CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Camden Against Violence: All young people can be reached

'We're not naïve, we don't think a festival is going to stop knife crime but it's part of our work to unite the community'

12 September, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

Camden Against Violence members Michelle West, Renee Horsford, Marian Malaki and Terry Ellis

AN anti-violence grassroots campaign which helped organise a successful community festival at the weekend has vowed not to give up its efforts in the wake of Sunday’s murders, in­sisting that all young people “can be reached”.

The two police investigations were launched just a day after the community festival in Queen’s Crescent drew thousands of people to the market street for a day of fun and enjoyment.

Camden Against Violence helped organise part of the festival with the aim of bringing the neighbourhood together.

Renee Horsford, one of the mothers who set up the group, said it had been devastating to hear of the fatal shooting and stabbing in nearby streets the following day.

“We are not naïve and we don’t think doing a festival is going to stop knife crime, but it’s part of our work to unite our community,” she said.

“It’s part of helping to heal, whether it takes 15 years or whatever.”

The group was formed after two young men died in stabbings in Kentish Town in February 2018.

Ms Horsford, who is close to the family of Shakira Mercedes, who died after being stabbed in Belmont Street on Sunday, said young people already engaged in a criminal lifestyle or who are vulnerable “can be reached”.

Recent murders should not deter from efforts across the borough to tackle the problem, she added.

Debbi Clark, of the Sir Hubert van Herkomer Foundation, which had a stall at the festival, with Lauren Baker, Jada Baker, Ataiya Warburton and Sophia Ramsey

“Intervention is the hardest part, but I do believe they can be reached but it’s just the idea of what life is supposed to be, your self-worth, is totally distorted.

“They can be reached with the right support and the right help. My message to them would be that there’s so many people with non-judgemental attitude towards you who want to help.

“We know that for each of those individuals that are that far in it, lots of different types of services will need to be surrounding that person to make a difference. They will need mental health support, they will need to feel safe, they will need mentorship, consistency and getting self-worth back. Nobody was born wanting to do this.”

The two killings in February 2018 – one of which happened in Malden Road, close to the scene of Sunday’s shooting – led to a new resolve, with a march through the streets and deputations to Camden’s full council meeting.

“There’s so many of us. We are building, CAV are going to be that collective,” Ms Horsford assured young people.

“You are going to have so many people you can turn to you really have no excuse to be living that kind of lifestyle.”

She said it had almost become a “habit” to carry a knife now, adding: “Just please stop now, just stop. Be brave enough to not carry it, as I don’t think you’re brave carrying it. The people who don’t are brave.”

Myka Defoe and Maya Lewis with Camden Fencing Club Coach Soji Aiyenuro

Saturday’s festival, co-organised with Queen’s Crescent Community Association and Camden Council, featured sports and DJ workshops from Urban Xtra radio, which is planning to launch an online station for young people in Camden.

There was screen printing at the Sir Hubert van Herkomer Foundation stall, which offers arts and media workshops for hundreds of youngsters at a base in Queen’s Crescent.

Earlier this year, dozens of bereaved mothers, campaigners and youth workers “shut down” a central London bridge, demanding more action on knife violence.

Operation Shutdown, a group formed out of that protest, has called for the government – currently in the depths of the Brexit crisis – to hold an emergency meeting on youth violence.

Elaine Donnellon, from the group, said this week: “Operation Shutdown works with families in Camden, London and further afield. We are campaigning on one of our main demands – a Cobra meeting that will result in a 10-year plus plan and strategy using a public health approach.

“The current two-year plan will barely have started to make an impact before it’s come to a close, as this violent epidemic is embedded in UK society.”

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