Annex C: UNCUT meeting notes|
We met with staff from the organisation UNCUT, their
partners and around 20 children and young people of primary and
secondary school age, including former gang members to discuss
their experiences of street violence and solutions.
As part of the meeting we watched a DVD made by UNCUT
depicting a fatal stabbing scenario that has been shown in London
schools over the last six months.
The work of UNCUT
Sean Simms, UNCUT Project Manager, gave a presentation
on the work of the organisation. UNCUT was launched in March 2007
to investigate the motivations behind weapon carrying with the
aim of changing the attitudes of 10-18 year olds and delivering
a range of preventative initiatives which could then be integrated
into mainstream services.
An initial consultation was carried out with over
200 young people in North Westminster with the following results:
- The majority of young people
knew someone who carried a knife.
- Many older boys were aware of gang activity.
- Many young people did not feel safe.
- Older girls felt that boys lacked the motivation
to do positive activities.
- Older boys were very pessimistic about effecting
change in weapon carrying.
- Most felt that the police should do more about
- However, the majority would not report incidents
to the police or their parents.
- The main motivations for carrying were protection
(self-defence), committing robberies and peer pressure.
- Most felt the situation with regard to weapon
carrying was getting worse.
UNCUT then held a series of workshops with young
people, in which the following suggestions were made as means
of discouraging knife carrying:
- Talks with relatives of fatal
- Showing videos of stabbings;
- Role plays;
- Visits to criminal trials and A&E departments
to witness the consequences;
- Self-defence classes; and
- Group discussions.
UNCUT now carries out the following work:
- School assemblies focused on
- Workshops on conflict management, young people
and the law, the aftermath of knife crime, and the UNCUT Parents'
- One-to-one mentoring.
UNCUT has worked with approximately 1050 young people
The group sessions are an opportunity to engage with
young people, to increase awareness and to build their skills
in dealing with situations. Following these, a Further Intervention
Assessment is carried out, involving parents, and if deemed necessary
one-to-one sessions are held to build confidence and change attitudes
and behaviour. Referrals are also made to Youth Inclusion and
Support Panels, school counsellors and so forth.
Discussion point: Is "the street"
becoming more violent?
There was a lot of disagreement about this amongst
the young people. The general view was that confrontation between
gangs has become more subtle and more personal. Previously there
would be confrontations involving lots of people fist-fighting,
whereas now there are more knives involved.
Discussion point: The effect of criminal penalties
The young people again took a mixed view. Some argued
in favour of awarding tougher sentences to knife carriers to act
as a deterrent. Others argued that sentencing is irrelevant, that
young people are more worried about the immediate situation they
find themselves in rather than fearing longer-term consequences:
they feel they have to be aggressive because of the way things
are on the street.
The Youth Offending Team is now dealing with more
young people serving longer sentences for weapon possession. Sean
is training their staff to deliver a different approach which
focuses on conflict resolution.
Discussion point: The influence of "elders"
The community "elders" (defined by the
young people as typically 19 and 20 year olds) act like parents
"out on the road". They have a huge influence on younger
teenagers, who will follow their example, good or bad. If they
see them dealing drugs and getting flash cars, they want to emulate
that lifestyle. But if they can be a good influence, they can
help them avoid temptation. One former-gang member and stab victim
described how he tries to help younger kids resist joining gangs,
or leave them if they have already joined, by learning from his
Another boy described how mentoring had helped him
to leave a gang when he was worried about retaliation from the
older gang members.
Discussion point: The role of parents
The young people explained that no matter what their
parents said to them at home, when they're "out on the road"
it's different. Their parents don't know what they are up to.
The adults present emphasised the importance of educating
parents about the signs of gang membership or criminality, because
their children don't tell them what's going on.
Some of the young people argued that a lack of parental
discipline is not the issue, as parents from African communities
are actually very strict with their children. They love and respect
their families. But there are different rules at home and on the
Discussion point: Shock tactics as a deterrent
A paramedic described the talks she gives in school
assemblies about her experiences of attending stabbings. She plays
the CD of a real 999 call, which gets a very emotional reaction,
and also educates children about actions to take if they witness
There was a discussion around whether fear of death
was a deterrent. The young people explained that the prevailing
attitude is often "get money quick because you're going to
die young". If you ask some young people where they think
they will be in ten years, they will reply "dead or in prison".
UNCUT workers argued in favour of more one-to-one work with kids
as they will respond differently from when they are in a group
and are more likely to admit to aspiration.
The paramedic wondered if it might be a more effective
deterrent to emphasise that a stab victim could spend the rest
of his or her life paralysed or disabled, to show that there is
nothing glamorous about knives.
Discussion point: The transition from primary
to secondary school
The adults present argued that targeting awareness-raising
at 10 and 11 year olds is important. Primary school aged children
are already aware of gang activities.
Primary school children are frightened of being bullied
when they go to secondary school. One of the benefits of UNCUT
is they bring in older children to talk to primary school children
and they give them advice about how to handle the transition and
emphasise that knives are not the answer.
Discussion point: Negative portrayals of young
The young people asked why it is that adults always
assume they are going to cause trouble.
They argued for more positive stories in the media
about the achievements of young people.
Discussion point: The role of teachers
Young people are advised to tell their teacher if
they are being bullied, but they find it difficult to talk to
teachers; they only talk to people who they feel comfortable with.
One of the teachers said that it was more effective
for UNCUT to intervene with a child than for a teacher.
Young people said that they were more likely to open
up to teachers if they took time to see them in their own environment,
such as youth centres. Teachers are often surprised to discover
that their pupils are in gangs. In return the teachers explained
that they need more help with behavioural support to be able to
give adequate attention to all pupils.
One young person argued that if you are caught with
a knife at school, you are expelled, but no-one helps you to change
Discussion point: The need for positive alternatives
The young people explained that there are so many
of their peers who want to be in projects like UNCUT but there
is not enough space for them.
They also argued for more job opportunities to show
that there are alternatives to making money besides dealing drugs;
and for more funding for youth clubs.
From their own personal experiences of turning their
lives around, they emphasised the need to show young people what
they can do with their lives.