Newham gangs’ postcode warfare: ‘I’ve told my family don’t be surprised if I go out and don’t come back’
- Credit: Archant
Young men from warring postcodes in Newham have spoken out about the cycle of youth violence that has seen their friends wield knives or acid - and take each others lives.
The teenagers crossed divides to meet up at a pioneering youth event organised by former gang member Raheel Butt on Thursday.
They spoke of their own experience of violence and the real prospect of come-backs if they visit the wrong areas of Newham due to feuding gangs.
One 17-year-old from Beckton, who the Recorder has agreed to call Charlie to protect his identity, said: “I have already warned my family don’t be surprised if I go out and don’t come back again, that’s how serious it is.
“Literally, if someone told me to go to a shop in Forest Gate, I can’t do it, because if they found out what area I was from they would literally take your life.”
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Despite this, he is at Diesel gym in Beckton with teenagers from rival Forest Gate.
Sparring on the mats is one boy who has been convicted of an acid attack on six people. Another teenager has the facial scars to prove he is a victim of this brutal form of maiming.
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Charlie says friends of the Forest Gate teenagers have killed a friend of his. The 17-year-old has lost three close mates to shootings or stabbings in the last year alone.
But the teenagers are relaxed with each other as they train and later in the day visit a recording studio in the vaults of a Stratford church to lay down a track.
“My area doesn’t get on with their area and we’re trying to stop all that and try and get everyone together in the studio so we can all talk and see how it goes,” explains Charlie.
The project was set up by youth mentor Raheel, whose own teenage years in Newham were marred by violence. He carried a knife and has served prison time for assault.
But he has since turned his life around and wants to help other young people from his area to do the same through his organisation Community & Rehabilitation Solutions.
It is work that is vital as knife attacks on under 25s in Newham spiralled by 21 per cent last year and there have been a number of high profile stabbings and shootings of young people.
“I set this project up because I’ve been through the whole system myself,” said Raheel, 33.
“It’s really difficult to have an opportunity when you’re a kid from Newham, based on the circumstances of gangs and violence and all the issues that surround the youngsters now.
“It’s much more difficult for them to get to university or college, or even stay in school.
“But I’ve found something that they like. I set up the partnership with the gym to channel their energies first and foremost, and once I’ve done that then they’re in a focused frame of mind to do something they like - like music.
“We are seeing people fighting people from other postcodes, so let’s get them together and break those barriers down so they feel comfortable talking to each other, so the postcode element is gone.
“We’re creating friendships despite the postcodes.”
Raheel met the teenagers involved with the project through youth clubs and going out onto the streets to talk to youngsters.
He hopes many more will join up for the free sessions at Diesel gym and J.O.A.T and Red Dot recording studios.
Gym manager Jamie Scott, 41, from Stratford, is looking forward to working with the teenagers.
“They’re going to get involved in training, some circuit classes and Thai boxing classes, and the beauty of this is they’re going to mix with bankers, people from the City, people they wouldn’t normally mix with,” he says.
“My job particularly working at the gym is to build teams. That’s what I’m good at doing and it’s nice to give back to the community and help the kids.”
Working with positive male role models may be crucial for the youngsters, who say “elders” from their areas are contributing to the cycle of violence.
“If the elders tell me ‘Go out and do this’ and I don’t do it they will literally tell everyone ‘You’re not on the job or you’re a pussy,’” says Charlie. “It’s making a name for yourself. If I went out and stabbed someone, I would get ratings for that.”
Asked how you get “ratings”, he said: “Stabbings, acid attacks, shootings, anything that has to do with harming someone.”
The project hopes to challenge thinking and offer an alternative.
“I want to get myself out of it but there’s not much that can help,” says Charlie, a talented self-taught music producer. “Music is a way around it and that’s what we’re doing now.”
Former Newham Borough Commander Ade Adelekan, who has just taken up a new role heading the Metropolitan Police’s violent crime task force, welcomed the project.
“Raheel is an inspirational young man, who has not just turned his own life around but has made a real difference to the welfare of young people in the borough of Newham,” he said.
To find out more about the project, visit crs-cic.org