Thornton Heath rallies for youth support in Croydon

By - Monday 4th June, 2018

The community takes a stand against knife crime by promoting youth empowerment

A poster offers space to write ideas on how to improve the community.
Photo author’s own.

The church was sweltering in the May heat, but the atmosphere inside was warm and inviting. Dozens of community members stood around their booths, talking with the adults and kids who had given up their Saturday afternoon on a bank holiday weekend to discuss youth empowerment. The people at the Thornton Heath Youth Open Day were friendly and excited, sharing their passion for youth rugby, musical organisations for students, outdoor scouting clans, and even a branch of science focused on connecting emotional and physical awareness with motor skills.

I was fascinated and swept up in the enthusiasm. Even the kind woman serving food in the kitchen, who immediately noticed my American accent, seemed enlivened by the Thornton Heath residents who had turned up for the event.

One could almost forget the reason all these people were in this space. The plague of youth knife crime and violence had brought them together, a sensitive and sadly prevalent issue in south London. The tone of the event shifted to match the serious nature of this matter when the question and answer session began.

“Get the power into the hands of young people”

Councillor Jamie Audsley, one of the main organisers of the event, opened questions to several panellists about their ideas for a safer and more united Croydon. One of the speakers was MP Steve Reed, who said that at-risk youth should have the power to voice their opinions on change in the community.

“I see it as my job to get the power into the hands of young people”, he said, “so that they can make the change that will improve their lives”.

Another presenter was Magdalene Adenaike, the founder of the Music Relief Foundation and the More Than Able campaign against knife crime. She believes that young people have answers to problems in their communities, but they need a platform to speak on to make palpable change.

“It’s about getting them to understand that they are the power, they are the leaders of tomorrow”, Adenaike said, “because if we don’t empower these young people, how do we get them to lead tomorrow?”.

“You can be successful… just by being yourself”

When the crowd began sharing their testimonials, I started to understand the passion that the community has for ending youth violence and replacing it with empowered young adults. No one story was like another; each comment from the crowd came from the heart, the individual experiences that shape their views of Croydon.

Charlotte Davies spoke about her experiences as a teacher who was never taught how children developed, nor how to interact with a child who had experienced trauma. Might teachers be better enabled to support students at risk if they had this training? Davies is now a director of Fit-2-Learn, an organisation that focuses on developing sound and visual processing in both children and adults to help them better interact with their environments.

Jack Wensley is a member of the Scouts and pours his energy into outdoor recreation and teamwork activities that have helped him develop leadership skills. He wants to promote his organisation so that other Croydon adolescents can have the same opportunities. Youth ambassador Kai of More Than Able believes that channelling energy into music can help kids experience success.

“We understand how the youth today are influenced by music that is performed in a negative way… that promotes violence”, he said, “so what we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to make people understand that you can be successful and you can get money and stuff like that just by being yourself… and trying to promote a positive influence”.

“No more death”

After nearly an hour of discussion, it seemed to me that everyone had a goal of providing services to Croydon’s youth, but wasn’t always in agreement on how to best make change. Some suggested more interaction with students in schools, while others wanted to see politicians and the police force get more involved. However, one message was vividly clear:

“No more death.”

The person who uttered these words to the crowd was Myron, a local student who told me that too many of his friends have died because of gang violence. He wants safety for him and his friends and thinks that they could find that opportunity through the music organisations at the event.

One plan to provide future services to Croydon students is establishing a community youth trust, Reed explained after the session. This would unite the many large and small organisations of Croydon to make them a stronger unit and voice, especially when bidding for use of the £40m fund set up by the Mayor of London. Community member Greg Farrimond told me of another project for youth, the OnSide Croydon Youth Zone that will be known as ‘Legacy’, set to open in 2019. It will provide recreational and career services to kids and young adults and will offer event spaces for community use.

But for now, it is on Croydon to take the momentum from this event and fuel it into a stance of unity to empower its children.

Myra Rademacher

Myra Rademacher

Myra is interning at the Croydon Citizen as part of her university degree in Agricultural Communication. Originally from Oregon, she is spending two months in London studying journalism. She's a fan of travelling abroad and practicing Spanish, and while at home she helps on her family farm raising show pigs.

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  • Nick Myers

    Brilliant initiative.