‘We must work together to tackle youth violence’

Everyone must work together, better training and long-term support are needed to address the key social issues leading young people into crime in Sheffield.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 11 May, 2019, 12:09
Temi Mwale of 4FRONT speaks at the debate

That was the message from a public conference held to discuss the intersections between serious youth violence, masculinity and mental health, for the communities most affected.

Organised by University of Sheffield, the outgoing Lord Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid and two of his chosen charities – the Unity Gym Project and Sheffield Flourish – the event gave those involved the opportunity to engage in a ‘critical’ conversation and connect with others to find a way forward, hopefully putting an end to pertinent social issues currently affecting the city.

Fahim Hersi was stabbed to death at the Centertainment complex in Attercliffe, Sheffield, last September

Speaking at the event, Dr Will Mason, lecturer in applied social sciences at the University of Sheffield and Unity Gym Project volunteer, said: “We know that every city is trying to come up with strategic priorities to address issues relating to knife crime and youth violence but we also know that is a hugely complicated phenomenon.

“We don’t feel convinced that the strategies that are being developed at the moment are necessarily adequate, we think there is more work to be done.

“This is a rare opportunity to get people in a room from all different perspectives with different kinds of experience, to think practically about making connections and building alliances to try and develop a truly, multi-agency, evidence based approach to address the issues around youth violence.”

The 4Front project

A total of 977 offences involving knives or ‘sharp instrument’ were recorded by South Yorkshire Police violence in Sheffield in the 12 months up to June.

These types of incidents have had a devastating impact on the city, with many of those in attendance at the ISRAAC Centre, in Cemetery Road, Sharrow, having experienced knife crime first hand – whether as a victim themselves or through their family and friends.

Last week, the Government announced that South Yorkshire Police is to receive £2.58 million from a £100 million Serious Violence Fund for 18 forces across the country.

Saeed Brasab from the Unity Gym Project

An extra £500,000 was also awarded to the force ahead of a ministerial meeting on the government’s response to tackling serious youth violence.

Home Secretary, Sajid Javid said the cash had gone to tackle violent crime in the ‘worst affected areas’, with the money being used by South Yorkshire Police to fund a ‘dedicated violent crime taskforce targeting those who carry knives and weapons’.

Crowds at the event were invited to watch a news bulletin regarding the fatal stabbing of 22-year-old Fahim Hersi – seeing how his death had rocked the Broomhall community.

Fahim, who volunteered with the Unity Gym Project, was knifed in the chest during a fight outside Cineworld, in Valley Centertainment, on Friday, September 21, 2018.

Members of the Unity Gym Project at the debate

Saeed Brasab, managing director of the Unity Gym Project, said: “I was proud to have him as a colleague. As a father, if my two sons grow up to have half of the attributes Fahim had I’d be proud.”

Guests also took part in group conversations to share their experiences – with key themes such as lack of support in education, deprivation and race, but also underlying causes such as poverty and social deprivation, emerging as issues affecting young people.

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Saeed added: “The situation for young people at the moment is of concern. With the cuts to youth services, there is very little on offer for them and there are a lot of challenges for young people.

“We need to invest and look at what works for us in the city. There are some fantastic organisations that are delivering good projects – but we need to ensure those projects last and have a legacy.

“We’re looking at the early intervention and work within young people in and around ensuring that they’re not criminally exploited. There is work being done but we need to ensure that work is sustained.”

A forensics test at Sheffield's Valley Centertainment complex, where Fahim Hersi was stabbed to death

A speech from award-winning social entrepreneur Temi Mwale, also echoed many of the themes relayed during the day.

She spoke of her own experience of youth violence, growing up in London and being exposed to the death of a friend at a young age after he was fatally shot after an argument at a party.

This inspired her to set up the 4Front Project, who now work with communities to empower them to move away from violence.

Poet Sipho Dube also gave a thought-provoking performance called ‘Gun Clap’, which referenced research on gun control by Dr Todd Hartman from Sheffield Methods Institute, The University of Sheffield.

His findings highlighted the value of social science research in addressing challenges in society relating to gun control and violence.

Josie Soutar, managing director of Sheffield Flourish, also spoke of the importance of good mental health – and encouraging people to take part in activities to boost their well-being.

For those struggling, Sheffield Flourish offer the mental health guide via their website to help people easily find accurate information about mental health in Sheffield, with support, information and a host of activities to get out and about.

Dr Will Mason added: “A complex social problem requires a complex response.

“It needs a longer term, more sustainable investment in those projects that are doing great work but also training for those workers.

“For example there are a number of organisations in Sheffield who have strong relationships with young people, but aren’t necessarily trained in how to deal with trauma.

“Those workers are addressing those issues on a daily basis so there needs to be more training.

“We also need better relationships between police, but also education, housing, youth services – they are all part of this picture.

“Something that recognises the multifaceted nature and the complexity of the problem and brings people together that are working in these organisations is needed and hopefully this is an opportunity to get those conversations started.”