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Youngsters march through Stratford shopping centre to demand it be made safer

PUBLISHED: 18:40 28 March 2019 | UPDATED: 10:06 29 March 2019

Students have marched through the Stratford Centre in a bid to urge businesses to sign up to scheme to ensure youngsters at risk of harm can find refuges. Picture: KEN MEARS

Students have marched through the Stratford Centre in a bid to urge businesses to sign up to scheme to ensure youngsters at risk of harm can find refuges. Picture: KEN MEARS

Archant

Young people have marched through the shopping centre where a 21-year-old man was stabbed to death to demand it be made safer.

Sgt Danielle Manning admitted there were times when even she looked over her shoulder when walking through Stratford. Picture: KEN MEARSSgt Danielle Manning admitted there were times when even she looked over her shoulder when walking through Stratford. Picture: KEN MEARS

About 40 youngsters took to the Stratford Centre where just over a year ago Beniamin Pieknyi was knifed in the chest while walking through the Broadway based retail hub with a friend.

Verney, a student at St Bonaventure’s School in Boleyn Road, Forest Gate, said: “This is an area where young people feel unsafe. That’s not okay and we want to reclaim the space.”

The 16-year-old added that young people felt either under threat in the centre or stigmatised claiming that some felt unfairly targeted in police stop and searches.

“I love Stratford centre. It’s one of the most iconic places in east London. It’s sad it’s gotten to the point where people don’t feel safe here.”

The teenagers want shops to become refuges for children whose safety is at risk or being chased by signing up to City Safe, a scheme set up after 16-year-old Jimmy Mizen’s murder in Lewisham.

Fellow St Bon’s student, James, said: “We want a place where we can go and find shelter. We want to reduce knife crime. We want to work with the centre and police.”

Holding white balloons and carrying a purple banner with the words ‘Building a safer Stratford for all’ on, the young activists walked around the mall and indoor market before small groups went into shops in a bid to persuade business owners to sign up to the scheme.

By signing up, businesses agree to call the police if a child is unsafe and send staff on free safety training.

Alistair Rooms from The East London Citizens Organisation which helped plan the march said that a safer centre would be better for youngsters and businesses which lose hundreds of thousands in lost revenue because of crime.

Before setting off, the youngsters shared stories gathered after speaking to shoppers with one of a girl who was slapped as she walked through the centre because she didn’t come from Stratford.

Others spoke of being robbed, spat and sworn at.

Sgt Danielle Manning, who patrols the town centre, said: “Stratford makes me feel unsafe. Even I feel the need to look over my shoulder.

“My team and I are committed to making Stratford safe for everyone.”

Cllr James Beckles, cabinet member for crime and community safety at the council, told the youngsters that there should be no no-go zones in Newham.

“Making young people feel safe is a big priority for the council,” he said.

Andy Lewis, assistant headteacher at St Bon’s said: “We feel there’s a broken relationship between businesses and young people with youngsters being perceived as trouble-makers.

“But young people will bring the change. When they stand up and say, ‘This is not okay, we’re not going to stand by’, that’s when change happens.”

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