Gang lives to park life: seized knives from London’s streets are transformed into an open air gym

Steel Warriors open air gym in Poplar. Pic: Steel Warriors

Once they were vicious and frightening weapons, synonymous with threats, violence and sometimes death among the communities of London. Now, they have been transformed into a community asset, designed to help those who once carried them.

Each month the Metropolitan Police seizes an average of one tonne of knives on the streets of the capital. Two tonnes of these knives have  been recycled by the  charity Steel Warriors to create an a free outdoor gym in Langdon Park in Poplar.

The charity hopes the gym will provide an outlet for some of the young people drawn into the knive carrying gang culture of the inner cities.

The project has been praised by athletes and already has a variety of partners, with celebrity ambassadors including Ross Kemp.

Ross Kemp – A Steel Warrior from Steel Warriors on Vimeo.

Through researching the motives behind knife crime culture, the charity wanted to re-purpose confiscated weapons into something positive, and also hope to combat the motives behind the problem by offering exercise opportunities to young people.

Steel Warriors wants to get people talking about knife culture while offering a free space to build body strength for protection, rather than carrying knives.

The charity chose to base the gym around calisthenics – a form of exercise that combines simple gymnastics and parkour free running.

The charity’s co-founders, Ben Wintour and Pia Fontes, told ELL: “Callisthenics is adopted by prisoners around the world as a way of keeping fit and to build more physical confidence in prison for protection. We wanted to apply that same logic to the streets.”

Knife crime has increased in the Tower Hamlets by 8% in the past year, with a 24 per cent rise in the number of knife crime offences across the capital.

Wintour and Fontes, said: “We searched for a space that was gang neutral, so that everyone would be welcome to work out at the gym without isolating the audience we want to target. Locating the gym in a space where there is a particularly high level of knife crime was important, one of these areas was Tower Hamlets.”

Steel Warriors open air gym in Poplar pic: Steel Warriors

Since Steel Warriors’ plans began a year ago, the police have worked collaboratively with the charity to facilitate the project. Multiple partners also support the charity including the Ben Kinsella Trust, which was set up in memory of the teenager who was stabbed to death in north London in 2008.

The Trust praised the project: “Using surrendered knives to create calisthenics gyms is a brilliant concept and one we are proud to support.  More needs to be done to help young people understand the dangers and consequences of carrying a knife. Helping young people find positive activities and providing them with mentors and training is a proven way to lead young people away from knife crime.”

Calisthenics athletes have taken to Instagram to reflect on the impact of the project’s incentive after their visit to the bar park launch:

Today I went to check out the new steel warriors 💪calisthenics outdoor gym in east London.. with my boy @no_chill_loz . . I didn’t do much filming as I just happened to be there when school ended so there were lots of kids playing on the bars from Langdon park school.. they were very interested and curious about the bodyweight/ calisthenics workouts we were doing and it was a real eye opener for me as well as an opportunity to teach these youngsters and pass on knowledge and positivity to the youth.. they are the future after all 👊🏽💪👌🏾.. Big up @steelwarriors for building these amazing bars – great concept / idea 🙏🏽 . . Here is a clip of myself and @no_chill_loz showing this young man how to L sit / knee raise on the bars.. he said he would practice everyday after 👊🏽💪.. That was the highlight of my day Positivity 🙌🏽 . . #langdonpark #steelwarriors #calisthenics #streetphotography #streetworkout #teacher #younggeneration #future #inspiration #motivation #positivity #positivevibes #fitness #fit #fitfam #fitnessaddict #fitspo #instagood #love #health #saynotoknifecrime #london #inspirational #children #learning #kids #instagood #instadaily #vidoftheday #instafit

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Steel Warriors told ELL: “The response has been overwhelmingly positive from all different angles – whether it be people who’ve encountered the problem of knife crime themselves, the police, or different charities.

All of the people who have come together to build this gym have done it voluntarily, and if they’re willing to do it for free, they must care about the idea. We’ve had about eight different construction companies working with us – they’ve all played their part to make this do-able.”

The charity aims to build more open gyms across London, particularly in areas affected by knife crime, in the hope to tackle the problem on a wider scale.

Twitter: @iEllieFry


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