Knife Angel, Manchester Bee, White Ribbon UK, S.O.P.H.I.E, (anti-violence)

On the 14th May 2022 I joined the charity, Off the Street, on their march in Wellingborough towards the Old Grammarians sports ground, where it had been arranged the Knife angel would stop for one day on its journey from Northampton to Corby.

Off the street’s primary aim is to support youth in the community through sports and education, and is driven by the desire to provide a safe environment for young people.

The sports ground is home to a number of local sports clubs, who along with other community groups, had come together at the site where there was a day of live music and entertainment arranged for awareness of knife and violent crime.

When I arrived at the starting point, I was asked if I could be a marshal and walk in the road to help ensure those taking part stayed safe from oncoming traffic. As we walked along the route, I chatted with lots of people. Particularly moving were the stories of two families who have both lost family members to knife crime in our small town in recent years, the most recent just last summer.

Upon arrival we listened to poetry written by local children and then to an amazing man who had himself been stabbed at 17. Another brave mum spoke of her family’s loss of her son at the age of 20 shortly before he was due to get married and move to America to take up a new job as a football coach. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For those patterns to be broken, we must find a way to allow youngsters to find a place where they feel like they belong. Most join gangs because they feel alone and vulnerable and a lack of of role models surely plays a part too.

The day saw Wellingborough Open Archery Club (WOAC) and other local groups open their doors to the community to show what they have to offer.

Ours is a diverse and inclusive sport and whilst we shoot as individuals, a club can offer a feeling of belonging and being part of something bigger.

So on a very emotional day – I am in awe of those who turn their experiences of loss and grief into an opportunity to try and stop others following the same path – I was also proud to be part of an opportunity to show that archery can have a place in the community. Well done to everyone at WOAC for providing a warm and friendly environment, showcasing all that sport has to offer.

It is my belief that all of us who are trying to work with children and young people have a responsibility to try and make the world a safer place, signing up to the anti violence pledge is a great way to think about what part you could play in creating alternatives in safe environments.

Please visit the knife angel page on the British Ironworks website to see when there may be events local to you but for those who cannot visit, I have also spoken with the Chairman and National Youth Anti Violence Educational Programme and Tour Lead who has agreed to make the Anti-Violence Champion scheme available to sign up to online for those not able to attend a nearby event. Please do take the time to visit their site and sign the pledge to become A National Youth Anti-Violence Champion

On the 18th December 2022 whilst visiting family, I was able to pop along and see the Manchester Bee at Cromford Mills, which was being hosted by Derbyshire Constabulary, the first force outside of Manchester to host the monument.

The weapons used to create the bee are part of what has been collected in the Forever Amnesty campaign in Manchester.

The monument is less visually imposing than the knife angel but no less thought provoking or emotive. I think the inclusion of guns has a massive impact visually and for me, gave me new things to think about in addition to those previous thoughts and conversations I had had, earlier in the year. 

Whereas Northamptonshire and the knife angel had given me the opportunity to sign the anti violence pledge in person and receive my badge and key ring to prompt conversations, in Derbyshire I was given the opportunity to pick a handcrafted bee from the hive to take home and use again as a prompt for conversation.

These amazing pieces of art made at the British Ironworks are travelling the country to prompt conversations, raise awareness and promote education into how we can create social change.

I am not asking you to jump in if you see something happening. I am asking you to consider what, if any, small part can you play in offering an alternative for a young person who may not yet have joined that gang that would take them down the path where violence becomes the only answer. 

Yes, I have worked in this area for almost 30 years but that’s dealing with what has happened! 

I see my role in anti violence and prevention much more in the many hours I give in grassroots sports, where we can show there is an alternative place to belong. A different group to join. One that will not take you down a path where violence is the choice you face.

I was asked recently by a coach “ why is this my issue, why should I be involved?”. 

Aren’t we all trying to work towards young people choosing sport? 

Don’t you see how that fits the aims of the of anti violence and social change campaign? It’s a huge part! 

So many of us are working to improve access at grassroots levels and to get our sport into schools, this is such a logical part of what we are doing and that is your pledge, right there.

So signing the pledge is just becoming part of that wider group who together, each with our own small step, can create a movement that might make our streets safer for the people caught up in these issues. Remember some of those who fall victim are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s not all those “wrong uns” as was recently described to me!!

If you are in the Northamptonshire area please do take a look at the Off The Streets Facebook page, they are working to reduce knife crime whilst helping find sites for amnesty bins, raise funds to provide critical bleed kits in the community and working with Meditech Global to provide free critical bleed first aid training. If you are not in the area, take a look in your community there are other groups working to achieve similar goals.

Autumn 2023 saw me become a White Ribbon UK champion. Signing the White Ribbon promise is a pledge that we will stand up to violence against women and commit to being a role model to change attitudes. As many of us are working with young people this is something that we are surely already doing and so signing the pledge is just that step extra. I have also worked and volunteered with women brave enough to make change and leave abusive relationships, helping in any small part to prevent violence or help individuals find their strength afterwards is incredibly important if all of those small things we do are put together imagine the greater change we make.

The other charity that I follow and support the work of in The Sophie Lancaster Foundation working to educate young people tolerance and acceptance of others. The death of Sophie hit me on a personal level as the story of the attack of Sophie and her boyfriend was covered by the media. Music influences many people’s lives and can become part of our lifestyle, as a heavy rock and metal fan I was in the minority at school and peer pressure changed how I dressed and made me hide the music I loved. That anyone should be attacked and loose their life over the music and clothes they wear was an horrific thought particularly as I had a small boy and as a new parent I sat and considered, the senseless loss faced by Sophie’s parents but also the world in which my child would grow up in. Hate crime of any kind is simply unacceptable.