Fathers unite in stand against knife crime taking young lives in Sheffield

Don't be a Tool - that's the blunt message behind a bold new approach to soaring rates of knife crime which is being launched in Sheffield.

Tuesday, 5th June 2018, 5:30 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th June 2018, 6:12 pm
The Don't Be a Tool campaign founders say the self-defence classes will be a small part of the new workshops

The fresh tactic combines self-defence lessons and business mentoring for budding entrepreneurs with more traditional education about the consequences of carrying a blade, in an attempt to get to the roots of the problem.

It was dreamed up by two fathers who were so appalled by the number of young people being stabbed on Britain's streets they decided to take action themselves.

James Swallow-Gaunt restraining a man during a self-defence demonstration

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Andy Gibb runs the Staff Training Company, which provides safeguarding advice to schools and businesses, and James Swallow-Gaunt runs an organisation called 4 All, which is dedicated to getting more people of all abilities playing sports.

They have combined their expertise, built over several decades of working with young people, to develop a campaign with the attention-grabbing title Don't Be a Tool which they hope will stem the rising tide of violence.

At workshops, children as young as eight or nine will be shown the consequences of carrying knives - from the risk of your own weapon being turned upon you and the harm a conviction could do to your future career prospects to the devastating impact violence has on victims and the wider community.

James Swallow-Gaunt is a level two fencing coach

They will get advice on avoiding conflict, both on the streets and via social media, and learn basic self-defence techniques to break free and get themselves clear of danger as a last resort.

And they will find out about opportunities in their area, from sports clubs to drama groups, and be offered support to make their business ideas a reality - giving them a path away from the gang culture which has such a powerful grip on some youths.

James, who lives in Penistone, knows only too well the realities of knife crime. His 20-year-old daughter Alex, who is an ambassador for the campaign, received a police commendation for giving life-saving first aid after witnessing a stabbing outside a pub in Barker's Pool last September.

Don't Be a Tool campaign co-founder Andy Gibb

He said children who had been abused or whose parents had been in prison or battled alcohol or drugs misuse were particularly susceptible to gang culture and it was important to reach them as early as possible and show them a way out.

"Young people who've had these adverse childhood experiences often believe adults aren't to be trusted, and get involved with negative peer groups or gangs because they want to feel they belong," he said.

"It's easy to get influenced once you're in those circles, and before you know it you're carrying a knife. We're trying to reach them at a young age and help them move away from that crime culture."

James' daughter Alex Swallow-Gaunt with the police commendation certificate she received for helping to save the life of a stabbing victim

He is keen to emphasise that self-defence is only a small element of the overall course, and young people will not be learning 'Bruce Lee-style' moves to disarm a knife attacker.

"We will teach them to be more aware of their surroundings so they can recognise when there's a danger and get away, because the best form of defence is not being there," he said.

"But if the worst comes to the worst, we want to give them some basic techniques which could help them break away."

The new campaign is an extension of the Street Safe programme James had already developed and taken to schools and youth organisations like the Girl Guides and Scouts around Sheffield, Barnsley and Doncaster.

He and Andy have linked up with the British Martial Arts & Boxing Association so they can use its centres and reach out to its 70,000 odd members.

They are also in discussions with Sheffield & Hallamshire County FA and want to get as many schools and youth groups on board.

The first workshop is due to take place in Burngreave, though the date and venue are yet to be confirmed, and the pair are keen to hear from groups around the area willing to host the project.

Andy, who has four sons aged between 12 and 20, said: "People have been going to schools and telling children not to carry knives for years but that's not working, so we're doing something different.

"We're trying to engage with children in a way that's never been done before.

"We're really keen to find young entrepreneurs and help them develop their ideas. It's about giving people the opportunities to break away from that culture of carrying knives.

"For us, the big question is why are children carrying knives? There are often underlying reasons they go down that route, which could be anything from neglect and emotional abuse to physical and sexual abuse."

As well as working with the young people themselves, Andy wants to equip more adults at youth organisations with the safeguarding skills needed to spot the warning signs of child abuse and ensure victims receive the support they need.

He and James are also campaigning to change the laws around advertising hunting knives and other large bladed items which could be used as weapons.

Shops are banned from selling knives to under-18s but there are no restrictions on advertising knives, however large, which they believe is wrong.

"There's been a lot of knife crime in Sheffield recently and yet you can still walk past a shop with great big hunting knives in the window, which can't be right," said Andy.

"Cigarettes have to be kept behind a shutter because of the dangers, yet you can openly display knives in a window."

Don't Be a Tool is being launched in Sheffield, but its founders are keen to roll it out much more widely, with groups as far afield as Wales having already expressed an interest.

James said: "Unfortunately at the moment the statistics show knife crime's starting to go through the roof in Sheffield, and we want to get in early doors to stop that trend."

* For more information about Don't Be a Tool campaign and how to get involved, follow @SSafe4All on Twitter, tweet using the hashtag ##DontBeATool or visit mixedabilitymartialarts.bmaba.com.