Sheffield youth workers emphasise more needs to be done to address the structural barriers faced by the city’s young people

Representatives from organisations across the city have spoken out about the structural barriers faced by young people at Sheffield Race Equality Commission’s first crime and justice hearing.
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The commission is assessing the nature, extent, causes and impacts of racial disparities within the city and seeks to make recommendations for tackling these issues.

This week, it has been hearing from individuals and organisations who have submitted evidence in relation to the Crime and Justice category.

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Saeed Braseeb, director of Unity Gym Project, said: “One of the main things is the level of over policing.”

He told how in Broomhall recently, 14 or 15 police cars had been dispatched to the area to conduct a search on two young people.

Saeed explained that race played a big part, and the “constant police presence” had led to generations of mistrust.

He said: “More needs to be done. There should be mutual and long term collaboration to address the needs of the community.”

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Saeed reiterated that police presence is needed but “we don’t need that style”.

He said: “There have got to be spaces. Conversations need to be had.”

Saeed believes youth violence has “got worse” over the years, though he acknowledged that there has been a “slow shift to improve engagement”.

He told how the situation “would be worse than what it is” if the Unity Gym Project had not been created when it was.

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Saeed suggested that there is lack of recognition of the work that organisations like his do, and there is also a lack of resources, which is of particular concern given the increased vulnerability of young people today and the associated ripple effects.

Saeed said: “Solutions don't include healing.”

He explained that investment in resources would enable measures to be put in place for trauma support, for example.

Will Mason, Unity Gym Project volunteer and lecturer at the University of Sheffield, said: “Young people have reported feeling under surveillance, for example, having photos taken of them by the police.”

He told how it was commonplace such incidents are reported, and people are made to believe “it's because of the way they look or where they're from”, creating a cycle.

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Will explained: “The police seem constantly suspicious of young people and in turn they are suspicious of the police.”

He said there were instances where an acute response to an incident was required but the police were slow in responding, which is contrasted with other incidents when there is an overwhelming police presence.

Will suggested this was “not always helpful” and there are “deep rooted scars” amongst communities.

He believes intersectionality is important in tackling youth violence and a focus needs to be made in reframing safety on a continuous basis so its effects are sustainable.

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Will added: “BME people are more likely to live in deprived areas. Poverty is always linked and they have least access to services.”

He said: “Listening to communities and creating spaces needs to be part of the solution.”

Anthony Olaseinde, founder of Always an Alternative, agreed that violence amongst young people had gotten worse.

He believes the mindset of young people is the real issue and suggested that investing in the underlying issues would be most effective in tackling problems.

Anthony added: “People and communities are not trusting of the police.”