As we arrived at The House of Commons we were ALL blown away by the setting; the heavy sleet storm of yesterday now replaced by a very chilly evening and a clear night sky. The Houses of Parliament and the Millennium Wheel, basking majestically under the full moon as we queued outside to pass through the strict security check point.
Our meeting took place in the Thatcher Room in the Portcullis House section of Parliament. The MPs are members of the Home Affairs Select Committee which have been tasked to look at the issues of knife crime. They sat around a large horseshoe shaped table and we sat in rows facing them. Karen Buck and the Chairman Keith Vaz invited us to join them on the horseshoe table if we wished, the invitation was taken up by some of the young people and this certainly went a long way to break down any barriers that may have existed.
Young People from three schools where The Uncut Project carries out work were represented; about 30 of them came along in all, the youngest only about 10 years old. All the young people present had attended an Uncut assembly, taken part in a workshop or received mentoring.
Sean Simms, the project lead, introduced us to the committee. He then showed the DVD that we present at the assemblies which is acted out by young people and depicts a story of a fatal stabbing. We talked briefly about our contributions to Uncut’s work and then handed the floor over to the young people. Anyone who wished to contribute was given the opportunity to do so – and what a lot they had to say! They talked about their life experiences and how it is for them on the street in today’s climate. Sadly all of these young people have friends who had died before their time because of knife crime. Some of them recounted horrifying stories of gang membership and carrying weapons. What saddened me listening to many of them was the despondency and sense of a self fulfilling prophecy they felt at such a young age; “Everyone thinks we are bad and doing bad stuff so we might as well do it” and “You know you’re not going to live long anyway so you might as well live fast”. They felt that there was no acknowledgement of any positive things that young people do, the media only commenting on the bad and demonising all young people; this in turn meaning that they are viewed negatively when they are out and about.
As they spoke without exception they gave high praise to Sean describing the impact that his work has had on them. They explained to the committee how their lives had sometimes, quite literally been turned around by his influence. What Sean does is quite simple really. He listens to them and he gives them respect; he gives them back their self-belief and their hope for a future.
One 14 year old lad talked very honestly about how he had been living a life of crime, and take my word for it, he was, it was scary stuff! However, after engaging with Sean his life had taken a completely different path. He said, quite poignantly – “I didn’t even know I was bright, and now I’m studying for exams.” Further to that and perhaps most importantly he now wants to give something back himself – “I want to help other young people who are going through it; because I know how it is and I understand, they’ll trust me.” What a turn around!
Everyone gave a fantastic representation of themselves and their schools; I was so proud to be sitting among them. It wasn’t just an opportunity to air gripes though; they offered realistic solutions too, with many sensible ideas about how best to tackle the knife carrying culture coming from the young people themselves.
After the meeting Karen Buck told me how impressed she was by all of the young people; particularly that such a large number of them came along to the meeting and spoke so eloquently and passionately about their experiences and the issues affecting them. The Select Committee have informed us that the views of the young people will be taken into consideration when devising their policy paper on knife crime, which will be published in April.
……and if you are wondering what I wore in the end, as you may see in the picture that I decided to play it safe and go for a sober black skirt and blouse ensemble!