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St Mellitus Church’s £3k ambition to buy blade bin where young people can dispose of weapons

PUBLISHED: 09:00 01 January 2018

Percy Aggett, who heads up the St Mellitus justice and peace group. Picture: Loretta Thomas

Percy Aggett, who heads up the St Mellitus justice and peace group. Picture: Loretta Thomas

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The banner “Choose Life, Drop the Knife” is boldly displayed between two columns outside St Mellitus Church in Finsbury Park. But what does religion have to do with knife crime?

A knife bin like the one St Mellitus hopes to set up. Picture: Loretta Thomas A knife bin like the one St Mellitus hopes to set up. Picture: Loretta Thomas

Quite a lot, it turns out. It’s the work of the St Mellitus justice and peace group, set up within the church 12 years ago.

It’s a campaign group of 10 to 15 members and a majority of its work has been supporting refugees. But it also aims to raise awareness around various other issues affecting London, and over the past eight years its members have focused on the issue of knife crime.

The group is headed up by Percy Aggett, who began working with young people and families in the East End in 1973.

He believes a London-wide campaign is needed to raise awareness and unite all the organisations that are doing things individually.

“The banner ‘Choose Life, Drop The Knife’ was decided on because we were very concerned about the extent of knife crime and young people being killed and severely injured on the streets of London,” he said.

“We wanted to make a statement that would be seen a long way off, and linked it with the message out there from the youth justice teams, the council and police. It is the Islington standard slogan for challenging knife crime.”

Percy’s group has also worked on the City Safe campaign with local shopkeepers whose premises acted as safe havens for young people who were being chased.

"We wanted to make a statement that would be seen a long way off, and linked it with the message out there from the youth justice teams, the council and police."

Percy Aggett on the church’s ‘Choose Life, Drop the Knife’ banner

It also takes part in knife sweeps with police and volunteers in public spaces, such as the spot search the Gazette joined in Wray Crescent in November.

The church aims to put a knife bin outside, which it says will cost £3,000 per year. That means the church will need to put in charitable bids.

The bin would also stand as a memorial to the people who have been stabbed to death in Islington in recent years: nine since 2015, including three teenagers that year and three 29-year-old men in 2017.

Knife attacks in Islington have fallen by 12 per cent in the last year, but risen by 108 per cent compared with five years ago.

Canon John O’Leary is St Mellitus’ parish priest.

His approach to addressing some of the issues faced by young people is to find out “why they feel the need to belong to a gang and why they are not fitting in elsewhere”.

The perceived need for young people to carry knives as a status symbol and postcode wars are what he believes in part lead to young people killing other young people or being injured.

Canon John O'Leary, parish priest at St Mellitus. Picture: Loretta Thomas Canon John O'Leary, parish priest at St Mellitus. Picture: Loretta Thomas

Father John has served as a priest in north and west London since the 1990s, and believes young people and gang members have a “fundamental need to belong”.

“Helping them recapture what enhances their dignity as human beings is what is important,” he said.

The real challenge is “somehow making contact”.

But he hopes displaying the banner will give spur church and community members to take action if someone they may know who is involved in knife crime or gangs.

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