Fighting Youth Violence in Bristol
In the past 18 months three young men we were working with have been stabbed to death on the streets. These fatal incidents reflect an alarming escalation of youth violence in Bristol. Gangs are becoming more active, serious incidents are getting more frequent and those involved are getting younger. We felt compelled to act to stop this crisis that’s happening on our streets.
Stepping up our game
We used ideas and inspiration from cities around the world to intensify our efforts to tackle youth violence. We recruited our first ‘Violence Interrupter’ to bring specialist expertise around gangs and violence into Empire. They have lived experience of gangs, spent time in custody, links to local gangs and a track record of helping young people exit them.
Our Violence Interrupter has helped us to:
- introduce a ‘focused deterrence’ approach, identifying and targeting the small number of individuals committing most of the violence.
- fast track individuals known to be involved in gangs.
- improve the intelligence we get from the streets so that we are aware of disputes and can negotiate peaceful settlements between rival gangs.
- upskill our team of coaches and therapists so they can better identify individuals at risk of being involved in gang related activity and support those involved in violence.
- built stronger links with local organisations who are also tackling youth violence to create a more joined up approach.
Launching a new Gang Engagement and Extraction Process
We launched a new intensive process to support young people heavily involved in violence to leave their gang. We have been picking up individuals from their neighbourhoods and taking them to our gym up to six times a week. Our Violence Interrupter is mentoring young people during boxing sessions by drawing on their lived experience. They are then connecting them to our staff and partners for specialist support, such as our Box Careers programme.
Although the project is in its early days, the results are promising:
- 26 young people deemed to be at high risk of involvement in violence have attended the sessions.
- Three young people removed themselves from their gang.
- Four young people got qualified through us to work in a gym.
- One young person secured training and employment at a local restaurant.
- Individuals are inspiring their peers to join by talking to them about their Empire experience.
Fighting for systemic change
No single institution can tackle youth violence on their own. The scale and complexity of the issue mean we have to all work together. We are pushing hard to create an Office of Violence Prevention for inner city Bristol, something that multiple cities across the world have successfully used. This independent body would coordinate efforts to prevent and reduce youth violence in East and Central Bristol. We have got the backing of Bristol’s Mayor and Director of Public Health and aim to work closely with partners to make it a reality in 2024.