Until the traumatic events of the summer, Youth Futures was arguably south London’s most popular youth club.
Every Friday afternoon, 150 youngsters from Camberwell, Peckham, Lewisham and Brixton would head for the Brandon Youth Centre on the Brandon estate, in Southwark borough, where YF ran its weekly sessions.
Its dynamic offering of workshops, job fairs, sport, music, guest speakers and youth leadership forums proved a winning formula, but these days just 15 youngsters pitch up. The cause of the precipitous decline is tragic: three of their members were killed in three months and the parents of other children are too scared to let them go out.
Rhyhiem Barton, 17, was the first to die, gunned down in May in daylight as he played football with friends on the perimeter of the Brandon estate.
He was London’s 63rd murder victim of the year and at the time his mother Pretana Morgan begged: “Please, let my son be the last”. Three months later, Rhyhiem’s friend Siddique Kamara, 23, known by his drill music name Incognito, was stabbed on almost the same spot.
Both had been members of Moscow17, a Camberwell drill music group that reportedly had “beef” with Peckham drill crew Zone 2.
Until the summer, members of both Moscow17 and Zone 2 peacefully attended YF and left any differences at the door, but a flare-up of rivalry meant the whole area suddenly felt unsafe.
The third member to die — seemingly unconnected to the first two — was 18-year-old Latwaan Griffiths, dumped on a street in Camberwell with stab wounds by a scooter rider who sped away.
“That’s a lot of members to lose,” said Joseph Duncan, 37, co-founder and chief executive of YF, as he walked me round the high-rise estate with youth workers Mark Murray and Timon Dixon. “Two of our members were with Siddique when he was stabbed. They tried to resuscitate him. The impact’s been de-vastating. Our young people have been too scared to go out and have stopped coming.
“We realised we needed trauma training for staff to help them address what’s gone on in our community and to reassure parents and build our base again.”
YF turned to the Standard’s £1 million Save London Lives fund. Today we can announce it has been awarded £18,400 payable over two years, one of 20 groups to benefit as part of our £400,000 first round of grants. The cash has been allocated to charities that use the trauma-informed “public health” approach to tackle youth violence, with winners of the £600,000 second round to be announced in the new year.
YF has earmarked a portion for staff to receive training from professional providers to help them recognise and address individual and community trauma. Timon Dixon, 25, who lives on Brixton’s Angell Town estate and lost his older brother Ogarra to youth violence in 2015, said: “When we talk to our members about the killings, they say, ‘Oh, we’ve grown up with it, it’s normal, we’re okay,’ but you can see in their faces they’re not okay. You see the pain and anger in their eyes.
“They were still mourning Rhyhiem when Latwaan and Siddique died. I know from my brother’s death, you think you’re coping but have no idea how traumatised you are.”
The rest of YF’s grant will help recruit a project manager with experience in outreach and tackling youth violence. Mr Duncan said: “In the last 18 months our estate has become a hotspot. It’s not just killings, there have been many non-fatal stabbings. People coming into the club with puncture wounds, arm in a sling, bandages. We listen to City Hall talk about tackling violence but they are not doing enough on these hotspot estates. We have to rely on ourselves. The new grant will be a lifesaver.” YF has had to move premises six times in six years due to its bases at local youth clubs being closed because of a lack of funding, but it has always re-emerged stronger. In one flagship project Mark Murray, 24, facilitates a round-table event with police officers and young people in 10 London boroughs.
“I noticed nobody in my age group talks to police and I felt we have to elevate our mindset,” he said. “I set up a project where we get to meet officers, they get to meet us and we all get a better understanding of each other.” Southwark police and the Mayor’s office for Policing and Crime got behind the scheme, and now it has 20 youth facilitators who visit youth clubs and arrange bridge-building meetings between their members and local police.
Duncan is confident YF can be just as groundbreaking in tackling trauma. “We need to do it for the sake of these kids, many of whom use our youth club as a safe outlet,” he said. “One young man, his one brother was killed, another is in prison. We are an anchor for people like him. Our new project manager will go door to door to hear parental concerns so that we can take the necessary action to win the children back.”