The Metropolitan Police Specialist Firearms Command (CO19) have joined up with Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre to launch a new crime-fighting initiative.
The project called ‘Choices’, which started this week, uses hard-hitting drama and stories of real-life tragedies to bring home the consequences of gun and knife crime to young Londoners.
‘Choices’ will be shown in secondary schools across London for the next month, in some of the nine priority areas identified by the police as having high levels of this kind of crime, including Croydon and Lewisham. The project also works directly with young offenders living in these areas.
It is an extension of CO19’s award winning Operation Makepeace in which police officers present real-life footage of armed officers dealing with incidents in London. ‘Choices’ combines this presentation with a a new play called ‘Brothers’, by Tunde Euba which is performed by young actors from GLYPT. The play follows a pair of second generation Nigerian twins growing up in London.
Jeremy James, Artistic Director of GLYPT, explains: “Theatre has always been a powerful learning tool within the education sector, but in ‘Brothers’ the audience are confronted with really challenging issues and decisions, which some young people are facing on their streets and estates on a daily basis.”
Chief Inspector Rob Atkin, of the Met’s Operation Makepeace, adds: “There is a funeral scene which is very hard-hitting and you literally can’t hear a pin drop whenever we show it.”
The tour kicked off this week at Sedgehill School in Lewisham, a school that welcomes any attempt to inform its pupils and educate them about gun and knife crime. Deputy Head of the school, Dave Banks, said:
“‘We are always very keen to promote awareness of all issues which might impact upon the lives of young people both in Lewisham and beyond.
“We want students to make well informed choices about all aspects of life. The Choices project is one such opportunity. We believe that this approach promotes the development of well informed, thoughtful and ultimately confident young people.”
Operation Makepeace was set up in 2008 in response to a spate of youth murders. Seventy two young people were killed in the UK that year, including 16-year-old Ben Kinsella, 18-year-old Harry Potter actor Rob Knox and the 16-year-old schoolboy Jimmy Mizen, who were all stabbed to death.
As part of the ‘Choices’ programme, representatives of Families United, the organisation established by families affected by violent crime, also speak to the young audiences.
Zoe Price, General manager of GLYPT, explains:
“Whilst GLYPT deliver the play, this is very much a partnership project. The young people see these issues dealt with from all sides. It’s so much stronger having the police talk directly to them and also hearing the presentation first hand from the families, it’s pretty powerful. “
Earlier this week, Brooke Kinsella, the ex-Eastender’s actress who has been an anti-violence campaigner since the murder of her brother Ben, called for pupils to learn more about gun and knife crime in school.
She has been investigating whether projects aimed at tackling youth violence are working, and has handed her findings to the home secretary. She said:
“In schools we have drug awareness and sexual health awareness and I don’t see why we can’t have some kind of knife and gun crime project that’s part of the curriculum…for me it’s about prevention and education.”
Ms Price, who says ‘Choices’ will tour again next year, said:
“There’s been fantastic work going on right across London, there are lots of other projects that have been happening. There needs to be lots of work around this issue.”
The Deptford based Second Wave Youth Arts Centre devised ‘Critical Encounters’, which explores stop and search practices and seeks to improve understanding and communication between police forces and the local community. Stop and search practices have been a key tool in the government’s response to knife crime, ‘Operation Blunt’, which launched in 2007.