some young people are disproportionately affected by these issues.
“Many children growing up in communities in which street conflict and gang activity is prevalent are at daily risk of experiencing issues relating to gangs. For too long these young people have felt helpless and not listened to. Neighbourhoods where gang activity is a growing concern face challenges which include a high concentration of poverty, under and unemployment, poor educational outcomes and lack of local youth services.
“This strategy aims to co-ordinate and strengthen preventative services and recognises the need to target and prioritise resources.
“Through the activity outlined within this strategy, we are pledging to end young people’s involvement in gangs and street conflict. We will empower them to fulfil their true potential, in safe and vibrant communities that are free from crime.”
Over recent years a range of interventions and partnership initiatives have been implemented to tackle this issue but there has been a lack of an over-arching, co-ordinated vision to guide this work. The strategy, and resulting action plan, is based around the principles of engagement and support, empowerment and enforcement. Work to tackle the problem of gangs in the city focuses on early intervention, safeguarding the most vulnerable young people, and empowering young people and local communities to take a stand against anti-social behaviour and violent crime. Catch22 Dawes Unit works to reduce gang involvement and the harm caused by gang-related crime in Bristol and Wolverhampton. By bringing together policy, research and practice, Catch22 aims to create a sustainable model for tackling and ending youth violence. Peter Jones, Director of Social Justice and Rehabilitation at Catch22, said: “This strategy, with a clear plan of action, draws on the expertise and experience of agencies, organisations and voluntary groups across the community to prevent gang and youth violence.
“Catch22 has been working with young people in Bristol who are involved with or at risk of gang involvement for the past two and a half years. We are aware that the challenges these young people face cannot be tackled alone and, therefore, we welcome the opportunity to work alongside Bristol City Council, the Police and Crime Commissioner, the Youth Offending Team and community groups to create a collaborative strategy aimed at preventing gang involvement across Bristol. We look forward to continuing our work as the action plan is implemented." As well as working directly with gang associated young people, Catch22 Dawes Unit conducts research to inform policy and recently published a report ‘Social Media as a Catalyst and Trigger for Youth Violence’, which explores the relationship between young people’s use of social media and youth violence.
The report provides a springboard for action and collaboration between a range of stakeholders and raises important questions about how to collaboratively tackle the issue of gang violence.
Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “I am delighted to support this strategy which affirms our collective commitment to supporting our city’s young people. It’s really important that as partners we work together and are joined up in our approach to the prevention of gang involvement, youth violence and street conflict. “Young people should be able to grow up in their local community and online in their social communities, enjoying their childhoods, free from the influence of gangs and conflict. We’ve all got a responsibility to protect and safeguard our young people. This includes listening to them, helping them and showing them the opportunities this world has to offer.” The strategy and action plan represent a more coordinated approach to address what is a significant community safety and safe guarding issue.
Tackling this issue is an investment in young people, if not addressed, young people can go on to become involved in more serious criminal activity and lead to significant social and health problems. The strategy itself brings together agencies across Bristol but also recognises the critical role of local citizens, voluntary and community based organisations to realise lasting change.