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BUT THEY WERE SUCKED INTO GANGCUITUREBECAUSETHEY COULDN'T SEE AN ALTERNATIVE'
For more than a decade since the death of Princess Diana) an award scheme
~'iI" set up in her name has celebrated the power of young people to change the world Cathenne OBrien talks to four of this yeers winners who have had to confront some of the most terrifying threats in today's society - gang violence and knife crime Their inspirational stories illustrate everyones potential to become a force for good - even when faced with the most desperate odds Photographs CHARLOTIE MURPHY and MARTIN HUNTER
THE KNIFE-CRIME CAMPAIGNERS
Plevna Road is much like any other side street in North London. A stone's throwfrom the shopping parade in Edmonton Green, it leads to a labyrinth of residential streets, a health clinic and the local library. Getride Sukama Lumengo cannot
walk along its pavements,
however, without thinking ofthe
dying moments of her friend
Henrywas 17when, along with nine other teenagers, he became involved in a fight on a bus
after a night out. He jumped off and was running down Plevna Road when his assailants caught up with him and
stabbed him repeatedly. He was pronounced dead shortly after being taken to hospital.
Henry was not the sort of victim who easily evoked sympathy. Known as Black H, he ran a gang called the Cage Boys and his death was undoubtedly down to gangland rivalry. To Getride, however, he was 'funny Henry', the close friend of her older brother Joe, who came to their house almost every
day, where they watched football together and fooled around.
'He was a good guywhohad gone down the wrong path in life, because that is what happens to boys around here,' Getride says.
Three weeks after Henry was killed, Getridewas walking home from school when her elder sister Danielle called to say that another boy she knew, 18-year-old art and design student Louis Boduka, had been stabbed and killed just a few hundred yards away from the scene of Henry's death. 'You hear about street stabbings, but
you never think it is going to happen so close to home,' Getride says. Then, after Henry and Louis died, everyone was asking: "What are the police doing about it?" But I started to think, "What are we doing? It's down to all of us to take responsibility for what is happening.'"
With her best friend Mildred Edoukou, Getride decided to launch Breakin' the Cycle - a ground-breaking campaign to halt knife crime. Through school assemblies, they addressed their fellow pupils aboutthefutility and dangers of gang culture. We talked to everyone about Henry and Louis as real people, ratherthan remote victims,' says Getride. We explained whattheir families had said aboutthem attheirfunerals. They weren't born bad, but they were sucked into gang culture because, around here, they couldn't see any alternative.'
Getride and Mildred's thought-provoking work, which also included distributing signature T-shirts and key rings, has now been recognised by a Diana Award. These girls demonstrated not only how to pursue a better path, but also how to become positive leaders of tomorrow,' said the judges in their award citation.
The firstthing you notice when meeting Getride and Mildred is the strength ofthe bond between them. Both are 18 and come from families that have been hit by hardship. Getride,
the youngest of six children, lost her 48-year-old father to a brain haemorrhage seven years ago. Her mother doesn't work and they live on benefits. Mildred is one of eight children. Her parents are separated - her taxi driver father lives in South London, her mother works in Tesco.
Getride and Mild red first met, aged 11, as pupils at Broomfield School in North London. 'Even in Year 7 [the first year of secondary school] you can pick out the boys who are going to be in trouble for fighting and bringing in weapons,' says Mildred. 'Butin Year 10the real trouble starts - when they make up gang names and start hate campaigns on Facebook.'
'It is not so much of a problem for girls,' explains Getride. We can work hard at school if we want to. But boys can't be seen to excel otherwise they become targets. Because of what schools are like around here, boys have to belong to a gang, and that is how it starts.'
Memberships of gangs are decided by postcodes - a phenomenon that has led to postcode 'turf' wars, with fights breaking out between, for example, N9 'Lower Edmonton' gangs and those in N18 'Upper Edmonton'.
'It sounds stupid when you talk about it, but to the boys in gangs, it is deadly serious,' says Mildred. 'It is all about respect and street cred and what sort of hoodie you wear.'
Both girls have older brothers who have found it hard to escape the system. 'My brother dropped out of school twice,' says Mildred. 'He's working now and because he is money-driven, I'm hoping he'll stay out of trouble, but he could still be that innocent person on the street who gets hurt.'
Getride is wary of talking openly about her brothers. 'They don't want to be in the spotlight. Itis not safe for them,' she says. 'But someone has to make a stand if we are going to change things for the better.'
The strength of the Breakin' the Cycle campaign, which was named after a song lyric by the rap artist Bashy, has been that it operates on a peer-to-peer level. Teacher Pat Hannah, who nominated Getride and Mildred for the Diana Award, says, 'It was a brave stand
to take, and there could have been a backlash. But instead, they got people talking and believing that things didn't have to be this way. No one is goi ng to eradicate street crime overnight, but they have opened the dialogue.'
Getride and Mildred secured 11 GCSEs each and are now studying for A-levels. Getride wants to do a degree in maths; Mildred is interested in architecture. Each will be the first in their families to go to university. Winning the award has made us realise that people do care and what you say does count,' says Getride. Mildred adds: We have seen the tough side of life, but also a better side. Doing the campaign gave us hope that there is a
futu re beyond this. The key thing is to support each other, get on your feet and go for it.' >-
'You hear about street stabbings but you never think it is going to happen so close to home'
THE SPORTS COACH
Jonathan Pitcher raises his T-shirt to reveal two small puncture marks on the lefthand side of his torso. They are the only visible evidence that remains of the random knife attack that could have so easily cost him his life little more than a year ago. 'I thought I was streetwise - that I knew how to stay out oftroublebut the onetime I let my guard down, I came under attack,' he says.
In June 2009, Jonathan, then 17, was out with three friends - two girls and another boy - when, unwittingly, he found himself in the midst of a fight two miles from the quiet, residential street where he lives in Enfield, North London. 'It was early evening,' he recalls. 'One of my friends, Abi, had just passed her driving test and was taking us out. Because she was inexperienced, she was driving slowly. Another car came along, went to overtake and missed Abi's car by millimetres. As it went by, someone inside lobbed a missile through the open window of Abi's car and it hit me in the face. '
A couple of moments later, Jonathan and his friends made their way around the street comer and saw the gang from the car waiting forthem. 'I should have known better, but I was so annoyed, I got out ofthe car, and before I knew it, I was under siege. I didn't feel the stab wounds at first. A friend dragged me back and when I looked down, blood was dripping from my side. The gang drove off, and my friends got me to hospital where I was found to have a punctured lung. My worst moment was seeing the devastation in my parents' faces when they arrived. My dad said, 'Why did you put yourself in that situation?" And I just didn't have an answerfor him.'
The son of a retired BT engineer father and mother who works as an exams officer, Jonathan was discharged from hospital after three days, but spent a month bed-bound at home. He then fou nd that although he was recovering physically, mentally he remained traumatised. 'I felt vulnerable and paranoid. I remember not wanting to go out even for my 18th birthday in September.' He had always been active- playing hockey, football, tennis and swimming regularly - but his fitness plummeted. Then a friend coaxed him into doing a charity fun run. 'I had no stamina, and I knew I
would have to walk most of the cou rse, but I realised I could either become a victim and a reel use, or get myself back out there.'
Shortly after completing the fun run - and coming a proud last - Jonathan returned to his local hockey club where he had been one ofthe top players. Although he was not yet well enough to play, he offered his services as a coach, working with the juniorteam - teenagers three or fou r years youngerthan him. 'Sport had always helped me steer clear of trouble, and I wanted to help other kids realise that they could have much more fun on the pitch than hanging out on the street. Teaching them new skills built up their confidence, but it also made me feel better about myself.'
What Jonathan didn't know was that he was being watched closely by staff at Kingsmead School, where he was an upper-sixth pupil. Director of sixth form lonie Young explains: 'We were all floored by what he had been throug h and worried that he might give up on his studies. He had never been among the highly confident pupils, but the amazing thing was that after the attack, he seemed empowered. He bounced back academically
and his attitude was an inspiration to everyone in his year group.' Mrs Young nominated Jonathan for a ~ ~ after secretly watching his coaching sessions at Winch more Hill Hockey
Club. 'He gave up his evenings and weekends
and was always willing to put himself outfor others without expectation or reward. He's proofthat
there is nothing you can't do if you put your mind
to it, and that helping others is often the best way
of helping yourself.'
Jonathan, who is now 19, is back to fitness and playing hockey as well as coaching. He's secured three A-levels - an A and two Bs - and is taking a gap year before going to university where he hopes to read sociology. 'I was only five when Princess Diana died and I didn't understand what she stood for,' he says. 'But now I can see that she believed young people could make a difference. And winning the award has made me realise that, in a small way, that is what I've been able to do, too.'
'I felt vulnerable and paranoid. remember no wanting to go out'
Jonathan Pitcher found that teaching hockey to youngsters helped restore his confidence following his attack
THE YOUTH WORKER
Spring bum in North Glasgow recently won 1he unenviable title of being 1he mostfeared neighbourhood in Scolland, wi1h 42 per cent of its residents declaring 1hemselves afraid of being attacked by strangers. Street corners are often populated by teenagers drinking fortified Buckfast wine and picking fights, and until little more 1han a year ago, Kyle Gallagher, 16, was among them. 'It wasn't doing me a lot of good, but it was a way of having a laugh,' he shrugs.
Today, however, he is a
fledging hip-hop dance
teacher at Depot Arts, a
creative centre for local
young people. The person
he has to 1hank for turning
his life around is DepotArts'
coordinator and Qiaca
~winnerErin Friel. 'Erin
is amazing. She's given me
a future,' Kyle says.
Jennifer Nixon tells a similar story. A 16-year-old single mother, she gave
birth to her son Josh in June 2009. 'I had to leave school and go and live with my gran. I lost all my friends - they didn't want to know me once I had a baby. Then Erin saw me in the street, told me there was a place where I could go and do some workshops and build up my confidence. I loved being in the choir at school and now I am singing and writing songs again. Erin has been my rock. She's quite simply a legend around here.'
When I tell Erin about these tributes, she blushes and says quietly, 'I just try and be myself.' Colleagues describe her as compassionate, inspirational and modest. But perhaps the most astonishing thing about her is that she is just 18.
The youngest of nine children, she has had, in many ways, as tough an upbringing as 1hetroubled teenagers she is mentoring. The daughter of a labourer father and factory worker mother, she was left shattered three years ago by the death of her beloved elder brother Patrick, 25, who was stabbed to death in a street fight. Two men have
since been convicted of culpable homicide.
Erin finds it difficult to talk about the tragedy. 'It is a big part of why I do what I do, but it is still very raw,' she says.
Erin's own mentor is Anne MacGregor, the project manager of a youth club to which Erin belonged. When I first met Erin, she was an angry wee girl because of what had happened to her brother. But instead of being eaten up by that anger, she has turned it into a force for good,' says Anne.
Anne asked Erin to become a volunteer at
Depot Arts two years ago. Erin threw herself into
the role, running dance groups, organising outings and sourcing funding to keep activities going. Earlier this year, she was taken on as a full-time worker and has been pioneering singing and circus skills workshops. She sees a key part of her role as breaking down the long-standing gang rivalry between Possilpark, Springburn, and other neighbourhoods in the deprived districts of North Glasgowwhere she lives.
The gangs of Possilpark and Spring burn hate each other, but I've no time for that pettiness,' she says. 'Glasgow is one big community and the only way forward is to give people something fun to do and somethi ng that makes them feel good about themselves.'
'Erin has given up part of her own childhood to be there for other young people,' says Anne, who nominated her protege for the Diana Award. 'And she doesn't take the easyoption. The children she helps are among the most
trou bled and difficult to deal with, but she
has a way of engaging with them that makes
all the difference.' U
The Diana Award is a registered charity that seeks nominations for exceptional teenagers who, through volunteering, fundraising, campaigning
or caring, have worked selflessly for the benefit of others. So far, 30,000 young people have received awards for helping to change their communities for the better. To nominate, donate, orfor more information, go to ~-~.org.uk
'The gangs of North Glasgow hate each other. But I have no time for that pettiness. The way forward is to make people feel good about themselves'
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