The fight to end the scourge of youth crime in Lambeth could take years to show the results which took 10 years to achieve in Scotland. But former Damilola Trust chief executive Gary Trowsdale has been working tirelessly to pull the strands together in his home borough, after being part of the Parliament Commission on Youth Violence last year. It said the Public Health Approach (PHA) – which treats violence as a disease – was the best method.
Here Trowsdale explains the next steps, after Lambeth adopted the PHA and Lambeth leader Cllr Lib Peck was appointed head of London’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), which is the first step in the capital adopting a PHA.
Culture Eats Strategy by Gary Trowsdale
There has been much said about the public health approach to tackling youth violence. Some would say far too much.
I wanted to update South London Press readers on where the all-party Parliament Commission into youth violence sits on recent developments since we produced our interim report in July 2018.
The commission’s chair Vicky Foxcroft has given readers updates in her column for the paper.
But the support the SLP has given to Lambeth’s work is the reason for this open letter.
The commission was delighted Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced he would set up a Violence Reduction Unit at City Hall. The commission spent two years researching best practice around the UK and received great support from the Scottish VRU as well as from Birmingham, South Wales and Reading, where a public health approach was already underway.
The commission was encouraged when the Home Secretary announced the Government would adopt a strategy of treating violence as a disease, at the Conservatives party conference in October. This is fundamental to understanding the public health approach and how violence happens, especially in society’s most deprived areas and communities.
The parliament commission would now like to see political rivalries set aside and for everyone to set out a unilateral new approach to the problem, with both Tory- and Labour-controlled town halls and the government working in tandem. This will make sustainable funding that much easier too.
London has unique challenges and cultural issues that make it a different to Scotland.
A public health approach starts with a philosophy – not a rigid template of engagement or
intervention. “Changing the lens by which violence is viewed” is how Scottish VRU co-founder John Carnochan describes it.
In my home borough of Lambeth, we have been developing a long-term strategy which I believe deals with many of the cultural issues and unique challenges London faces head on.
It brings brings councillors, police and most importantly, community leaders together, so everything is joined up. Having a progressive leader like Lib Peck has empowered this approach.
But so has having community leaders with great experience, such as one-time deputy mayor for communities and policing, Lee Jasper, as part of the Lambeth team.
We also have amazing unsung heroes like Alistair Reid of the Safer Neighbourhood team. Alistair is a retired police officer who, after starting his career as a beat officer patrolling Lambeth, eventually made his way to Scotland Yard where for several years he headed up youth engagement strategy.
Now in retirement, he puts in untold hours as a volunteer to his adopted borough.
There are tremendous people integrated into the broader team which Lambeth is blessed with, who are pulling this together.
Why is my title “Culture eats strategy”? Well, none of us could have forseen our council leader leaving the borough to take up the position of director of the new Violence Reduction Unit in City Hall.
Lambeth has been at the vanguard of London adopting a public health approach and that positivity clearly played a part in the Mayor’s decision to appoint Lib. I know those of us helping shape the plan feel it is entirely positive to see the dots joining up like this. It means there is even more emphasis on Lambeth getting things right of course, but I am confident this will be the case.
Certainly the parliament commission recognises the strengths and knowledge Lib brings to the role. Then there is the connectivity of her having been chair of the London Councils round table on tackling youth violence.
It is a good choice and I am sure she will do a great job.
Should the VRU be politically impartial? In my view, it will need to be in the long-term, if it is to emulate the success of Scotland – and this will be one of the biggest challenges.
I think the London Assembly and GLA can all help in this respect, as they are all supporters of the public health approach and recognise things needed to be done differently.
Fundamentally, though, if you are adopting a public health approach to safeguarding young people, you are recognising that it is not a police and crime issue first and foremost.
City Hall has the infrastructure to do this properly and London certainly has the talent among its youth work practitioner ranks.
On a very positive note, the Lambeth team are making great progress on the Lambeth Walk project. We have been supported by the SLP and Lib has been a keen backer of our putting young people themselves at the forefront of this strategy.
We will announce how this is project is developing here in the SLP in the coming weeks – hopefully before Lib leaves to take up her new role.
The lifestyle environments young people find themselves in, from early years, are never by their own volition, are they? Society must do more to tackle inequality and strive much harder to eliminate many of the hurdles and barriers to success which many young people find in their way.
The Youth Violence Commission has achieved such success with its interim report. It is now focusing on a new phase of work digging deeper into the societal issues underpinning the violence and will look to work closely with the London VRU team as well as the broader UK Public health network to support the paradigm shift that is coming.