With recent high-profile media coverage of teenage stabbings in London, knife crime has become a growing concern for people living in the capital. So it seems fitting that a group of mainly London-focused grant-makers are jointly funding the Fear and Fashion programme, an initiative to tackle the knife and weapons culture of young people. They are the City Bridge Trust, the City Parochial Foundation, the Wates Foundation, John Lyon's Charity and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.
The research underpinning the programme was commissioned in 2004 from Lemos&Crane by the City Bridge Trust. It identified two main motivations for carrying knives: fear of being attacked and the attraction, or fashion, of belonging to a group or gang.
The first is understandable, according to Clare Thomas, chief grants officer at the trust. "If you are a young man in a knife hotspot, there is a real and warranted fear that you could be the victim of violence," she says. "Very few young people go out and say 'we'll commit knife crime tonight'. But they do want to feel that they will be safe if they are attacked." The fashion motivation is fuelled by pressure to fit in and be part of a gang, she says.
"We need a range of approaches.Stiffer sentences may be one, but unless you tackle the fear of being on the streets and equip people with alternative ways of confronting aggression, you'll be dealing with only a fraction of the problem."
The programme will be reviewed in 2009/10, with the aim of continuing until about 2012. It currently encompasses several projects, including a website that provides advice and information for parents and young people as well as guidance for practitioners working with young people. Practical projects also exist in the 'hotspot' areas of Westminster, Brent, Southwark and Lambeth, which range from training in conflict management to intensive one-to-one work with young people who are already known to youth offending teams.
Thomas says what has really made the programme effective is the collaborative aspect. "The money is probably the least important thing," she says. "The most important is the combination of perspectives and experiences. Between us, we combine very good local knowledge, specialist work on crime and direct experience of youth work. It is time consuming, and you have to pick the right issue to collaborate on - one that would genuinely benefit from a collaborative approach. But if you are going for social change or a policy input, the more voices you can bring together, the wider the reach and impact you can have."
CASE STUDY: KICKSTART/RAINER CRIME CONCERN
The Kickstart programme, managed by Rainer Crime Concern, is now in its second year of funding under the Fear and Fashion umbrella.
Founded in 1997, the programme encompasses several projects in the Southwark and Lambeth areas of London, including a regular six-week series of workshops at schools.
The workshops are run by two project workers in their early 20s who used the programme as teenagers. Fiona Reddick, Kickstart programme manager, says this "makes them really credible to the kids".
She says: "We deal with the reality of knife crime. We let people know that they're more likely to be a victim if they're carrying a knife.
"The aim is also to challenge perceptions - to a certain extent, knife crime is a vicious circle maintained by media scaremongering."
Other elements of the programme include drama projects, a community knife crime forum, peer mentoring and counselling sessions for people who have been affected by knife crime.
Reddick says: "It's hard to quantify the programme's success, given that no one knows how many knives are carried in the first place. But we are very committed. I sense we're approaching the tipping point." - Gemma McKenna.