The challenge of engaging with gangs and gang membership is increasingly receiving considerable focus and having recently returned from Denmark working with organisations charged with exit strategies such as Head On, it was a privilege to be asked to assist Stoke City Football Club community trust to help develop an approach to this issue sponsored by the premier league in association with Children In Need.
The dynamic team at Stoke had linked in with the voluntary sector and an ex- gang member from Moss Side Manchester and were preparing to develop a strategy to engage with young people at the fringes of gang membership or already recruited and offer alternative and viable means of exiting.
It struck me that the non-statutory base for this scheme and the attraction of a soccer club combined with the knowledge and understanding this group had, of the issues facing the young people, offered a real opportunity to influence and change the lives of a number of young people in a meaningful and positive way.
Merely offering a sports outlet without any focus on individual support would not impact on the exit approach. There needed to be a focus on the situation and the thinking and reasoning skills of the young person. Involvement in sports could form a part of the strategy as negative leisure habits are a prominent risk factor but the scheme sought to focus on the development of relationships to get to a position where the team could begin to use the relationship by structuring the skills to strengthen the opportunity that the young person would be able not only to choose to leave the gang pull but have the skill set to accomplish that.
The technical aspects involve an approach based on the latest effective practice engagement techniques but also balancing the risk assessment that needs to be undertaken with a review of protective factors using SAPROF-YV in order to have a more nuanced and balanced perception of the nature of the overall risk posed.
It’s probably fair to reflect on the unusual setting for such a project but after working with the team there was a freshness and positivity that augers well for what after all is a really difficult task and it allowed me to reflect that this kind of activity balanced in a very positive way, the riches currently flowing into the premier league coffers.