Guest column: Universities can help understand gangs


- Credit: Archant

There has been a troubling amount of news coverage regarding the rise in violent crimes in recent weeks, much of it taking place in inner city London, including Islington, and almost always involving young men.

Now more than ever, we need a new approach to understand and tackle this worrying rise.

Gang membership and street violence have gained significant public and political attention of late: 70,000 people under 25 are now believed to be part of a gang network in the UK, and the Office for National Statistics recorded a 22 per cent increase in knife crime last year.

Statistics like this paint a troubling picture and suggest we need new ideas to understand what is happening.

We are part of the community in Islington and with some of our students coming from affected communities nearby, we want to ensure we play our part in helping to tackle gang related violence

Earlier this month at our Holloway campus we got together with practitioners, policy makers and academics seeking to change the conversation on gang violence. We were honoured to be joined by London’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, Sophie Linden, who highlighted key areas such as poverty, racism and often ignored structural inequalities critical to developing an understanding of gang membership.

The event provided an excellent opportunity to explore new approaches to tackling youth violence in the UK. As a result, we intend to run a series of one-day workshops each aiming to build a better understanding of the underlying issues surrounding gang violence in Islington and London more widely.

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Some readers will know we run a youth studies degree that looks at evolving identities, media representations, social policy, community development and the history of government approach to youth policy. Our students are taught by qualified, experienced practitioners in youth-centred research who have extensive experience of working with young people at risk of exposure to gangs.

As a result, our graduates have gone on to change lives by working for brilliant organisations such as Safer London and Centrepoint – who help alleviate gang involvement through early interventions.

Looking to the future, we are designing a new Master’s course specifically focused on community work. This will help further equip students with the knowledge and experience required to make a positive impact on communities in areas such as Islington and across London as a whole.

I believe by merging theory and practice in powerful ways, we can help protect and improve the lives of people affected by gang violence. That is why it’s more important than ever for institutions such as London Met to take the lead, to do our part and provide the environment for increasing our understanding of these life and death challenges.