Big Interview - October 2010 - Patrick Regan XLP

How can the Church help to tackle Britain’s gang culture?  By offering hope and long-term commitment, says PATRICK REGAN, the founder and leader of the London based youth work charity XLP
“SE15. SW9. Is that why people are dying, because of a couple of numbers, a couple of letters from the alphabet?”

These words were not spoken by a politician or a youth worker. They were spoken by a 15-year-old girl at one of the XLP arts showcases.

Along with a friend, she had written a moving sketch about her friend Michael Dosunmu who was shot in his bed in Camberwell with a sub-machine gun. The gunmen had thought they were killing his older brother.

I sat watching nervously, apprehensive of how this sketch would go down with the audience, many of whom lived in the postcodes that were mentioned.

“It’s ironic,” Rachel continued, “us young people, everyone in this room, have the potential to change this world. But if we keep shooting each other, taking life as if we can give it back, what sort of future will we be? ”

Gang culture has reached a critical point in the UK and there have been warnings that if we don’t act now, it will be too late. The media are constantly full of tragic teenage deaths and gang violence.

But what’s the real story behind the headlines? Who are the young people involved and why is being in a brutal gang appealing? Is there anything the average person can do to make a difference and change the future for our country’s young people?
As I sat listening to young people, parents, teachers, policemen, politicians, and academics discussing the drivers of gang culture, it seemed to me it was the combination of family breakdown, educational failure, poverty, lack of money and meaningful employment. These drivers often lead [young people] to find a sense of belonging and a future outside mainstream family and education.

The gang provides a solution to coping with these problems. A gang is somewhere that young people can feel they belong and feel they can be protected. The gang becomes their family and is where their identity is found.

One gang member from Birmingham said:  “At a certain age you just want to be accepted at certain levels. It’s supposed to be like a family – at the end of the day it’s all about acceptance and belonging to something because there ain’t nothing else to belong to.”

A hopeful person doesn’t join a gang. If the Church is about anything it has got to be about hope. In XLP we believe it’s about getting alongside young people in our inner cities and helping them see alternatives to what can seem a hopeless situation.

To see significant change we can’t just offer knee-jerk reactions to some of society’s problems, we need to be committed to the long haul, which means investing in relationships with young people.

We need to address the issues of educational failure, poverty and deprivation, helping young people make wise lifestyle choices, supporting them to realise the potential they have and helping to raise their self-esteem.

I believe we have to engage in this issue if we’re going to give the next generation a fighting chance.

I’ve sat with parents whose children have been killed by gangs and it’s hard to convey how helpless you feel in the face of their suffering. For them it’s too late; the child they love is gone forever.

“We must not let this teen knife crime take over our culture – I urge you, fight against it. Do not let your child, brother or sister become the next victim,” said David Idowu.

He was the next victim.

First published in /thoughts, a free magazine for teens, 20s and students engaging with youth culture

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