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Playground politics: Primary kids quiz councillors and cops over gangs, knives and pollution

PUBLISHED: 15:33 04 October 2018

School councillors represted the The Maamulaha Network event by questioning politicians and police officers about issues in Islington.Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

School councillors represted the The Maamulaha Network event by questioning politicians and police officers about issues in Islington.Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Archant

Streetwise kids put seven “really challenging questions” about crime and youth services to cops and councillors at a Holloway event this morning.

Michelle Bahn speaks at The Maamulaha Network event. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyMichelle Bahn speaks at The Maamulaha Network event. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Children quizzed adult attendees on a range of topics, from gangs to leisure centres, at Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School.

School councillors from the Maamulha Network – which comprises 12 Islington primaries and 4,200 pupils – voiced concerns raised by kids across the borough.

The headteacher at Robert Blair Primary School, Michelle Bahn, told the Gazette: “The thing I was surprised about is the children’s worries are the same as the adults’.

“We expected them to say things kids would say, not crime, gangs and pollution.

Damage to Highbury Leisure Centre. Picture: @LFBTowerHamlets/London Fire BrigadeDamage to Highbury Leisure Centre. Picture: @LFBTowerHamlets/London Fire Brigade

“But they were actually able to tell me how the gangs in Islington operated. They told me how to figure out who’s from Cally gang and who’s the Holloway gang and were they congregate.

“That’s the shock of it, so the real question is: how can they know that?”

George, from Hargrave Park Primary School, asked: “What are you going to do about gang crime in London so children feel safe?”

Islington’s education chief, Cllr Joe Caluori, said: “We have to make sure everyone gets the best possible education and stays until 18.

Cllr Paul ConveryCllr Paul Convery

“One of the problems for people who are in gangs is they are often forced to leave schools because they have been really naughty.

“And we want to help our schools so it doesn’t get to that point.”

He added good jobs and qualifications keep young people away from organised crime.

Abudulahi, of Queen’s Park Primary School, said: “We need more safe spaces for children in London such as community centres, football clubs, arts programs.

“What are you going to do about it?”

Islington’s health and wellbeing boss, Cllr Janet Burgess MBE, agreed.

She said: “We have some really good locations in Islington. Unfortunately, you probably know about the fire [at Highbury Leisure Centre] last week.

“So that’s going to be out of action for a bit. But there are lots of other things you can go do – last year we opened a trampoline park.”

Then Gabriel from Christ the King Primary asked about the lack of prison space in London.

Cllr Paul Convery (Lab, Caledonian) explained that Pentonville, which in his ward, is an overcrowded Victorian prison.

He said poor facilities and limited access to exercise perpetuate problems, comparing it with a pressure cooker where the lid could “bang off”.

“So inside that prison there are very angry and sad people,” he said.

“The danger is that sometimes people come out of that prison worse than they came in.”

“Prison is not just to punish people but also to rehabilitate through education and positive activities.”

He added: “As a councillor the most important thing is to stop young people turning bad in the first place.

“When kids start to misbehave in school and they get away with it then they think it’s okay to do that.

“Sometimes people will say ‘don’t grass’ but telling the truth is the most important thing you can do.”

Councillors were also pressed over racism and air pollution in Islington – and said they remained committed to eradicating both.

A child called Isabel said: “How are you going to reduce knife crime in London so we as children can feel safe?”

Sgt Matt Britnell, from the Met’s primary school team for Camden and Islington, said officers go into schools to educate kids about knife-relate risks, encourage young people to join the police cadets and conduct community weapon sweeps.

He said the Met’s violent crime taskforce has seized 340 knifes and 40 guns since April.

Speaking after the event, Sacred Heart’s headteacher John Lane told the Gazette: “It was exciting because the kids asked really challenging questions.”

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