Lambeth is set to become the country’s first council to put the community in charge of tackling violent youth crime. At an extraordinary meeting of community leaders held at the town hall last week the community made their position crystal clear telling the council ‘we are ready to lead’.
I chaired the event at which participants heard harrowing stories of the dangers facing young people who are targeted by the menace of violent youth gangs. Rosemarie Mallett from Brixton-based Word Against Weapons talked about how girls as young as 9 are sexualised by older gang members who force them to stand in sexual poses and threaten them with violence, and even rape, if they refuse to comply.
Carl Lokko, a young man from the Myatts Field Estate in north Brixton, talked about a friend of his who had been killed on the streets. He said it was time for the community to take control because “after this meeting we will go back to those estates, but the professionals will not, so we are more determined to make change happen because we don’t want to bury any more of our friends”.
A follow-up summit, held within days, brought together councillors, senior council staff and MPs to plan how to meet the community’s demands. The new plans – radical, because they involve a transfer of power and resources from the council to the community – will be a significant early example of Lambeth’s cooperative council in action.
Under the plans, youth centres and council funding will be moved into a community trust. The trust will pool its resources with whatever’s already available in the community including voluntary-sector schemes. Each neighbourhood or estate will then be offered professional support to analyse their own specific needs and choose what support they want, including better parenting support, help for dysfunctional families, youth activities, employment initiatives, or peer mentoring schemes helping younger children avoid getting pulled into gangs. People in each neighbourhood affected by high levels of violent youth crime will choose the services they need, which organisation will provide them, and how they should be run, all within the budget that the community trust makes available to them.
This model of community empowerment will give people in the most affected communities the chance to take back control over what happens to their young people. Their insights, as parents, neighbours or as young people themselves, will shape the kind of support that will be available to their community. Instead of being told by professionals what will happen to them, the professionals will be put under the control of the community. It’s radical, it’s cooperative, and I believe it gives us a real chance of getting vulnerable young people out of gangs and giving them back their future.