Agenda item

Progress Report on the Gangs, Violence and Exploitation Unit

This report provides PAC Members with the opportunity to scrutinise the work and performance of the Council’s Gangs Violence and Exploitation Unit (GVEU) reviewing its work and progress since its establishment in September 2020.


The Gangs, Violence and Exploitation Unit – Gemma Lightfoot

The Chair welcomed Gemma Lightfoot and colleagues from voluntary sector, Michael Defoe and Charlie Rigby.  Gemma Lightfoot briefly described the remit of the Gangs Violence and Exploitation Unit (GVEU) established in 2020, responding to increased rates of violent crime and with a primary focus on serious youth crime working with young people between the ages of 10 to 25 years in the borough.  The team’s staffing structure included a dedicated data analyst, two anti-social behaviour (ASB) co-ordinators and four outreach workers.  Outreach support work aligned with a need for enforcement through injunctions and behaviour orders, and this work was underpinned by proactive and reactive criminal network analysis. 


The breadth and depth of the GVEU remit was set out in the report and emphasised the value and importance of early intervention in addition to enforcement, as indicated by key performance indicators across the community (not just young people).  The primary aim was to reduce violent crime committed by young people.  Key data highlights were set out in paragraph 26 and 28 of the report and in addition, included:

  • Outreach work with 1500 young people
  • 251 Norton classified domestic violence assault of injuries or murder offences committed by young people aged between 10-24 years, October 2021 to September 2022
  • Following three unrelated murders in 2019, there had not been a murder recorded in the borough since February 2021(paragraph 25)


Reported in paragraph 30 of the report, data on serious injuries caused by youth violence explicitly demonstrated that this was a difficult period of post-pandemic recovery.  The pandemic had greatly impacted crime figures and it was important to understand this in the broader context of the Unit’s operational work.  Paragraph 34 of the report detailed the development work undertaken to produce a vulnerability tracker, collaborating with youth justice colleagues, police and colleagues in children’s services.  There was a clear correlation between vulnerable young people, and gangs and exploitation linked violence.  The tracker allowed the GVEU to implement early interventions and preventative work with young people at the earliest opportunity. 


A key success was a bid to the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), MOPAC (Mayors Office for Policing and Crime). The funding would support targeted interventions in South Fulham as there were serious concerns about youth crime in the area.  Community empowerment to utilise the Council’s new Sands End Arts & Community Centre (SEACC) was welcomed by parents of young people in the area with coffee mornings that offered a safe space to meet and talk. The funding also supported a late night youth project on Friday evenings, based at Sands End Youth Club and delivered by The Harrow Club. 


The totality of the programme delivered in Sands End showcased the value of preventative work and investment to achieve the dual outcomes of protecting young people and developing a safe and supportive community environment through a range of projects, including one that had successfully channelled and nurtured the musical and creative interests of young people. Due to the success of the project, an additional £25k was awarded by the VRU.  It was acknowledged that listening to and engaging with young people was critical in successfully delivering interventions. Completed and future initiatives also included:


  • A half term residential break
  • Advice and guidance to vulnerable young people and their families, in advance of the Notting Hill Carnival (the first time the event had run since the pandemic)
  • A project with the Lyceum Gym
  • A youth club in White City
  • The Fearless project, with Crimestoppers (the project had led to another successful funding bid which was allocated to support the council’s Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) work)
  • Gloves not guns - to deliver two sport and dance activities in White City


The GVEU recognised the importance working in collaboration with young people, families and the wider community to address violent crime and the sector wide impact of this, particularly in light of future legislative changes in relation to serious violence.


The Harrow Club – Michael Defoe

Michael Defoe commended the work of the GVEU and outlined the work of The Harrow Club, a charity that worked with young people to address serious youth crime and violence and based in both H&F and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC). Early intervention work was instrumental in preventing serious violence which proactively succeeded in helping to reduce serious youth crime, as exemplified by the work at the Sands End Arts & Community Centre and the late night youth club based there. This was critical project in stemming the flow of serious youth crime and helped to divert young people from the potentially life changing repercussions of a violence dominated environment. Targeted mentoring was a fundamental part of this, recognising that interventions could not be delivered in isolation.  Much of this was possible through collaborative and partnership work with GVEU outreach officers and partners such as the Violence Intervention Project (VIP), sharing collective responsibility for engaging with young people that were at risk of being vulnerable to joining a gang or being exploited.


The Violence Intervention Project – Charles Rigby

Charles Rigby described the beginnings of VIP, triggered by the 2007 fatal stabbing of Kodjo Yenga, a young refugee from Congo, in Hammersmith Grove.  What followed was a prolonged period of outreach work which eventually identified a need for a more therapeutic intervention to working with young people.  The charity was built around the notion that “shame is the catalyst of violence”.  Young people expressed acts of violence as being rooted in disrespect or feeling violated but ultimately this was about being made to feel small and resorting to violence in order to release those emotions. VIP was eventually established in 2017, predicated on utilising therapeutic elements, with initial funding agreed by the then Director of Children’s Services, Steve Miley, and additional funding later provided by the Mayor of London.  A team was built to offer clinical supervision on a weekly basis in either practice development or direct supervision and had led to the coining of the term “shame informed practice”.  Charles Rigby emphasised the importance of working with other boroughs given the cross borough links with young people gravitating from neighbouring areas and reiterated the value of collaborative partnership working, avoiding siloed practices.


There was a key concern about adolescents reaching their twenties and to move them away from street based gang related behaviour. However, systemic trauma and damage often manifested itself through substance misuse, gambling addiction or suicidal ideation.  Moving forward, the charity was keen to secure future funding for over 18s and partner with other organisations to support young people and encourage them away from a gangs based lifestyle.


Councillor Andrew Dinsmore thanked the organisations for their commitment and hard work. He described his recent court experience in attending the trial of person who had attacked him.  At aged 21 years, this individual had a history of 26 convictions and lacked literacy skills.  It was noted that the work of VIP and The Harrow Club had a life-changing impact on diverting young people from a life of violence.  Councillor Dinsmore asked about the handling of intelligence data and how this informed police led operations and the work of the police generally.  Gemma Lighthouse explained that intelligence was communicated to the police whom they worked closely with, as evidenced by the Fearless campaign. Charles Rigby explained that information was shared sensitively but it was acknowledged that young people wanted to share intelligence to prevent violence or criminal activities, and this had led to operations to close county lines or the legislative closure of properties. 


Councillor Dinsmore referred to paragraph 60 of the report and the concerns highlighted about areas such as South Fulham and White City.  Expanding on this, Gemma Lighthouse explained that £68k of funds from the VRU for capacity building required an area specific focus.  The localities were identified where there had been evidence of a clear pattern of serious youth violence and intelligence that linked to the exploitation of young people.  The value of the council’s work and enhanced response had been evidenced in successful collaborative work with the police and other council departments.

Councillor Omid Miri sought further information about the VIP’s therapeutic work with children and young people who had been traumatised by their experiences, and referenced the definition of a “thug”, as a “traumatised human unable to grieve” as coined by James Gilligan, psychiatrist and author. Gemma Lightfoot acknowledged the impact of violence on a young persons mental health.  The GVEU aimed to appoint a mental health practitioner and offer this as an option for those who did not want to access more conventional mental health services.  Councillor Miri observed that there was a fine line between socialisation and criminal behaviour and queried whether repeated approaches by LET officers could trigger further trauma and alienation.  In response Gemma Lightfoot explained that detached outreach workers engaged with young people to build trust. A potential target could be exploited and taken advantage and groups like VIP offered an alternative and safer route for engagement. The Harrow Club outreach workers had all undertaken trauma informed training and had worked with many young people throughout the pandemic through detached outreach to encourage them and engage with them positively to build trust. 


Building trusted relationships was fundamental to successful collaborative work. Commenting on the value of community policing, Charles Rigby observed that a strong community relationship with the police was likely to encourage greater trust.  Young people who had experienced difficulties with the police would be less likely to have that trust and therefore turn to those seeking to exploit them.  Councillor Souslous highlighted the activities of People Arise Now, where a football game had been organised for young people in Sutton with the local police force as a positive example. Gemma Lightfoot commented that just before the meeting started she agreed with People Arise Now to host a similar event in Hammersmith & Fulham. Councillor Miri welcomed the approach, with LET engagement activities on the Bayonne estate, in Fulham Reach, a known ASB area, which he attended being good examples of positive community policing or mentorship.


Councillor Souslous asked each of the speakers what their proudest achievements were, what would they do if they were provided unlimited resources, and what did they feel that the council could improve on in the context of this work.  Charles Rigby felt that it had been a significant achievement to secure funding from MOPAC and that unlimited funding would secure the future of all third sector organisations working in this area.  Gemma Lightfoot responded that it was a significant achievement to work with a group of young men in South Fulham and although it was difficult to evidence the outcomes, the intervention of GVEU had positively altered the life courses of these young people and their families. Unlimited funding alongside long-term planning and continued commitment to the Unit’s aims would allow this work to carry on, delivering commissioned projects from with enhanced capacity from having a larger team. Councillor Souslous emphasised that the Council was proud of the work of the GVEU and was committed to supporting its work.


Due to technical difficulties, Councillor Emma Apthorp’s comments and question were read out to the committee.  Councillor Apthorp welcomed the funding to projects such as those tackling Violence Against Women and Girls and highlighted the importance of recognising the consequences of gender-based violence in the context of youth crime.  Councillor Apthorp asked about the impact of tracking serious youth crime and sought reassurance about respecting the privacy of young people.  Gemma Lightfoot responded that intelligence was entered into a “vulnerability tracker” which adhered to GDPR requirements and was distinct from a “gang violence matrix”, identifying those that might be vulnerable to gang violence and exploitation.  It offered clearer insights into what practitioners or outreach workers could do to support young people.


Councillor Dinsmore asked to what extent the glorification of violence in film, music and in the media impacted on young people’s perceptions about violence, touching on the concept of shame referenced by Charles Rigby.  There was a recognition that the narrative arc in films such as Die Hard and Lethal Weapon reflected the human predisposition towards violence, although this was “Hollywood violence” and more extreme.  The impact on individuals who had experienced trauma, abuse or neglect was amplified as aspects of it such as shame mirrored their life experiences and reality.  The perpetuation of violence came as much from first hand experiences as from the influence of the media, but the latter was not the only root cause. Michael Defoe touched on the influence of Drill and rap music, as a reflection of the poor homelife experience of some young people who then might use violence as means to achieving fulfilment or gaining control, as they saw no other alternative but to perpetuate what was portrayed in unfiltered arts and social mediums.  Gemma Lightfoot acknowledged that there was an element of glorifying violence and recounted the experiences of young people in H&F who had seen the success of Drill music artists from RBKC and whose music contained serious threats to each other.  The council had worked in partnership with the police to address this through successfully implementing criminal behaviour orders and recognised the work of Rebel Records, where creating music was not predicated on encouraging violence. 


Councillor Souslous thanked Councillor Dinsmore for his petition campaigning against the sale of machetes on Amazon and which had already received over 125k signatures. 




That the report was noted.

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