Ex-Cameron speechwriter’s King’s Cross charity cuts re-offending through rap music

OC is a busy, bustling hub for its members

OC is a busy, bustling hub for its members - Credit: Archant

Violent crime is on the rise in Islington.

Michael Omara, aka VA, delivers a performance at OC

Michael Omara, aka VA, delivers a performance at OC - Credit: Archant

A recent Islington Council report cited a “worrying increase” in youth violence and attacks on women.

Serious attacks among the borough’s young people have shot up 40 per cent in the past 12 months and there were 2,765 assaults on females, including domestic violence, rape and sexual violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honour crimes, trafficking and sexual exploitation last year.

Tackling the issue is not straightforward - and politicians constantly discuss whether the carrot or stick is the best approach.

But a King’s Cross charity, set up by David Cameron’s former speechwriter, says their arts-based approach is slashing reoffending rates.

OC service users meet the Duchess of Cambridge

OC service users meet the Duchess of Cambridge - Credit: Archant

Only Connect (OC), in Pentonville Road, offers offenders, ex-offenders and young people at risk of getting sucked into gang culture the chance to get involved with creative projects such as theatre and music, help to set up their own businesses and social enterprises and training to get qualifications - as well as simple things like help with housing, an address to put on applications or a home-cooked, communal dinner.

Danny Kruger, who launched OC with his wife Emma in 2006, said: “It all started when my wife was teaching in schools and exclusions units and realised all the naughty kids ended up doing drama. It was the only place where they felt engaged.

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“So she started volunteering to teach in prisons, then I got involved and we started to get more organised.

“For two year we were running a theatre programme at HMP Holloway.

“But then they started coming out of prison and we realised we needed an ex-offender programme.

“Now we run workshops, arts, music, fitness, a whole range. But it’s evolved from just the arts - the real mission is to build community relationships.

“A lot of people who come here have damaged relationships, friendship groups that are often criminals.

“We can help them to move away, as well as housing, employment and so on.

“But we’re not just about solving problems. We help make them engaged London citizens like the rest of us.”

Despite their success, OC gets virtually no government funding.

“Private philanthropy is by far the biggest income,” said Mr Kruger.

“It’s strange, as we think we’re doing a public service.

“These are people who would end up being dealt with by councils and job centre services if we weren’t helping.”

One of the main attractions for a lot of OC members is the studio, run by former Holloway School pupil turned music producer Jason Air.

The Archway resident said he wanted to “give something back” after his own success, and said there was “incredible passion for music and a great work ethic” among the studio users.

Micheal Omara, a passionate MC who helps out at OC, said: “Before I started coming here, I was in limbo, I wasn’t doing anything.

“I used to get in trouble a lot when I was young.

“Then I came down here with some friends. OC has really helped me, got me a job, and now I’m working with young offenders.”

The management stress this is not a youth club - members have to be seen to move forward in their lives.

Another young musician, who asked not to be named, said: “I was all over the place when I was growing up on the Elthorne [Estate, Archway].

“I got myself into crime, I was hanging around with the wrong people. Most of them are in prison now.

“I ended up homeless wandering the streets for two years. I was trying to get myself together and I never got any help from Islington Council - they said I wasn’t a priority.

“OC showed me there was things out there for me and to help me progress. I’m here at 8am on a Monday morning. I’d be here all weekend if I could.”

For more information, visit onlyconnect.london