Former Finsbury Park gang member turns his life around and picks up honour
Chris Preddie, who lost his brother in a drug fuelled shooting, speaks to the Islington Gazette about why young people get involved with gangs.
Seven years ago, Chris Preddie was hanging out on street corners with people selling drugs and carrying knives.
It was a world which claimed the life of his brother in a drug-fuelled shoot out.
Now 24, the Finsbury Park resident has just collected an OBE for his services to young people after breaking away from that lifestyle and helping others to do the same.
This week, he spoke to the Gazette to shed some light on why teenagers are so often drawn into gangs.
He said: “My reason was plain and simple. My mum was a single parent who worked hard, so when I came home from school, there was no one there.
“I just gravitated to what I knew, and that was the streets. It’s difficult for parents who need to work hard just to make ends meet.
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“Do they make sure they are there for their kids, or do they make sure there is food on the table – even if that could mean their children may be out on the streets?
“If mum’s not there, kids are going to start pushing the boundaries. For other young people, it could be to get respect, for a sense of community or family, or just about money.
“There are lots of different reasons and every young person is different.”
His is one of the success stories – but many of Islington’s young people are still slipping through the net.
In the same week Chris collected his award, police carried out Operation Valiant, which involved a series of early-morning raids that brought 16 arrests and turned up knives, cannabis and crack cocaine.
He added: “I didn’t carry drugs or weapons myself, but the people I hung out with did, and I did nothing about it. That made me just as bad as them.”
Police targeted teenagers they believed were falling in with the wrong crowds – hoping to catch them early on and lead them away from a life of crime through outreach work.
Chris was one of those able to walk away from that path, with the help of an inspirational youth worker.
He studied, earned a degree and went on to become a youth worker himself.
Through his work with Crimestoppers, as the charity’s first “community champion”, he has helped to steer other young people onto the straight and narrow.
He said: “I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to be doing certain things. My youth worker could see I didn’t want to live this life.”
“But kids have got to want to get out of gangs. If they like what they are doing, it’s going to be hard to get them to change.”