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Culture and creativity

Empowering communities: a Big Local perspective

A Big Local perspective on empowering communities.

Hear from Julia Hines at Grange Big Local on how her community is becoming empowered by tackling issues around children and young people at risk of knife crime and gang violence.

By Julia Hines, Grange Big Local.

Grange Big Local is a pocket of East Finchley in suburban London. It is a mix of social housing estates, owned both by the council and a housing association, with some private housing, and with other, similar estates nearby. But walk 20 minutes and you will find yourself on Bishops Avenue, where the average house price is a shade under £7.5 million. East Finchley has an attractive, lively high street and its own foodbank. It is friendly, multi-cultural and community spirited; people rally together to save the library, or campaign for a new zebra crossing, but they’ve also had to gather in support when the Somali-Bravanese community centre was burnt down in a racist arson attack. It is like that round here; lots of contrasts.

It is easy to overlook the problems, including knife crime and gang violence. There isn’t much for kids to do around here if you have no money, but plenty if you have.

There aren’t the kind of support services and youth groups that you find in areas where the deprivation is a bit more visible. But there are a few, and Art Against Knives (AAK) is one of them.

They run a couple of projects in the area: a music project, and a nail bar just for young females. It is worth pausing a moment to talk about the nail bar, because it is such a simple idea, but also so clever and flexible. Girls and young women come to learn how to paint nails and get their nails painted, and whilst that is happening they talk. There isn’t the stigma of going to talk “to” someone; it is just a conversation. With an element of touch, with an act of doing something nice for someone else, and with no need to make eye contact.

It is flexible enough for group work or one-to-one, can be extended to include getting qualifications, and you can bring other people into the conversation easily, like a Young Domestic Violence Adviser, who can talk about healthy relationships. It is as elegant a format as a French manicure, as long as the right person is listening.


AAK work with the children and young people most at risk in our area, but we have funded them to provide training in safeguarding, conflict negotiation and mental health first aid, to other people in the community who work with children and young people. They can support AAK, and AAK can support them. And they gain skills, always a good thing.

We’ve funded a class at the local martial arts gym that has proved so popular that two attendees have had it written in to their youth offending orders, and one said, if he had had this before, maybe he wouldn’t have got into trouble.

We’ve also funded detached youth workers in the area, rather than waiting for young people to walk through the door of AAK. Those youth workers know the people who did the training, so they can hang out at the martial arts gym, or the basketball club, or arrange to meet people there. Young people know where to find them on a given day, even though there isn’t an AAK activity.

Finally, we told the community what we were doing. So, when one of the neighbours, at the hospital for an appointment, saw that a 15 year old had just been stabbed, word passed to AAK faster than fake news on Twitter. A youth worker was there within 30 minutes of it happening, to find out if it was one of young people they worked with or knew, to talk to the police, and, crucially, ready to make a plan to prevent escalation or retaliation if necessary.

We haven’t solved it all yet, but we are doing what we know we can do well in East Finchley: we are rallying round.

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