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This charity is steering young people away from violence

PICTURED: Mike Luke (Photo credit: Dermot Carlin)

“SEVEN YEARS ago I was observing the behaviour of young boys around Dagenham and looking into gang culture and the way young people were losing their lives,” recalls Mike Luke. “Having kids myself I thought, you know what, I can see that there is a lack of services and there’s a big gap in youth workers so I had an interest in trying to get involved that way and helping young boys change their lives.”

This desire to change the trajectory of many young lives led Mike to working in the youth sector and eventually teaming up with Ignite Trust, a Harrow-based charity, which works with young people in the area to help prevent them from joining gangs.

They do this by getting young people involved in an innovative music project called Genesis for new beginnings - an ongoing project that is being run at the Wealdstone Youth Centre in Harrow, in partnership with Harrow Council every Tuesday evening.

“I came across Ignite Trust at a meeting where someone mentioned the job opportunities there. A person I know said, ‘I know someone who would be good for that job’ [referring to Mike] and told me to apply for it. That was it, I applied and went from there.”

Since teaming up with the charity, Mike has gained a greater insight into the lives and minds of young people today, especially with Ignite Trust’s budding music project.

The Genesis project involves young people writing and producing their own music and in the process, it helps to divert their attention away from negative behaviours on the streets. It also allows them to channel their talents and passion into positive activities such as music, boxing lessons and thinking about which direction they want to go in with their lives.

And while many blame the rise in youth violence on music genres such as a drill, Mike sees the music as “young people expressing themselves.”

“First of all, music is young people speaking on their environment, what they see and how they feel,” he said. “It turns negative when they’ve got beef or disagreements with someone but for me, it is based on the environment they’re living in now and what they see.”

The discussion surrounding the rise in knife crime has many factors with some blaming parental figures to others blaming social media. However, Luke sees the lack of community being one of the biggest reasons behind the increase.

“Instead of getting involved in trying to build a community and having that community spirit, we’re seeing people more interested in their own lives. If you’re not understanding what your neighbours are getting up to or what they're kids are about, and things start to go wrong in your neighborhood it's because youre not showing interest in your community,” said the youth worker.

What Mike and Ignite Trust are trying to do is rebuild that community feeling through their series of events and workshops, and building those relationships among young people. “We engage young people with our projects that involve music, football, basketball and boxing too. Then we support them if they want to change and if they have any needs or issues we can help them with that too.

Mike usually meets young people on the streets around Harrow, or in a project and he is one of the youth workers who helps them take the necessary steps towards their dreams - by getting them into college or employment. He encourages community figures and leaders to do the same in a bid to combat the growing rise of knife crime.

“I think if we got more community leaders up and talking about what they‘re doing and what they’re involvement is on the ground that’d be good. Also I think the media is doing a lot of scaremongering. It puts a bad image on young people and there's a lot of positive going on out there with young people,” said Mike. “This honing in on young people and knife crime is a big problem - I get it, I’m in it and I fear it but you don't want to focus on just that we need to focus on solving the problem.

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